From Magnus Eze, Enugu
Afikpo community in Ebonyi State said that it has adopted a very pragmatic approach in tackling Fulani herdsmen menace with the banning of consumption of cattle meat in the area.
President General of Ohaisu Afikpo Community Development Association speaks on the decision taken recently at the Ehugbo general assembly after the killing of a graduate farmer and his wife in their farm by persons suspected to be murderous herders.
Is it true that some persons actually endorsed an agreement to bring in the Fulani to graze in Afikpo farms?
That was the genesis of the problem. Irrespective of the fact that the menace of the Fulani herdsmen has become a national problem, a group of women in Afikpo who claimed to be representing Ohaisu and Afikpo women went into an unwarranted romance with a cattle dealer, Alhaji Dabo Ado and endorsed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) purportedly giving the herdsmen authority to operate and graze in the farmlands in Afikpo communities, Afikpo North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. It is worthy of note that the farmlands which they went into bargain with these Fulani men did not belong to them. The said MoU registered on 4th day of February 2016 at the Magistrates’ Court, Afikpo states that it was “to enable Alhaji Dabo, the cattle owner carry out his business of cattle rearing in Afikpo farm locations without interference and that in case of invasion, molestation, destruction and damage of crops, that the women group shall report such to the Divisional Police Station which the DPO shall invite the parties and such damage ascertained for compensation.
So, what was the stand of the Afikpo people?
The Elders in Afikpo have most times expressed worry over the activities of the Fulani herdsmen. The Council on its own had made frantic efforts reaching out to the local and state authorities, as well as calling the attention of the leaders of these herders to the numerous damage they inflict on our people. One could recall a special meeting of elders of Afikpo, Amasiri, Akpoha and Unwana communities on the one part, representatives of the Fulani and the law enforcement agents on the other. It was then resolved on 30th day of November 2013 that the herdsmen move to where the government of the state earmarked for grazing of cows and other domestic animals. There was a well-organized community drive to wade-off the animals from devastating the farms; similarly, signposts banning movements of cattle within farms were conspicuously displayed at strategic locations and the directive was strictly adhered to at that time. You can see that the action of the women by entering into the MoU with Dabo caused an influx of the cattle into our farmlands. And this was three years after we had heaved a sigh of relief and our farmers enjoying the fruit of their labour without their crops being damaged. The Elders’ Council did not take the MoU for granted. They, in reaction, vehemently opposed it and quickly summoned a general meeting of Ehugbo women and other male stakeholders of the community. In that well-attended meeting at Amebor, Amangballa, Afikpo; the gathering reiterated their earlier resolve not to allow cattle of any kind in our farmlands just as the women leadership from all the village groups openly denied giving any mandate to the group that endorsed a MoU with the Fulani cattle dealer, Dabo. The people, therefore, gave mandate for the agreement or MoU to be quashed. The elders on behalf of the generality of Afikpo people quickly did that successfully. The body documented a counter to the MoU and with the adopted resolution and registered appropriately in the High Court of Justice, Afikpo the matter was rested. But still, aggrieved by the puncture, the leaders of the women group that endorsed that unwarranted, obnoxious and unauthorized MoU cooked-up allegations against some members of the Elders’ Council leadership, claiming violation of their fundamental rights; the group reported the matter to the Police headquarters at Abakaliki via a petition in which other accusations were leveled against the elders. The Police authorities were tactful in handling the matter after investigations were made and they brokered peace. But while the case was being terminated at the Police headquarters, the women group filed yet the same petition at the Family Law Centre, Abakaliki before the Chairman/Magistrate in charge. The elders made several trips to Abakaliki to defend the charges. And the same case was quashed. Back home, a general assembly was summoned again. It was in that meeting that Ezeogo Elechi explained that he has reflected on the action of the women group and now realized its adverse consequences and openly debunked the insinuation of Mrs Felicia Egwu and group that he (Ezeogo) gave consent to them as far as the MoU was concerned.
Was the case at the State Police command headquarters different from the one at the High Court in Afikpo?
They are all different! The women were restless and hell-bent on seeing to it that they succeeded in executing the MoU. So, they used various tact and tactics. Yes, they were the people that dragged some members of the Essas to the High Court in Afikpo. Also included in their suit were Chief Hyacinth Ikpor and Sir Ralph Okole as respondents in the suit NO. HAF/184M/2016. I have to comment on it because the case had already been determined and judgment delivered on the matter. In that suit, the women claimed some reliefs based on alleged infringement of their fundamental rights, freedom of association and freedom from discrimination. Among others, the women group sought the court’s declaration that the “Decision of the Essas that they cannot sign the MoU with Alhaji Dabo Ardo, the cattle owner is grossly discriminatory and a declaration that the practice which is that “any Ehugbo woman who is to appear before them must greet them through a man and be talking through a male interpreter is obnoxious, vexatious, highly discriminatory and a breach of their fundamental rights”. They also sought an order of the court nullifying the alleged proscription of Nzukeo Inyom Ehugbo meeting among others and asked for general damages of N50 million severally and jointly against the respondents.
