Fulani herdsmen recently carried out their murderous attacks on farmers in Ndi Okereke Abam in Arochukwu Local Government Area of Abia State, leaving behind tale of woes, writes Emmanuel Ugwu
The harvest season of rice has set in at Abam in Arochukwu Local Government Area of Abia State and farmers are busy as they gather the yields from their farms. Like other farmers in this agrarian community, Ezekiel Ebong and his wife went to their rice farm on the fateful day of November 4, 2016 and harvested enough for the day. But the joy that farmers usually have on day of harvest suddenly turned to sadness for Ebong. He was dealt with several machete blows by Fulani herdsmen, who attacked him after invading his farm and taking his wife. The farmer, who hails from Akwa Ibom State but resides at Ndi Okereke Abam in Abia State, narrated his ordeal from the hospital bed where he is battling for his life. He said that he had decided to carry a bagful of rice home leaving his wife to watch over the remaining harvest but on coming back cattle were all over his farm and he could not see his wife. Then he heard the distress cry for help coming from his wife who was being held by herdsmen.
“I could not bear her cry and I rushed to rescue her from the hands of the herdsmen,” he said. It was a daredevil effrontery since he was not armed while the adversaries were all armed. The hapless farmer succeeded as his wife managed to escape while the herdsmen were raining machete cuts on him.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Ebong had run away to call other people for help and farmers in nearby farms answered her distress call. Among them was Amos Omoro, who nearly lost his life in trying to help his fellow farmer under attack. He said that indeed the herdsmen left him thinking he was dead after using their machetes to cut him on the head and neck. Omoro said that in his subconscious state he heard one of the herdsmen saying: “This one don go, make we lefam”. It was because of their belief that their victim had passed away that the herdsmen left him and continued to attack other farmers. By the time the attacks subsided scores of people were left with various degrees of injuries out of which six are in critical condition. At a private hospital in Ohafia where some of the injured are receiving treatment, Dr. Bernard Orji told journalists that the victims have lost so much blood but their condition had stabilised following quick medical intervention. He said they were responding well to treatment, including the victim that was shot in his hand.
It was not until 72 hours after the attack that the news spread to the capital city Umuahia. President General of the Ndi Okereke Abam Town Union, Chief Chukwuma Egbuta Okubi, said that the herdsmen attack came as a surprise. He said that the herdsmen had no reason to attack farmers for asking them not to turn their farms into grazing fields.
According to him, the most annoying thing was that the herdsmen were very callous as they abandoned the grass with which they usually fed their cattle and “decided to feed their animals with our farm produce, the only source of our livelihood.” Okubi said that there had been occasions when the herdsmen had provoked their host community and were issued with quit notice. However he said that the quit order was withdrawn following a peace accord and a pledge by the herdsmen not to lead their cattle into the farms again. The town union leader said that the peace accord was working and the herdsmen were staying peacefully with their hosts hence it came as a surprise when the herdsmen violated the peace accord on November 4 by grazing on rice farms and attacking farmers. He said that the situation would have degenerated to unimaginable dimension if not for the intervention of the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Leye Oyebade, who mobilised his men to the conflict zone.
Even at that, tension was still rising. But the member representing Arochukwu/Ohafia Federal Constituency in the National Assembly, Hon. Uko Nkole has waded into the crisis to stop it from getting out of hand. The lawmaker had to rush down to his constituency on receiving the information about the herdsmen’ attack. He was accompanied by Captain Awa Udensi (rtd), the Special Adviser to Abia State governor on Security as he visited the hospitals where the victims are receiving medical care. Nkole sympathised with them and paid their hospital bills. Addressing the people at the Ndi Okereke Abam Town Hall, he called for peaceful co-existence between the herdsmen and their host communities, adding that nobody should take further action that could escalate the situation. The federal lawmaker assured his constituents that he would continue to do the needful along with his fellow legislators to find a lasting solution to the frequent clashes involving herdsmen and their host communities, which have become a national problem. He said that lasting peace could be achieved through legislative framework that would protect the farmers as well as the Fulani herdsmen. Nkole said that without peaceful co-existence Nigeria’s efforts at development and improving the lives of its people would be an exercise in futility. “Nigeria is our country and collectively we must make it work by mutual understanding and respect for our various cultural values,” he said.
On the apprehension over possible reprisal attack, the lawmaker said that contact had been established with the law enforcement agencies through the Special Adviser on Security to Abia governor to make sure that peace was maintained in the community.
Special Adviser on Security to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, Capt. Udensi said that the state government would continue to put in place measures to guarantee protection of lives and property and peaceful co-existence of people living in Abia State. He stated that the position of the state government on the issue of cattle grazing has remained that Abia does not have enough land for grazing “but because we are all Nigerians, the government has allowed a level of understanding to prevail.”
Nonetheless, Udensi pointed out that a robust approach would be needed in due course that would involve “not chasing away the visitors but educating them on the need to understand and respect our cultural values.” Apparently the Fulani community in Abia are equally apprehensive of the consequences of the herdsmen’ attack on Ndi Okereke Abam community hence their involvement in efforts to prevent escalation of violence. State Chairman, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders, Hassan Buba, has promised that such attack would not be allowed to happen again. He said that all Fulani in Abia State had been summoned to an emergency meeting with the sole agenda of seeking out ways to ensure for peaceful co-existence with their host communities. Hassan urged all parties to always report all provocative incidents to the authorities instead of taking laws into their hands.
Unlike its neighbouring Enugu State, Abia has relatively remained safe from the murderous activities of herdsmen. But having successfully carried out serial attacks on some Enugu communities without any deterrent response the herdsmen may appear to have enough courage to test the waters in Abia. There had been occasional skirmishes between farmers and herdsmen but such incidents did not take the bloody dimension as the November 4 incident at Ndi Okereke Abam. Both the Zone 9 Police headquarters and the Abia State Police Command have been involved in taking pro-active measures to prevent violent clashes between herdsmen and farmers. These included organising stakeholders’ meetings, town hall meetings, enhancing of community policy with the inauguration of Eminent Peoples Forum as well as the inauguration of herdsmen/farmers committee which is chaired by the state Commissioner of Police. It would therefore appear that the herdsmen have slipped through these security nets to engage in violent attack on the farmers at Ndi Okereke Abam.
For now calm has been restored with multiple interventions by the security agencies, state government and the federal lawmaker in whose constituency the attack took place. The sustainability of the calm would however depend largely on the ability and capacity of the state leadership of their Fulani community to rein in their herdsmen members. The youths of Abam, according to the town union president were already rearing for revenge attack before the quick intervention to calm frayed nerves. There is no guarantee that the people of Abam, who are famous warriors, would sheathe their swords when next they are attacked by herdsmen. The Fulani herdsmen may refer to Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ to really understand the kind of tiger they are pulling its tail.