Outrage, invasion and of course ethnic massacre or cleansing could best describe what happened in Nimbo, a sleepy Enugu community on April 25, 2016.
For the people of Nimbo community, in Uzo-Uwani local government area, that fateful morning will ever remain green in their life.
It was a Monday and as usual, residents of the agrarian community most of who are naturally farmers, were already getting ready for the new week’s farm works.
It happened that that time of the year was cultivation and planting season, so most of the community dwellers woke up as early as 4am to prepare to go to their farms. But little did they know that danger lurked in their path. They never had any premonition that the enemy was around the corner, lying in a deadly ambush.
Though they have had some pockets of security issues but none of the community dwellers were aware that this will degenerate to such magnitude. They never knew that death-bearing killer Fulani herdsmen lay in wait for an all-clear to fall on and slaughter them!
But that was exactly what the demons of death did: lie in wait for an all-clear to slaughter innocent people. By the time the all-clear came, most of the men had gone to their farms, leaving women and children behind. And so the cowardly hoodlums struck, as usual, on soft targets—women and children–piercing bellies and eyes, cutting off heads and limbs, breaking skulls and arms, in what has been recorded as one of the deadliest attacks of the beastly killer Fulani herdsmen on any farming community in Nigeria yet.
Most unofficial accounts of the Nimbo mayhem had it that by the time the demons of death and destruction sheathed their swords and lowered their guns, nearly 40 people lay dead, most of them women and children, while some churches and residential houses were also razed.
The attack, now classified in the nation’s diary of social upheavals as ‘Nimbo Massacre’, lasted for over an hour without any security agents in sight to halt the blood-letting, which attracted both local and international attention. On the local level, it attracted widespread condemnation.
Nimbo came as the first indication of seeming official endorsement of the nefarious activities of killer Fulani herdsmen across Nigeria.
By and large, according to reports at the time, 24-48 hours before the attack, Enugu State government was already in possession of enough credible intelligence to warrant a counter security operation to stop the attack.
Consequently, the State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi was said to have summoned an emergency security meeting, which was attended by representatives of all the security services, including the GOC 82 Divison, Enugu, DG of SSS, Commissioner of Police, Commanders of Civil Defence Corps, FRSC and other heads of relevant federal security organisations operating from their Enugu State headquarters.
Their brief from Ugwuanyi was simple: don’t let the attack happen. To walk his talk, Ugwuanyi reportedly ‘adequately’ mobilised the agencies so that money for logistics and motivation of the security operatives wouldn’t be a problem. For their part, the security agencies, particularly the police, reportedly mobilised to Nimbo to forestall any attack. All seemed to be going on well. As Chief Security Officer of the State, Governor Ugwuanyi had done what he was supposed to do. It was left for the security agencies to execute the counter operation plan. But unfortunately, they never rose to the challenge!
With credible intelligence, police knew that these killer herdsmen were going to attack, if not stopped in their tracks. The questions that keep agitating the minds of the people of Nimbo, Enugu State, South East and Nigeria in general are: why did the police withdraw from Nimbo less than 24 hours after deploying to the place to counter a planned attack, which credible intelligence report had established was real? How come the herdsmen attacked the community less than one hour after the then State Police Commissioner, Nwodibo Ekechukwu ordered his men out of Nimbo? What did Ekechukwu know? Who ordered him to order his men out of Nimbo? Even after the police withdrew and the attack began, why did Ekechukwu not expeditiously mobilise his men to go after the attackers?
Questions and more questions. But even more curious still was the fact that Ekechukwu, as if higher authorities meant to reward him for the massive failure of the police under his watch in Enugu to act on credible security report, was posted out of Enugu to a more lucrative position of Commissioner in charge of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Port Harcourt. Could such a posting have been a sanction against the police officer for such a massive security failure?
Expectedly, after the attack, Governor Ugwuanyi visited the scene of the massacre, and like Jesus Christ, felt touched and wept.
The then Inspector General of Police Solomon Arase equally visited the scene and expressed deep sorrow at the bloody incident.
After condoling with the deceased relations, he promised to build a Divisional Police Headquarters in Nimbo to provide adequate security for the agrarian community, but till today, six years after, no police station has been built in Nimbo.
Recounting the ugly incident, one of the affected persons, Michael Ugwu told our reporter that “I was in the class receiving lectures when my cousin Amaka called me in 2016 six years ago to inform me of ugly news of how Fulani herdsmen invaded my community, killing over 40 innocent people and destroying properties worth millions of naira in well-coordinated attacks.”
According to Ugwu “all security outfits in the State reportedly knew about it, following a tip-off from Kogi State. I lost a relation to the ugly incident.”
