The people of Ugbene Ajima, Uzo-Uwani LGA, Enugu State, now live in fear, after some suspected armed herdsmen shot a member of the neighbourhood watch identified as Festus Ayogu and destroyed people’s farms.
The peace of the community was shattered at midday on Thursday, September 3, when gunshots erupted in a bush at Agboda, where 42-year-old Ayogu was reportedly shot by yet-to-be-identified herders.
It was learnt that Ayogu, a native of Egburu Village, survived the attack, and crawled out of his hiding place when the herdsmen left him for dead and hurriedly fled the area. Although some claimed the victim was saved by some supernatural force, eye-witnesses said the community has not recovered from the shock of the incident.
Further investigation revealed that food scarcity looms in the community, as farmers have fled their farms for fear of being killed. It was reported that the farmers in the community had been complaining to the local authorities of the continuous invasion and destruction of their farms by herdsmen, who parade sophisticated weapons in the area. Their disaffection against the herders was heightened by the wanton destruction of a large palm plantation spread across 12 plots of land, with cassava, maize and other crops, owned by one Mr. Nicholas Okoro. Also destroyed were farmlands located in Ogbo Isi-Uvuru, Ogbo-Oda, Agba-Eko, Abbi, Nrobo and Nimbo communities.
Okoro’s plantation, situated along Eziani-Ugbene Ajima-Nimbo Road, was destroyed a few week ago by suspected herders. He claimed that he lost a total of N5 million investment in the farm and appealed to the state government to fish out the perpetrators. He also pleaded with the state government to assess the level of destruction in his farm and possibly mitigate his losses.
Okoro explained that over 1,000 improved variety of palm trees he planted on the 12 plots of land were completely eaten up and destroyed, along with cassava, maize and melon. The only remnants of his labour were innumerable footprints of cattle and dung all over the place.
He said he reported the incident to the chairman, Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area, Chukwudi Nnadozie, who later informed him that some government officials would visit the farm to ascertain the level of damage. However, he lamented that despite the huge financial losses he incurred, no respite has come from either the state or the local government authorities.
Another farmer from Isiuvuru Village, Utazi Ereme, said strange men suspected to be herdsmen have taken over their farmlands, even as herds of cattle openly graze on cassava and yam farms. He said farmers who depend solely on the proceeds of their farms for survival have been counting their losses. According to him, there were past incidents of people shot or butchered on their farms for confronting the invaders.
“Local farmers are in danger. These herders parade guns and threaten to kill you if you dare confront them. We are not bothered if they graze their cattle in the bushes, but our worry is when they deliberately lead herds of cattle into our farms and destroy our crops. In the past, these Fulani herdsmen used long sticks, but now they move about with rifles. Farmers are suffering in the hands of these herders,” he said.
Other farmers in the community recounted their grief, stressing that they no longer go to their farms for fear of attacks and kidnapping. Also, women going to the farm now move in groups for fear of being sexually molested.
It was gathered that the Uzo-Uwani Local Government authorities had in the past convened a security meeting with the leaders of the Hausa/Fulani community to seek a solution to the problem. But such efforts never worked, as the leaders of the herdsmen argued that those that destroyed farmlands were not their members.
President-general of Ugbene Ajima, Albert Utazi, said there were efforts towards a peaceful agreement between farmers and herders in the area, and urged members of the community to be calm and law-abiding even in the face of provocation.
Investigation revealed that the destruction of Okoro’s palm plantation was equally reported to the police in Adani, but no arrest has been made. Despite promises by the police to conduct discreet investigation to unravel the perpetrators terrorising these communities, some of the villagers said they have no confidence the security agencies would protect them and their farmlands from further attacks by the armed herdsmen.