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Menace of Fulani herdsmen: Tales of woes from the East

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Incidents of killing, robbery, rape, maiming and kidnapping by the cattle herdsmen have inflicted pains on most farmers, even as farm produce have been drastically affected. Farmers, leaving in fear, have scampered to safety in desperate bids to avoid being hacked down by the rampaging herdsmen.

CATTLE rearing and cattle rearers have over the years contributed their own quota to the economy of the South-East and the country at large. The place of Fulani herdsmen is inevitably important as they have sustained the production and sales of meat in markets across the country.

However, despite their diverse importance, the recent activities of Fulani cattle rearers in the South-East obviously threaten the life and existence of those living within their areas of grazing, especially in the rural areas.

It is not in doubt that there is hardly any community in the South-East geo-political zone where you will not find Fulani herdsmen. What is however most disturbing to farmers and land owners is the way they forcefully colonize, kill, maim and allow their cattle to destroy farm crops wherever they set their feet.  They have sadly transformed themselves into law.

The stories trailing the rampage of Fulani herdsmen and their cattle in the South-East are therefore as ugly as they are most discomforting.

The activities  of these herdsmen in some communities in Abia State, for example, have become a source of great worry to the people. This is because of the huge damage the cattle inflict on crops and farmlands in these rural communities which the breeders illegally and brazenly colonize as grazing grounds. That the herdsmen dare them for a showdown when challenged  is most provocative to victims of this menace!

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Saturday Vanguard  investigations revealed that, besides the damage on crops and other farm produce, the aggressive nature of the Fulani cattle guards is more of concern to any community they invade. They are always armed to the teeth with dangerous weapons, including AK47, charms and deadly sharp daggers and machetes and are often ready to attack the farm owners at the least confrontation.

Tales of woes

There have been reports of clashes between the herdsmen and farmers across the region. For instance, in Abia communities of Uzuakoli in Bende Local Government Area, Ebem and Akanu in Ohafia and Umuchieze in Umunneochi, there have been cases of deadly clashes between rural farmers and these cattle breeders.

In Uzuakoli, a man popularly known in the area as Ajambele sometime in the past received a deadly attack when he  met cattle destroying his farm in the Over Rail area of the community and  confronted the Fulani cattle herdsmen who had invaded the farmland with the cattle. The herdsmen were said to have used sharp dagger to rip open Ajambele’s stomach, forcing the intestines to gush out. He was said to have been rushed to a hospital and was lucky to have survived.

Cases of invasion of farmlands in Ebem and Akanu communities nearly resulted in bloodbath but the wisdom of the leaders in the community who timely reported to the authorities saved bloody clashes. Some of the cases were so serious that Abia State Government had to intervene, preventing the youths of the communities from retaliating. It set up a peace committee that quelled the then imminent doom.

The story is not different in Enugu State.  Saturday Vanguard  investigation revealed that attacks unleashed by Fulani herdsmen are a recurring decimal in the state.  Of the 482 communities in Enugu State, one cannot boost of one community that has not had its fair share of Fulani herdsmen’s barbaric activities which leave in their wake,perennial tears of sorrow. Indigenes of Ezeagu tell stories of not only destruction of their farms but also rape of their women in their farms.

Over 70 percent of the people in the state who are domiciled in rural areas, engage in subsistent or commercial agricultural activities as their mainstay. But the recent increasing threat posed by Fulani herdsmen is rocking the fabric of their fundamental existence.

Incidents of killing, robbery, rape, maiming and kidnapping by the cattle herdsmen have inflicted pains on most farmers, even as farm produce have been drastically affected. Farmers, leaving in fear, have scampered to safety in desperate bids to avoid being hacked down by the rampaging herdsmen.

Last March, suspected Fulani herdsmen allegedly killed Tamgbo Ogueji, a member of the traditional rulers’ cabinet at Eke Community in Udi Local Government Area of Enugu State. The deceased, aged 85, was shot in his house in the early hours over an undisclosed issue with the herdsmen.

President-General, Eke Town Union, Mr. Anthony Enu, told  Saturday Vanguard  that the community was irked and the youths restive. He said:  “Last year, the same Fulani herdsmen killed two of our brothers, Matthew Aniugo and Chiagha Chigbo, in their farms. The town is boiling with anger now.  We have reported the matter to the Police. We are calling on all relevant authorities to prevail on these Fulani herdsmen to ensure justice for our people.”

The sleepy town of Nkpologu Community in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State was, last January, thrown into mourning following news of the death of a young woman on New Year eve, during a Fulani herdsmen’s robbery attack on a commuter bus.

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The deceased, Veronica Ezugwu, 20, from Agum Village, Nkpologu Community was pronounced dead at Annunciation Hospital, Emene, Enugu. She had sustained several gunshot injuries during the robbery attack on the commuter bus conveying the victim and three other passengers home for Christmas on December 24, 2014.

