South East governors said last week that they have banned open grazing and movements of cattle on the roads. This was not a new decision; it was taken over a year ago without legal backing in some of the states. Why are the governors playing games with the herdsmen issue while communities in their states are under attacks and destruction by Fulani herdsmen?
It is due to this indecision of the governors that forced the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, to float the Eastern Security Network to fill the gap. Though their operation remains questionable, it is a child of necessity.
Virtually all Igbo communities are feeling the devilish and destructive activities of the herders. And because no punishments have been meted on them, even the regular ones referred to as local herders have been emboldened to take laws into their hands with reckless abandon. They seem to have been emboldened by the activities of their big brothers that go about with AK-47 rifle as they now intimidate members of communities where they operate.
They invade their compounds with their cattle with reckless abandon with a threat to attack owners of such compounds if they dare question them. While the cows are busy grazing in the compounds, the herders help themselves plucking coconut, mangoes, pears or any fruit in sight without seeking the permission of the owners.
This is rampant in many rural Enugu communities. Uzzam in Akpugo, Nkanu West council of Enugu state is one such communities that live at the mercy of these young Fulani herders.
Stories are told on how these young herders brazenly lead their cattle into Uzzam family compounds to graze and dare the owner to talk and be butchered. It is said that the chaps on occasions had the guts to disrupt or desecrate sacred marriage ceremonies unchallenged as the local communities always restrain themselves for fear of being attacked if they confront them.
They have turned themselves into a bunch of troublesome lots, outlaws, more or less. And for peace to reign, the communities allow them to do whatever they wish along the line of grazing their cows while the communities live in trepidation and total subjugation in their own land. And they are further emboldened by the failure of police to arrest them if ever any member of the communities summons up courage to report.
In some very remote communities, the Fulani herders impose security fee on the villagers which must be paid before they can farm and have their farm land spaces not grazed on. This is outrageous and the communities allow these atrocities for the sake of peace.
In Abia State, the state government has heaped the blame for the non-implementation of anti-open grazing law it enacted in 2018 on the Police for failing to effectively enforce the law meant to check the incessant conflicts between farmers and herdsmen.
Abia State Commissioner for Information, Chief John Okiyi Kalu, told South East Voice that the state enacted the anti-grazing law in 2018, stressing that it is the duty of the Police to enforce the law as a federal agency.
“Even without the state anti grazing law signed by Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu, there are other laws in this country against willful destruction of property. It is not for us to enforce; it is the duty of the Police. They should enforce the laws as they exist. As a responsible state government, the governor signed the anti open grazing law enacted by the State House of Assembly. It is for the police and security agencies to enforce the law. The federal government should do the needful”, Kalu said.
He disclosed that there have been constant meetings between farmers and those he described as genuine herdsmen in the state.
“There have been meetings between farmers and genuine herdsmen in the state. I don’t believe that these genuine herdsmen will have major crisis with farmers but there appears to be the movement of the murderous herdsmen into the Southern part of Nigeria. This murderous group is responsible for kidnapping and willful destruction of farm lands. Our people are going through a painful situation.
“There is a standing Conflict Resolution Committee headed by the state Commissioner of Police which settles conflicts arising from the two groups, at the state level. Similar committees exist at the 17 LGAs with chairmen of the LGAs heading the committees alongside the DPOs. Resolution involves compensating the farmer or herdsman for loss of crops or cow. The highest amount usually paid for a cow is N100, 000, while the farmer receives compensation based on the assessment of the damage done to his crops”, the commissioner further said.
In Anambra State, the House of Assembly, in 2018, introduced a bill to regulate the activities of herdsmen in the state. The bill passed second reading and went to the committee level and that was where it ended. No reason was adduced to the public why the bill was abandoned. Sponsor of the bill, Mr. Charles Ezeani said the bill was aimed at regulating cattle rearing in Anambra State with a view to ending incessant massacre of innocent citizens by herdsmen.
“It will put to rest, open grazing by confining cattle and dog rearing to designated places as any cattle found operating in unapproved places shall be impounded. Also these herdsmen must show themselves by registering their ranches as well as pay taxes in order to generate revenue to the state and ensure food security and retain our agricultural landmark,’’ Ezeani had said.
