…We’re on the matter – community stakeholders
… Police denies knowledge of attacks
From Blessing Ibunge, Port Harcourt
Women from Etche ethnic nationality in Rivers State have cried out to the state government and security agencies to come to their rescue over alleged invasion and damage of their farmlands by cattle rearers.
The women in their number lamented that herdsmen in their areas invade farms, destroyed the crops and uprooted their cassavas which they allegedly used in feeding their cows.
In an interview went The AUTHORITY, some of the women said whenever they confronted the herdsmen on the evil did on their farmlands, they alleged that they (herdsmen) have the authority from the state to enter the lands of their choice in the area.
The women who were from Igbo, Obara, Okoroagu, Umuechem communities, all in Etche, lamented that the actions of the cattle rearers have caused them untold hardship.
Mrs Ruth Marcus, a native of Okoroagu in Etche, said for the “past two years, cows have overtaken our farmlands, to the extent that when we cultivate cassava, during harvest, the herdsmen take their cows to the farmland; uproot our cassava to feed their cows. They no longer eat grasses but our cassava.
“Instead of harvesting our cassava to produce garri or foo-foo which we sell to feed our families, we now go outside our community to buy garri. The whole of my crops I am hoping to harvest for the next two months, these cows have destroyed all. People are crying for cows and the herdsmen continue to threaten us if we dare attack any of the cows.
“When my son confronted one of the herdsmen, he said the state government gave them the permission to enter our farmlands with their cows and we also complained to our Chiefs, but they denied having any agreement with the herdsmen.We are afraid of going to our farms because if they meet you alone in the farm, they will inflict harm on you. So we are scared of going to the farm”, Mrs Marcus lamented.
Also lamenting, Mrs Maria Eche, a native of Umuechem Etche, expressed fear that the herdsmen were ready to fight with communities if they continue to stop them of the alleged illicit act.
She said “Since three years now we are no longer planting cassava in our land, in Umuechem community. If we plant cassava, the herdsmen will destroy everything, including corns. Now we are buying cassava from outside our community.
“We are crying, we are dying of hunger. If you talk to them they will carry their arms and chase you out from your farm. Then we reported to some of our leaders but they continued with the wicked act. The herdsmen want to fight with our communities because of our crops in our land.
We have made several moves to stop them but to no avail. There was a time the government promised to stop them but we have not seen any positive action. I am a mother of seven children, it is from that cassava when I harvest I support my family.
“Before the attack when I harvest my corn, cocoyam, cassava, pepper, we sell it and feed ourselves. Sometimes my husband will join me in the farm we do it together so that our children will feed well and go to school. But today, we are not having those benefits again because of herdsmen.
“The herdsmen will carry all their cows inside our farmland. Like what they did to me on Wednesday, they uprooted the cassava and fed their cows. For three years now I have being buying garri, N5, 000.00 for one basin of garri in Etche”.
To Charity Amadi, a widow and a farmer from Etche, before the alleged invasion of herdsmen to their farm she used to cultivate, harvest and make over N200, 000.00 any time she take crops to the market.
She alleged that many times when the youths tries to chase the cattle rearers away from the farmlands, after pursuing them to a distance they transform into cows and ran after the pursuers.
“When we plant cassava, Okra, vegetables and other crops, during harvest period those herdsmen will use their hands to uproot it and feed their cows.
“Sometimes when the youths try to chase them away those herdsmen will transform into cow and the youths will ran away. As I am speaking with you I am afraid of going to the farm in fear of being killed by the herdsmen.
“I am a widow and a mother of three children. I sustain my children with what I get from my farmland. Before the attack, I used to make over N200, 000.00 from my farm during harvest”, Mrs Amadi lamented.
Reacting on the attacks by the herdsmen, Chief Hezekiah Nwamegbulem, Secretary, Etche Farmers/Herders Peace Committee, noted the cry of farmer in the area over invasion and destruction of crops by the cattle rearers.
Chief Nwamegbulem who spoke on behalf of the committee as setup by the Local Government Chairman, Hon Obinna Elvis Anyanwu, to interface between the farmers in the area and cattle rearers, said they are yet to receive an official complaint from the women on the alleged recent attack on their farmlands.
