Herdsmen on the Rampage in Abia

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 UgwuUgwu

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
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.