These are not the herdsmen we used to know, says HRH Akor
Agaba Idu 24th of Nimbo, HRH John Akor is the traditional ruler of Nimbo autonomous community, in Uzouwani Council in Enugu State. A retired journalist and one-time Eastern Regional Manager of the defunct Concord Newspaper, he voiced his concerns to KODILINYE OBIAGWU in Enugu, over the recent invasion of his community by suspected herdsmen.
How is Nimbo since the attack?
We are still recovering from the shock. The attack by suspected herdsmen led to the death of many of my people. Many others were injured and the whole town was disorganised. The people are in fear. Most have left for neighbouring communities, where they have become Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). We envisage difficult times ahead, because we depend primarily on agriculture to survive. Our main activity is subsistence farming and the produce is essentially for sustenance. And this particular activity, on which we base our economic survival, has been disrupted, most likely for the year. Now, the fear of the herdsmen is going to keep people away from their farms. If they don’t plant, what will they harvest? These herdsmen, who come through our border with Kogi State, have disrupted farming. They kill men and rape women. I hope the government will come to our aid in terms of security.
What do you think made the herdsmen so violent or has it always been like this in the community?
No one knows. This is a strange development because the Fulani herdsmen we knew in the past were not violent. The ones we encounter these days are. I don’t know whether to call them Fulani or Hausa herdsmen, so I cautiously call them ‘suspected herdsmen’. I don’t know where they come from; they don’t live in our community. They just bring their cattle to graze and after that they leave. They come from Kogi.
We started having contact and skirmishes with them about 10 years ago. The problem usually starts when their cattle destroy people’s crops and the helpless farmers, in the process, refuse to keep quiet because the farm, which is their only source of survival and livelihood, has been destroyed. These days some farmers borrow money from the banks to cultivate their crops, and if such a farm is destroyed, they are put in debt. What would anyone expect the person to do?
What do they normally do under such situations? The leaders of the herdsmen have blamed some communities for being hostile to them, saying most of their attacks are reprisals. Have your farmers ever engaged the herdsmen in any sort of clash?
I have been Igwe for a year and Eze for two years and in no time, since then, has the community had any clash with the herdsmen. But I know that they have been trampling on people’s farm and there have been complaints. And the Sarki or head of the herdsmen in Uzouwani has always looked into the matters and ensured that the people were compensated. But the situation has degenerated; we don’t know what else to do. We have had several moves, since last year, to ensure there is peace with the herdsmen. But the problem is: you don’t know whom to hold accountable. The Sarki in Adani has always tried to make peace when we take cases to him. But this year, things broke down. Criminal activities, like kidnapping, armed robbery and rape, are on the increase. And these are linked to the herdsmen.
What kind of response do you expect from the state government or the people to end this?
The government can help by opening up our rural areas. These people come through bush paths, through our porous borders, into the villages and communities. But if the government can help us through the construction of rural roads that will open up the places, make the communities accessible, I believe it will become unsafe for the herdsmen. Some of the bush paths are so dense; even the villagers cannot pass through them.
Also, the government can provide the community with social amenities, like hospitals, electricity and police presence. We are very backward on these things. We have just a cottage hospital, a small one. The market has been destroyed and it is deserted. But we thank the governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, for what he has done for us, so far. He responded promptly on the matter in a manner that is highly commendable. It was the same with our senator, Chuka Utazi, and the council chairman.
How do you think those who fled can be persuaded to return?
They are returning gradually. They will have to, because they don’t have anywhere else to go permanently. But what we are thinking of is how to create employment for the young people. We want cottage industries, either small-scale or medium-scale. This will help to alleviate the suffering of our people. We have a lot of educated but restive youths, and there is no hope of getting jobs anywhere. We need the government to provide jobs for them. To engage in any kind of rewarding job will be better than staying idle or relying on the farms. Creation of jobs will certainly calm tension in the community.