For residents of Uwheru kingdom in Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State, the fear of Fulani herdsmen is the beginning of wisdom. They have now resorted to going to their farms in the middle of the night between 1am and 3am when the herdsmen are already sleeping after taking their herds for grazing. The women also can no longer go to the farms as they are certain of being raped by herdsmen while the whole community live in perpetual fear. Their cries for help from both the state and the Federal Government have however fallen on deaf ears.
Some of the residents who recounted how they have been living in fear for the past twelve years said the herdsmen came to the community to kill, to rape and to destroy.
Though more than 86 persons in a space of 12years did not live to tell their stories, according to President General of the community, Cassidy Akpadafe, others have escaped various attacks which they described as close shaves to death.
Said 56-years-old widow, Madam Titi who claimed to have been raped by a lone herdsman in 2018: "Do you know how it feels being raped, not to talk of being raped by a herdsman who stays in the bush with animals? Anytime the herdsmen accosted us in the bush, they would rape us. So, in the past, women were prevented from going to the farm unaccompanied by a man, but the herdsmen have now become emboldened that they have started maiming and killing with sophisticated rifles."
A cassava farmer who simply identified himself as Austin said he narrowly escaped death after he was shot at by a group of persons he identified as armed Fulani herdsmen and had to flee his farm.
He said: "Owing to the fact that the herdsmen had taken over our farms and fish ponds, we resorted to be going to the farm in the middle of the night so that before they wake up, we would have finished our activities for the day at the farm.
"On that day, I had arrived my farm at about 4a.m. and decided to fumigate the place using the local hand pump spraying device. I had barely exhausted two cans of chemicals used for weeding when I started hearing some strange sounds. Immediately, I stopped to listen because it was still a little bit dark and the next thing, I heard sporadic gunshots towards my direction and that was how I fled the farm and came home."
On her part, 41-year-old Abigail Okpemu said she escaped being raped in her farm because she was on her monthly period on the day she had an encounter with one of the herdsmen
She said: "On the day they met me in the farm, I had finished uprooting my cassava and was about taking them back to town when I heard someone shouting at me not to move. When I looked behind me, I saw this young Fulani boy who had already walked up towards me from behind.
"He was holding a cutlass which he was pointing at me and asked me to undress and I knew he wanted to rape me. I immediately started shouting, calling for help. Unfortunately, the person in the next farm was some kilometers away; however, I had my sanitary pad on which he saw after he had ripped off my clothes. On seeing that the pad was stained with blood, he immediately got up from me and fled towards the direction he came from."
Some relatives of the victims who were still in shock over the death of their loved ones, said they were waiting for the response of the state and federal governments upon conclusion of the ongoing police investigation.
One of them, Ajomo Joseph who identified Andrew Useh as his younger brother said it was unfortunate that the attacks by herdsmen on indigenes of the community have been going on for the past 12 years without any response from the state or federal government.
Describing his younger brother as a hardworking and loving father, he said: "In a society where people are urged to take to farming and be useful to themselves and their immediate family, those who engage in farming activities are killed by armed Fulani herdsmen who come from the northern part of the country and occupy our farms.
"I wonder what will be the fate of my brother's wife and his two children. It is one thing for your loved one to be killed and for you to get the corpse for burial but it is another thing when his assailants after killing him, held on to the corpse deep inside the bush. It is not something that I will want to wish even my enemy. He is an orphan and now, imagine this kind of ordeal that has befallen him. Now, he too has been killed leaving his children who are less than five years old fatherless with his young wife a widow."
Also speaking, elder brother to Philip Emesharueke, Jonathan said his late brother who was married until his death, was a father of seven, stressing that his immediate family was waiting for the response of the government on the matter before they would take the next step.
He said: "I was home when the immediate family got the news of the death of my brother. Initially, we were confused thinking it was a joke because, honestly speaking, it was strange to us only to later confirm that the news was true and that our brother has actually been killed by herdsmen".
For Atlanta Ovwanre, he said: "I have been hearing of how Fulani herdsmen kill people inside the bush, but I never knew that one day, this ordeal will befall my family. If you ask me, I will say we should leave everything to God because right now, there is nothing we can do. This has been happening over the years and has become an everyday affair. Yet, the only thing we hear from the state and federal government irrespective of the political party at the helm of affairs is that 'we are on top of the situation.' Which situation are they on top of?"
Speaking on the ugly trend, a traditional chief from the area, Prof. Patrick Muoboghare who is also the Delta State Commissioner for Higher Education, said: "When you place a distress call to the security operatives, neither the police nor the military will come to our aid. I do not blame the police for this because when some policemen tried it few years ago the Fulani herdsmen killed them and the then Police Commissioner in Asaba said he didn't send anybody to go and fight herdsmen.
"Also, not too long after that, the then Ughelli Police Area Commander visited Uwheru to help disperse the Fulani herdsmen, however, he was assassinated in Ughelli. Who killed him? It's the same people."
On what should be done to stop the attacks, he "all that needs to be done for this matter to come to a final end is that, the Delta State and Federal governments should order the Fulani herdsmen to leave our land completely.
"It will surprise you to know that, if you add the present number of deaths, it will be more than 86 persons killed in a span of 12 years after the herdsmen took over our farmlands. We have been crying over their occupation of our lands. Even when some were killed before now, we cried out, yet there was no response as we were left to go and bury them. For now, we have no option than to beg the State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa to use his good office to order the herdsmen to leave our farms.
On his part, the Ughelli North Council chairman, Godwin Adode, said: "The people of the area should be careful and avoid entering the bush for any form of farming for now because the Fulani herdsmen are still very much present in the area. Though it is going to affect their means of livelihood because they are farmers and fishermen, but what we actually need in the long run is for the federal government to chase these herdsmen away and establish a military base so that soldiers will be in the area permanently."