However, more than six years after the massacre, our reporter went to Nimbo community to assess the level of deliverance on the mountain of promises made after the ugly incident.
One of the community dwellers, Mr. Raphael Ezike told our reporter that the security situation in the area had even deteriorated, leading to more frequent kidnapping and killing of innocent people by Fulani herdsmen.
“The situation here is very volatile. There is no adequate security here in Nimbo and even Uzo-Uwani Local Council as a whole. You may not see another Nimbo massacre but there is pocket of unreported killings by Fulani herdsmen here once in a while,” Mr. Ezike said.
Another indigene of the community, Mr. John Agu told Within Nigeria that although there has not been another mass murder by Fulani herdsmen since 2016, killing has not been entirely prevented.
Said he: “After the massacre, the federal government built a Divisional Police Headquarters in Ukpabi, a neighbouring community but no police station here in Nimbo. But unfortunately, no police officer had been deployed there. Only recently did we start seeing the presence if police there. It has been only police checkpoints that are seen in the area with little or no meaningful arms and ammunition to protect the populace from attacks by herdsmen.
To lend credence to their observation on the alleged abysmal level of security in the area, in March last year 2019, the former Secretary of the Council, Dr. Nnamdi Ogueche was shot dead by suspected herdsmen around Olo town in Ezeagu LGA of the State.
The late Secretary was reported to have gone for peace talks between communities and the herdsmen that had been terrorising parts of Uzo-Uwani LGA.
According to reports, the LG Secretary was in company of three others in a vehicle, who were returning from the peace meeting when the herdsmen attacked their vehicle.
There was stampede and uneasy tension while the occupants of the vehicle jumped out in different directions for safety.
Apart from unprovoked attacks on Uzo-Uwani people by Fulani herdsmen, their farm lands are also not spared.
In September last year, gunshots erupted in a bush at Agboda, where 42-year-old Ayogu was reportedly shot by yet-to-be-identified herders.
It was reported that Ayogu, a native of Egburu Village, survived the attack, and crawled out of his hiding place when the herdsmen left him for dead and hurriedly fled the area. Although some claimed the victim was saved by some supernatural force, eye-witnesses said the community has not recovered from the shock of the incident.
Our reporter gathered that farmers in the community had been complaining to the local authorities about the continuous invasion and destruction of their farms by herdsmen, who parade sophisticated weapons in the area but not much succour had come their way.
By and large, their disaffection with the herders was heightened by the wanton destruction of a large palm plantation spread across 12 plots of land, with cassava, maize and other crops, owned by one Mr. Nicholas Okoro. Also destroyed were farmlands located in Ogbo Isi-Uvuru, Ogbo-Oda, Agba-Eko, Abbi, Nrobo and Nimbo communities.
Okoro’s plantation located along Eziani-Ugbene Ajima-Nimbo Road was destroyed last year by suspected herders.
He claimed that he lost a total of N5m investment in the farm and appealed to the State government to fish out the perpetrators. He also pleaded with the state government to assess the level of destruction in his farm and possibly mitigate his losses.
Okoro explained that over 1,000 improved varieties of palm trees he planted on the 12 plots of land were completely eaten up and destroyed, along with cassava, maize and melon, adding that the only remnants of his labour were innumerable footprints of cattle and dung all over the place.
He said he reported the incident to the Chairman, Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area, Chukwudi Nnadozie, who later informed him that some government officials would visit the farm to ascertain the level of damage.
Okoro, however, lamented that despite the huge financial losses he incurred, no respite had come from either the State or the local government authorities as at the time of this report.
Another farmer from Isi-Uvuru village, Utazi Clement, said strange men suspected to be herdsmen have since taken over their farmlands, even as herds of cattle openly graze on yam and cassava farms.
He said farmers who depend solely on proceeds from their farms for survival have been counting their losses, noting that there were past incidents of people shot or butchered on their farms for confronting the invaders.
“Local farmers are in danger. These herders parade guns and threaten to kill you if you dare confront them. We are not bothered if they graze their cattle in the bushes, but our worry is when they deliberately lead herds of cattle into our farms and destroy our crops. In the past, these Fulani herdsmen used long sticks, but now they move about with rifles. Farmers are suffering in the hands of these herders,” he said.
Other farmers in the community recounted their own ugly experiences, stressing that they no longer go to their farms for fear of attacks and kidnapping.
Similarly, women going to the farm now move in groups for fear of being sexually molested.
It was gathered that the Uzo-Uwani Local Government authorities had in the past convened a security meeting with leaders of the Hausa/Fulani community to seek solutions to the problem but such efforts never worked, as leaders of the herders argued that those that destroyed farmlands were not their members.
