‘When herdsmen are confronted, they’ll stop their criminality’
The President-General of Nimbo autonomous community in Uzouwani Council, Enugu State, Chief Mathias Ekere, recounts how a hitherto cordial relationship between the community and herdsmen degenerated, resulting in an attack by the latter, which destroyed lives and property. The Chemistry lecturer of over 30 years argues that every community can fight back and end the menace if it is reasonably armed. He spoke with KODILINYE OBIAGWU, South East Bureau Chief.
Is the April attack on Nimbo the first time herdsmen have invaded or killed?
Not quite, but the magnitude of this attack is unprecedented. The killings date to 2005 when a farmer was murdered. In 2010, a headmaster, Mr. Charles Igwebueze, from Ebo village in Nimbo, was butchered in the farm because he raised an alarm when he saw cattle destroying his crops. The alarm caused the herd to panic and they scattered. In 2012 and 2013, herdsmen killed four farmers from Nimbo. This is besides the rape of our daughters and wives and destruction of farm crops.
They have kidnapped our people. On April 15, we were returning from a town union meeting when three herdsmen emerged from the bush just before Nkporogwu village. They stopped our vehicle, searched, and robbed us, as we lay face down by the side of the road. When they were through, they asked for the oga (leader). We answered that we all boarded the vehicle in the motor park and there was no oga. They picked one of us, who looked wealthy, and took him into the bush. He was there for four days until a N700,000 ransom was paid. We were still reeling in that shock when they attacked the entire community, killing and maiming people.
They came from Kogi State, to kill us. It is uncertain how many were murdered. They slaughtered people; left many for dead. Right now, people are scared of returning to the community.
There are reports that some traditional rulers or presidents-general of town unions are paid by herdsmen for right to graze their cattle. And the clash starts when there is a default. Is that the case in your community?
If the traditional ruler of any community received money, the traditional ruler of Nimbo community, Igwe John Akor, who is barely one year on the stool, has never received any money from any herdsmen for the right to graze their cattle. I have not heard about any President General collecting money from herdsmen, although there is such speculation. It is said that the Fulani have high regard for royalty and hierarchy. I have heard that they approached some traditional rulers, but I cannot confirm that any royal father received money from them.
What I know is: money or no money, this new shift in the relationship can be traced to 2005. The truth is that so many people have been killed in neighbouring communities on the border with Kogi. This is not a question of anyone taking money. The problem is that we don’t have the opportunity to negotiate with them, because they are nomadic; they just come and go.
Why didn’t the community do anything to defend itself, even after a reported warning?
There was a security alert that they would stage an attack in Uzouwani, maybe Nimbo and Abi. Security agencies saw the alert. I am not sure about any other letter. The government was aware of the alert. We didn’t do anything because the police were here days before the attack. But, on the day of the incident, about 10 minutes after the police left, they struck. We don’t know why the police left.
But then, how do you protect yourself? Five years ago, on the instruction of the state government, we registered four neighbourhood watch groups. But there were no arms. Will you fight someone with AK-47 rifles with bare hands or machetes? The neighbourhood watch groups are community based. I know that we don’t have money, and the law says that you cannot carry certain category of weapons. That is the problem. The groups are not equipped and the groups sponsored by the council do not go to the farms; they stay on the highways, like the Nsukka-Adani road because of kidnappings and robberies there.
Has your location on the border isolated you and made you vulnerable to attacks by herdsmen?
It is not quite so. We are, after all, in Uzouwani Council. Many of the towns in Uzouwani have boundaries with Kogi and other states. There is Abi, Upanda, Adani, Ngu. These towns have been attacked also. The only issue is the dimension of this recent attack. It is the magnitude that has elicited such an outpouring of concern and outrage from people.
We are predominantly farmers because we have vast fertile lands. Nearly all of us went to school through proceeds from the farm. Our fathers are or were farmers. But now, our people cannot boast of three square meals. Fulani herdsmen have chased us from the farms.
Do you think these clashes can be stopped?
They can, if all of us take up the challenge, if everyone stands up to them. When they taste our resolve to defend our communities and ourselves, maybe they will leave our villages. We will not run away from them; we hold our ground man to man. If someone says you can’t live in your home, will you allow the person to come and kill you, just like that? That is why we want to be equipped. There are still able-bodied men in the community. We want to be armed and equipped. We need to defend our families, our source of livelihood and our ancestral homes. We have never gone out to their settlements to rustle their cattle and attack them. They have always brought terror and sorrow to us in our domain. This has to stop; governments should hear our cries.
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