David-Chyddy Eleke reports that urgent but lasting steps need to be taken to contain the recurring farmers and herdsmen’s clashes in Anambra State, given that despite efforts of the state government, the clashes have continued
Two weekends ago, the news of the killing of six farmers in Anam community of Anambra West Local Government Area (LGA) jolted citizens of the state. Many never believed that news of the activities of herdsmen, which has been read of in Enugu, Benue, Plateau and others could be heard of in Anambra State. But the truth is that killing of herdsmen and their cows by farmers is not new in Anambra State, neither is killing of farmers by herdsmen and destruction of their crops. This is especially in Anambra East and Anambra West LGAs.
In the last incident, armed men, suspected to be herdsmen had invaded the community, leaving six people dead. Sources said some of the victims were beheaded by the marauders before leaving. An eyewitness, Mr. Orjiako Nnaluo (Ideh Anam), who spoke to journalists said that the herdsmen stormed farm settlements known as Agweopia Camp, Iyiogbu Camp and Iyinkolo, around 5:40am and started killing people, burning houses and raping many women.
He said before people of the area could know what was going on, the herdsmen had killed six people, leaving about 30 others with various degrees of injuries.
Anambra East and West LGAs, along with Awka North and Ogbaru LGAs are known to be the food basket of the state, but these local government areas have remained the most attacked by herdsmen in the state.
A farmer in the area, Mr Casmir Ezeugo said that with the way things are going, and the current fear in the area, the state may be plunged into hunger as farmers in most interior villages in the state have all fled for their lives. He said the development may cause a low yield in the coming year.
“Is it because the cases of killings are not being brought to the notice of the people? There is killing in that part of the state every day. It is either a woman is raped to death while working in her farm, or one farmer is attacked and killed in the bush. On the other hand, I must sincerely say that once in a while, there have been some herdsmen that are killed by farmers, but that is usually as a result of extreme provocation.
“Imagine coming to a farm you left the previous day and seeing that your entire effort, including monies you borrowed to cultivate the farm have been destroyed by cattle? Those are the kind of things that cause farmers to attack and kill cattle, but most times, such killing have always been paid for with people’s lives,” Ezeugo said.
Reacting to the attack, the Anglican Bishop of Mbamili Diocese, the Rt. Rev. Henry Okechukwu Okeke, condemned the killings by the attackers, describing it as unfortunate, obnoxious and inhuman. He said, “This is a very unfortunate incident because these are core farmers. They are the food basket of Anambra State. Definitely, it is going to affect not only the economy of our state, but the country generally.
“It has been confirmed, I got the news this morning about the killings. Now, following the incident, farmers have left their farmlands. The Fulani people are also on the run. So, it is an unfortunate situation. I want to say it clearly that the Federal Government has the key. They must not sit down and watch people being killed by the herdsmen and their farms being destroyed. But Fulani men have been around here for some years now, but the recent destruction of farms has brought about unhealthy situations.”
Anambra is one state that is known to have a robust plan for containing the menace of herdsmen. This can be seen in the setting up of the cattle menace committee, which comprises heads of security agencies in the state on one hand, and traditional rulers and president general of the communities on the other, not also leaving behind the leadership of the farmers and the cattle herders.
Though many believe that the constant killings in parts of the state needs the intervention of the federal government, the Obiano government is not resting on its oars to resolve outstanding cases.
This may be reason, just a day after the news of the killings by herdsmen broke, the government announced that it had resolved the feud between Fulani cattle herdsmen and indigenous farmers in the state, which led to the killing of six people in Anam community.
A press statement by the state Commissioner for Information and Public Orientation, Mr C.Don Adinuba stated that the crisis was caused by some strange herdsmen who strayed into the area, without knowledge of the existing relationship between the host community and the herders.
A press statement by the commissioner read, “The Anambra State Government is pleased to announce that the crisis between herdsmen and crop farmers in the Anam community in Anambra West Local Government Area, last week has been resolved. The swift resolution followed the directive by Governor Willie Obiano to the Anambra State Security Council to bring the crisis to an end immediately and find out both the immediate and remote causes of the crisis and proffer suggestions on how to address them, so that a similar crisis will not erupt in the state in the future.”
Adinuba said the crisis was as a result of “the entry of some herdsmen from a neighbouring state into Anambra State without following the protocol guiding the conduct of herdsmen in the state. For instance, they entered Anam without informing the local leaders of the herdsmen association who would have registered them as members and informed them of the rules of doing cattle business in Anambra State. The consequence was that the new entrants violated the rules in a repugnant manner and caused a breach of the peace.”
Measures by Security Agencies
Meanwhile, security operatives comprising the army, police and others have never relented in their quest to ensure the security of lives and property in the area. After the incident of last Saturdays attack, a detachment of joint security laid siege at Mmiata Anam to forestall furthers attack. The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, SP Haruna Mohammed disclosed this to our correspondent in Awka, the Anambra State capital, while confirming the attack on the farmers.
He said the Commissioner of Police in the state, Mustapha Dandaura, had ordered full-scale investigation on the matter with a view to bring the culprits to justice. He said, “The command has deployed two units of mobile policemen and other regular policemen to the area. We are working in conjunction with other security agencies in the operation.”
Contrary to reports that six persons were killed, Haruna said, “Three persons were killed in the attack by suspected herdsmen. But we are on top of the situation and I can assure you that normalcy will soon returned to the place.”
On whether any arrest had been made, Mohammed said he would not want to speak further on issues that would jeopardise investigations, stating that the outcome of the investigation would be made available to the public at the appropriate time.
Need for FG’s Intervention
Adunuba’s statement however failed to say if the erring herdsmen were apprehended, and the sanctions meted out to them for violating the rules. Speaking on this, a source from the community where the herdsmen had killed six farmers at the weekend, who preferred to speak under the cover of anonymity said, “no resolution will work if the killers are not arrested and punished for their sins.
“So the men who were killed should just be forgotten because the killers are the ‘almighty’ herdsmen? For any settlement to be made, government must tell us what plans they have for our people who lost their beloved ones, and we should also know if the killers have been arrested. You cannot just say that we have settled, because we have not, and our people are very unhappy”.
Also, the Anglican Bishop of Mbamili Diocese, Rt. Rev. Henry Okechukwu Okeke said, “The Federal Government actually has to do something. They should summon the leaders of the herdsmen and the rest of them. I think with that, this fire can be quenched now. The government of Anambra State instructed farmers through their Igwes to allow herdsmen graze their cattle, but the word ‘allow’ must be interpreted because when you say allow, what do you mean? Is it to allow them to graze and destroy farms crops?
“ Is it to allow them to continue to cause trouble? If you allow someone to stay in your land and do his business, there must be restrictions, there must be a border line, of course, you know that 99.9 per cent of Anambra West are farmers. They are farmers or do you expect farmers to fold their arms and watch the herdsmen kill them and destroy their farms? Anambra West is a hospitable environment people who are so much accommodating. They have accommodated the herdsmen over the years, who have turned against them, killing and maiming their hosts.”