Armed herdsmen have pursued farmers and commandeered their farmlands at Obiaruku, Umutu, and other communities in Ukwuani Local Government Area, Delta State, where they brazenly root out cassava, yam, corn and other crops cultivated by farmers to feed their cattle.
The invasion and activities of the herdsmen, who killed some of their victims and raped women have thrown the communities into hunger, as farmers, mostly women, have abandoned their farms for fear of losing their lives.
At Obiaruku, headquarters of Ukwuani local government area, the Okpara-Uku General, HRM Jacob Egunatum, who spoke to NDV through the President General of Obiaruku Community Development Association, Chief Emmanuel Elike, lamented the untold hardship attacking herdsmen have subjected the people.
Saying that the herders had invaded the farming reserve located across the River Ethiope, the traditional ruler, he confirmed residents were forced to abandon their farmlands due to incessant attacks by armed herdsmen.
While reiterating that farming was the major means of livelihood of the people, he called on state and federal governments to assist the community to get the herders out of the bushes to enable the people return to their farms.
The Onotuku-General of Obiaruku, High Chief Dickson Odogwu, said: “For over one month now, nobody can go to the farm because of the problem of herdsmen grazing their cattle in our bush. Even if they go to the farm, the women will be raped. Many boys were tied to the trees and shot and inflicted with cutlass injuries.”
When they are grazing, they uproot the cassava for their cows to eat. Many of our crops have been destroyed. Before now, they have been kidnapping our people on a daily basis. This is a serious problem. Some of the boys and women come here every day to beg me to help to remove herdsmen from our bush so that they can get something to eat.
“I have reported the matter to the Divisional Police Officer and they have been doing a very good job for us.”
They rape women, attack us in our farms —Mrs. Egunatum
Leader of the Otu-Onyejikeme Farmers Association, Mrs. Bridget Egunatum said: “These women you see here, some have husbands, and some do not have and they fend for themselves through farming which is our only means of livelihood. For over one month now, we have not been going to our farms for fear of herdsmen, who have taken over our bushes.
“They rape our women, cut them with cutlasses in their own farmlands. When we try to access our farms they chase us from our farms and now, hunger has taken over the land. We have been crying in our land. We were here; they kidnapped people inside the bush. One female farmer that plants iyeke leaf was kidnapped in the bush. Later, news came to us that she had been killed.
“Fulani herdsmen are driving us from our own farmland and we are in shock; we went to meet the chairman, he said we should be patient. When you sell cassava, you use the proceeds to train your children and pay for your house rent, but now we cannot even eat let alone have money to do other things.
“They uproot our cassava and give it to their cows to eat. All our yams, cassava, corn and other crops have been destroyed by these herdsmen. We cannot continue to sit at home doing nothing and die of hunger. We are calling on the state government to come to our aid. Government should come and assist us with food and remove these people from our farms so that we can go and continue with our work.”
They slaughtered my husband, 2 sons — Mrs. Faith, widow
Another farmer who gave her name as Faith, narrated how her husband and two sons were allegedly killed by the herders. Her words: “They came to our village called Ohonogbo. When they came, we ran to Obiaruku. One day, my husband said he should go to the village to pay some workers that were working on his farm. As he was going, herdsmen stopped him on the way and killed him and two of our sons. Since then, life has been hell to us. We are just managing to survive. Sympathizers sometimes assist us with garri, money and other food items.”
I can’t harvest my cassava, yam, corn —Atagoshi
Emily Atagoshi, also a farmer, stated: “Everybody is in hunger here and we have been buying food on credit. I have cassava, yam and corn in the farm but I buy food on credit. They uproot our cassava and give it to their cows to eat and if you ask them, they tell you it nourishes their cows.”
Herdsmen attack farmers with arms — Nwador, PRO
Public Relations Officer, Obiaruku Community Youth Council, Mr. Solomon Nwador, said: “They (herdsmen) are taking our land by force, uprooting our cassava and killing our people. The trespass is too much; they will let us enter our farmlands from Umutu across the River Ethiope down to our boundary with Abraka and that is the only place where our people have their farms. Any attempt for our people to go to farm, herdsmen will use their arms and ammunition to chase them away.”
Farmer buy foodstuff on credit —Anwuli, trader
A trader, Mrs. Olokwu Anwuli said her customers, mostly farmers have been coming to buy things on credit because they do not have money to pay for the items. They buy rice, beans and other essential commodities from me.
“They have been complaining that herdsmen are not allowing them to go to their farms. If you look at the market, things like garri, yam and plantain are scarce. Even the ones in the market are sold at cut throat prices due to the scarcity of farm produce,” Mrs. Anwuli asserted.
It’s very bad – Dafe, trader
Speaking in similar vein, another trader, Mrs. Tessy Dafe, who deals in tomatoes and pepper, told NDV: “Things like garri, yam, plantain and corn are presently very scarce. Sometimes, we will be here from morning till evening and nobody will come to buy anything because there is no money as they have been at home due to herdsmen attack. I will shade tomatoes and pepper here, and nobody will come and buy and they end up rotting because they are perishable items.”
We’re stranded —Asanizie, resident
A resident, Mr. Donatus Asanizie, informed that indigenes were a helpless situation due to the scarcity of basic food items, adding: “Presently, things like garri and yam are very expensive. The few ones you can find to buy are brought from other communities and they are sold at far higher prices than they were sold when the people were going to their farms.”
We’re aware herders attacking farmers — Ajede, Ukwuani council chair
Reacting to the development, Chairman of the Ukwuani local government area, Mr. Solomon Ajede, disclosed: “We are aware that herders are in our bushes and we are aware that they are attacking a lot of our people. It was based on the reports that we gathered that we gave them advice through the traditional rulers to stay at home to enable the police to move into the bush to comb the area so that the people can go to their farms.
“Ukwuani people are predominantly farmers and that is their major occupation; I understand their feelings. Having giving them that advice so that herders will not continuously attack our people, we did not stay back and watch our people suffer. We initiated a peace talk with Miyetti Allah to be able to have a channel to talk to their people.
“We are not resting on our oars. We also partnered with Ethiope East local government council as well as Orhionmwon local government council in Edo state to comb the bushes.”
Ajede, however, lamented: “Our soil where they now hold sway, we are sharing a common boundary with Edo state. “
When we go for combing, these people retreat into Edo state and when we leave, they push back.”
Herdsmen take refuge in Edo when we comb bush
“We have been able to comb many camps that they built in those places, but each time our people get there, these people are not in the camps. The police and other security agencies are doing their bit; we are taking things gradually.
“We do not want our people to die in the process of looking for food, but we know very well that the response the state government is giving to us and the cooperation of the security agencies, I know that in no distant time, our people will go back to their farms,” Ukwuani council boss stated