My intimate experience with Herdsmen in Igboland
By Ichie Chukwuebuka
Early January, my cousin was scheduled to do his traditional marriage ceremony at his inlaws place in a backwoods village of Uzzam in Akpugo Nkanu-West Local Govt of Enugwu state.
Two days to the occasion, my cousin pleaded that I follow him to go to his would-be inlaws place so he would see the level of preparations on ground prior to his occasion and also get to know the route to his inlaws place as the previous meetings he had with the parents of his wife took place in township where they reside. We drove from Anambra to Enugwu, seeking directions from locals, and constant calls to our inlaws for directions, we were able to navigate to the Uzzam village after about 5hrs drive. A typical local but serene village. Warmly welcomed by our inlaw(the father of our bride to be) an average successful business man in his fifties, in his 4 bedrooms flat building, one of the few modern houses we saw around..
Seated on plastic chairs under a tree shade, we discussed on the arrangements for the occasion at hand, shortly as our discussions was ongoing, over fifty cows swarmed the compound, grazing every green plant on sight, stampeding and raising dust, in astonishement, I asked our inlaw why the herders were charging through his compound with their cows, he hesitated with a smirk-smile on his face, and before he could mutter any explanation, as the herds of cow continued in their rowdy march in and around the house, raising dust and picking on anything they found eatable around, one of the herders picked a bamboo stick by the corner of the house and started plucking coconut from a coconut tree in the compound. I asked our inlaw again what was going on, and with the sober smile on his face, he pleaded that we should just bear with him, that what we were witnessing was what they see always and have come to accept as their reality; asked why he wouldn’t talk to the herders and caution them on such brazen invasion of his compound, he told me that he wouldn’t dare. I was like what?.
He said he won’t and he couldn’t do anything, that should he do or say anything that angered the herders, the trouble it will generate for him and his family and even the villagers would be unimaginable. Bizzare! Isn’t it? He went on to tell us tales on how the herders can be troublesome, fight and kill whenever they’re provoked or their herds dispersed by any villager for any reason. That the only way to ensure peace in the community is to allow the herdsmen do whatever they wish along the line of grazing their cows.
Our inlaw told many scary tales or terror, trepidation and total subjugation they live in’ in their land. In a farm not far from his compound, he told us how the villagers recovered the dead body of a woman that went to farm and was matcheted to death, that suspicion had it that the woman was killed by herdsmen, the village youths was said to have mobilized and headed to their bushes where headers are camped, and upon reaching their camps, were welcomed with heavy warning gunshots that they had to scamper for safety back to their houses. Asked why they don’t report such incident to the police, or other security agencies that can handle such situation; was told that severally they’ve written petitions to the police in Enugu town as there was no single presence of police around the village nor that of any other security agency and all their reports and petitions were not attended to, our inlaw told us that at a point few years ago, the Fulani herders imposed security fee on the villagers that they must pay before they can farm and have their farm land spaces not grazed on, he told us unequivocally that his only hope in particular and the general hope of the villagers who are informed; hope of ever getting liberation in their land now lies on the news and rumours of a certain security network that was formed by Nnamdi Kanu which he heard is specialized on ridding bushes in the eastern parts of the country of criminal herdmens which have been terrorizing indigenous land owners, that he prays and hopes that the security outfit will remember them and come to their aid.
After these many horror tales and the confounded experience we just had there in his compound, I told my cousin we needed to start plotting our way back to Anambra so we leave that environment before nightfall. I’m not a man given to fear, but the experience is worthy enough heighten safety concerns. What if the son of man is “adult-napped” (not kidnapped)because there are people you can’t just kidnap as any encounter with them will prove to you that they’re adults…
In the next two days, we made some security arrangements from Anambra and headed to our inlaws’ for the traditional marriage ceremony, there was yet another invasion of the ceremony by about five young Fulani boys. Being a big occasion, nobody had time to seek for the identity of any guest, but something happened; it was during the sacred tradition of dowry payment, where elders from my side and the elders from our inlaws side were called to the back of the house, seated in a secluded corner with jars of palm wine and colanuts, negotiating dowry (bride price) payment, that a young lad of about 25yrs invaded the circle and went straight to a jar of palm wine to pour drink for himself, everyone hushed & shouted at him but he remained adamant, with abnormal guess like someone heavily in drugs ( he sure was high on substance) I inquired whom the young man was and wether he had some mental challenges, only to be informed that he was a Fulani boy who came around from the bush for the occasion, and the attitude he was exhibiting was exactly how they behave around the community, I, including the elders from my place became livid and demanded he be thrown out from the gathering for interrupting our program but surprisingly, the indigenous elders (our hosts and inlaws) pleaded with us to take things easy, lest the boy became angry & went to invite his brothers for a fight and the occasion might turn to something else..
They managed and persuaded the young dude, appeased him with another cup of palm wine sourced from elsewhere aside the one detailed for dowry payment before he could leave. This kind of brazen arrogant interruption by the young Fulani dudes continued throughout the occasion, some even captured on video coverage, and they were all tolerated for the sake of peace & fear of the violence they were said to be able to unleash when provoked.
Never in my life time have I ever seen nor imagined that I will see a people living in complete subjugation, trepidation and fearful agony in their own land and family houses. Both I and my elders & guests from my side that experienced these were flabbergasted, sober, sad and pitiful for our inlaws as we concluded the occasion and were leaving. The experience was the sole topic of discussion as our convoy headed back to our abode.