Enugu, the capital of the defunct Eastern Region of Nigeria, of the defunct republic of Biafra, and currently of the Enugu State, has a rich history of being a melting point of peoples from all parts of Igboland and other parts of Nigeria. The abundant coal deposits which waere discovered under the surrounding hills that gave the beautiful city its name – Enugu means the ‘hill top’ – was part of the definition of its history and its present.
The discovery of coal by a British mining engineer, Albert Kitson, in 1909, informed the construction of the railway which evacuated it, as well as other mineral and agricultural products from other parts of the country. In fact, the first coal export from Enugu mines to UK was effected from in 1914. The railway did not only bear products and minerals, it also became the best and fastest means of binging different peoples to new settlements in the different parts of Nigeria. In that way did railway towns become the fastest growing cities, many of which have grown into megacities of today.
In the same way, Enugu became the melting pot of peoples of different backgrounds who had come to work in the mines and trade on commodities that were required by those that serviced those two industries – the railways and the mines. It was in that way that the Hausa and Fulani, as well as other ethnic Northerners arrived with their different trades to settle in large numbers in Enugu and Umuahia. In that way too, did the Fulani with their cattle and associated businesses become some of the earliest entrenched groups in Enugu, which eventually became the political capital of the East.
The entrenchment and acceptance of the Fulani was such that in 1952, Alhaji Umaru Altine, who had migrated from the present-day Sokoto State, was elected the first-ever mayor of Enugu till 1958, from the influential and dominant NCNC party of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. Today, Umaru Altine’s classic home still stands proudly at the down town Ogui Road, while his descendants have become an integral part of Enugu, having become so entrenched that they speak the Igbo with idioms that the so-called natural speakers are often at pains to decode.
The Authority gives this background to show how deeply entrenched the Fulani have become in the business and social landscape of Enugu and how most of them have not known any other home apart from the state, where they had lived without any problems, until the recent incidence of violence being perpetrated by some cattle herdsmen, and which has resulted in the labelling of every Fulani that is involved in the cattle business as a criminal and murderer.
That largely erroneous depiction was given a fillip by such incidents as the one that happened at Nimbo in Uzo Uwani Local Government Area where some Fulani herdsmen attacked, killed and wounded inhabitants whose houses and property were also destroyed. Earlier, after a confrontation with farmers in Awgu, 76 farmers were also herded away to be detained in Umuahia. There had been reported other cases of incidents of attacks of rapes of farmers by Fulani cattle herdsmen across the state. Incidents like these were capable of bringing bad blood between peoples that had been living together and doing business for close to 100 years, relationships which have resulted in many Fulani settlements in the state and vibrant animal markets at Enugu and Ugwuoba.
The AUTHORITY happily notes that these potentially rising tensions have been largely doused and attenuated through the mature and measured actions of the state government of Hon Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, which has continued to apply wisdom and reticence, in contrast with the brash and loquacious methods of some of their counterparts. For instance, Governor Ugwuanyi has employed dialogue and consultations with the different stakeholders, formed committees in which the different communities, Fulanis, security agents and other groups in the state are members.
The successes of these committees have been phenomenal, as has been borne out by the recent arrest of the people that perpetrated the Nimbo mayhem, an arrest that unveiled the fact that the attackers were hired hands from outside the state, and never from within the ranks of Fulanis resident in Enugu and going about their business peacefully. The Fulanis in the committee are said to have also started visiting the different settlements in the state and enlightening them on how to identify and expose the blacklegs in their ranks, many of who had even been identified as not being of the Fulani stock, but as belonging to the same stock and background as those who formed the Boko Haram and who have constituted as much danger to Fulani herders as to the farmers, as they are mainly cattle rustlers.
The AUTHORITY applauds the methods adopted by Governor Ugwuanyi in our belief that the resolution of the Fulani herdsmen- community issue would be effected through the adoption of ranches. But we also know that will take some time in coming, but that before that is done, the communities and the Fulani who have been carrying out this trade in peace with communities must be made to find a common ground.
Such a common ground is what Governor Ugwuanyi is doing successfully in his state.
The activities of cattle herdsmen in the South West came into prominence when 76 farmers from an Awgu village in Enugu State, were, in a curious trample on legality were rounded up and herded into a prison in Umuahia, on orders of a magistrate in Abia State.