Words cannot describe the mood in Eha-Amufu, a town in Isi-Uzo Local Government Area of Enugu State.
Media correspondent, who visited the town, reported that the communities are totally under siege, with markets locked up, houses abandoned, and all the residents now seeking refuge as Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, in neighbouring towns and cities.
Residents say over 50 persons have been allegedly killed within the last few weeks by rampaging Fulani herdsmen aided by Igala people of Benue State. Sources from the town put the number of those killed in the last two years to 160.
Prior to the latest sad event on Thursday, the 8th day of December, 2022, Eha-Amufu has been synonymous with killings and other criminal activities, with every effort made by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuayi of Enugu State unable to yield the desired result.
On several occasions, the Governor had summoned an emergency meeting involving all the stakeholders from the area. During such meetings, revelations are always made and actions taken. However, as soon as the residents return home, the marauders, said to be Fulani herdsmen will strike again and leave the village bleeding.
This has led to the assertion in some quarters that the ruthless attacks are politically-induced.
Apart from the killings that usually occurred at night, the Eha-Amufu-Neke road has been a den of kidnappers, making it unsafe for any member of the community to pass by once it is 6pm. Road users are always kidnapped and taken to the Benue State axis where they are kept until ransom is paid.
Eha-Amufu, an agrarian community, has a population of over 70,000, with a larger portion of the residents dependent on farming for their survival. It shares boundaries with Ebonyi and Benue States.
However, the entire residents are under threat, including the Federal College of Education, Eha-Amufu, which has attracted some significant development both from the government, as well as private individuals in the area.
A tour of the communities showed that no human activity is going on at the moment.
Shops are under lock, markets and businesses have been closed down. The Federal College of Education, Eha-Amufu is deserted as students of the College have all gone home for fear of being killed.
To make matters worse, the abandoned houses are now vulnerable as criminals vandalise properties and cart away personal belongings of the displaced villagers.
A trader, one Asogwa Nneka, a settler in Eha-Amufu, told journalists that criminals broke through all the shops in their line on Sunday the 11th day of December, 2022, looking for money and other items. She stated that food items were stolen by the burglars.
It was gathered that there are about 40 farm settlements which cut across the various villages in Eha-Amufu community. The living conditions of these farm settlers have been worsened by the incessant attacks by the Fulani herders who attack them almost on a daily basis. The brutal attacks have made the said farm settlers to abandon their houses and farms and run back to the community.
“As a result of this, no one goes to the farm for fear of attack by the Fulani herders. This has plunged the community into some serious social issues, including hunger.
“It has even become worse as the marauders have also pursued our people from the farm settlements right here into the heart of the town,” a village source revealed.
While giving an insight into one of the latest invasions, an indigene, Mr. Chukwudi Omeri confirmed that about 10 people were killed in Ama-Obelebe village, including his brother, Mr. Friday Omeri, a father of five.
“The attack occurred at about 6 a.m. on the fateful day when sounds of heavy gunshots were heard around the community. Most people, including myself, had thought that it was the security agencies that were shooting but we discovered that the gun-wielding men wore black and black attire, while those leading them were in mufti.
“The attackers of the community came through the farmlands. I saw some faces that looked like the Fulani herders, while others looked like the faces of Igala people from Benue State who are our neighbours. They led the Fulani herders to the community.
“I was able to identify the Igala people through their dialect, as well as on face recognition as some of them are traders who come to the Eha-Amufu markets to trade on a daily basis.”
He further stated that though he could not give the exact casualty figure, “about 4 people were killed in Ama-Okwebe, one person was killed in Ama-Ogbu, while four people were killed in Ama-Nkpaka.”
He told journalists that when the crisis subsided, some dead bodies littered the community, adding that “as the tradition demands, we buried the corpses that were recovered by digging shallow graves beside the dead bodies. While some of the corpses were being buried, some police officers came and took some of the unburied corpses away, including that of my brother, Mr. Friday Omeri.”
According to Chukwudi Omeri, his late brother Friday Omeri was gruesomely murdered in his house with matchet.
