Herdsmen/Farmers clash takes a new twist in Enugu
As the 76 local farmers of Ugwuleshi Community, Awgu council, Enugu State breathed the air of freedom recently, after their two weeks
incarceration, courtesy of a court bail and as they looked forward to the commencement of their trial on April 29, an issue that has remained a puzzle is the growing trend of disaffection between the communities and herdsmen.
Although the farmers had burst into jubilation the moment their bail was granted, one nagging issue, however, was how they would continue to relate with the Fulani herdsmen that have, allegedly, continued to terrorise their farmlands and crops.
The farmers were arrested on March 17, arraigned and remanded in prison custody the next day, following allegations that they burnt down about 90 houses at Obinwanne Fulani community settlement in Umunneochi, as well as possession of illegal and dangerous weapons.
The arrest was said to have been carried out by soldiers, who stormed the community in three trucks. It was reported that some of them were beaten to stupor before being whisked away to Umunneochi and later to Umuahia.
Another account said they were arrested on their farmlands for allegedly preventing some herdsmen from grazing on their farms. The incident was said to have led to casualties, as the natives allegedly pursued the herdsmen across the boundary between Ugwuleshi and
Umunneochi, leading to their arrest by soldiers in the area. But Spokesman of the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Col. H. Gambo said the Division was not aware of the arrest by its men, noting that information available to them showed that none of their men was involved in such dastardly act.
Gambo, who expressed sadness over the development said: “Every soldier out there is properly kitted from head to toe and can easily be identified. They are not our men; they are not military men. We are not aware of such. Some people just appeared in uniform and they were branded military men. They are not our soldiers, though nobody has formally reported anything to us.
“It’s very sad that people would just wake up and say soldiers arrested persons. Please our men are not involved in that. Criminals adopt all manner of styles to deceive people. These are people that have possibly collected money from one of the sides and decided to execute their nefarious act in such a manner,” he said.
The Traditional Ruler of Ugwuneshi autonomous community, His Majesty, Godwin Nwobi, who narrated the incident to The Guardian, explained that the community had always had issues with the herdsmen following
allegations that their cattle graze on farmlands and destroy crops. He stated that following the incessant destruction of crops on their farmlands, the natives, majority of who are farmers, had resisted attempts by the herdsmen to gain access into their farms, which triggered the problem.
Narrating how and why the 76 natives were arrested, he said: “It all started with a false alarm. Somebody called one of the vigilante boys in Obuoffia that two women had been abducted and that they should come immediately to rescue them. The boys thought the story was true, not knowing it was a false alarm. So, all of them went there to search for the two women and while doing that, soldiers rounded them up. I believe it was a planned deal between the Fulanis and the soldiers that arrested the boys.
“They beat the boys merciless. Some were beaten to stupor and bundled into trailer containers to Umunneochi and later to Umuahia, the Abia State capital, from where they were later transferred to Abia State Police command.
“This happened on Wednesday, and on getting to Abia State Police Command, we were told that the case had been transferred to the State Criminal Investigation department. They were arraigned the next morning on trump-up charges of illegal possession of firearm and other things, which were not true. We believe the policemen are working with the soldiers to fabricate those stories in order to pin them down.”
He continued: “I believe the soldiers were bought over to carry out that unlawful act. How can you destroy somebody’s farm and equally arrest the person and charge him for arson? Which house belonging to the herdsmen was torched, if I may ask? My people are being daily terrorised by these herdsmen, who chase them to their farms, eat their food and even rape some of our women.
“I am appealing to the Federal Government to intervene because the activities of the Fulani herdsmen have taken a different dimension, more so when military men have joined them to intimidate our community. I want to say here that these herdsmen are carrying AK-47 and moving around our farmlands. We cannot run away from our community, as this is our home and farming is our business, just like cattle rearing is the Fulaniman’s business. And if we don’t farm then we will die because we have no other business than farming. If the cows destroy our crops, we cannot guarantee their survival next year and there will be no food for us. So, I am appealing to both the state and federal governments to save our souls. I have written to the state government, but nothing has changed.”
The Monarch expressed worries over the fact that without any investigation, his subjects were arrested, arraigned and thrown into prison, which to him, indicates, “somebody has empowered these herdsmen to do whatever they like in any community and farmland they entered. If the soldiers are denying their involvement, then who did it,” he queried.
Corroborating the story, Community leader of Obuoffia-Awgu, Nze James N. Onyimba, said the herdsmen “have been giving us much headache and troubles since they arrived in our area. All the crops we planted have been uprooted. They steal the crops and bring their cows and destroy every other thing in the farm, aside raping our women. When you keep your food in the farm, Fulani people will go there and carry it. They steal handsets and clothes and then runaway with them. I have approached their leaders, one of whose name is Abubakar. I urged him to ask his people to take away their cows from our farms, which are too small for us, talk less of accommodating cows that destroy them.