You said that the case has been terminated?
First, the bone of contention in the suit was the that the elders of Afikpo contested the MoU a group of women from the area entered into allowing grazing in their farmlands by a Fulani man, Alhaji Dabo, on the grounds that their consent was not sought before such agreement was reached. The Essas thereby invoked traditional sanctions against the applicants making the women to go to court for redress. On 14th December 2016, about three months the case had been dragged, both parties abandoned their differences and insistence on their alleged rights to settle the suit. According to the parties, the U-turn was aimed at fostering the reign of cordial relationship. Based on the terms of settlement, reached, Mrs Orie Ukor and Mrs Ugo Ukor on behalf of the women apologized in the open court to the Elders Council for entering into the said MoU with Alhaji Dabo. Based on the apology, and withdrawal of the MoU; the respondents agreed and accepted to lift forthwith the sanctions, injunctions and bans imposed on the women. Having noted the terms of settlement, the High Court presided over by Hon. Justice Benson A. N. Ogbu, adopted the same as its judgment and ordered that both parties bear their respective costs. That was how that case ended.
The influx of cattle into Afikpo has reduced drastically; could it be attributed to the recent ban imposed on slaughtering, eating and selling of cow meat in the popular Eke market Afikpo?
It is a good omen for our people. Hardly could you now see cattle or the herders in our farmland. Viewed from either perspective or viewed from all perspectives, there is no way one can justify a person coming to arbitrarily, without the consent of the owner, force himself into a person’s land to do whatever or whichever business. No arbiter can distance himself from the truth that such can be justified. The menace of the herdsmen should give serious cause for alarm, as our youths are being discouraged from building investment potentials in the agricultural sector. The ban on selling, eating and killing of cows in Afikpo seem to be a very welcome development and with the dramatic exit of the cows in the farmland; Afikpo people now look to the future planting season with great optimism for fruitful and bountiful harvest as against our years of being impoverished and pauperized because of massive damage to our crops by Fulani cattle. No other measure can serve well as substitute for the present as the result has shown. Afikpo, as an epitome of peace, with no evil intention, no bitterness; no love lost but for peace to reign, has denied itself of whatever goodies that the consumption of beef might offer. The humiliation which seemed endless and degrading to our farmers is now eroding.
When and how was the decision arrived to kick against open grazing and ban of the sale of meat at the Eke Market?
On November 21, 2020, a general assembly was summoned. The meeting was sequel to a petition by an Association of Butchers to the Chairman, Afikpo North L.G.A. Council Area, Barrister Oby Oko Enyim; protesting the community’s restriction imposed on their members from slaughtering cattle or selling its meat at our local market and consequently pleading with the L.G.A. authorities to make the elders rescind the order. In reaction, the chairman, after a meeting with a delegation of elders, ordered for the Ogo Amebor, Amangballa general assembly with all stakeholders including the butchers, council officials, political appointees, the elders and the women group. Some security agents were also in attendance. The assembly went down memory lane to recall how, on numerous occasions, there had been reported cases of wanton killings, rampant rape on the women and other crimes committed by suspected herdsmen on the farms. It was observed that rather than boost agriculture and protecting the lives of the citizens and their property, the activities of the herders most of whom are teenagers have consistently negated the laudable agriculture policies to our disadvantages and against our fundamental rights. The people recalled a recent case in which a young unemployed graduate farmer, Joseph Oko who had obtained a loan to establish a small-scale farm was gruesomely murdered while his pregnant wife that accompanied him to the farm was raped and killed too. The incident was reported to have occurred at Amata, Ozizza farm road location, and accusing fingers pointed to the herders. The police are still investigating the matter, months after. Solutions were sought on ways and means to curb the cattle menace. As a practical demonstration of the unwavering commitment to safeguard their crops and to protest their grievances; the people unanimously chose to stir the middle peaceful course of protesting rather than confrontation. It was resolved that with effect from October 24, 2020, the people of Afikpo shall cease to patronize cow sellers and accordingly placed ban on the sell and killing of cow meat in the area. They equally made passionate plea with the herders and directed them to vacate the farmlands as they had not the consent of the land owners to operate in their local market-Eke Ukwu, Afikpo. Similarly, the LGA officials and other political office holders who attended the meeting were urged, as a matter of urgency, to work toward actualizing the passage of the relevant laws to checkmate open grazing. It was a general consensus.