SENATOR CHUKWUKA UTAZI
REPRESENTING ENUGU NORTH SENATORIAL DISTRICT
JUDICIAL COMMISSION OF INQUIRY INTO THE RECENT KILLING OF PEOPLE AND DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY IN NIMBO COMMUNITY, UZO-UWANI LGA, ENUGU STATE
My Lord the Chairman and other Members of this Distinguished Panel:
1.1 Enugu North Senatorial District is made up of six (6) Local Government Areas, viz: Igbo-Etiti, Igbo-Eze North, Igbo-Eze South, Nsukka, Udenu and Uzo-Uwani. It has 102 Electoral Wards and 152 Communities. The Senatorial district is bounded on the North by Benue State; to the North-West and the West by Kogi State; to the North-East and East by Isi-Uzo LGA, to the South-West by Anambra State; to the South by Ezeagu and Udi LGAs.
1.2 This geographical location and the District’s mostly rural communities will further illuminate the frequent clashes between cattle herdsmen and communities in the District. Enugu North Senatorial District is a gateway from the Northern part of the Country into the South-East, and to the South-South, being on the border between the South-East and Benue and Kogi States. To its South-west, it borders Anambra State making the District especially vulnerable to the interplay of many social vagaries. So once cattle herdsmen move south, they necessarily pass through Enugu North to make contact with other parts of the South-East Region of Nigeria.
1.3 The rural nature of the communities is the reason why a greater number of the human dwellers in the District engage in farming as their major occupation.And nature has been kind in that regard. There are large swathes of farmland across the District and an inviting vast landscape of rich vegetation. Sometimes, these farms are far-flung and quite a distance from the home steads. However, every inch of this land is owned by either the community, a family or an individual in a customary system that respects this ownership which have endured for hundreds of years. From these farms families, individuals and communities derive their sources of subsistence and livelihoods.
1.4 The people of Enugu North are a hospitable people, welcoming to strangers and making them feel like one of us. Cattle herdsmen, who move southwards from the North, have exploited this geographical position of the District, the vast vegetative landscape and the welcoming nature of the people and have brought their cattle and men in numbers and are camped in various areas in the District. Herders tend to go to points of water and rich vegetation. That is why the Eshie River on the border between Nimbo Community in Enugu State and Odolu/ Avrugo axis of Kogi State is a special attraction to them. So also are they attracted to the communities around the Adada River, Obina River and other rivers within the district.
1.5 Cattle herded by rearersfrom the North have always grazed on the vast stretch of farmlands but at the beginning they were conscious of the seasons of cultivation and were careful to herd the cattle not to stray into farmlands that have been cultivated or prepared for cultivation. And they did not graze at night. Sometimes they met people in farms and asked for water, or other food items, which, as a generous people, our people always obliged them. Whenever, they entered any community, in those early innocent days, they made contact with the traditional authorities and if their cattle strayed into and ate farm crops, these were oftentimes amicably resolved.
1.6 The evolution from peaceful co-existence to violent occupation happened rapidly. It began with irritation at being asked to guide their cattle away from farmlands; to refusal to pay compensation for crops destroyed by grazing cattle; to a deliberate herding of the cattle into farms to graze. The violence and aggression reached new heights when they, being armed with sophisticated weapons, began to forcibly feed on peoples’ farms, irrespective of the remonstrations of the farms owner; to occupation of the farmlands and denial of farm owners access to their farms. From this point, they started levying people to pay for safe access to their farms or risk being attacked and killed. It was from this point, they moved into armed robbery both on the farms and on the highways around where they were camped. The menace of herdsmen went into overdrive with the serial and indiscriminate raping of women, including married women and under-aged girls, sometimes forcing at gun point the husbands or parents to watch the violation. From this point, they began kidnapping not only farm owners but any person in the farms and on the highways for ransom. Some of their victims did not survive the harrowing ordeal they were put throughas they were made to walk for hundreds of miles inside the forest to evade surveillance. They have even started sending messages to villages, levying them to pay to secure their safety or risk being attacked.
1.7 This is the background to the incident that happened in Nimbo on 25th April, 2016. In the meantime, the spate, ferocity and audacious activities of herdsmen reached new heights in the last few months. It has become routine to attack villages with sophisticated and dangerous weapons, sacking villages, killing, maiming, torching, raping, leaving villages desolate; creatingin their wake, huge Internally Displaced Persons Squatter Camps in thesurrounding villages, stretching the little facilities there are in these rural areas and preparing the ground for the outbreak of diseases that kill in mass.