Speaking with our correspondent Chief Nwamegbulem explained that “This is a committee setup by the Local Government Chairman in December, 2018 and this was as a result of the conflict between the farmers and the herdsmen.
“There were a lot of complaints from the farmers that they insisted that the herdsmen should leave their lands. That petition went to the State and it was from there we had a stakeholders meeting where the chairman was mandated to setup the committee to fashion out ways and how the farmers can plant and harvest their crops while the herdsmen can also graze without destroying their crops. That was the essence of setting up the committee by Hon Obinna Anyanwu, Executive Chairman of Etche LGA.
“So we started our assignment, we visited many communities, carried out our enlightenment and sensitization programmes, telling them on the functions and duties of the committee that we are here to assist the farmers wherever there is any challenges from the herdsmen or any challenge from the farmers. So we are here to intervene, find amicable way of resolving those challenges and then we have been doing that’.
On the cry by the women farmers he said “It is true that farmers are complaining in Etche that herders are destroying their crops. We visited some areas, we have ourselves seen that their crops were heavily damaged and we have also invited the leaders of the herders.
“In this committee we have members drawn from the National butchers and the security agencies in Etche. We have been working tirelessly with these groups to ensure that there is peace between the farmers and herdsmen.
“In areas where we visited their farms, we assess the level of damage and then we also make recommendations on how those farmers will be adequately compensated”.
On whether the communities leaders gave the herdsmen permission to enter any farmlands of their choice to feed their cows, Chief Nwamegbulem said “Let me say this clearly, there is no leader in Etche that is collecting money or whatsoever to allow the cattle rearers to graze in our farm. Those were insinuation by farmers.
“We are pleading to our farmers not to take laws into their hands, where they have such situations, they should write to us the Committee, give us that information, we will visit their farm, assess the level of damage and then make our recommendation so that the farmers will not just loose out completely there should be a level of compensation if there is any.
“And we have warned the cattle rearers, before now they were not violent. They have been grazing in some areas in Etche and have even stayed more than 10 years with no problem. Recently, there is a shift from their feeding arrangement and which is bringing this confrontation between them and the farmers.
“We have been asking them to feed their cows with the grasses and not to destroy peoples farms, where their source of income come from. So if you take your cattle to go and destroy those crops they end up putting the farmers in hungry situation which is not good and nobody will commend such act.
“Like the herdsmen if they loose their cows in the process will not also be happy and like their business the farmers makes their earnings from the crops they planted. We have been advising them that they don’t graze everywhere they see, is wrong. They should take their cows to where there is grass to eat and not to the farm to eat the crops.
“We have been trying to see what we can do so that there won’t be so much damage to our women. Although some of them have been complaining that the presence of the herders in their farms are threat to them. They said that sometimes the herdsmen threatened them or attempted rape. But we told them to always report such case to the committee and not keep it to themselves.”
Nwamegbulem promised that the committee will “investigate every of their complaints and bring the offender to book and not just to complain without approaching the committee for formal complaints for action. It is a mandate that government has given to us and we are prepared to carryout that mandate. They can put their complaints in writing and submit to their chiefs or any of the three police stations in the LGA because the DPOs are also members of the committee, the Civil Defence, Immigration, SSS, and also the Joint Task Force commander”.
Meanwhile, the state Police Command have denied knowledge of the attack on the farmlands by herdsmen in Etche.
The State Police Public Relations Officer, SP Nnamdi Omoni, who spoke with our correspondent on phone said calls put across to the DPOs in the area revealed that the police have not received any formal complaint on attack by cattle rearers in the farmlands in the area.
Omoni said “The DPO said no such thing like attack on the farmlands, that they even have committee and that he is a member of that committee. And that if such thing happened they would have reported to the committee.
‘I remembered that there was a time such incident happened and the Local Government Chairman ran to the Commissioner of Police and he was advised to setup the committee. I think nothing of such happened or they would have reported to the committee’.
However, every effort to make the state Commissioner for Agriculture, Hon Fred Kpakol react on the issue proved abortive as text massages and calls by our correspondent to him was not responded.