By Sheddy Ozoene
Rural women in Enugu state, who now live in fear and torment of Fulani herdsmen, are now asking their husbands and the government they elected into office, to protect them. The women whose main preoccupation is subsistence farming, can no longer venture into distant farms alone for fear of being raped and/or killed by Fulani herdsmen who have virtually taken over their farms.
The horrendous incidents prevail in several communities in Igboland, but in Udi and Ezeagu Local Governments Areas of Enugu state, the impunity of herdsmen has become more pronounced.
Hundreds have suffered humiliation in their hands and the hapless women had borne their burden silently, expecting that their husbands will rise to the occasion of protecting them. Though the state government has on several occasions assured that something was being done to arrest the situation, their efforts are yet to yield any impact.
The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) has since stepped in to give the victims a voice and be in the forefront of addressing the issue especially in Udi and Ezeagu LGAs. Under the aegis the Church’s Mothers’ Union/ Women’s Guild led by the Bishop’s wife, Mrs. Achogaonye Eze, they had decided enough was enough. Penultimate Tuesday, they had mobilized women in their hundreds from the adjourning Local Governments of Enugu-North, Enugu-East, Udi and Ezeagu Local Governments Areas of Enugu state on a protest march to the state government.
At the state House of Assembly, they displayed placards calling on the state government to quickly halt incessant attacks by Fulani herdsmen who have taken over their farmlands and rendered them unable to feed their children. Some of the placards read: ‘Fulani herdsmen kill our people’, ‘Herdsmen Now Carry AK 47;’ ‘Fulani herdsmen should leave our farmlands’.
The protest which drew attention to the heinous activities of the herdsmen, also warned of an impending anarchy in the event that government at both state and federal levels continue to remain indifferent to the security threat in the area in particular, and Igboland in general. It was indeed a peaceful demonstration but the anger in them was unmistakable.
Their leader, Mrs Eze lamented that the herdsmen have so far defied every entreaty by community leaders and public-spirited individuals to resolve the recurring problem, adding that the women whose lives are now in perpetual danger, cannot continue to keep quiet. “Women are daily being molested, maimed and raped while their farmland and livestock are routinely destroyed” she said.
Just the other day, they were alleged to have killed two men at Eke community, while incidents of robbery have become commonplace on the major roads, especially at Ugwu Onyeama, the major entry into the state capital. According to Mrs Eze, “unless the government at state and federal levels rise to the duty of protecting defenceless citizens, the herdsmen will continue to put women in Igboland in grave danger”.
The women, like their menfolk in Udi and Ezeagu areas, are obviously helpless. Having complained to the law enforcement agencies to no avail, the herdsmen who are usually armed with sophisticated weapons have become even more daring, defying even the community vigilante groups. Women and young men are now afraid to go to the farm unless they are in groups for fear of rape or outright killing.
Apart from the recent incident at Eke community where two men were allegedly killed by the herdsmen, they had also allegedly kidnapped a woman and her pregnant daughter in Nze community on the allegation that the family benefited from a stolen cow. They had stormed the villages claiming that their cows are missing and threatening to kill people if the cows are not found.
In other places like Umuoka, Aguobu Owa, Olo and Ngwo, men have received machete cuts and others killed outrightly for daring to ask why his farmland was destroyed or why their wives were raped in their farms. In Okpatu, Obioma, Nsude and Abor, men hardly go to farms anymore for fear of being killed, resorting only to farming around their homes. There are ongoing cases between the villagers and the Fulanis over rape of women and wanton destruction of crops which were reported to the police to no avail.
Two days ago, Mrs Eze had again gathered women of the area at the Ejindu Centre of the Diocesan headquarters in Ngwo to review the last protest march and plan their next line of action. Not only has she forwarded a formal letter to the state government as requested by the Speaker of the House of Assembly, they also plan to take the demonstration to the state governor, Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi at the state Government House the next time around.
The activities of Fulani herdsmen who came into the various communities subtly and were well received as tenants and fellow Nigerians, have become a thorn in the flesh of the people of Enugu state. While they have terrorized their hosts with their sophisticated weapons and raped their women with abandon, there is the general feeling of helplessness among the hosts whose complaints to the police have met with little attention.
The situation may not be different in other parts of the North Central and Southern Nigeria as the fatal clashes in Benue state and the abduction of Chief Olu Falae in far away Ondo state attest. If the events of the past few years are not enough to drag state governments in Igboland out from their comfort zones, the question must be asked: for how long will this anarchy prevail before they act to address the issue?
- Sheddy Ozoene is Director of Communications for the Anglican Diocese of Enugu North