Friday, 8th December 2023

Enugu: Towards ending incessant attacks on 40 farm settlements in Eha-Amufu

By Lawrence Njoku, Southeast Bureau Chief
28 December 2022   |   4:20 am
An early morning invasion by suspected herdsmen and their collaborators had claimed no fewer than 16 natives, many of whom were still asleep when attackers descended upon.

Nkechi Ebeh

An early morning invasion by suspected herdsmen and their collaborators had claimed no fewer than 16 natives, many of whom were still asleep when attackers descended upon.

It was the second in less than 10 days in the area. On Thursday December 8, about 25 persons were also killed at Umujiovu community. Like the latest attack, those who carried out the one earlier had swooped on the area in the morning hours. When they left, they left the survivors of the attack in pains and penury.
Mrs. Nkechi Ebeh, a mother of five was a victim of that first attack for it brought to a tearful end her marriage of 12 years, as her husband Friday Ebeh fell to the bullets of the marauders.
Since the day of the incident, she has become a psychological wreak at a displaced persons’ abode  as  relatives living in parts of  the state and beyond have now taken custody of her children, while she continues to hang around, praying that peace returns to the land.
When found sitting at a corner at their Umujiovu village square, where she battled to control her own tears, Nkechi looked every inch like one who does not know how to move on.
The 35-year-old mother, whose main stay with her late husband was farming, had on that fateful day prepared to go to the farm with her husband. On their way, however, some arms wielding persons started shooting and pursuing them. While Nkechi escaped, her husband was cut down by the bullets from the marauders.
“It is still like a dream to me. I still cannot believe it is true. I ran to a neighbouring village called Umuhu, only to return in the evening to discover that my children were nowhere to be found. I started searching for them and found them in a location at Amankanu. I returned the next to be told that my husband had been buried”, she wept.
Asked the whereabouts of her children, Nkechi stated that she moved them to live with relatives in Enugu town and Anambra State, disclosing “I have not returned to this village again since then excerpt today.  I decided to come around to see how things are.
“But I am very sad. I cannot see anybody in the compound.  I heard that two other relatives of my husband were killed same day. This is an ugly encounter that I will like to forget in a hurry. I did not even see the corpse of my husband. Now more people have been killed”, she mourned
Nkechi was not alone. Chukwudi Omeri, a 45-year-old father of four said the invaders, at the Ebor market square, killed his elder brother Friday, in his residence at about 6.10 am on that day by the gunmen who were dressed in black attires and being led by people in mufti.

Chukwudi stated that the killing was conducted by invaders in their numbers, adding that since the ugly incident, he had not set his eyes on the brother’s family “as the wife escaped with their nine children and are yet to return”.

The distraught father, who spoke to The Guardian at the deserted Oye market square, at about 2.57pm, stated that the few still living in the villages were now faced with hunger.

“As I speak to you (2.57p.m.), I have not seen food to eat. The last time I ate something was around 10 a.m. yesterday. There is nowhere to buy food and there is no food anywhere, not to talk of money to buy it. Everywhere is deserted. We are living on fruits and anything we can pick. It is as if we are in a war zone”, he sobbed.

Giving an insight into the first invasion, he stated that at least 10 people were killed in Ama-Obelebe village, including his brother, Friday Omeri; one person was killed in Ama-Ogbu, while four people were killed in Ama-Nkpaka.”

“The attack occurred at about 6 a.m. on the fateful day when sounds of heavy gunshots were heard around the community. Most people, including myself, had thought that it was the security agencies that were shooting but we discovered that the gun-wielding men wore black and black attire, while those leading them were in mufti.

“The attackers came through the farmlands. I saw some faces that looked like the Fulani herders, while others looked like the faces of Igala people from Benue State who are our neighbours. They led the Fulani herders to the community.

“I was able to identify the Igala people through their dialect, as well as by face recognition as some of them are traders who come to the Eha-Amufu markets to trade on a daily basis”, he said

Another native, Anthony Onunze, who gave his age as 68 said he decided to stay behind even after his family ran to a neighbouring community for safety, “because I have nowhere to run to. Let them come and kill me here. Even if I run away and die there, I will still be brought back to this village for burial. They chased us away from the farms into our homeland; they killed our youths and anybody that tries to stop them; now this. It is painful”

Benjamin Ike, a 69 years old father of five, also said that he could not run because “I want death to meet me here. It was a terrible encounter, which I know was meant to scare us away to enable them to occupy our land. Otherwise, I don’t know what other intention could provoke people into raising guns and machetes against their fellow beings”.

A Pastor with the Lord’s Chosen Charismatic Revival Ministries who could not hold back his tears as bodies were being recovered here and there and brought in wheelbarrows and motorcycles to the square, described the Sunday December 18 incident as “terrible”.

“They were killed before the police/ Army patrol could get to the area.  The marauders came in their numbers and shooting at everything in sight. It is unfortunate that this is happening few days after the governorship candidate of the Labour Party in the state, Chijioke Edeoga visited us here, gave us food and assured that security has been provided and called on those who ran away to return home. I remember that Edeoga addressed many people in company of army personnel when they moved round the villages. It is sad that many of those who returned may have been affected by this latest killing. We are really looking up to God for solution,” he said

Edeoga had visited with the some soldiers posted to the area “as confident boosting measure”. He had provided food for the displaced members of the communities and assured of regular visits until things normalized.

Eha-Amufu in Isiuzo local government council, Enugu State hosts the Federal College of Education and one of the localities that have lost their peace. Life and all that is associated with it have deserted the people and replacing with pains and anguish.