- THE INVASION AND ATTACK OF NIMBO COMMUNITY ON APRIL 25, 2016
2.1 Disturbed at the increasing and audacious skirmishes between mostly Fulani cattle herdsmen and local farmers in Enugu North Senatorial District, I began to point out to the authorities the security, social, economic and psychologicaldislocations posed by Herders to our Communities. Such skirmishes, in various degrees had been reported in Abbi, Nimbo, Igga, Ogrugu, Adani, Ukpata, Nkpologu, Uvuru, Akpugo, Adaba,Umulokpa all in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area; in Anuka, Okutu, Opi, Nguru, Obimo in Nsukka Local Government Area; Aku, Ozalla, Ukehe in Igbo-Etiti LGA; Obollo Eke, Amalla in Udenu LGA; Inyi, Aguibeji in Igbo-Eze North LGA; and in various communities in Igbo-Eze South LGA.
2.2 Using Uzo-Uwani as a case in point because it is the locale of the events which this Panel is enquiring into, there had been a major incident sometime in 2005 when herdsmen killed one OgbobeDiekein the outskirts of UkpabiNimbo. This led to heightened tension that was eventually brought under control. Again in 2013, 2014 and 2015, there had also been major skirmishes in Nimbo, Ukpata, Ogbosu-Umulokpa, Igga and Abbi with various human fatalities and loss of property. Following the persistent and unrelenting threats to the peace and economic survival of the communities in my Senatorial District, I moved a motion in the Senate on March 3, 2016, in which I warned the nation of the harrowing dimensions of the perennial conflicts between herdsmen and their host communities and asked the security and political authorities to move fast to arrest the situation before it degenerated into unmanageable proportions.This was in the aftermath of the heinous attack on Ejona-Ogbo, Abbi community on February 9 2016 during which two siblings were killed in cold blood, several houses burnt, yam and coco-yam barns razed and domestic livestock slaughtered by herdsmen. The Senate passed a Resolution mandating its Joint Committees on Agriculture and Rural Development; and Security and Intelligence to investigate the matter and come up with measures to curb the rising cases of farmers/herdsmen conflict.
2.3 While this was going on, the attack on Nimbo happened. Between 5 and 6am in the early hours of Monday, the 25th April, 2016, Fulani cattle herdsmen in their numbers, armed with sophisticated dangerous weapons invaded Nimbo. About eight villages namely NimboNgwoko, Ugwuijoro, Ekwuru, Ebor, Unasi, Enugu Nimbo, Umuome, and Ugwuechara were predominantly the areas attacked by the herdsmen. OnuekeNimbo was the hub of the murderous activities of the day. These rampaging gunmen, who entered through the border with Kogi State, specifically Avrugo and Odoru communities in Kogi State, unleashed unspeakable mayhem on the Community, shooting, hacking, knifing, matcheting, slitting the throats of unsuspecting residents of the village and torching buildings.
2.4 Following this orgy of killings by the herdsmen, about 13 people were gruesomely murdered, over 100 persons sustained varying degrees of injury, many fatally, and countless number of houses, cars and other property were razed. I understand that searches around the surrounding bushes led to the recovery of more corpses at various stages of decomposition and there are still missing persons unaccounted for.
2.5 Christ Holy Church of Nigeria, aka OdoziObodo, was razed while the Parish House of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in the Community was severely damaged. The act of targeting churches and worship places opened a new and worrying dimension in the recurring clashes between herdsmen and farmers and may point to a more upscale religious agenda.
2.6 This attack threw the whole Nimbo community and neighboring communities of Nkpologu, Uvuru, Adani Abbi and Ugbene into panic,triggering a massive exodus of the human population, with some running Northwards towards Nsukka and others Southwards towards Omasi in Anambra State. Even now, as this Panel sits, there is widespread fear of more attacks as there have been recurring attacks by herdsmen on communities in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area.
2.7 On hearing of the attack, I boarded the first flight to Enugu from Abuja and when I reached Nsukka, the mass of desolate, hopeless, gravely frightened human population camped all over the government field in Nsukka, Army Barracks junction, and in various Schools in a jumble, would make anyone weep. Relations of displaced people, distant or near, had their residential dwellings overcrowded by fleeing and scared relatives.I went to the hospitals to see the dead and the wounded. To say the least, the sights were gory and chilling.
2.8 But I had work to do. Running away from our fathers’ land did not appeal to me a good recourse in the face of an existential threat. I had to allay fears, calm the situation, physically evacuated and turned back vehicles that were parking more people to run as I directed that we all move down to Nimbo to face the situation as a people. I counselled that running away from our land was not a solution to the threats. A bad phenomenon has come to our homesteads; we needed to pull together with singleness of purpose to confront and defeat it. At Nimbo, the panic and desolation was depressing.
