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From Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
Before now, destruction of farm crops allegedly by Fulani herdsmen was rampant in Ebonyi State.
Almost on a daily basis, news usually filtered into Abakaliki, the state capital, that suspected Fulani herdsmen had led their cattle into farmlands.
But recently, Governor Dave Umahi convened a security meeting at the Akanu Ibiam International Conference Centre, Abakaliki, where the matter was placed on the front burner and solutions proffered to prevent the menace from getting out of hand.
The meeting was attended by the leadership of the Nigerian Army, Police, Nigeria Society of Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), leadership of Hausa/Fulani community, farmers and top government officials.
Speaking at the meeting, Governor Umahi expressed sadness that relative peace which his administration has been able to achieve in the state was being threatened on a daily basis by the activities of suspected Fulani herdsmen.
Umahi, who was represented by his deputy, Dr. Kelechi Igwe, disclosed that security reports available to him indicated that the herders usually allow their cattle to stray into people’s farms to graze on their crops.
“We have started receiving complaints that these cattle led by herdsmen are straying into our farmland, destroying crops. The herdsman takes his cattle as his life and an average Ebonyi farmer takes his crop as his life. Anything that touches the cattle of a Fulani man has touched his life. The same way, anything that touches the farmland of an Ebonyi man has touched his life.
“If you try to challenge the Fulani man why he has allowed his cattle to stray into the farmland, he would draw his dagger to chop off human head. Now, if an Ebonyi man who takes his farmland as his life, feeling that someone is now trying to cut short his life brings out his own machetes, what we shall have is an epidemic of death,” he said.
He lamented that efforts being made by cattle breeders/farmers peace committee headed by the Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice, Augustine Nwankwegu, was allegedly being flouted by the herdsmen with impunity.
“As our farmers have been very patient and not trying to attack any herdsman or cattle, we want to appeal to the herdsmen to ensure that the privilege that was granted, which is almost like a right, is not abused, taken for granted or by any reason over-stretched to become an unlimited powers or right.
“It is an appeal today. But tomorrow, if the situation persists, it will no longer be an appeal.
“We are not here to start trading blames. But if the herdsmen have reasons why they would allow their cattle to stray into our farmlands, may they make it known and open to us so that town union presidents and secretaries that are here will know that these are challenges and then help to protect your cattle when you allow them to stray into their farmlands.
“And for us, the town union leadership, traditional rulers, council chairmen, and others to also, if you have any, state your reason why the herdsmen will not be free to take their cattle to your land for grazing provided that such land is not a farmland.
“Thirdly, to find out why our main roads where we have asphalted have become the cattle pathway? The acidic content of the cow dung is so high that anywhere it touches on a coal tar, within a short time that place fails. Why has the coal tar become the pathway of the cattle, competing for right of way with vehicles and human beings?
“When anyone kills one cow, you draw your dagger. And if they say okay, community should come for peace resolution, you peg your compensation at high price. Do you know how much it costs to cultivate those farms you destroy?” the governor queried.
The traditional ruler of Ugwulangwu Autonomous Community, Eze Romanus Iyioku, gave an insight into why the herdsmen’s menace has persisted.
He revealed that the cattle owners employed under-aged boys and gave them a number of cattle they cannot control.
Iyioku, who doubles as the first deputy chairman, Ebonyi State Traditional Ruler’s Council, lamented that he was a victim of the herdsmen’s invasion.
“They invaded my farms and destroyed my crops. I sent my boys to go and know what had happened. It was discovered that the herder was too small to control those animals,” he said.
In his submission, leader of the Hausa community in Ebonyi, Alhaji Danjuma Mamuda Gambo, agreed that the Fulani herdsmen were to be blame.
He, however, assured the government that he would make effort to bring the situation under control.
“For me, the faulty one is the Fulani man. This is because farms don’t go to anywhere, but cattle do. It is when you take your cattle to somebody’s farm that they destroy crops. In that case, you’re the one looking for trouble,” he said.
Gambo, however, said that there are some exaggeration made by the farmers on the damage done on their farm crops.
He also blamed transiting herdsmen who move from place to place for the damage done to the farms.
In his speech, the Sarikin Yawa, Enugu State, and Coordinator, South East Hausa/Fulani Community, Sariki Abubakar Yusuf Sambo, commended the government and people of Ebonyi State for the relative peace “we have achieved in your state,” saying that “when the Herders/Farmers Committee, which I am a member was inaugurated, I know that the wish of His Excellency was that of peaceful coexistence.”
He also said: “I must tell you that apart from Enugu State, Ebonyi has the second largest resident Fulani in the South East. And I must have to say that despite the challenges, the people of Ebonyi State were able to accommodate them peacefully.
“We have 58 families in Enugu State, about 29 in Ebonyi State, and only five in Anambra State. Imo State has three and Abia State has only one. So, you can imagine the magnitude of what you are facing in Ebonyi State. But through this committee, I am assuring the house that we are going to bring out a roadmap, which we have started also. We will lay emphasis on these issues you’ve highlighted, especially the threats, underage rearing, and others.
“Truly, the animals cannot differentiate between the grasses and the farm crops. It is only the herder. So, that issue is on our table. We have observed that most of the causes of these problems are rearing of these animals by underaged persons.
“We have a situation where the young people below 13 years are moving about 100 cows; moving into the farmlands with them. So you can imagine the maturity in knowing the difference between someone else’s business and theirs.
“Overstocking is another issue that causes animals to stray into farmlands. Sometimes you come to a community and you find out that within that community they would be able to accommodate only 200 or 300 animals, but you find out that they have about a thousand. In that instance, there is bound to be disruption. But be assured that we will bring solution.”
ACommander of the state Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), CSP Abdulkadir Yahaya, blamed both the Fulani herdsmen and the natives for the persistent squabble.
“There is problem from both sides, problem is coming from the Fulanis and problem is coming from the natives. The Fulani always employ underaged, they always employ questionable characters to rear their cattle. On the side of the natives, the youths are the major problems. There is no community that you will not have bad eggs and those bad eggs attack the herdsmen,” he said.