By Godwin Onyemaechi
The clashes between the farmers and herdsmen in the Southeast has reached an alarming height. Farmers are being reported killed, injured, their farm produce destroyed and their women raped on weekly basis.
In all the states of the Southeast, the scenario is the same. Most farmers have been forced to abandon their farms for the cattle breeders who allow their cows to graze openly, for fear of being harmed or killed.
They allege that cattle breeders now carry AK -47 rifles, rather than their usual sticks. When the Southwest region had a similar experience, the six governors in the region set up the Western Nigeria Security Network, codenamed Amotekun, to tackle the challenge.
The governors of Southeast region have followed the footsteps of their Southwest counterparts, by setting up Ebube Agu. But, they took their time in arriving at that decision, which angered the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra IPOB, led by Nnamdi Kanu to form Eastern Security Network (ESN) to save the lives of their subjects.
The regional headquarters of Ebube Agu will be in Enugu and the regional security outfit is expected to work with the police and other security agencies to protect lives and property of the people. The governors are working in tandem with the apex Igbo sociocultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, led by Prof George Obiozor.
The five states have agreed to harmonise existing laws to give the security outfit a common ground to operate. But the one that was of major interest to Ndigbo was the state laws banning open grazing in the Southeast. The security agencies and the local vigilantes would be expected to enforce the ban in the region.
In Anambra State, the farmers-herders clashes had been rampant, especially, in Awka North, Ayamelum and Anambra East Local Governments. The clashes had led to loss of lives on both sides, while the rape cases on women had also been on the high side. Governor Willie Obiano has been a good manager when it comes to issues like that. He had set up a committee comprising security agencies, the state government and leader of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) to mediate in such matters.
The committee sees to the compensation of victims whose crops are destroyed or whose families lost persons or cows on both sides. MACBAN chairman, Southeast, Alhaji Gidado Sidikki, said they had been living in peace with the people of Southeast until recently. He claimed that his people in Ebonyi State had been chased away by the people after killing some of them and their cows.
In Abia State, a cordial relationship is said to exist between the settlers and the indigenes. The hospitality of the communities and their inhabitants may have been the reason these herders have warmly settled in most Abia communities, living with one another over the years as brothers and sisters, regardless of their religious and political differences.
Sadly, the situation is no longer the same now, as these people whose grandfathers, fathers and uncles lived as brothers and sisters are now at each other’s neck. From Arochukwu to Umuahia North and South, Isiala Ngwa North and South to Ukwa West and Ukwa East, the story is just the same.
The recent clashes between farmers and herders have festered in all the 17 local government areas and have negatively affected not only the peasant farmers, but the largely Abia urban population that depends on the inadequate farm produce from the rural communities to feed their families.
The continued attack on farmers and the damage on crops by the herders and their animals, which many have described as economic sabotage, is still ongoing across the state.
Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, while flagging-off the state-wide sensitization workshop against criminal activities in the state, tasked security agencies to commence the enforcement of the Anti-Open Grazing Law put in place since 2018.
The governor said the enforcement of the law the law will help reduce the unprovoked attacks against farmers by herdsmen. Unfortunately, the inability of the state government and security agencies to implement the law has forced many farmers to avoid going to their farms, to avoid loss of life in the hands of the gun-wielding herders.
A statement by the Chief Press Secretary to the Abia State Governor, Onyebuchi Ememanka said the state government has already established a full-fledged ministry that will be saddled with the responsibility of addressing and settling disputes between farmers and herders.
Ememanka said the new ministry would have as its main focus on mainstreaming the activities of herdsmen and other violent crimes with a view to safeguarding the people and the environment. He quoted Governor Ikpeazu as saying that there is need for government to tie up all loose ends in terms of securing residents and visitors in the state.
He said: “The whole idea, the governor stated, is to ensure that no inch of Abia territory will remain unpoliced and that field personnel of the ministry will be trained under a collaborative effort with the Nigeria Police.”
Ikpeazu said the establishment of a Ministry of Homeland Security stemmed from the decision of the Governors of the Southeast region to set up state-based outfits that will strengthen internal security. He added that his administration will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that every inch of the Abia territory is well policed.