The area is rich in farmland and is agrarian by nature but is now bleeding. The natives have their suspicions, that the sustained attacks is to dislodge the people from their farmlands.

Two deadly strikes that occurred December, 8 and 18 December that were enough to dislocate and facilitate their evil plans of the attackers. Natives told The Guardian that over forty people have so far been killed while over 40 farm settlements that spread through Mgbuji, Aguemede, Eboh, Umujovu among others have been abandoned.  Eha- amufu is said to share boundaries with Ebonyi and Benue states.

The Guardian on a visit to the area discovered a town under siege, with markets locked up, houses abandoned, and many residents now seeking refuge as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), in neighbouring towns and cities.
The Nkalagu – Eha-Amufu-Ikem road, a major artery into Isiuzo has been deserted. Mr. Stephen Mammah, who was the only person seen driving on the lonely road with  his house property loaded in the booth and on top of his car with members of his family told The Guardian that he was “relocating permanently to somewhere in Nsukka”.
“I don’t think I want to live here again. It is no longer a child’s play. The one that happened last week was the height of it. This morning, two more bodies were recovered from the bushes and nobody can say, how many more are still there and who they are. It is difficult to continue to live here”, he said.
Inside the villages, human activities were at their lowest. Almost every compound had their entrances padlocked. Some doors and windows of buildings were smashed. Cooking utensils whose owners apparently left in a hurry were scattered here and there in some compounds.

To make matters worse, the abandoned houses are now vulnerable as criminals vandalise properties and cart away personal belongings of the displaced villagers.

A list signed by the Chairman of Abor Development Union, Mr. Ebe John contained names of 23 persons who were killed in just one village on December 8 to include; Chief. Odo Godwin, alias Double, Olinya Joseph, Agu Onyema, Agu Elias alias Onyenze, Agu Ikechukwu and Chief Ede Emmanuel who are members of Ama-Okpebe Abor. Others are; Idu Samuel, Odo Odo Friday, Chief. Onodugo Odo-Ebe, Ogbu Gabriel, Igwurube Ogbu, Igwurube Obioma, Alu Nweke and Chukwuka Solomon who hailed from Ama-Obelebe Abor. Olinya Odo Nwuzu and his son, Ambrose Ogenyi’s son and Emeka Orji from Ama-Okpaka Abor also lost their lives.

In Ama-Ogbo Abor, the deceased include Onunze Onyeka, Ede Brown, James Idenyi and Ede Nwa Leonard, all from Umujiovu.

Why the incessant attacks?
INVESTIGATIONS by The Guardian showed that Eha- amufu people had lived peacefully with their Fulani counterparts who herd their cows in the vast arable community land. Sources stated that despite the long period of cohabiting with herders, at no time did the people agree to sell any portion of their land to their Fulani neighbours.
The source however stated that disunity set in when cows started destroying farmlands. In retaliation, the natives resorted to killing and roasting the cows, while at the same time ensuring that they did not have access to farms or anywhere around the area.
It was gathered that initially when such issues occurred, leaders of the area would come together to settle disputes and award appropriate compensation or sanction to the affected farmer or herder. It was said that when the leaders could no longer manage the situation, hoodlums stepped in to fill the gaps to freely intimidate, harass those concerned and in the processes dispossess them.
The development which was said to have gone on for years got to its height in December last year, when some hoodlums in attempting to prevent grazing in one of the farms allegedly killed a herder, leading to a reprisal.
Another source however stated that it was the quest by the Fulani herders to annex and acquire farmlands belonging to Eha- amufu by force that created the problem.
It stated that the development caused the attack that happened in December last year that claimed casualties on both sides, adding that since then, “the herders engaged collaborators who now join them to attack us”
“We never sold any land to them. They also did not buy any land from us. Rather, they want to acquire the vast agricultural area by force, knowing that it is an arable land and our people are resisting them. That is all”, the source said

Efforts by state government to restore peace
ON January 8 last this year, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi summoned a stakeholders meeting on how to ensure peace in the area. He appealed to both parties to live in peace even as he promised to increase security presence in the affected places. It was after the meeting that more recruitment for Forest Guards and Vigilante to increase patrol in the area was done.
That was shortly followed by the setting up of an Army Base on the Eha-amufu road. This is to enable the soldiers patrol the troubled communities at will.
Also to improve access to the area, government began the construction of Nkalagu –Eha-amufu –Ikem road. Unfortunately, the work could not continue to Ikem as it was terminated in Eha-amufu.
The attacks of last month made Ugwuanyi to lead the State Commissioner of Police, Ahmed Ammani, the Garrison Commander, 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Brig. Gen. M.K Ibrahim, and the Anglican Bishop of Nike Diocese, Rt. Rev. Dr. Christian Onyeka Onyia, to the area, where they visited communities, different forests, markets, village squares and other locations in Eha Amufu and interacted with the indigenes.
But few days after that visit, the attackers returned.
Ugwuanyi had on Tuesday December 20 summoned another stakeholders meeting where he reassured the people that he would not fold his hands and watch ongoing killings. He had used the meeting to resolve leadership differences among the communities and their members, as well as announced his intention to install Monarchs and President Generals where they don’t exist.
Although he had decried a situation where certain people have access to AK 47 guns “and others do not”, he promised to get to the leaders of the Fulani and their alleged collaborators from Benue State with the aim of enforcing permanent peace and improving security in the routes being used by the attackers.