There were reports that the House of Assembly kept the bill in view following alleged interference by authorities of the Federal Government who saw it as a divisive law and the state government, out of fear, abandoned the bill leaving Anambra communalities to live at the mercy of murderous herdsmen as non passage of that bill was said to have given the herdsmen the impetus to act with impunity in many communities in the state.
Communities in Anambra West, Anambra East, Ayamelum, Awka North and Ogbaru local government areas are worst affected by the Fulani herdsmen attacks and that was the reason the state lawmakers decided to pass a bill to end it. But that bill did not see the light of day as it died a natural death.
Recently, 10 communities in Awka North local government area complained about the destruction of their farmlands by suspected Fulani herdsmen. The affected people say the destruction had become a daily occurrence. Former chairman of Awka North local government area, Chief Shedrack Anakwue said the herdsmen’s menace in the area was becoming increasingly worrisome, lamenting that their destructive activities had led to astronomical rise in the prices of agricultural produce which is the main source of income of the people of Awka North.
According to him, the herdsmen had left many families in pitiable situation as their source of livelihood, which is their farmlands, had been totally destroyed. The herdsmen, he said, no longer keep the terms and conditions they entered into with the state government and as such, there should be legislation in place to prevent the herders from bringing their animals into the state for grazing.
The state government, it would be recalled, set up a joint task force comprising security operatives, community leaders and herdsmen to ensure that there were no incidences of security threat occasioned by the activities of the herdsmen and their host communities. The arrangement has been working, although there are still isolated cases of clashes in some communities.
It was discovered however that leadership of some communities in the state also struck a deal with the herdsmen, thereby allowing them to operate unhindered in the communities. A youth leader in one of the communities said: “When you confront the herdsmen, they tell you that they have settled the leaders of the community and we wonder who they settled. In the midst of all these, our crops are constantly destroyed, thereby denying our people their main source of income,” he said.
President General of Ebenebe in Awka North, Mr. Paul Nnatuanya claimed that between September last year and this month, farmers in the community had lost over N100 million to herdsmen and nothing has been done about it.
“The herdsmen are destroying our farmlands. All the towns in Awka North are not free from the destruction. Sometimes, they even come to graze their cattle in people’s houses and when you tell them to move, they will be looking at you as if you are talking to the cows”, Nnatuanya said.
The Association of Southeast Town Unions, ASETU, was clear to the South East governors on the way forward which is enacting and effectively enforcing anti grazing laws across the region.
“We are elated by the news of the proscription of open grazing in the South East by our governors. The carnage and destruction of livelihoods wrought on our people by Fulani herdsmen cannot be tolerated any further. This is the reason that for three years, we have severally written the governors and the Houses of Assembly in the South East. We also convoked a security summit in 2018 at Enugu, a security retreat at Abakaliki in 2019 and yet another security retreat at Enugu in 2020. Today, we have it on the authority of the chairman of the South East Governors’ Forum, Engr., David Umahi that this order which bans the herdsmen from unbridled mobility was made since 2019.
“However, if the order was issued in 2019 yet till this moment the atrocities of the herdsmen have continued, the implication is that the order is not sufficient in the face of this nightmarish reality. More concrete steps must therefore be taken to stem the reprehensible and gruesome activities of the herdsmen in our land.
“We are also aware of a judicial pronouncement against open grazing made at Ibadan in April, 1969. While we affirm the legitimacy of that court order and commit ourselves to its letter and spirit, we also find it inadequate to deliver justice in the scenario we are now confronted with, given that it does not spell out the modalities for its enforcement, punishment to defaulters and recompense to victims upon its violation.
“As a result, we insist that there is an overriding necessity for anti-open grazing laws in the South East. They should immediately be enacted by the various State Houses of Assembly in the South East.
Such laws must take cognizance of appropriate punishments to defaulters and restitution to victims and restoration of losses”, ASETU said in statement signed by its National President, Chief Emeka Diwe and the National Secretary, Hon. Gideon Adikwuru.
In fact, the recent announcement of immediate ban on open grazing in the South East, by Governor Dave Umahi, appears to be a ruse, as it is not being respected in Imo State.
Investigation shows that herdsmen are still roaming communities of their choice, including Owerri, the state capital with their cows undisturbed. And the body movement of Governor Hope Uzodinma is not helping matters at all.
