April 25, 2016 would remain on their minds. It has forever changed their lives. Fear struck as Fulani herdsmen, numbering hundreds, stormed their community. Before the day would break, they had killed scores of them. Up till now, they are still counting their losses.
From Omasi Agu, a border town between Anambra State and Enugu State, a journey of about one hour 20 minutes to Opanda-Nimbo, the venue of the massacre, one would notice the prevailing atmosphere of fear and anxiety with the heavy presence of security men, mostly the army. The whole area was desolate.
A young soldier at the Omasi Agu checkpoint who spoke with our correspondent put it this way, “We have been here for a week now looking for them (herdsmen) but we have not been able to see any of them.
“We have been given the order to engage them if we sight them.”
Asked whether they could confront the Fulani herdsmen who were reported to wield sophisticated weapons, the soldier said, “If we sight them, we will just crush them. We have RPG which they don’t have. They can’t afford it; it is a kind of bomb.”
Continuing, the soldier said, “Not all Fulani herdsmen are bad. From our findings, the more dangerous ones are the Fulani herdsmen that are dark in complexion. The fair Fulanis are not bad.
“Before we came, the people of this area (Omari Agu) complained that they were being disturbed by those herdsmen but since we came, we have not seen any of them (herdsmen),” the soldier stated.
From Opanda in Enugu State, some three kilometres to the scene of the incident, the situation was hopeless and deserted; shops, schools and markets remained closed as at Wednesday and Thursday when our correspondent was in the area.
At Community Primary School, Opanda Nimbo, one Mrs. Caroline Uzor, who walked up to our correspondent after apparently a careful study from afar, identified herself as a teacher in the primary school.
She said, “Because of the attack by the Fulani, everybody here ran away. It was only yesterday (Wednesday) that some people started coming back. Even last night, there was panic here as there was rumour that the herdsmen were back for another round of attack.
“As you can see, our pupils have refused to come back to school. I was harvesting some vegetable in my garden when I sighted you on the school compound and decided to walk up to you.
“We do Rosary procession here in the church every 5pm to seek God’s intervention on this issue,” the teacher said.
At the palace of the traditional ruler of Nimbo, Chief John Akor, a cluster of policemen were seated under a mango tree, guarding the palace.
At about 12.35 pm when our correspondent was at the palace, elders and other stakeholders were having a meeting with the traditional ruler in low voices.
It was gathered that the meeting began at 10 am.
Briefing our correspondent, the monarch said security lapses and underdevelopment of the area by successive administrations were some of the reasons for incessant attacks on his people in the past five years by the herdsmen.
The monarch who said it was wrong to call the herdsmen Fulani, noted that the herdsmen came in from neighbouring Kogi State.
He said, “The killing happened in three villages out of the 10 villages that make up Nimbo. The villages are Ugu Echera, Ngwoko and Unasi.
“The attack happened between 6.30am and 7.30am that day when we started getting distress calls, suggesting that herdsmen were attacking our people in the three villages.
“The herdsmen were killing most of their victims by slitting their throats with machetes and swords. They were even celebrating the massacre. Our people were slaughtered like fowls and yet, nobody has been arrested to account for such evil.
“Many people fled the community to neighbouring communities of Nsukka, Adani, Mkpologu and others.”
The monarch said 12 persons were killed on that day while the thirteenth person died on Tuesday this week at Bishop Shanaham Hospital, Nsukka where most of the wounded victims were taken to.
“What I’m sure of is this: 12 persons died on that day and one died yesterday (Wednesday) at the last count. Many are still in hospital with serious injuries.
“One Holy Christ Church (Odozi Obodo) was burnt. The pastor’s house was also burnt.
“We have the names of those killed but we can’t release them to the press now because there will be a judicial panel on the issue; there will also be autopsy. The bodies of the dead ones are in the mortuary. No single herdsman was killed,” the monarch stated.
He commended both the state and federal governments for stepping up security in the area.
“Both federal and state governments have done well in stepping up security in our area after the April 25 incident.
“We also thank the army and police authorities.
“Though the fear is still here and because of rumours and counter rumours that the herdsmen could come again, our people no longer go to the farm.”
Continuing, the monarch said the herdsmen before the April 25 massacre “came from neighbouring Kogi State to feed their cows, they don’t live here with us. In the course of grazing, they destroy our farms, molest our people, especially women.”
