Blood flowed freely at the agrarian community of Ukpabi Nimbo in Uzo-Uwani local council of Enugu State last Monday as herdsmen invaded the community, causing unimaginable carnage and destruction of property, and fear of even worse reprisals. Christopher Isiguzo, in Enugu, writes
The events of April 25 in Ukpabi Nimbo community in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State have left deep scars. The pain caused in the community by the killing of children, mothers and fathers by cattle herders that fateful Monday morning will take a long time to heal.
The herdsmen had invaded the community in the early hours of Monday and attacked no fewer than seven villages in Nimbo, including Nimbo Ngwoko, Ugwuijoro, Ekwuru, Ebor, Enugu Nimbo, Umuome and Ugwuachara. In the process, scores of lives were wasted while those who managed to escape sustained varying degrees of injury, especially deep cuts on their foreheads, necks, arms and legs. Most of the injured were rushed to different hospitals, including Royal Cross Specialist hospital, Bishop Shanahan Hospital and Nsukka District Hospital in Nsukka, about 30 kilometres away from the area. The community has no hospital. Those whose wounds were more severe were rushed to the National Orthopaedic Hospital and Parklane Hospital in Enugu.
Apart from the human carnage, 10 residential houses and a church belonging to the Christ Holy Church International, Onueke Nimbo Odozi Obodo sect, were also burnt by the herdsmen. Vehicles were burnt and domestic animals like goats, cows and sheep were killed. A young man whose name could not be ascertained was burnt inside a commuter bus belonging to one Ejima, near the Christ Holy Church, Nimbo.
Students writing the West African Examination Council’s School Certificate examinations abandoned the exams and ran for their lives.
The bodies recovered from the scene of the attacks included those of an old man aged about 85, and another young man whose throat was slit. One of the victims, who was simply identified as Mr Ajogwu, the father of the former councillor for Nimbo Ward 1, Sunday Ajogwu, had his left hand severed while another former councillor for Nimbo Ward 2, Kingsley Onyebuchi Ezugwu, was among those seriously injured. One victim had his stomach ripped open with the intestines outside.
The situation at the once peaceful agrarian community on that fateful Monday was indescribable as blood flowed freely, with people wailing out their hearts. Not even the arrival of the police commissioner, Ekechukwu Nwodibo, and the Area Commander for Nsukka, Monday Kuryasi, among other top police officers to the troubled community could reduce the tears.
Before the attacks, it was gathered that the herdsmen had vacated the area with their cattle in the early hours of Saturday, before the attackers who reportedly came from Nasarawa State, near Abuja, started killing the Nimbo people.
There had been anxiety in Nimbo following reports that about 500 Fulani herdsmen were assembling to attack the area. It was gathered that Fulani herdsmen at Adani had at the weekend imported about 500 others from Nassarawa State to help them invade Nimbo community. They alleged that some of their cattle were missing in the area.
As a result of the development, stakeholders from the local government met weekend in Enugu to find a solution to the incessant attacks by Fulani herdsmen on communities in the local government, including the kidnap of over 15 persons and raping of several women from the area along the Nsukka- Adani- Umulokpa road in the last six months. Those kidnapped paid ransoms ranging from N500,000 to about N5 million before they regained their freedom.
Herdsmen had on February 9 also invaded the Abi community in UzoUwani about 4pm from a neighbouring community of Kogi State, killing and destroyed property and farmlands valued at several millions of naira. It was learnt that the attack, which led to the death of four persons, was carried out by over 20 armed men. The herdsmen were said to be retaliating the alleged death of one of their members said to have been killed during a clash in the farm.
But when the report about plans to attack Nimbo community was received, it was gathered that the chairman of the transition committee of Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area, Cornell Onwubuya, alerted both Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and the Commissioner of Police, Ekechukwu Nwodibo. Onwubuya also alerted other stakeholders who met leaders of the Fulani community in Enugu State to address the issue of the impending attack.
