Tension in Imo communities over destruction of farmland by herdsmen
From George Onyejiuwa, Owerri
Nguru, Umuowa, Umukabia Ngor, Ntu, Alulu, Oburu, Obokwe and Alatia communities in Ngor Okpala Local Government of Imo State have raised alarm over the activities of Fulani herdsmen, who they said invaded their farmlands, causing wanton destruction to both old and newly cultivated farm crops. According to them, the herdsmen have turned their farms into grazing land.
The people alleged that the herdsmen who are armed with AK 47 assault rifles had equally built makeshift camps in their forests without their knowledge and consent, adding that those who tried to challenge them fell victims to the marauding herdsmen, a situation that is now causing tension in the communities.
Investigations by Oriental News revealed that when some irate youths of Umuohie Ngor Autonomous Community early last month captured and slaughtered one of the cows that destroyed their newly cultivated crops the herdsmen insisted that the community must pay for the cow or be prepared for a reprisal attack.
Cletus Okere, one of the youths from Umuohie Ngor, blamed the unrestrained activities of the herdsmen on the lukewarm attitude of the state government, as well as lack of the political will to address the menace posed by them in the state. He noted that the Fulani herdsmen have become an army in their area.
According to him, the fear of the herdsmen has resulted in most women not going to their farms except if escorted by their men folk. They fear the Fulani herdsmen said to be fully armed, and ready to attack anyone who challenges them for allowing their cattle or cows to destroy his farmland while grazing on it. “It is wickedness for somebody to destroy your farmland in the name of feeding his cattle because the crops are important to us just like their cattle,” Okere said. “The blame should go to the state government who has failed to do something about the harassment by these Fulani herdsmen because if the government has done a similar thing like the Ekiti State government which had passed a law against herdsmen grazing their cattle on people’s farms, did, I think the situation would be different.
“We will not allow what happened to Nimbo Community in Enugu State to repeat itself here because the youths of this community are already on alert. When a stray cow which had damaged the newly cultivated farm was captured and slaughtered by angry youths the Fulani herdsmen insisted that the community must pay for it. But the question is: whether the farm is a grazing field? We cannot be slaves in our own community and we had already made that clear to the security agents who intervened in the matter.”
Another youth called Amanze Akajiaku added that the activities of the herdsmen were nothing but terrorism as they are ready to kill or maim anybody who challenges their wicked act.
“They are armed and ready to kill or maim anybody who challenges them for grazing their cattle on their farms,” he said. “What I have continued to ask is why the security agencies have refused to arrest them for carrying Ak-47, but if the same security agents see you with a cutlass you will be arrested? But we cannot be chased out of our communities by the Fulani herdsmen. We are prepared to defend ourselves. If I decide to rear cattle will I carry them to Kano to graze on their farmlands? Or will I take it to Sokoto to destroy their farms? If that happens will they spare me? We are farmers and that is where we feed from and if you now use your cattle to destroy my crop, that means, you want me to die of hunger and I will not take that.”
Madam Agnes Okereafor, a widow from Alatia village in Amala Autonomous Community who told Oriental News how her cassava farm was destroyed by the grazing cows belonging to the Fulani herdsmen, appealed to Imo state government to come to their rescue as they are now helpless.
“I am a widow who depend on the produce from farm to survive,” she said. “But the cows have destroyed most of the cassava I planted this farming season and you know what a cup of garri now costs in the market and if the one you have planted has been destroyed that means hunger. So, our Governor, Okorocha, should help us.
“Most of the women are even afraid to go to farms because these Fulani people are always seen in the bush and the last time they beat up one boy chasing their cows out of one of the farms, it was our Nze who calmed down the angry youths who wanted to confront them.”
Oriental News gathered that in a bid to avert the looming crisis, the Imo State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Chris Ezike, had summoned a meeting at the police headquarters, Owerri, which had in attendance the Senior Special Assistant to the State Government on Northern Affairs Alhaji Faisal Lawal, seven traditional rulers from Ngor Okpala LGA led by HRH Eze (Engr) Frederick Nwachukwu, the leader of Hausa community in Owerri, Alhaji Muhammed Auwal Suleiman, the Chairman, Miyetti Allah, Alhaji Audu Ajara and other Hausa leaders from Obinze, Okigwe, Orlu, as well as the head of the Fulani community in the state.
It was gathered that at the end of the meeting, it was resolved that a committee would be set up at the local government area level for a review of activities at end of which findings will be communicated to the commissioner of police on or before June 15, 2017. In the meantime, a meeting of traditional rulers, farmers and herdsmen in the state is said to have been localized where the Divisional Police Officers (DPOs), with representatives of sister security agencies and transitional chairmen would attend on a regular basis as a proactive measure to nip in the bud any problem that may arise between the farmers and the herdsmen.