Though President-General of Ugbene Ajima, Albert Utazi said there were efforts towards a peaceful agreement between farmers and herders in the area, and urged members of the community to be calm and law-abiding even in the face of provocation, there seems to be no end in sight for herders’ attacks in the area.
Investigation revealed that the destruction of Okoro’s palm plantation was equally reported to the police in Adani but no arrest was made or had been made as at the time of this report.
Despite promises by the police to conduct discreet investigation to unravel the perpetrators terrorising these communities, some of the villagers said they had no confidence the security agencies would protect them and their farmlands from further attacks by the armed herdsmen.
The litany of woes continues and farmers continue to count their huge losses.
However, in a chat with Within Nigeria, Chairman, Uzo-Uwani Neighborhood Watch, Mr. Sylvanus Nwabuisi said the situation was becoming unbearable.
“Right now in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area, the security situation with regard to Fulani herdsmen is becoming very unbearable. They kill, maim and rape our women. They destroy a lot of farms and crops. As I am talking to you right now, there is a case of destruction by Fulani herdsmen that we are handling in this local government; that is a case of 14 plots of rice they destroyed few months ago. We are currently living in fear,” Nwabuisi said.
Asked how they usually handle such a case, Nwabuisi stated that “When a case is brought to us, the Neighborhood Watch, and eventually established against them, we usually ask them to pay compensation. But the unfortunate thing is that if for example they destroy crops that are worth say N1m, they will end up paying like N50,000 compensation. Is that compensation? Well, right now, we have a new law by which we have told them that any crop they destroy will be equivalent to their cow, depending on the magnitude of the destruction. Even the presence of Forest Guards in the area cannot solve the problem of herders’ continuous invasion in our area.”
He, however, appealed to the State government to intervene in the security situation in Uzo-Uwani to save them from incessant attacks by herdsmen.
Again, in April 2021, some gunmen reportedly attacked the Divisional Police Headquarters, Adani, Uzo-Uwani LGA, killing two police officers, injuring several others and burning down the police station.
A few weeks before the attack, unidentified attackers had invaded the Fulani community in the area, killing about seven of them.
Within Nigeria reports that prior to the attack, the Fulani herdsmen had been accused of destroying farmlands in the area with their cattle, an accusation they reportedly denied.
However, while violent attacks and counterattacks continue to fester in Uzo-Uwani, about the most problematic crime in the area now is kidnapping, which has taken a different dimension along the major high ways in the area, what with commercial bus passengers, motorcyclists and private individuals frequently abducted for ransom.
In September 2021, Fulani herdsmen allegedly invaded Opanda/Nimbo, killing three persons and wounding several others.
When our visited some of the major towns in the council area, commercial activities in those areas had literally collapsed.
At Adani town, for instance, many shops especially on Iggah road were found under lock and key as their owners were said to have left the town, for fear of attacks by a multiplicity of criminals operating in the area.
One of the residents of the town, Mr. Thomas Ugwo, told our reporter that “since April when more than dozens of persons were killed, everybody has become too cautious to stay here. Many of the residents have run away to Nsukka, Enugu and other cities.”
According to Mr. Ugwo, “the situation is not pleasant at all. In the night, nobody sleeps with eyes closed. We are all living in palpable fear.”
On the economic impacts of the frequent attacks in the area, a rice farmer in Adani, Mr. Jonas Ugwu told our reporter that Adani is no longer what it used to be.
“Before now, a small painter of garri was N500 or N400 as the case may be. But today, the situation has changed. A small painter of garri now sells for N800 or N900 as the case may be. This is because of the insecurity we experience here. Many people no longer go to farm again because of fear of attack by herdsmen or bandits and these attacks have become almost a daily occurrence now,” Ugwu lamented.
However, to further heighten the insecurity in the area, on Tuesday evening, July 13, 2021 two military personnel were beheaded at Iggah/Asaba check point, Adani.
In December 2021, a proprietor of Royal Secondary school, a popular private school in Adani was abducted. Despite N3m being paid as ransom, he is yet to be released even as his phone number is longer going through. This is coming barely four months after a popular entrepreneur and CEO of Maya table water was abducted and killed.
The incident has led to renewed calls for government to tighten up security in the area.
Said a former councillor in the area, in a chat with our reporter: “We call on the Federal and state government to find a lasting solution to this security problem.”
The councillor who did not want his name in print for fear of political victimisation, said: “Nobody is happy about what is going on here. The truth is that we cannot continue like this. Adequate security should be provided to forestall total break-down of law and order in this area.”