“They destroyed my cassava, yam, cocoa-yam, vegetable and my traps as well, everything has been destroyed. Oh! If you see what these herdsmen have done to me, you will weep for me.”
This was the lamentation of one Mr. Chijoke Nwachukwu, a farmer from Mgbede community in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers State.
“Every place we used to farm is lama, lama (the local name for cows). Lama has filled everywhere so there is no way we can farm; this is very bad,” he adds.
Mr. Nwachukwu is just one of the numerous people hard hit by the rampaging herdsmen and their cattle. There has been no love lost between the communities of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area and the herdsmen as some people still remember the tragic events that caused the animosity between the herdsmen and their host communities.
Prince Obinna Peters of Obiakpu, a neighbouring community in Ohaji/Egbema Local Government Area of Imo State, recalls: “I can still remember that fateful day Mrs Akuoyibo Ndudi had gone to farm to weed her cassava farm. As she got there she fell into the waiting arms of the herdsmen who laid an ambush for her, having had an altercation with some members of the community whom the herdsmen’s cows had eaten their cassava. The woman, who was pregnant, was murdered in cold blood. Her unborn baby was removed from her womb and murdered as well.”
These killings sparked off a bitter war between the herdsmen and the Obiakpu community. The youths of the community mobilised and went after the herdsmen who, at the end of the day, were dislodged from the community.
Another woman who tasted the bitter herbs of the herdsmen is Mrs. Adanna Ifeakachukwu, a widow in her late 50s. Mrs. Ifeakachukwu told this Reporter that, last September, she has gone to uproot cassava near the Orashi River along Ndoni Road close to a former PGH Camp site, and she left her bicycle near the road while she went into her farm.
“After harvesting the cassava, I carried the bag of cassava to where I parked my bicycle but the bicycle had been completely damaged. The place looked like some elephants were fighting there,” she says. When she looked up, she saw the herdsmen and their cattle as they headed down the river. She summoned courage and went to the river bank to meet them. The herdsmen denied that their cows were responsible for the damaged bicycle.
“When I insisted that they should repair my bicycle, one of them pulled out a gun and threatened to shoot me if I made noise or uttered a word of what happened to someone else. I cried and cried, then I wiped my tears and said to myself, at least I am alive, and the worst could have happened.”
Narrating his own ordeal, another farmer, Mr. Nnanna Okoro, who is aged 47 years, told EnviroNews: “The cows ate up the leaves and tubers of my cassava. Even when you harvest and keep it in your farm, they were eaten up, so what will I do now?”
Mr. Tito Ezebuike had gone to his farm one morning in November 2016. He recalls: “As I approached my farm, I saw a herd of cattle feeding on my cassava so I pulled my cutlass and seized the nearest person, saying: ‘You will pay me for my cassava’. He said, ‘No be me o, my brother,’ pointing to the other herdsman. As I made for the other man, he uttered a kind of command and, immediately, all the cows scattered and took to their heels. I followed them, but it was too late; in a minute, they were all gone – cows and herdsmen.
Tito Ezebuike’s story somehow illustrates how potentially dangerous the situation could be.
But these entire episode to insignificance when compared to the wanton destruction of crops going on daily at the Ogbreanya and Ntu Farmland, described as the “scorched earth” by Chief Levi Ekukwu. According to him, “the outcry by the women and men who farm in this area is so unbearable. Everyday, farmers come to me crying about what the herdsmen and their cattle are doing to them.”
Chief Ekukwu told EnviroNews: “The combined losses of farmers run into millions of Naira. So when all the farmers met and on the 20th of September 2016 we raised a letter to the Divisional Police officer in charge of Omoku , Divisional Police Headquarters, describing the damages done to our farms by the herdsmen.”
The letter, which was made available to EnviroNews, reads in part: “It should be noted that some of these farmers whose farms have been destroyed borrowed the money from banks and cooperative societies to finance their farms with a promise to pay back with the proceeds from the farms.”
In an interview, another farmer, Chief Samuel Ogbangwo, from Mgbede-Egbema in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area, said: “There will be hunger, because the cassava and other crops we are to harvest now have been eaten up by cows.”
Chief Ogbangwo, who is one of the signatories to the petition to the DPO of Omoku Police, said that the Divisional Police Officer arranged a meeting between the affected farmers and the herdsmen (one Alhaji Yahaya and his brother) on the 3rd 0f October 2016. They all agreed on the need to undertake an on-the-spot assessment of the farms.
Chief Ogbangwo continued: “So the DPO assigned some policemen led by the O/C Crimes who were joined by some members of the Joint Task Force (JTF) that led us to the farms. As we got to the farm, Chief Levi Ekukwu said, ‘We saw how the cows have eaten several hectares of cassava farms, we saw fresh cow dung everywhere. I then asked Alhaji Yahaya, ‘Who ate all these cassava?’ And he said, ‘Cows, but not my cows.” Then, I asked him, ‘Whose cows did it?’ But he didn’t answer.”
Chief Ekukwu told this Reporter that when they returned to the station the DPO decided to mediate on the matter. “At a meeting held on the 6th of October 2016 at the DPO’s Office, Alhaji Yahaya and his brother agreed not to take their cows to graze in the farms again. When the farmers pressed for damages for the losses they suffered, Alhaji Yahaya refused to take responsibility.
“Several weeks passed by and the cow were not seen again, so we started replanting the cassava. But, all of a sudden, the cows have come back in full force,” he said sadly.
When the Reporter asked Chief Samuel Ogbangwo, one of the farmers, how they hoped to handle the situation, he said, “We can’t fight but we will seek for justice.” He disclosed that the traditional rulers have been involved in the matter. The traditional rulers could not be reached as at the time of going to the press but their spokesperson, Nelson Ekperi, an engineer, confirmed that the traditional rulers in the area held a meeting on Sunday, 15th of January 2017 and that they would soon officially come out with their position on the matter.
By Dandy Mgbenwa