Christopher Isiguzo in Enugu
Apparently scared of a possible reprisal attack by suspected Fulani herdsmen, the people of Umuanee and Obagwa communities in Nkanu West Local Government Area of Enugu State yesterday fled their homes as tension enveloped the entire area.
The fleeing residents including aged men and women as well as their youths took refuge at Ozalla police station.
The President General of Umuanee Ozalla Town Union, Mr. Okwudili Chianeke, one of the affected communities, told some journalists who visited the area that Fulani people, accompanied by some men in military uniform came to the community on Friday and claimed that their brother was killed by the people and threatened to carry out reprisal.
The president general also alleged that police arrested one Bonaventure Nwoye, the chief security officer of Ozalla neighborhood watch, a vigilante group set up by the state government, on alleged involvement in the murder.
Before fleeing their area,Â youths of the two communities yesterday morning blocked the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway at the popular Four Corners (Ozalla Junction), in demonstration of their anger over the occupation of their farms by Fulani herdsmen as well as arrest of their chief security officer.
The blockade lasted for about an hour before they gave way following intervention by their leaders and security operatives.
The youths carried placards with inscription, â€˜Fulani leave Ozallaâ€™, â€˜They should release our chief security officerâ€™, â€˜Fulani stop destroying out farmlandsâ€™, â€˜Weâ€™re now refugees in our landâ€™, and â€˜Enugu state government come and rescue us.â€™
The traditional ruler of Umuanee community, Crescent Okafor, expressed surprise over allegation that a corpse of Fulani boy was found in their area, saying that neither the police nor the Fulani people informed or reported the matter to him before the arrest of Nwoye by police and threat of reprisal by the Fulani people.
Okafor said the problem started last year when group of Fulani men and their families moved in with six trucks and settled behind the community, a development they resisted and reported to the state government, who ensured that the Fulanis vacated as they promised within three days.
He said Â he was not aware that the Fulanis went back to the area not to talk of the corpse of one of them being allegedly found in the area.
However, the Security Adviser to the governor and Chairman of the state Security Committee, Major General Fred Eze (rtd), who visited the police station along with security chiefs and some members of his committee, appealed to the women who took refuge at the station to return home.
He assured them that they would not be attacked by the Fulanis as the state government was on top of the situation.
Eze said besides, the leaders of the two parties were meeting at Agbani, the council headqurters to resolve the matter amicably, and assured that the chief security officer of the community,Â Nwoye, would be released after police investigations.
But, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) of Enugu State command, Ebere Amaraizu, Â said the arrest of NwoyeÂ was in connection with investigations into the alleged murder of one Ibrahim Bassa Tobi at Obeaghu OzallaÂ in Nkanu west Local Government Area.
He said it was based on report by the deceased family who they accused of having before the incident declared to deal ruthlessly with anyone found grazing within the axis.
Amaraizu said the deceased who was declared missing by family, was seen lying dead in the bush last Friday.
But reacting to the development on behalf of the herdsmen, Sarki Abubakar Yusuf, Sarkin Hausa community, denied any planned attack on the community.
While insisting that one of them was murdered and that his corpse was recovered right inside the community, Abubakar, however, re-assured the community that there was no cause for alarm.
According to him, â€œThe DPO called me yesterday at about 10p.m that the women are in his police station in fear of reprisal attack. I said from where- that the government of Enugu State has set-up a monitoring committee that will be monitoring the relationship of herdsmen and farmers.
â€œI assured him that nothing as such is true, that based on the alleged killing there is tendency of fear of reprisal attack. I assured him that no such thing will happen. This morning I called him and asked about the situation between yesterday night and now, he said everything was under control.
â€œMyself and the Chairman of the Peace and Security committee, Gen. Eze, are working round the clock to ensure harmonious relationship between farmers and herdsmen in Enugu State.
â€œThat rumour should be disregarded; there is no truth in it.â€