On his reaction to the redeployment of the commissioner of police in the state when the massacre occurred, the monarch said, “The police commissioner had no blame. He tried to provide security for us when we hinted about the possible attack of our community by the herdsmen.
“What happened that day was that the policemen stationed in our place left their beat before those who would relieve them could come.
“The moment the policemen left, the herdsmen attacked. The question is, why did the policemen leave before they would be relieved?”
The traditional ruler who said he was the Eastern regional editor of the defunct Concord newspaper, maintained that the bane of the area was neglect by successive federal and state governments.
“The state and federal governments should come and open our roads so that there won’t be a hiding place for these herdsmen and other hoodlums.”
Speaking, the legal adviser to the monarch, S.E Nwabueze, said those who perpetrated the massacre should not be condemned on the grounds of religion or ethnicity.
He said “I have been a practising Muslim for 30 years. I was in the army for 29 years as a military police.
“The Fulani are not bad people; so it is wrong to condemn those herdsmen on the premises of religion or tribe. The Fulani are not bad people. These herdsmen came from Kogi. The Quran prohibits killing. Prophet Mohammed prohibited hurting others.”
He debunked the insinuation that the herdsmen attacks were a ploy to Islamise the country.
“The Quran makes it clear that there should be no compulsion in religion. The Quran says ‘to you your religion and to me, my religion.’ So the herdsmen attacks have nothing to do with tribe or religion.”
How some escaped
The Eke Nimbo, a four-day market in the place was desolate despite that the day our correspondent visited the place was an Eke Day. Speaking at the Eke market square, Solomon Okpe, a farmer, narrated how he escaped.
“I’m an Anglican. I attended 5am service that day. The church service ended at about 6.15 am. Shortly after the church service, some women started running back to the church, shouting Fulani, Fulani.
“They said the Fulani people were in town, attacking our people. So I took off and went into hiding. My children ran away too from our house.
“The Fulani herdsmen were about 60. They didn’t attack any woman. Their targets were men. They were shooting in the air to scare away people. It was only one man who tried to escape that they shot; they killed others by slitting their throats with machetes and swords. Come and see how they were celebrating as they slit the throats of their victims. It was a horrible sight.”
He corroborated the story that the herdsmen came from Kogi State.
“They came from Ofoto boundary between us and Kogi through Eshi River.”
Okpe gave the names of those who lost their lives as: Raphael Onyeisi, Eze Silvanus (a local government worker) Goddy Nwagu, Eze Marxwell, Ugwu Ogbo, Akagu Utazi, CY Akor, one man called operator and another one called Abro.
He said a member of the National Youth Service Corps in the area was also seriously wounded in the attack.
“In all, about 13 persons were killed. But now that the security men are around, they may still discover some other dead bodies in the forest,” Okpe maintained.
The Christ Holy Church (Odozi Obodo) was in ruins .The herdsmen allegedly set it on fire. The senior pastor’s Honda car was also set ablaze.
Narrating how it happened at the church, the catechist, John Orajiaka (from Akokwa, Ideato North LGA of Imo State) said, “About 20 of the Fulani herdsmen stormed the church compound. They started beckoning on me to come to them, the whole thing was strange to me; I took to my heels and started running up the hill behind the church.
“It was when I was descending the other side of the hill that they began to shoot at me. But I had already hidden in a safe place before their bullets started raining.
“Meanwhile the senior pastor was in his house which was set ablaze. How the senior pastor and his daughter and wife managed to escape from the house set ablaze remains a puzzle to all of us.
“I learnt that it was when the herdsmen sighted an Anglican priest who was sharing the same compound with us that our senior priest and his wife and daughter escaped.”
In Anambra State, the governor, Chief Willie Obiano, had launched a helicopter to keep surveillance of the herdsmen in the state.
Obiano assured that the state had all it would take to prevent the attack of the herdsmen in any part of the state.
He warned the herdsmen to behave themselves or be visited with appropriate punishment within the ambit of the law.
The traditional ruler of Nawfia, in Njikoka Local Government Area of the state, Igwe Chijikoke Nwankwo, ruled out any reprisal attack from the people of Anambra State on the Hausa-Fulani community in the state.
He said “I don’t think there will be a reprisal attack where the deed was not done.
“But I reasonably believe that our people are vigilant and watching.
“These Fulani should retrace their steps in order not to put Nigeria in turmoil,” Nwankwo said.
He said all the police men that failed in their duty to protect the people of Nimbo should be queried “and their query should be made known to us.”