The Abia State Commissioner for Homeland Security, Dan Okoli said the government will recruit additional 340 personnel for Abia Vigilante Services (AVS) to nip crime in the bud in the state. He said that there were over 400 personnel has already been engaged by AVS. He said AVS is the general name of the security outfit, adding that it comprises Neighborhood Watch, Forest Guards and Anti-cult Group.
Okoli said that its operations would be community-based and it would entail gathering of information and intelligence and reporting such to the relevant security agencies.
At Nimbo, Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area (LGA) of Enugu State, it was mayhem recently, when suspected herdsmen attacked Opanda community, killing two farmers. It was gathered that one of the young farmers who had gone to water his farm was discovered dead the following morning, after allegedly being attacked by suspected herdsmen.
Fear has gripped the community following the development. This prompted Christians going for Holy mass and other businesses to retreat to their homesteads.
Residents of Imo State have called on Governor Hope Uzodimma to hasten the recruitment of operatives into the Southeast security outfit, code-named Ebube Agu, and to allow it to commence operations in earnest. There appears to be a considerable reduction of the menace of herdsmen and the resulting clashes between herdsmen and farmers across the state since January this year.
Investigation showed that the reduction is not unconnected with the current security situation in the state, which started with the crisis in Orlu. Nevertheless, the establishment of Ebube Agu has bee welcomed by the people because it would help in permanently curbing the incessant herders/farmers clashes, which had led to several killings and destruction of property.
Residents said the outfit should swing into action immediately to provide a lasting solution to the protracted clashes between herders and farmers in the state, particularly in Mbaise, Ohaji Egbema, Oguta, Okigwe, Owerri North and Owerri West council areas. Andy Chima and Chibuzo Nlechi from Obiti and Umuapu communities in Ohaji Egbema LGA, said the clashes between herders and farmers were common all over the country, but in Ohaji communities it had become so pronounced in recent time.
Chima said though the herdsmen occupying the bushes in Obiti had fled the place following the news of the crisis that happened in Orlu in January this year. He, however, opined that there was still need to recruit Ebube Agu operatives to start work so that “they will be on ground to deal with the situation when these herdsmen return”.
Nlechi said: “You are here in Imo State and witness to the agony our people have been facing in their farms in the past. It was in my community, Umuapu that some women were killed and gang-raped in their farms while those who survived were left with mortal injuries by the herders. What was the reason, you may as. It’s nothing but asking the herders to stop destroying the crops in our farms. That was it.”
Mrs. Concilia Oparah from Amakohia Ubi Community, Owerri West LGA told The Nation that for the first time in about four years, the women of the community had been able to go to their farms in peace. She said: “Since February this year, our women have not come on protest at the government house over the destruction of our crops and killing of our people.
“We all know what caused it, is the current security situation in Imo and southeast states in general which started since January.
“I also know that the security situation will normalize anytime soon and these people would return back to destroying our farms. It is in our best interest that the government recruit the Ebube Agu boys to begin work. What we saw in the hands of these herdsmen since three years now caused us unforgettable pains.”
Sir Roy Nwoko from Uratta in Owerri North LGA said herdsmen were still occupying their farmlands despite the little recovery the community had made in recent times. He said: “Though, we’re gradually recovering our farms because the youths engaged them last week and some of them fled from here; though security operatives quickly came to their aid.
“But, I can tell you that some of our people have abandoned their farms to avoid clashes with the marauding herders. The truth is that before now we could no longer access our farms; we’ve had some ugly experience in the past and won’t want a repeat. We really need urgent serious intervention with this Ebube Agu so that we have official security because we’re already helpless.”
While stressing their call for the immediate take-off of the Ebube Agu in the state, they, however, said traditional rulers who understand local terrains must be involved in the selection of process of its operatives.
Special Adviser to Governor Hope Uzodimma on Security, Dan Okoro said the governor was yet to announce the commencement date for Ebube Agu.
Ebonyi State government has over the years put mechanism in place to stem herders/farmers clashes. One of the measures include setting up a joint committee in all the local governments with a central committee at the state level level to settle disputes between them.
Commissioner for Border Peace, Stanley Okoro Emegha told The Nation that the committee was largely successful in the state as the state had few issues before now. The committee had leaders of herdsmen among them. It also had security heads community leaders and political leaders from the areas.