Tension brews in Ebonyi as 2,000 herdsmen overrun farms, build huts
There is growing apprehension among residents of some communities in Ebonyi State following the mass exodus of Fulani herdsmen numbering over 2,000 to five villages.
Checks by The Guardian revealed that the affected villages include: Ochafu in Igbeagu Development Centre, Izzi Local Council, Akaeze and Ishiagu both in Ivo Local Council and Amasiri in Afikpo North Local Council Area.
It was learnt that residents of these communities, who are predominantly farmers, have since the arrival of the herdsmen at the weekend, began to flood the various Police Divisions and the state Commissioner of Police with petitions.
They have been protesting against the fact that the herdsmen not only took them unawares, but they were not informed or notified of their coming. They were utterly shocked that the herdsmen had already erected make-shift huts in their farmlands and have also reportedly unleashed their cattle to damage the remaining of their farms on which they were still harvesting crops.
One of the petitions made available to The Guardian and duly signed by the village head of Ishiuke, Ochafu village in Izzi Local Council, Chief Nwigboke Nkwegu and a youth leader, Moses Nwezenyi, stated that their entire farms had been overtaken by the herdsmen with their cows freely grazing and damaging their crops.
“We have never lived with them and we do not know where they are coming from. But we wish to bring to the notice of the Nigeria Police Force that our villages have been invaded and our farms taken over by strangers. They are grazing on our farmlands and damaging our crops. Our people are afraid and many want to desert the village to an unknown place because of fear,” they alleged.
They further added that some of the people they saw in the farms were armed with machetes and other dangerous weapons and as such only women were left behind in the huts while the men were in the the farmlands with their cows grazing on their crops.
In a similar development, the people of Amasiri in Afikpo North Local Council also petitioned the police over the arrival of herdsmen in their domain. They alleged that the herdsmen have taken over most of their farmlands.
They complained that the unwanted visitors came like ‘thieves in the dead of the night’ despite several warnings to their leaders to caution the Fulani herdsmen to stay away from their domain.
A resident of the community, Mr. Aloysius Oko Eluu told The Guardian that the youth of the area were angry and devastated by the level of harm done to their farmlands by their marauding visitors and would have attacked them but for their respect and regard for constituted authorities and the security agencies.
“We, therefore, call on the state Commissioner of Police to please help us tell the herdsmen to leave our communities as we do not want to have any form of violent clashes with them. We have written to the appropriate authorities including the state government. And we are urging the governor as the chief security officer of the state to come to our rescue,” he said.
Confirming the development, the state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), DSP Jude Madu, said the police upon getting the security report has not rested on its oars and has continued to monitor the affected villages to ensure that there was no breakdown of law and order.
“Earlier this week, we got a report from Ochafu village that a trailer came into the village with Fulani herdsmen numbering at least 100 and 80 cattle to settle with the people of the area. In fact, I personally visited that place and I saw huts. But the Fulani herdsmen said they have lived there for more than five years and that they actually invited their brothers to come and stay with them but not up to the number that these villagers were claiming.”
While disclosing that the nature of the reports given the police indicates that the Fulani herdsmen came in their numbers to settle in the said villages against the will of the community leaders, Madu recalled that there was a committee set up by the governor to handle clashes or problems arising between Fulani herdsmen and farmers.
“A senior police officer (OC SARS), who is representing the Police on the committee has been on the matter. He is monitoring the situation. The Commissioner has also directed that the situation be monitored to ensure that there are no clashes between the villagers and the herdsmen.
“We feel that if the visitors are trying to settle there, it should be with the consent of the villagers. But if otherwise, the police will try to prevent any form of violent clashes”, he stated.