Although no lawmaker contacted over the matter wanted to speak, it was gathered that there was no law enacted by Imo State House of Assembly banning open grazing in the state.
Speaking on the issue, the Anglican Archbishop of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province, Most Rev. Dr. David O. C. Onuoha, stressed that the need for vigilance in Igboland has become imperative and urgent.
Onuoha said: “The obvious reluctance to embrace modern method of cattle rearing and the move to acquire waterways across the nation may be a subtle attempt at encouraging a rampaging marauding force that is bent on conquest and subjugation to succeed.
“This development calls for vigilance, especially in Igboland. A situation where our forests and bushes have been taken over by foreigners is simply a disaster waiting to happen.
“Governments in the South Eastern states of this country should as a matter of urgency, outlaw this incipient and insidious way of penetrating our communities as this will only lead to complete annihilation of our people in not too distant time”, Bishop warned.
The Anglican Archbishop also called on the traditional rulers and community leaders to “sufficiently educate their people on the dangers of accepting gratifications to compromise the safety of our people”.
His words: “South-East governors and Ohanaeze Ndigbo should stand up now to give leadership and direction on the peace and safety of the people. Taking the lead in security matters, in the manner of the South West governors will forestall the catastrophe that may ensue should this all-important matter be left in the hands of militia groups”.
The traditional ruler of Ehime Autonomous community in Isiala Mbano local government area of Imo State, Eze Oliver Ohanwe, suggested the intervention of people with “national capacity” to intervene in the security challenges created by farmers and herdsmen clashes.
“It is very unfortunate what we are experiencing in these farmers and herdsmen clashes in our communities. They have created the community policing and still it looks like they are not efficient in achieving peace in the communities. It is time to start gathering people in this country who have the national capacity to start intervening. We need men who are men to come out and speak out. These people can reach out to their loyalists”, Eze Ohanwe said.
On the Eastern Security Network, ESN, formed by the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, the monarch said: “I am in support of any form of responsible security network that is backed by responsible people. There is need for people who are responsible to head it. I am not in support of that of Nnamdi Kanu because he will create more problems for us. He has been associated with catastrophe. There are other genuine people in Igbo land who can do this and it will be acceptable. Remember, he was proscribed as a terrorist.”
But the member representing Isiala Ngwa North State constituency in the Abia State House of Assembly, Chief Ginger Onwusibe, exonerated the police, saying that they are poorly funded to tackle the rising wave of insecurity. He said that the police and other security agencies must be well funded to tackle the rising atrocities of killer herdsmen in the southern part of Nigeria.
“Our security men are not well funded. In my local government, they don’t have any moving vehicle. The Army base at Iheorji doesn’t have a patrol vehicle. You can imagine the vast area they have to police. The government needs to support them; they need at least 10 patrol vans. We need to motivate the security agencies”, Onwusibe said.
He urged Governor Okezie Ikpeazu to implement the law on anti-open grazing made by the State Assembly, stressing that only the strict implementation of the law would solve the problem.
“I am very worried that things that don’t normally happen in Isiala Ngwa are now happening regarding the security situation. You continue to hear complaints about herdsmen invading farmlands, raping women and maiming people. They are also destroying farm crops; I don’t know whether it is a calculated attempt to annex our people.
“I can tell you that there is a serious threat on my people from herdsmen. It is everywhere; there is tension in our land. In Ntigha, Nsulu, Ngwaukwu and other areas; herdsmen are threatening our people. Recently, news came that the herdsmen have taken up everywhere. Nobody slept in Isiala Ngwa, and we were all awake. It is unfortunate that in this century, people are still carrying cows moving from one community to the other, destroying farm lands. We have sent our vigilante groups to comb the forests and other suspected hideouts. Let’s know where these people are hiding. Otherwise, one day, they will sack us from our lands.
“Our major occupation is farming. When people plant crops in their lands, you take your cow, uproot the cassava and feed the cow. A woman almost died of shock when she went to her cassava farm and saw that the cows had fed on it. We can’t continue like this; our people aren’t cowards, we must protect our land.
“Nobody should push us to the wall. My people are warriors; we are losing our patience. We can’t continue to live in fear. How can people be coming from the North to destroy our farmlands, rape our women and kill our people? Enough is enough”, the lawmaker warned.
