Palpable fear and tension have gripped natives of Uzuakoli Community in Bende Local Government Area of Abia, following Friday’s alleged invasion of farms in the area.
The traditional ruler of Ngwu Uzuakoli Autonomous Community, Eze Joseph Okorie, told newsmen in his palace on Saturday that herders invaded people’s farms with their cattle for grazing.
Okorie alleged that the armed herders uprooted some cassava and yam tubers in the farms for their cattle. He estimated the extent of damage in the farms at over N20 million.
He said that the incident had brought misery to the victims, numbering at least 15. The royal father further said that the community had suffered similar herders’ attacks for more than a decade.
He said that his own farm had once been attacked, with lots of yams, cassava and vegetables “severely destroyed and wasted.”
Okorie was flanked at the briefing by his Prime Minister, Chief Kanu Imo, the community’s President General, Mr Chimezie Ugorji, and other leaders, including Chief Emmanuel Arisa.
They said that their assailants always struck at odd hours of the night as well as on Afor Market days and Sundays, when people do not go to farm.
They lamented that the attack had persisted because the Local and State Governments had failed to wade in and put an end to it.
They said that the community had made several efforts to elicit the sympathy and genuine governments’ attention to their plight to no avail.
Okorie recalled that the Uzuakoli Traditional Rulers Council sent a Save-Our-Soul letter to the State Government and House of Assembly in 2012 in the wake of an attack.
He also said that his community had written several petitions to the State Government and copied the House of Assembly, Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Zone 9 as well as Commissioner of Police and other security agencies in Abia on the same issue.
The traditional ruler further said that the community women had staged several protests round the communty as well as Government House, Umuahia and Abia Assembly to express their grievances and solicit government’s intervention.
He said, “During one of their protests to the Uzuakoli Divisional Police Station, they encountered some military personnel on the road, where they laid their complaints to them.”
Okorie said that the 14 Brigade Command of the Nigerian Army later invited the community to a peace meeting with the state leadership of the herdsmen.
He said that the community was advised to either sell off their farm produce to the herders or fence their farms to avert future attacks.
“We are predominantly farmers and faming is our only means of livelihood. We spend huge sums of money to get land, cultivate it, weed and tend it only for these herders to come and destroy all our efforts at the time of harvest,” Okorie said.
He further said that the development portended grave consequences, including food shortage, for his community and its environs.
The community leaders regretted that there had been no positive actions from the state and local governments, in terms of compensations to the victims of the attacks.
They further said that those who were physically asaulted and wounded for daring the armed herders were left to their fate.
They cited the case of a native whose four fingers were chopped off after he confronted the herders to vacate his farm with their cattle.
“The State Government has not responded to our several petitions either by way of compensation or catering for those who were wounded by the herders,” they said.
They appealed to the state government to quickly come to their rescue in order to avert a reprisal attack by the angry youths of the community.
“It is no longer news that these herders move about with dangerous weapons and sometimes order their cattle to also attack their victims in their own farms, whenever they were challenged.
“It is said that only a mad man can challenge a man with a gun. However, they should not take our meekness for weakness and timidity.
“That is the reason for this briefing to further seek the timely intervention of the government and other relevant agencies before the situation gets out of hand,” they said.
Some of the victims at the briefing included Mr Innocent Onyeabor, Donatus Ndukwe, Emmanuel Anukwu and Sunday Asaga.
The men, who were in their mid-70s, said that farming remained their only means of livelihood. They feared that their families and the entire community could be plunged into serious famine in the new year, if no serious steps were taken to permanently stop the attacks.