Meanwhile, the people of Awka North and Ayamelum local government areas in Anambra State say they now live in fear of possible invasion of their communities by the herdsmen.
The Chairman of Awka North Local Government, Chief Cosmas Okonkwo on Thursday in an interview with our correspondent said the incessant attacks by the Fulani herdsmen on communities bordered by Kogi State had become a concern for the people. We no longer sleep with our eyes closed,” he said.
The council boss said his administration had taken proactive measures to ensure that the communities in the area were not taken unawares by the herdsmen.
“We have been taking proactive measures. There would have been a clash at Isuanocha following the rape of a woman by the herdsmen.
“We met with the community and we were able to douse the tension. The same story happened at Obaofemili and Mgbakwu where we stopped the youths from going on the rampage because of the activities of the herdsmen.”
Okonkwo said the state governor, Chief Obiano had set up a cattle menace committee headed by the police commissioner, Mr Hosea Karma with traditional rulers, presidents-general of town unions, leaders of Fulani communities and other security agencies in the state as members.
He said the police had been deployed in some parts of the state to ensure that there were no security lapses.
“I have gone round the entire Awka North communities sensitising them on the need to live in peace with strangers. I have been meeting with the Sarikin Fulani who is the leader of the herdsmen in the South-East on how to avert attacks. So, we have done a lot to ensure peace between my community and the herdsmen,” Okonkwo said.
While opposing the Grazing Bill, he described it as a ploy to foist the Fulani herdsmen on the people of the South and the South-East in particular.
“It is an indirect way of colonising the Igbo race. The problem in Adamawa State was caused by this type of arrangement being proposed by the bill,” he said.
Following the killings at Uzo-Uwani, Enugu State by Fulani herdsmen, there are strong indications that the Igbo may revive the dreaded Bakassi Boys as a standby militia to contain such attacks in future.
A source who pleaded anonymity told our correspondent that was one of the decisions reached at the Concerned Imeobi meeting of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo on May 1, 2016 at Enugu.
The source said after a review of the situation, it was observed that the security situation in Igbo land was generally porous.
The communiqué of the meeting made available to our correspondent in Awka partly read: “These itinerant herdsmen have indeed drawn a line on the sand and their actions and audacity will no longer be discountenanced. We must take steps to reduce the chances of recurrence of this kind of evil.
“It is high time our people were encouraged to defend themselves “first”, before placing reliance on any other person and should articulate themselves to wade off any invader in future.
“Our people should learn and imbibe the culture of being ready to defend themselves legitimately at all times and at all levels; at least to offer reasonable defence, in event of any impromptu attack, as we the Igbos are vulnerable and are grossly endangered.
“That the National Executive Council of Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo must set up as a matter of urgency, a ‘security and strategic endurance committee’ and a ‘central coordinating security sub-committee of Town Unions, Vigilante groups and neighbourhood watchers.”
Continuing, the communiqué maintained that “Security of lives and properties had long been thrown into the winds and people are dying like flies that encountered pesticide, and properties are being lost on a daily basis from insecurity.
“Each time there is a heinous crime in this country, the security hierarchy will tell us that they will investigate and get to the root of the matter and will bring the perpetrators to book; but no feedback of such investigations are ever heard again ad infinitum; examples abound.
“Till now, we are still waiting to get report or feedback about the mystery multitude of corpses deposited at Ezu River, Amansea, Ugwuoba, Enugu State few years ago.
“Our confidence greatly dwindles, as we believe, from experience, that the circumstances surrounding this current massacre of our people at Nimbo Uzouwani; have, from the date of the incident, commenced its journey to being swept under the carpet.
“The security network of the country should be accountable, up and doing, so as to restore our confidence.
“No reasonable person should try to politicise this issue of this ‘Nimbo Massacre’, by trying to make caricature of identity of the perpetrators of this heinous crime, which is well known to our people, to be the Fulani herdsmen.
“It baffles us how Fulani herdsmen bear prohibited sophisticated firearms, and are never arrested, while for other Nigerians it is against the law. Suffice it to say that justice demands that everybody should be given equal privilege in that regard.”
It was also gathered that the Ohanaeze in session banned the consumption of Fulani cows in the South-East , stressing that was one way to punish their attackers.
“You can’t be patronising the market of those who would end up killing you. You don’t empower your enemy,” the communiqué concluded. (Punch)