2.9 It was all the more painful that the Police and other security agencies were informed of the massing of these herdsmen at Avrugo and Odolu in Kogi State, preparatory to the attack of Nimbo. The Police admitted that they had intelligence of the impending attack. And despite these credible and accurate intelligence, and the logistics provided by the Governor, His Excellency Rt. Hon. IfeanyiUgwuanyi, to the security agencies, they could not prevent the attack. If the Police could not prevent an impending attack that there was credible, accurate, reliable and pin-point information, up to the day and time of the attack, how would they be able to cope if they have to deal with unanticipated and coordinated hits of this nature in different places? Indeed, the Area Commander in Nsukka whose men were supposed to be on the ground when informed of the attack, initially doubted it. Could that have been responsible for the delayed response to the invasion?
2.10 The issue of failure of timely action by Security Agencies raises the other leg of the security issue involved in the upscale, unrestrained, rampant and dramatic escalation of the violent activities of herdsmen in Enugu North Senatorial District. It is strange that of all economic groups in this Country, only herdsmen openly bear and flaunt sophisticated arms, even along highways, without any form of interference by security authorities, giving the impression that some groups are officially certified as being above the law.
2.11 Governor Ugwuanyi visited Nimbo on the 26th of April and took measures to calm frayed nerves and provided the resources and logistics for the return of displaced people. The Inspector General of Police visited Nimbo on 27th of April. On 28th April, I again moved a motion in the Senate on the gory killings in Nimbo and a resolution calling on the Security Agencies and the Federal government to move fast to avert any further escalation of the killings was adopted. I followed this up by introducing into the Senate a Cattle Movement (Control) Bill that is going through legislative treatment.
- GENERAL OBSERVATIONS
- The Location of Enugu North Senatorial District as the gateway into the South East from the Northern part of the country makes the District vulnerable to the dangerous activities of herdsmen.
- Herdsmen have abused the hospitable nature of our people and have introduced unwholesome dimensions to the relationship between them and their host communities. The takeover of farmlands by herdsmen and the forcible grazing on economic crops are unacceptable conditions for co-existence.There is an incompatibility of value and belief systems between the pastoral herdsmen and host communities. It has become obvious that that there is increased mutual suspicion between the host communities and the herdsmen and there needs to be a period of healing during which both parties should be kept away from each other. While the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees freedom of movement to everybody, including herdsmen, it does not guarantee violent trespass on people’s land.
- As a result of thepersistent attacks of farmers on the farms, natives have abandoned farmlands and farming, which is the mainstay of the economy of the people, has been abandoned. There is likelihood of famine and food crises in the years to come until a lasting solution is found to the problem posed by Fulani herdsmen.
- There is a dramatic escalation of the violent activities of herdsmen around Igbo land, especially in Enugu North, such that deaths arising from clashes with herdsmen now run into their hundreds. Farmers -Herdsmen clashes are regarded as one of the deadliest conflicts currently in Africa and was ranked by the Global Terror Index in 2014 as the 3rd most destructive threats to global peace.
- Nomadic cattle rearing is an economic activity carried out for private gains. It will continually create tension if in the course of carrying out their own economic activity, herdsmen are allowed to interfere, abridge, forcibly stop or impeach the economic toils of others, especially in the farmlands of the host communities. No economic group should be promoted over the other and that is why the amelioration policy of building ranches and reserves for them by the federal government is suspicious.
- Herdsmen have shown scant regard for the cultural values of host communities and total contempt for the sensitivities and traditional taboos of the people. This is manifested in the trampling of sacred grounds, the raping of married women and under-aged girls, and forcing husbands and parents to watch. Marriages have been broken as a result, diseases have been contracted and suicides and psychological scars have occurred.
- Population explosion and the historical, established land ownership system in every community in Igboland, nay Enugu North have made cultivatable land scarce leading to pressures on available land. Land is precious resource. Allowing nomadism, apart from its anachronistic nature, puts pressure on Nigeria’s land mass of 923,800sq/km, a country with 180 million people. It is nothing short of trespass or in extreme cases, a declaration of war on a people, therefore, for any group to enter, let alone forcibly takeover peoples land.
- Nomadic cattle herdsmen are the only economic group in this Country who openly bear and flaunt sophisticated arms, even along highways.
- Let us not make any mistakes about it: there is a creeping belief in South-Eastern Nigeria, among its youth and intellectuals, that the activities of herdsmen, deep in southern territories and lands, and the attempted forcible conversion of their lands as grazing areas, is a conquest agenda. This feeling is exacerbated in the seeming reluctance of government to face this menace head on and address it. It is a time-bomb because people will not run away from their lands and allow herdsmen take them over. This belief is strengthened when we realise that in this age and time, nomadism is an archaic system of livestock keeping and therefore for the federal government to allow it to continue bespeaks of an agenda not yet fully unveiled. This is even more poignant with the Nimbo attack where churches and worship places were targeted. It is a worrying dimension to the whole saga.