“Since they came to our area, my people are scared to go to their farms for fear of being killed or raped, especially after they killed one of our brothers in his farm. We always go in groups, whenever we are going to farm to avoid being attacked. No woman goes to the farm alone. If you go to our farmland near Ishiagu in Ebonyi State, there is no cassava or other crops standing. If you go to our farm near Lokpanta in Abia State, it is the same story. And if you meet them in your farm and ask them to leave, they would start fighting.
“They have killed one of our brothers, while some people have dropped dead upon seeing the level of destruction of their farm crops. Elisus Ndimu Onuoha was one the three people that died in the farm on seeing his farm leveled to the ground. He discovered that nothing could be retrieved because of level of destruction of his crops by Fulani herdsmen.
“I took one of our women they attempted to rape in the farm to their leader, Alhaji Abubakar and nothing happened. We also went to the police, but they too were not helpful. We have lodged several complaints with the police for over five years now, but the problem has continued. The most recent problem is that after the last general election, the army has taken over. The soldiers terrorise us and now they are arresting our people.”
The Awgu incident is one among many in Enugu State. From Uzo Uwani to Nsukka, Isiuzo to Nkanu East and Awgu to Ezeagu, residents have continued to lament all sorts of woe in the hands of alleged herdsmen, who either feed their cattle with crops in their farms, raped the women, injure or kill them, when resistance is mounted.
One of such incidents was that of Abi Community in UzoUwani council of the State on Tuesday, February 9 2016, when herdsmen, who invaded the community at about 4.00pm from the neighbouring community of Kogi
State, killed people and destroyed property and farmlands valued at several millions of naira.
It was learnt that the attack, carried out by over 20 men, who were armed to the teeth, led to the death of four persons, while several property and farmlands were also destroyed. The alleged herdsmen were said to be retaliating the death of one of their members, which occurred during a clash in the farm.
A community leader said of the incident: “One challenge that has been thrown up following the increased spate of insecurity, violence and killings by the terrorist group, Boko Haram in the north east is the pressure it has brought to other parts of the country, where there are now human activities that were formerly unknown.”
He listed such human activities as influx of herdsmen from the troubled region to other parts of the country in search of pasture for their cattle, as well as shelter in less violent areas. In his view, the issue of desertification would push herdsmen into migrating from the north to the south and the east.
Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, who could not hide his feelings over the turn of events, however, urged the farmers to remain law abiding, while assuring them that his government would do all in its power to effect the release of their people, as well as find a permanent solution to the problem.
Said he: “As your governor, the arrest of these villagers and their detention in Umuahia means that part of me is in that place. I cannot sleep because you people cannot sleep. You elected me and there is no way I would abandon you in this period of pain and distress. Only God knows what happened. This is a temptation, but since we have a living God, I believe we will solve this. It is a security matter. It has happened in Uzo Uwani. It has also happened in Nsukka and we resolved all of it. So, this one will also be resolved.
“I weep for you because what was destroyed was your source of
livelihood. It has happened, but I want to assure you that government will not abandon you. The essence of a government is to alleviate the people’s sufferings and this government is truly and effectively committed towards that.”
State Commissioner of Police, Nwodibo Elochukwu said his Command was working hard to enthrone peace in the communities, especially between herdsmen and the local farmers. He said Nigerians are empowered by the constitution to live and work peacefully in any part of the country. He, however, urged those whose farmlands are being destroyed or herdsmen whose cattle are tampered with to report to the police rather than resort to self-help. He said the Command had intervened in the matter, as well as that of Uzo Uwani. He explained that leaders of the warring factions have been meeting to find solutions to the issues. He did not say whether any arrests had been made though.
Speaking on the menace of the herdsmen, as well as the misunderstandings among their hosts that had always resulted in huge casualties, a member of the Cow Dealers Association in the state, Mallam Sagi Muhammed advocated the ban on certain age group from being allowed to herd cattle in the communities.
Said he: “These small boys are the ones creating the trouble and allowing their cattle easy access to people’s farms. They don’t know how to organise and control the cows; they can’t even stop them when they want to cause havoc. That is the situation and they come back to give false reports that could trigger issues with anybody that tried to stop them”.
He said as part of measures to check their activities, they have pressured them into moving into bushes and not people’s farms. He explained that the association has continued to hold meetings with community leaders in the state with a view to finding solution to the menace.
As the court resumes trial of the Awgu 76 in two weeks time, it would be interesting to know whether a new template would be set in recurring herdsmen and farmers clash in the communities.