“Four other persons, who were all men, were killed in the same compound and the police took their bodies away on arrival,” he added.
When asked if the members of the community were able nab any of the killers, Chukwudi said that they were all defenceless and could not fight with the attackers who were armed to the teeth.
According to reports as at Monday December, 12, 2022, more corpses were still being discovered and buried in the community.
The Labour Party Governorship candidate in Enugu State, Barr. Chijioke Edeoga, who is also a native of Mgbuji community, Eha-Amufu, was on a sympathy visit to the affected communities on the said date.
While he was talking with some journalists, Chukwudi Omeri said the survivors were facing extreme hunger.
He thanked Edeoga for providing them with meals.
When asked of the whereabouts of his wife and children, he told journalists that they ran to Nkalaha, a neighbouring community in Ebonyi State and that some of his relatives ran to Anambra for safety.
He asked the government to come to their rescue as the community is at the verge of going into extinction.
Another eyewitness, Mr. Anthony Onunze, a 60-year-old man, revealed that the crisis started from the farm settlements where the members of the community were killed by Fulani herders.
He said that the latest crisis started on January 6, 2022, when the Fulani herders started killing their people.
“Since then, no one goes to the farm again. And this has brought hunger and hardship on the people. He stated that the attack on 8th December, 2022, led to the death of 25 persons in Abor village. The victims were all men as the attackers never killed any woman during the attack.
“The aged men were not left in the attack as my age mate’s lifeless body was discovered and buried on Monday the 12th of December, 2022.
“We have not done anything to warrant these mindless killings; I’m not aware of any issue with the Fulani herdsmen except that they want to chase us away from our ancestral land,” he lamented.
He equally alleged the attackers were assisted by the Igala people of Benue State.
He told journalists that “the said Igala people are so desperate to take over our lands as they have begun harvesting our palm fruit since the crisis started. The Igala people have common boundaries with the Eha-Amufu community, which may be what has necessitated the rift between the two communities.”
A woman, who lost her husband and relatives, Mrs. Nkechi Ebeh was seen crying, which attracted the attention of journalists.
In an interview, she disclosed that she lost her husband and relatives to the attack of 8th December, 2022.
“We were going to the farm on that fateful day when some persons holding guns and machetes started pursuing us which made me run back home. On getting to the house, I could not find my children at home.
“In the evening of the same day, I got my children in Ama-Nkanu, a neighbouring community, which is very far from Eha-Amufu. My husband was buried when his corpse was discovered the next day,” she lamented.
On the identity of those who attacked them, Nkechi Ebeh said that they were Fulani herders, together with Igala people of Benue State.
She pleaded with the government to come to their aid as they would not live as IDPs forever.
According to a list signed by the chairman of Abor Development Union, Mr. Ebe John and made available to the media, a total of 23 persons lost their lives in just one village as a result of the crisis that erupted on the 8th of December, 2022.
The victims were identified as Chief. Odo Godwin, alias Double, Olinya Joseph, Agu Onyema, Agu Elias alias Onyenze, Agu Ikechukwu and Chief Ede Emmanuel who are members of Ama-Okpebe Abor. Others are Idu Samuel, Odo Odo Friday, Chief. Onodugo Odo-Ebe, Ogbu Gabriel, Igwurube Ogbu, Igwurube Obioma, Alu Nweke and Chukwuka Solomon who hailed from Ama-Obelebe Abor. Olinya Odo Nwuzu and his son, Ambrose Ogenyi’s son and Emeka Orji from Ama-Okpaka Abor also lost their lives.
In Ama-Ogbo Abor, the deceased included Onunze Onyeka, Ede Brown, James Idenyi and Ede Nwa Leonard, all from Umujiovu.
Two persons, whose names could not be ascertained as of the time of filing this report died in Mgbuji Eha-Amufu, the village of Barr. Chijioke Edeoga.
The chairman of ADU, among other things, asked the Enugu State government to help the communities with security and logistics.
He also pleaded with the government and other good spirited individuals to help them with food and other materials as hunger has overtaken the communities.