Speaking at the emergency meeting held penultimate Saturday evening, Onwubuya said the meeting was convened to address the allegation that Fulani herdsmen planned to import about 500 of their tribesmen to enable them invade some communities in Uzo-Uwani. He noted that the local leaders of the Fulani community also confirmed that there were attempts to bring in mercenaries to attack some communities in Uzo-Uwani, adding that the Fulani leaders in Enugu had complained that some of their people were killed within the axis of Nimbo and Abbi communities in the recent past.
In his speech at the meeting, Enugu State leader of the Fulani community, Alhaji Haldo Saidu Baso, said he had lived in Enugu State for over 33 years and would not be alive to witness the type of crisis that they were talking about. The Fulani community later resolved to talk to their people at different communities in the state not take the laws into their hands but to report disturbing issues to the traditional rulers of the communities.
“We will travel to Nassarawa State to talk to the cattle owners and stakeholders to warn the rustlers in Enugu State to stay away from trouble in the state,” Baso said, adding the local Fulani leaders at Uzo-Uwani had not reported the issues to the state leaders of the Fulani community over the matter.
Despite the arrangements made to forestall the attack, the herders not only invaded the villagers but also operated unchallenged, leaving tales of woes behind.
Expectedly, the community has been receiving various personalities on condolence visits. Ugwuanyi was on Tuesday accompanied to the community by Senator Chuka Utazi representing Enugu North senatorial zone; the GOC, 82 Division, Major General Ibrahim Attahiru; Ekechukwu, among other security chiefs. The governor had also declared a two-day fasting and prayers in the state to seek divine intervention.
The governor broke down in tears upon sighting a fresh corpse of one Ugwu Ogbu said to be a teacher from Enugu Ezike in Igboeze North council who was posted to Nimbo community. The corpse was recovered by villagers that morning. He donated N5 million as immediate relief to the area as economic activities were totally shut down.
The governor also undertook to take care of the hospital bills of those receiving treatment as a result of injuries sustained during the attack.
“We are going to seek for God’s intervention in this matter. It is my belief that this too will pass away. The entire people of Enugu State are with you in this moment of grief,” the governor said.
The governor explained that upon receipt of the report that there were plans to attack the community by the herders said to be coming from Nasarawa State, an emergency security council meeting was summoned on Sunday where far reaching decisions were taken to ensure that lives and properties were protected.
“A combined team of police, soldiers, civil defence operatives were despatched to the community but on Monday, we heard that they still carried out the threat resulting in the situation we are presently facing. No matter what, we are hopeful that God will save us from the present situation. That’s why I’ve declared fasting and prayers in the state for the next two days,” he told the people.
The governor also visited the traditional ruler of Nimbo community, Chief John Akor. While suing for peace, the governor assured the people of the community and the state at large that efforts were being made to find a lasting solution to the problem. He appealed to the people, especially the young men, not to take laws into their hands by engaging in any form of reprisal attack.
One of the community leaders, Dr Ajokwu George, appealed to the state government to come to their aid as their community had become a hunting ground for the herders. He said, “We are not really happy because our community is under threat, we have been burying our loved ones. We are more worried because in this case, we even alerted the security that these people were planning to attack us but nothing was done. As we speak, we’ve recovered over 20 corpses and we are still recovering more. Several others are in the morgue and in the hospitals. What did we do to deserve this? We are really pleading that something be done. Our women have been raped and killed and nothing has happened.
“What has happened is just a tip of the iceberg because we know they will come again. The way they invade our community and rape women before their husbands is worrisome. We need security here not just for a day or week but for months to protect us. We thank you for coming to empathise with us and we want you to deliver our people from this problem.”
A new twist to the story emerged on Wednesday when the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, visited the community and it was discovered that a police officer, one Corporal Chukwu, had been collaborating with the herders to inflict mayhem on the people.
While vowing to find a lasting solution to the problem posed by the activities of the herders, Arase ordered the detention of the policeman, directing that he be properly investigated. The IGP said once the allegations against him were confirmed, he would not only leave the police but will be prosecuted.
