Tension and sweeping fear of insecurity are on the rise across Nigeria as ‘fulani’ herdsmen wreak havocs of killing, kidnapping, rape and robbery in different communities of the country.
All through 2018 and 2019, the south west was the main operational theatre of the herdsmen. They were outcries against wanton killings, kidnapping, assault and rape from many leaders in the region. Perhaps, the coming of the South west regional security outfit- Amotekun- has reduced the nefarious activities of the herdsmen in the region.
Unfortunately, this is not the case in South-South region where herdsmen recently killed more than 14 persons in Avwon, Agadama and Ohoror communities of Uwheru kingdom in Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State.This latest attack that has triggered rhetoric of genocidal killings by the Urhobo Progressive Union (UPU) and other stakeholders was one of the bloodiest incidents perpetrated by nomadic herdsmen in the South-South region, who have wreaked havoc in Delta, Rivers, Edo, Delta and Akwa Ibom States in recent times.
Between Thursday and Saturday last week, unspecified numbers of armed herdsmen in search of grazing path, invaded the aforementioned communities and allowed their herds of cattle to stray into locals’ farmland and destroyed farm products.
Growing frustrations and grievances against the herdsmen had resulted in frequent violent encounters between locals and the herdsmen, dating back to 2000, and have resulted in tensed relationship between them.
Thus, on sighting the herdsmen, incensed youths, who accused the herdsmen of often destroying their crops, polluting streams and unleashing terror on farmers, especially women, quickly mobilised and warded them off their farms.
But the herdsmen, who have been compelled by changing climatic conditions to migrate Southwards for lush green grass, perceived that their survival that is dependent on their cows was being threatened, regrouped, armed themselves with lethal weapons, reinvaded the communities and went on killing spree that had left over 14 dead.
At the hostility, several corpses including those of eight farmers had been recovered from shallow graves where they were hurriedly dumped by the marauding herdsmen. Delta State Commissioner for Higher Education, Prof. Patrick Muoboghare, told The Guardian that the herdsmen killed several persons and buried them in shallow graves, perhaps, to cover up.
“Six more shallow graves, where our boys were buried, have been discovered by our gallant boys. We are waiting for the military and police high command to come and evacuate them. Yesterday, two corpses were deposited at Ughelli. We are still counting,” Muoboghare said.The commissioner, who also indicted the army of complicity in the invasion of Uwheru, said, after the herdsmen had finished killing, soldiers were deployed to the community to protect the herdsmen from reprisal attacks.
“In the last few years, they had killed not less than 50 people in the community, and the yearly killings were a plot by the Fulani herdsmen to take over our land. Before now some Fulani herdsmen were arrested and handed over to the police, but they were promptly freed, because the police national command structure is in the hands of Fulani officers. The community, known for its production of sweet potatoes, groundnut, pepper and fish can longer go to their farms due to the menace of herdsmen,” he said.
The violent clashes between farmers and herders have been recurrent in Delta State since 2000. But it reached an alarming magnitude since 2017 till last week. The herdsmen’s nefarious activities had been mainly in Ughelli North, Ethiope East, Ndokwa West and East Local Government Areas of the State. But Uwheru and Abraka have largely borne the brunt of brigandage and violence.
For years now, the alarming activities of herdsmen had taken a toll on communities in Edo State. One of the worst hit is an agrarian community, Odiguete in Ovia North East Local Government Areas of the state.The Guardian gathered from sources in Odiguete that they have continuously appealed to government to beef up security in the community to save lives, particularly of the rural farmers who make up the large number of the community.
Recently, a farmer and a policeman were murdered by herdsmen in Owan community, still in the aforementioned local government. The youths of the community said they had called in the police to help retrieve the body of the farmer from the herdsmen. And it was in the process of trying to retrieve the remains that the herdsmen, who have been accused of being in possession of small arms that embolden them to intimidate, rape female farmers, and engage in highway robbery, fired at the policemen on a rescue mission, and killing one of them in the process.
In the same vein, an undergraduate was reportedly killed by herdsmen at Ugboha, a rural community in the state. About 12 people, who sustained various degrees of injuries, were hospitalised at the Benin Central Hospital, and other private hospitals.The incident at Ugboha occurred when the deceased identified as Collins Ojierakhi, and his friends were on their way back to the village from Uromi, headquarters of Esan North East Local Government Area, according to the father of the deceased student, Festus Ojierakhi.
“I am just confused. I was actually in the house resting at about 8 p.m. and I started asking about my son who was not there. I was told he went to Uromi with his friends on a motorcycle. It was around 9 p.m. that the mother of my son´s friend started shouting, crying that herdsmen have killed her son. I rushed out of the house and I asked about my own son. I was told he died too with his friend.
“We immediately detailed boys and ran to the place. When we got there we were told that the police had come to take the corpse to Ubiaja mortuary. I was told that my son and two others, including the friend died. They said the other person that died is an Igbo person. The information we heard was that as my son was driving home on his motorcycle, the herdsmen and their cattle blocked the road and they waited for them to leave the road. Immediately they passed, some of their people in the bush opened fire at my son and his friends and they died on the spot,” he said.
But the Edo police spokesman, DSP Chidi Nwabuzor, said the policeman did not die in the said attack. A brother to the farmer was also hit by bullets fired by the herdsmen. The killing made the community members to block the Benin-Akure highway in protest and sought government’s attention to the crisis.