In Enugu State, herdsmen have since taken over the multi-billion naira Ette Farm Settlement in Igbo-Eze North council area. The farm settlement now provides sanctuary to Fulani herdsmen. The farm settlement was set up by the Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo’s administration in the old Enugu State to provide food at reduced cost to the people of the state in particular and the southeast zone in general.
However, when South East Voice visited the farm, every facility in the large farmland covering several hectares had been destroyed. The roads to the farm were no longer in use.
A commercial motorcyclist, who turned out to be a member of the Ette Neighbourhood Watch disclosed that the Fulani herdsmen started living in the farm which has now turned into a thick forest between eight and five years ago, adding that they now had two camps in the area.
“The farm was abandoned about 27 years ago and the roads were eaten up by erosion. All the irrigation pipes have either been vandalized or stolen. Wild and dangerous animals were living there following its abandonment but when the Fulani herdsmen came and settled there, the wild animals ran away because they were afraid of cattle which move in their thousands.
“We live in peace with the Fulani settlers in the farm. They come to our markets to buy their needs and go back to their settlements,” he said, an indication that these ones are the peaceful ones.
Also commenting on the development, Dr. Nwodo described the development as sad. He said that the governors who ruled after him including Senator Chimaroke Nnamani, Mr. Sullivan Chime and the current Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi were not interested in both the Ada rice and Ette Farm because they have no agricultural policies to implement.
“My greatest disappointment is that the state government did not even concession the farms even if they were not interested in investing in agriculture. If they did so, the new owners would have been smiling to the banks”, the former governor lamented.
An industrialist, Chief Johnson Okolo criticized South East governors for claiming that they have banned open grazing and movements of cattle on the roads, saying the decision was not a new decision but never implemented.
“Which law are they talking about, is it the law that is ineffective? When did they make the law banning open grazing in which state? Umahi should stop insulting Ndigbo. He should stop talking like somebody that is being influenced by external forces. He should humble himself and work for Ndigbo and stop selling them out”.
Chief Okolo lamented that Igbo people who have been suffering the destructive activities of the Fulani herdsmen in their farm lands and communities. He warned the governors to stop using the lives and investment of their subjects to trade and acquire positions in Nigeria, saying that the God of retributive justice will find them if they continue to do that.
“They are simply using us to acquire positions in Abuja because, they are selling us to get influence and solidifying and consolidating their positions to be Vice President; they are not even aiming to be President, they are all interested in becoming Vice President.
“If we are money, they would have offered us to get political positions; they are so desperate to offer anything at their disposal. Our only saviour is that we are not money otherwise; we would have gone since on exchange for power positions for South East Governors.
“Fulani herdsmen destroyed my six thousand palm trees in my farm at Amofia Agu in Udi Local Government Area of Enugu State, raped our people. They destroyed over 6000 palm trees and a borehole I spent over N4 million naira on the farm; they chased away all my workers from the farm and warned them never to come near the palm plantation otherwise they will shoot them.
“I don’t have any worker there again because Fulani herdsmen told them never to come near the palm plantation to avoid being shot. So, my workers ran away and refused to return to the farm. I arrested some of the herdsmen with Police for three to four times, the Police did nothing to them.
“So, the governors should stop deceiving themselves thinking that they are deceiving the people. The people now understand the games they are playing.People don’t take them serious these days when they talk because every of their actions tilt towards the positions they are aiming at in Abuja.
“We cannot go a kilometer outside our place to do farming. We cannot because of the herdsmen. They are armed with their AK47 guns to do their intention. They are empowered by the Federal Government. Any South East governor who is not toeing the line of Benue State Governor is not the governor of the people. They are governor for their personal ambition of seeking to be Vice President, so they are not speaking for us.
“A group of people will be grazing and destroying people’s farms, nobody talks and the governors are afraid, keeping quiet because they do not want to offend their masters and masters of the marauding herdsmen. No good Igboman will come out and say there is any measures put in place to checkmate the activities of the herdsmen.”
The reality on ground is there is nobody who can do farming in Igbo land and herdsmen will not go and destroy it intentionally.
“Intact Ebonyi State governor should stop talking and insulting us; that his claim is a worthless claim, he has nothing to show for it, we expected them to support Nnamdi Kanu’S idea of security now that he has shown them the way to go. He should stop making other Governors of South East look deceitful to the people because he wants to be Vice President”, Okolo said.