He also pledged the readiness of the police to do all in its powers to ensure that those involved in the gruesome murder of the villagers were arrested and prosecuted.
Arase said, “I am not happy about what has happened and that is why I have decided to come and have an on the spot assessment of the situation. I have been discussing with the senator from the area and others to enable us find lasting solution to the problem. I have been able to see what happened and we should be able to find solutions. I can assure Nigerians that nobody has the right to take the life of any other Nigerian and go free with it. We are going to make sure that we catch them and prosecute them and we will create the enabling environment for peace. On our way here, we saw where we are trying to put a police station to increase police visibility in this area.”
The IGP also visited the palace of the traditional ruler of the community, His Highness John Akor, and advised the community to remain law abiding and vigilant.
Some concerned citizens of the state on Wednesday took to the streets of Enugu in a peaceful protest against the invasion, killings and destruction of property belonging to villagers of Nimbo community by herdsmen. The protesters numbering more than 20 marched from New Market through Okpara Avenue, to Holy Ghost Park, to Edinburgh Street, to the House of Assembly, and Government House, Enugu.
Some of the placards read, “stop the killings. No more human blood for cows”, “Ndigbo are part of humanity, stop the herdsmen massacre at Uzo-Uwani”, “stop killing Ndigbo, Fulani must go, Gburugburu wake up from your sleep”, “stop the killing, Buhari sit up, Fulani must go, Ugwuanyi speak up” and “operation stay alive, leave Igbos alone,”.
The spokesman of the group, who were also members of an online group, Advocates Online, Dr. McGinger Ibeneme, decried the incessant destruction of farmlands, killings, rape and kidnapping of people of the South-east by Fulani herdsmen. Ibeneme said, “The crux of the matter is that every day people go to their sleep and Fulani cattle herdsmen will come and slaughter them. Just few days ago, over 200 people were massacred in their village in Uzo-Uwani. There has never been any arrest; if anything, the Awgu indigenes were arrested for chasing away the invaders. They had to bail themselves. Their women were raped, men being abducted.
“We have heard about a Catholic priest being abducted, we have heard about churches being burnt, we have heard about women being raped. Every single day, day-by-day lives are lost. The federal government has refused to say anything; the presidency has been quiet over the Fulani. Are cows worth more than our lives? Why are they killing us, is it a crime to be a Nigerian? We just want answers. When will the killings stop? Why hasn’t the president sent the army, why hasn’t the president deployed the intelligence?
“They call them hoodlums, who are the hoodlums? Do the hoodlums have an army, that they invade a village and kill in hundreds? Were the Nigerian police asleep? Have there been any arrests?
“My appeal to the people is to open their eyes, to be alert, to be vigilant, to protect themselves against the invaders as the government can no longer protect us. It’s only a tree that will hear that it will die and it stays put. We are human beings; we have to shout for the whole world to hear us. The genocide is going on. There is a systematic killing of our people. After the massacre the government will now send the police to come and calm us down so that there will not be reprisals. We are dying in our numbers.”
In a similar vein, the Anglican Arch-Bishop of the Enugu Ecclesiastical Province, Dr Emmanuel Chukwuma, on Wednesday led a peaceful protest against the recent killings by herdsmen in the South-east. He was joined by other clergymen and residents of the coal city on the protest march.
Speaking with newsmen, Chukwuma encouraged Christians to intensify prayers to conquer the challenge as “the Igbo cannot stay in their land and become strangers.
“The people of South-east should stop patronising, empowering and engaging strangers in menial jobs so that they will stop killing our people. The state governor, Chief Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, said that we should pray and fast but prayer without action is nothing. So we are praying and matching it with action to sensitise our people to rise to this situation because `enough is enough’.
If these senseless killings continue unabated, we will not hesitate to go after the herdsmen anywhere they are and we shall declare serious war against them. If Boko Haram subsides in the North, they cannot come down to the east and disguise themselves as herdsmen.”
The government and the security agencies are trying to calm frayed nerves. But tension remains high, and there are fears that there may be retaliations if appropriate security measures are not put in place.