The incident occurred at Camp Bus Stop, Nkpologu Community  at 12.54pm. According to an eyewitness, three Fulani herdsmen, armed with short pump action double-barrelled guns, sprang from the bush and started shooting at the bus. The bus driver escaped into the bush with gunshot wounds, while the two other passengers sustained minor injuries.  According to the eyewitness, “Veronica was hit on the head and eyes and her brain tissues severed.”

Contacted, the cousin to the deceased, Chinedu Ezugwu, said: “She was rushed immediately to University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, UNTH, Ituku-Ozalla, Enugu. But we could not get medical attention following the industrial action embarked upon by health workers.

“We then took her to Annunciation Hospital  on December 25.  She  was operated on and the bullets removed. Eventually she died on New Year eve.  We are yet to come to terms with the sad development. She was coming home for Christmas and had got to the bus stop to her village. I do not think we will ever recover from this”, Mr. Ezugwu lamented.

In Ebonyi State, people are usually uncomfortable with the activities of Fulani herdsmen simply because of their tendency to become violent at the slightest provocation. And due to their level of education, exposure and background, many people in the state tend to avoid them but only react to their misdemeanors whenever situations get out of control.

However, the complaints of those in Ebonyi border mainly on the ease with which the cattle rearers go into both private and public farms without permission to allow their cattle to graze in the area.

Farmers and villagers in Imo State also have gory tales to tell. Emotions ran high and tension was electric recently as scores of angry youths of Irete Community in the state, blocked the ever busy Owerri-Onitsha dual carriageway to protest the damnable activities of Fulani herdsmen in their community.

Obviously, the Hausa-Fulani herdsmen were at it again in the community, harassing   the people who tried to resist efforts to turn their cassava, yam and vegetables farms into grazing fields for cattle. Some affected villagers told  Saturday Vanguard  that they now feel helpless and defenceless in their own communities, especially as the Federal and State Governments appear not ready to come to their assistance.

Presently, most farmers are now scared to go to their farms, while it is also true that they are afraid to move about in the night!

Many South-East socio-political leaders perceive the menace of these Fulani herdsmen as a threat to every Nigerian as their activities are nationwide. Following the recent abduction of Chief Olu Falae, a group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Stakeholders called on President Muhammadu Buhari to “cage the Fulani herdsmen now.”

The group, in a statement signed by its Chairman, Mr. Chukwudi Ibegbo said:  “The Ohanaeze Ndigbo Stakeholders’ Forum was alarmed by the recent abduction of a Nigerian statesman and Yoruba leader, Chief Olu Falae, by Fulani herdsmen. This abduction, one too many, could have led to a national chaos if he was not released later by the marauders.

“Nigeria and her government should no longer keep quiet in the face of this Fulani terror in the Middle Belt and South of the country.  The open grazing acts of Fulani herdsmen are now outdated and should be phased out in Nigeria. We warn of future consequences of unchecked Fulani herdsmen attacks on innocent Nigerians.”

Panacea

Perturbed by the herdsmen’s activities, the immediate past Enugu State House of Assembly led by Eugene Odoh, began public hearing on a bill to make provisions for the control of nomadic cattle rearing in the state, and which   passed second reading.

Represented by the Leader of the House, Mr. Udo-Okoye of Awgu-North Constituency, the Speaker said: “Yes, it’s true that our women, both young and old, have been raped, maimed in their farmlands by cattle rearers in the state.  These cattle rearers send their cows into the farmlands of our people where they destroy all their farm produce.  They block the highways with their cattle, rob and kidnap our people.

They abduct them and keep them captives in the bush and demand for ransom.  That is why as a House elected to serve, represent and make laws for the good governance of our people, we can no longer fold our arms and watch our people being killed and maimed.”

The bill provides for the establishment of grazing areas in each of the three senatorial zones of Enugu State and the nomadic cattle rearers shall ensure that the cattle are confined within the grazing areas as provided.” It further stipulated: “Any person who permits cattle to graze in an area not designated as grazing area in the state, shall be guilty of an offence and shall on conviction be liable to a six-month imprisonment or a fine of N100,000 or both.

“Cattle found grazing in an area not designated a grazing area in the state shall be impounded by the pound master or any other person duly authorized by the commissioner. Any cattle impounded under this law, which is not claimed within one week of the impounding shall be sold in accordance with auction law; the proceeds of the sale shall be deposited in the government revenue.”

And in Ebonyi State, reacting to the menace of the Fulani herdsmen, the State Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Barr. Uchenna Orji condemned the illegal activities of cattle rearers in the state and called on them to be law abiding and avoid all forms of vices while carrying out their activities.

“They need to keep tenets governing the state and they have not been complying; their actions have been devastating

Follow the story on Vanguardngr.com 


- By Chidi Nkwopara, Anayo Okoli, Francis Igata &  Peter Okutu
 

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