This week, precisely on Thursday, September 3, 2020, the people of Ugbene Ajima, Uzo-Uwani LGA, Enugu State were compelled to ask the same question after some armed Fulani herdsmen shot a member of the neighbourhood watch, Festus Ayogu and destroyed his farm and those of others.
Since then, to say that people of the serene rural community now live in fear is an understatement. At midday on that fateful day, gunshots erupted in a bush surrounding the community, and 42-year-old Ayogu was shot by yet-to-be-identified herders who operate in the community.
It was learnt that Ayogu, a native of Egburu Village survived the attack, and crawled out of his hiding place when the herdsmen left him for dead and hurriedly fled the area.
Although some claimed the victim was saved by a protective charm prepared locally to ward off bullets, eye-witnesses said the community has not recovered from the shock of the incident.
Further investigation revealed that food scarcity looms in the community, as farmers are now afraid of being killed either on the way to their farms or right in their farms while carrying out their legitimate duties.
It was learnt that the farmers in the community had been complaining to the local authorities of the continuous invasion and destruction of their farms by Fulani herdsmen, who parade sophisticated weapons in the area.
Their disaffection against the herders was heightened by the wanton destruction of a large palm plantation spread across 12 plots of land, with cassava, maize and other crops, owned by Mr Nicholas Okoro.
Some of the farmlands destroyed include the ones located at Ogbo Isi-Uvuru, Ogbo-Oda, Agba-Eko, Abbi, Nrobo and Nimbo communities.
Mr Okoro’s plantation, situated along Eziani-Ugbene Ajima-Nimbo Road, was destroyed a few weeks ago by unidentified herders.
He told newsmen that he lost a total of N5m investment in the farm and appealed to the state government to fish out the perpetrators.
He also pleaded with the State government to assess the level of destruction in his farm and possibly mitigate his losses.
Okoro explained that over 1000 improved variety of palm trees he planted on the 12 plots of land were completely eaten up by the cows belonging to the Fulani herders, along with cassava, maize and melon.
The only remnants of his labour were innumerable footprints of cattle and dungs all over the place.
Okoro said he reported the incident to the Chairman, Uzo-Uwani LGA, Hon Chukwudi Nnadozie, who later informed him that some government officials would visit the farm to ascertain the level of damage.
However, he lamented that despite the huge financial losses he incurred, no respite has come from either the State or local government authorities.
Another farmer from Isiuvuru Village, Utazi Ereme, told newsmen that armed herdsmen have taken over their farmlands, and allow herds of cattle to graze openly on cassava and yam farms.
He said farmers who depend solely on the proceeds of their farms for survival have been counting losses, adding that there were past incidents of people shot or butchered with matchetes in their farms for confronting these armed herdsmen.
“Local farmers are in danger. These herders parade guns and threaten to kill you if you dare confront them. We are not bothered if they graze their cattle in the bushes, but our worry is when they deliberately lead herds of cattle into our farms and destroy our crops. In the past, these Fulani herdsmen use long sticks, but now they move about with rifles. Farmers are suffering in the hands of these herders,” he lamented.
Other farmers in the community recounted their grief, stressing that they no longer go to their farms frequently for fear of either being attacked or kidnapped by the herders.
The development is worse for the women who now dread going to the farm except in groups for fear of being sexually molested or raped in the bush.
Officials of Uzo-Uwani Local Government authority had in the past convened a security meeting with the leaders of Hausa/Fulani community to avert possible farmers/herders clash.
It was also gathered that the peace efforts never worked, as the leaders of the herdsmen argued that those that destroy farmlands were not their members whenever such reports were made.
In his response, the President General of Ugbene Ajima, Albert Utazi, said there were efforts towards a peaceful agreement between farmers and herders in the area, and urged members of the community to be calm and law-abiding even in the face of provocation.
Investigation revealed that the destruction of Mr Okoro’s palm plantation was equally reported to the police in Adani, but no arrest has been made.
Despite promises by the police to conduct discreet investigation to unravel the perpetrators terrorising these local communities, some of the villagers said they have no confidence that the security agencies would protect them and their farmlands from further attacks by these armed herdsmen.