During his tour of the communities, Edeoga said the reason behind his visit was to build confidence in the minds of the community men and women who had abandoned their respective homes and are now refugees in the neighbouring communities.
He encouraged the people to go back to their respective ancestral homes as running away would not solve any problem.
He reassured them that normalcy had returned to the community as the military, as well as other sister agencies were on top of the situation to prevent future occurrence.
Meanwhile, it was reported that late in November, Governor Ifeanyi had stormed forests in the Eha-Amufu area after one of the deadly attacks by the suspected herdsmen.
Governor Ugwuanyi, on arrival at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, after a trip outside the State, proceeded straight to Eha Amufu, on a fact-finding visit to obtain first-hand information about the issues that led to the recent crisis in Aguamaede and Mgbuji communities.
He was accompanied by the State Commissioner of Police, CP Ahmed Ammani, the Garrison Commander, 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Brig. Gen. M.K Ibrahim, and the Anglican Bishop of Nike Diocese, Rt. Rev. Dr. Christian Onyeka Onyia, visited Mgbuji community, different forests, markets, village squares and other locations in Eha Amufu where he interacted with the indigenes to ascertain the remote cause of the recent crisis in the community with a view to addressing the lingering issues in the area decisively.
The governor empathised with the people, ascertained how they were faring, and assured them of his administration’s commitment to their safety and wellbeing as well as the resolution of the crisis between farmers and herders.
The Eha-Amufu indigenes appreciated Governor Ugwuanyi for the rare visit, especially at night, stressing that the gesture was a demonstration of his commitment to ending the farmers/herders issues in Eha Amufu.
They pointed out that Ugwuanyi was the first governor to visit Eha Amufu over the lingering crisis in the area and thanked him for the N10 million he released for the immediate needs of the victims, among other interventions.
However, there are concerns that despite government promises and efforts, respite is yet to come the way of the indigenes of Eha-Amufu.
The Enugu State Police Command had also on various occasions assured the people of protection, but residents say the killings were yet to abate.
Their claims were justified as the killers struck again a few days after the visit by the Governor and the heads of the security agencies.
This may have prompted the villagers to allegedly invite the members of the Eastern Security Network, ESN, as a last resort.
However, the burning of a truck conveying foodstuff with some of the occupants has heightened tension in the area.
The Enugu State Commissioner of Police, CP Ahmed Ammani, who visited the area, in company of the 82 Division Garrison Commander of the Nigerian Army Enugu, Brig. Gen. M. K. Ibrahim, other Senior Police/Military Officers and the Chairman of Isi-Uzo Local Government Area, Honourable Obiora Obeagu, condemned the burning of the truck and unspecified number of persons, at Umuhu in Eha-Amufu community.
According to a statement by the PPRO, DSP Daniel Ndukwe, the Commissioner, while commiserating with the families of those who lost their lives in the heinous criminal act and other reported attacks in the area, “made it clear that the Police, with the active support and collaboration of other security agencies, will leave no stone unturned in fishing out the assailants and perpetrators of other acts of attack and murder in the area.
“He reassures members of the Eha-Amufu community of the avowed commitment of the Security Agencies to deploy both kinetic and non-kinetic measures to decisively deal with the untoward security breaches in the area, while enjoining them remain law-abiding, cooperate with the Joint Security Team and avoid acting in ways that could further breach public security and peace in the area.
“Consequently, the CP has ordered the further deployment of operational and intelligence resources to the area, while also ordering the State CID to thoroughly investigate the incident, harmonise ongoing investigations into other recent criminal incidents in the community and come up with actionable findings.
“In addition, the Commissioner has dispelled in its entirety the news making the rounds that rather than goods and some travellers, as preliminary investigation has revealed, the truck was instead loaded with firearms, ammunition and bandits.
“He described the rumour as baseless, misleading and an act of disinformation capable of creating unnecessary panic and escalating the situation in the area. Hence, he warns the creators and peddlers of such fake news to desist forthwith, as they will be made to face the full wrath of the law if apprehended.”