Delta: 9 months after anti-open grazing law, herders attack farmers, cows graze openly

*Occupy part of Okpanam community; food scarcity looms as farmers stay home

IN defiance of the Anti-Open Grazing law passed September 2021 by the Delta State House of Assembly, herdsmen still shepherd their cows with irresponsible impunity, killing, maiming and attacking farmers, harvesting farm crops, especially cassava, and feeding their cows with the tubers at different communities in the state.   

At Okpanam community in Oshimili North local government area, Fulani natives recently appropriated a section of Obodogba land and gradually turning it into another settlement until the traditional ruler (Ugoani), HRM. Michael Ogbolu, raised the alarm and the state government intervened.

Penultimate Tuesday, June 28 at Akwukwu- Igbo, headquarters of Oshimili North, raging herdsmen broke into an enclosed land of 400-400 feet holding an uncompleted building, cassava farmland and other cash crops on Ogbe-Iyase farm road, belonging to Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Vanguard Newspapers, dug up cassava and brazenly fed their cows.   

At Obiaruku community, armed and killer-herders had simply chased away farmers from their farms though different police squads had been deployed to the area, following increasing insolence of herders.

Deltans are bemused for when their hands-on governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, signed the Delta State Livestock, Breeding, Rearing and Marketing Regulation Bill, 2021, known as Anti-Open Grazing  Bill into law September 30, 2021, farmers across the state heaved a sigh of relief.

To them, the state government took the bull by the horns to bring to fruition their  dream of going about their farming activities without having to contend with nefarious activities of marauding herdsmen.

Government had  as part of the requirements of the Anti-Open Grazing Law also taken a step further in  inaugurating a 19-member Livestock Management Committee  with the governor expressing optimism that the Committee would carry out its work in a manner that would be beneficial to the people of the state.

  However, nine months after the law was enacted,  supposed herdsmen brandishing AK 47 gun and dangerous weapons have continued to unleash terror on the people. Security agencies have their way of just labelling the killer-herders, who also rape women and kidnap residents as merely criminal elements, while the outrages continue.     

Nothing has changed

From Obiaruku, Abraka, Uwheru, Umuseti, Emu Iyesele, Ogbole Ogume, Obodougwa, Azunzue, Ndemili, Oliogo, Umusam to Akwukwu-Igbo, Isele-Azagba, Okpannam, Abavo, Agbarha-Oto and many other parts of the state, there have been tales of woes and anguish, with farmers being forced to abandon their farmlands for fear of being killed and maimed.

In February, this year, about five months after the law came into effect, a farmer identified as Mr. Okpako was killed at his farmland in Abraka community by suspected herdsmen, who buried him in a shallow grave. The deceased’s decomposing body was exhumed from the grave wrapped in a sack days after he went to the farm and didn’t return home.

Earlier on December 4, 2021, the councilor representing ward 5 Ethiope East local government area Legislative Arm, Mr. Jude Adjekpovu, was reportedly shot by suspected herdsmen, who had attempted to kidnap him along Eku Road. He was on  his way to Abraka and died 12 days later at a hospital where he was receiving treatment.

Only on June 6 at Obiaruku, Ukwuani local government area, 52-year- old- hunter, Mr. Ezubuchi was reportedly shot dead by herdsmen in the bush, it was learned that the deceased was hunting in the bush in the night when alleged herdsmen shot him dead.

Mudiaga-Odje fumes over nonchalant execution   

Constitutional lawyer, Dr. Akpor Mudiaga-Odje, said; “There lies the mirage of enforcement of laws in Nigeria. The executive implements the law under section 5 of the Constitution of 1999 as amended.  It is another conundrum. Do we have the political will and stout guts required to enforce the anti-open grazing law?

“Indeed, not only Okpanam, but my maternal extraction in Uwheru, Ughelli North local government area has been under siege for years now yet not one of the herdsmen has been arrested let alone prosecuted. 

“So it really boils down to the government taking the bold initiative to enforce the law and protect us from these rude and crude intruders and invaders of our farms, lands, settlements and our people. 

