The five autonomous communities in Ozalla, Nkanu West Local Government Area of Enugu State, yesterday, protested the invasion of their communities by Fulani herdsmen.
The communities have given the herdsmen 72 hours to leave their domain.
The protesting villagers claimed that the herdsmen numbering over 100 had arrived their communities with their families and belongings including cattle in five Mercedes Benz-911 lorries.
The protesting villagers comprising farmers, market women, men and youths gathered in one of the community primary schools, chanted solidarity songs with placards and brandished green leaves as they demanded the herdsmen leave their communities.
President General of Ozalla Development Union, Afam Ani told reporters that the herdsmen arrived with their families and cattle to their most fertile farmland at Agu Obodo in Obeagwu village, along old Enugu-Port Harcourt Road, adding that Obodo is also a sacred land to the communities.
According to him, when they approached the herdsmen, they claimed to have been evicted from their previous settlement at Maryland area, in Enugu metropolis by the state government hence, their decision to relocate to Ozalla, twelve kilometres from Maryland.
Ani told The Easterner: “Thee should be no doubt whatsoever that what we are faced with is the forcible invasion of our homeland by Fulani herdsmen who are likely armed with dangerous weapons. “We consider this act to be provocative and totally unacceptable to our people”.
Narrating their experience with herdsmen in 2012, Ani said: “Our people have had unpleasant experiences with these herdsmen, leading to fatalities, rape of our women, robberies and massive destruction of our farmlands.
“Thereafter, we said, ‘let bygones be bygones.’ Little did we know that the same Fulani herdsmen will come to our community, again and we are saying, ‘this time around, they are not welcome.”
He disclosed that elders of the community have met with the herdsmen where they promised to leave the community within 72 hours to look for an alternative place to stay.
Ani noted that the palpable tension in the communities was due to the recent herdsmen attacks in Nimbo and Attakwu Akegbe in parts of the state, saying they were “eager to mitigate the potentially explosive situation from boiling over.
He continued: “What we told them was that, after the agreed time, whatever we deemed necessary as our own reaction, we may have to start because they came in without notice and approval,” he said.
Ani appealed to the state government and all security agencies in the state to take urgent steps to protect their community by seeing to the evacuation of the herdsmen.
Also speaking, one of the traditional rulers, Igwe Crescent Okafor lamented that the herdsmen came into the community without approval. “They came in without meeting the traditional rulers; we just saw trucks carrying families moving inside our farm. That alone caused panic in the community. In fact, some people ran and came to my place to stay,” he said.
He called on the government to come to their aid, saying “we are afraid; we can’t fight them, that is why we are calling on the government and also the whole world to hear our voice.”
Corroborating the claim, one of the farmers, Mr Pius Nwachukwu, who claimed the herdsmen settled on his farm land, said his wife alerted him that the herdsmen have packed into their farmland.
His words: “Where I’m living is the last building in the village. My wife alerted me that the Fulani people have packed into my area with 911 loaded with their families and belongings. Immediate I returned, I went to see everything for myself. When I got to my farm, they have already destroyed everything. Myself, I’m in danger because I’m the last person living there. When I confronted them concerning my farm that they destroyed, they offered me money, but I told them that I don’t want money that they should just remove their cow. They offered my wife money as well but she refused.”
But when newsmen got to the alleged portion of the farmland, it was discovered that they had moved farther down the farmland, but some of their cooking utensils were seen left behind.
As at the time of filing this report, security agencies in the state had arrived the community to effect the evacuation of the herdsmen, who were seen packing their belongings into waiting trucks preparatory to departure. (The Sun, The Easterner)