- The people of Enugu North, culturally referred to as Nsukka people, are peace-loving and are not a militarized people. That The recourse to militarization of society offends the cultural values and traditional mores of the people of the District. Even with the unprovoked attacks, there has not been one single reprisal attacks on herdsmen since the incident. What this shows is that our people want the dispute resolution and justice system of the country to be applied in tackling infractions. This should be the case.
- It has become apparent that there is deep distrust and bitterness arising from the murderous activities of herdsmen around Enugu North Senatorial District. Given that the activities of herdsmen have bred so much bad blood, peaceful co-existence has become very difficult. The herdsmen should,in the interim, evacuate from the whole area of Enugu North to allow time for the acrimony and deep suspicions to heal. Too much blood has been spilt and as blood is sacred to the people of the District, they need time to appease the land.
- These attacks should be seen for what they are: an insurgency deliberately aimed at forcefully displacing land owners from their ancestral lands in order for the aggressor to occupy.
- It should be made clear that Enugu State does not have land resourcefor the establishment of ranches, reserve, route or paddocks as being proposed by the Federal Government. We implore Federal Government to encourage cattle owners to establish ranches in States that have need of them or in the home states of the owners of the cattle. As cattle rearing is a private business, the Federal Government should not engage in buying land for the establishment of ranches for private individuals as it would amount to promoting one private business over the other. The government should not confer any special advantage to the cattle owners who are engaged in their private business for gains, like other businessmen.
- That governments at all levels should, as a matter of deliberate policy, open up the inter-state and intra-state roads for quick response by security authorities to cases such as happened in Nimbo on 25th April, 2016. Such roads as the Odolu-Avrugo-Eshie River-Nimbo road should be constructed by the Federal Government. The Nsukka-Eziani-Ugbene-Ajima-Nimbo-Ukpabi Road; the Nsukka-Edem-Ani-Nrobo-Abbi-Nimbo Road; the Nkpologu-Uvuru-Ukpata-Adaba-Nkuma-Umulokpa Road; the Adani-Igga-Ojjor Road; the Eke-Ebe-Affa-Akpakwume-Aku-Akpugo-Nkpologu Road. The rehabilitation, construction or reconstruction of these roads will help a great deal in opening up the rural areas around Nimbo and will help in increased vigilance and early response by security agencies in cases of emergencies.
- Because of the prevention of the people from accessing their farmlands and their inability to engage in any meaningful farm activities since 2013, there is imminent famine facing the people. For this reason, NEMA and SEMA should continue to take relief materials, especially food stuffs, to Nimbo and the communities around to ameliorate the harsh effects of the famine that has, even as this Panel is sitting, began to wreak havoc on the people.
- A Divisional Police Station should be urgently established between UkpabiNimbo and Nkpologu by the Nigeria Police specifically at NkpunatorNkpologu to effectively coordinate and tackle the security problems along that geographical belt and cover such Communities as Nimbo and its commercial settlement of Opanda, Nkpologu, Abbi, Ugbene-Ajima, Nrobo, Uvuru, Akpugowhee have seen a pervasive and sustaed criminal acivity by herdsmen and their accomplices.
- There should be established a joint patrol security team along the borders between Enugu-North Senatorial District with Kogi andBenue States to ensure the proper monitoring of movement of persons and animals and safeguard communities.
- Security Agencies should enforce the laws on arms bearing by unauthorized persons and ensure that herdsmen are disarmed of dangerous weapons. The Security Agencies should also be more vigilant as military grade weapons are transported into the hinterlands under the cover of movement of cattle.
- There should be a formal structure for the Local Vigilante Outfits which should be re-invigorated and embedded as the surveillance and intelligence gathering arm within the security Agencies to provide timely and specific information on infractions of the law and breaches of public peace. This will also help in taking some unemployed youths away from crime and engaged in community service and productive activities.
- Traditional Institutions should be enabled to productively engage the various segments of their respective communities towards deterring criminal behaviours among their subjects.
- Given the vulnerability of Enugu North Senatorial District as the border/transit zone between the Northern part of the Country and the South, and in further view of the attacks on communities by cattle herdsmen in Enugu North, the State House of Assembly should pass a law to control the movement of cattle and criminalise the indiscriminate grazing, straying, roaming, wandering, or feeding of cattle on people’s farms or lands. The Law should vest in the Governor of the State the responsibility for the designation of places for keeping, preservation, management, feeding and sale of cattle in the State.
- Compensation should be paid to the families who lost loved ones and properties in the attack in Nimbo. Christ Holy Church OdoziObodo should have its church and Rectory rebuilt while the Parish House of St. Mary Catholic Church should be rehabilitated.
The Nimbo attack is a thinly-veiled insurgency operation by people who have an agenda to, through intimidation, forcibly take over our land for grazing purposes. All levels of government should put measures in place to ensure that communities are safe.
Senator Chukwuka Utazi
Enugu North Senatorial District