One of the protesters, who gave his name as Moses, said herdsmen in the bush had been killing and raping women in their community. Moses said crops had been destroyed by the herdsmen.
“They killed our person in the bush. We called in the police so that we can retrieve the body but they attacked again and killed a policeman. The government should come to our aid. Herdsmen are terrorising us. We need help so that we can go to our farms.”Farmers at Igbanke community in Orhionmwon local government of the State have also not been spared in the gruesome killings as the farmers have also protested destruction of the crops by herdsmen.
The farmers, who had protested to Benin City said they could no longer enter their farms owing to activities of killer herders.They alleged that yams, cassava and other crops cultivated were used to feed cows after which the farmlands are set ablaze by the herdsmen to enable fresh grass to grow.
An elder of Iganke, James Iguando, said: “We are afraid. We cannot take laws into our hands. We don’t have plantain, yams and others again. We are now hungry. Herdsmen take their cows to eat our produce.”On the killings perpetrated by herders, some medical practitioners in the State have been under attacks, with the most recent the killing of the chairman of Medical Advisory Council of the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospitals Complex, Ile Ife, Osun State, Prof. Jerome Elusiyan.
Elusiyan, who was attacked and killed by suspected herdsmen in Edo State was a professor of Paediatrics and Child HealthHe was in the state to supervise a final year students’ examination of the Ambrose Alli University (AAU) when he was attacked between Ekpoma and Iruekpen in Edo State.Another medical doctor with the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH) identified as Dr. Ehidiamen Oaikhena, was gruesomely killed in the Ovia North-East Local Government Area of Edo State.
He was said to have been shot by the suspected herdsmen in the Okada area, while returning to Benin City, the Edo state capital.It was gathered that Oaikhena, aged 34, was returning from a hospital where he had conducted a successful surgery when he ran into an ambush by the suspected herdsmen in 2019.
A pastor, Pius Eromosele, attached to the Church of God Mission (CGMi), in Benin City was not too long ago killed in Odighi community in Ovia North-East council by suspected herdsmen.
The pastor was said to have been allegedly killed by the herdsmen after a demand for the sum of N4 million from him was not met, and his corpse found in a shallow grave in his farm. His decomposing body was later discovered when hunters and vigilante members went into the bush in search of the pastor.
Eldest son of late Pastor, Dr. Richard Eromosele, said his father was abducted in his farm and his remains were found already decomposing in the bush. According to him, “the killers cut through my father´s skull after they shot him at close range.“The herdsmen did not use their phones. They were using my father’s phone and a phone of one of his workers. They demanded for N4 million but we begged them that it was a holiday and could not raise such money.
“I went to the police and they told me that I should call them whenever the herdsmen called for ransom payment. I did that but there was no response from the police. The two workers that escaped told us that the herdsmen told my father that he was one of those killing their cows.
“It was after the police failed to find my father that I begged hunters and vigilante to help me. It was during the search that we found my father. His skull was cut out with a cutlass, while his hands were also cut. We want security agencies to protect farmers in Odighi. My father has farmed in that place for many years. How could I go into farming when my father was killed like a common pig,” Eromosele said.
Members of the University Community in the State have not been spared in the onslaught by herders as a lecturer at Igbinedion University, Okada (IUO) in Edo State, identified as Mr. Kelvin Izebeokhai,was also killed by suspected herdsmen operating near Okada junction, along the Benin-Lagos Highway.The institution’s spokesperson, Jide Ilugbo, who lamented the killing of one of its academic staff, said the late Kelvin was a First Class graduate and was employed in the university three years ago.
Recently, teachers in Edo State had a bitter taste of herdsmen’s menace. A teacher in Obi Primary School located in Uzebba Ihuleha community in the Owan West Local Government Area of Edo State fell into the hands of the gunmen who took her away with them when they attacked the school. Her colleagues escaped, but Alabi was not lucky. She was with them for three nights moving round the bush. She was released on the third day after a payment of N1.7m ransom and purchase of items like cigarettes, malts and soft drinks, among other things.
Also, Akwa-Ibom State had not been insulated from the deadly conflict between herdsmen and farmers which has continued to cause social upheaval across country.
Between August and September 2019, the State witnessed two major attacks in Ukanafun and Mkpat Enin local government councils. Community sources said herdsmen usually invade the area during the dry season to feed their cattle. The attack on Obio Usiere, had forced residents to desert it, and caused women to abandon their farms because they fear they might be raped.Similarly, two people were killed in 2017 in Afam community in Oyigbo Government Areas in Rivers State by herdsmen.
In Bayelsa State the issue of clashes between herdsmen and farmers was almost at a boiling point until the Bayelsa State Government, in July last year, donated 1,200 hectares of land to herdsmen, for grazing, ranching and slaughtering of their cattle in the state.
In 2018 alone, more than 2,400 Nigerians were killed by herdsmen. 2019 saw a rise in the killings of more people across the countries and the pattern is unabated in 2020.
It is this pattern the made former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to warn in a letter to President Mahammadu Buhari last year that the spontaneous or planned attacks by the Fulanis could develop into a massacre or Rwanda-type of genocide. “It has festered and spread. Today, it has developed into banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery, and killings all over the country.”