“Remember, elections are around the corner, so government may become diplomatic and lethargic on this one as sadly expected,” he said.

Cattle still constitute nuisance — Idi

Reacting to the development, an indigene of Usieh, Ndokwa local government area, Mr. Presley Idi, blamed the continuous attack on farmers by herdsmen in the state on the lackadaisical attitude of the state government towards the implementation of the anti-open grazing law.

“We are surprised and shocked that till date the anti-open grazing bill passed by the House of Assembly and signed into law the governor, Senator Okowa, has zero level of implementation.

  “There is no day you will drive through Delta roads that you will not see cattle constituting nuisance on major high ways.

Govt interfacing in Okpanam intrusion

Saturday Vanguard learned that the commandeering of Obodoogba land in Okpanam was already being tackled by the state government, police and community with the Secretary to the State Government, Chief Patrick Ukah, leading the troubleshooting mission.

However, the community have decided in line with the executive order by the council in 2020 that all herders should vacate its undergrowth and live with the people in the community for proper monitoring.

A community leader hinted: “All herders will have one settlement for proper monitoring, as an ultimatum was given to herders to leave their various settlement and live in one place; they will be profiled; the community will have a data of all herders in that camp, the local government council and community will oversee the day- to- day activities at the camp, and no herder shall in anyway constitute nuisance in the community.”

His words: “Failing to keep to the above terms will lead to outright banishment from the town.”

Police yet to take action on Amaize property incursion

At Akwukwu Igbo, Faith Amaize, son of Mr. Emma Amaize, maintained that since Monday when he formally lodged a report on the invasion of his father’s property by suspected herdsmen at the Akwukwu Igbo Divisonal Police Station, Akwukwu-Igbo, the police have not made any move to the scene of incident.

Traditional ruler of Akwukwu Igbo Kingdom, HRM. Obi David Azuka I, president-general (worldwide), Akwukwu-Igbo Development Union, ADU, Chief Ikechukwu Iwegbu and other residents, were livid that herders were constituting nuisance to farmers in community and called on the police to clip their wings.

Ogegere, youth leader queries govt

A youth leader from Agbarha Otor, Ughelli North local government area, Mr. Enis Ogegere, said: “In my community and Delta as a whole, the questions we should be asking ourselves are – Did the state government truly signed the anti-open grazing bill into law? Can we say the implementation of law is effective in Delta?

“The question on whether it is being implemented across the communities in Delta is but in the negative. 

“In Agbarha-Otor, we still have cases of herders and their cows roaming the streets and destroying crops of farmers. Agbarha indigenes have been very peaceful with these band of lawbreakers with no conscience who have been resident in the community over a decade. 

“They still go about destroying our crops and if you dare to talk or harm their cow, the only thing that come out is threat to your life,” he added. 

 Committee starved of fund to work, Ujene cries out

Meanwhile, a member Livestock Management Committee representing Delta North, Mr. Matthew Ujene,    lamented that the committee was not being funded by the state government, saying it had reneged on its promise to provide operational Hilux pick-ups for the committee and pay allowances to members.

Ujene said: “The government refused to fund the committee. They just used it for politics, because people are putting pressure on them that’s why they just come up with the anti-grazing law.”

“Since we were inaugurated, we have not been paid a dime, which is why the committee is not moving. I have been using my own personal money and sacrifice because nothing is coming from the government and you cannot have a committee without funds. 

Herdsmen behind kidnapping in Elume Bridge area – Oniovosa

Okpako   Oniovosa, who resides at    Adeje community, said:    Fulani herdsmen were largely behind kidnapping around the Elume Bridge area of the Sapele – Warri Road though police have stepped up visibility around the Elume axis of the Warri-Sapele road.

“I will not doubt it because they are all over our bushes with their cows and weapons. From Opuraja down to Elume and even down to Amukpe roundabout you see their cows grazing openly.

“From some of the people kidnapped, last year, and later released, they said they were kidnapped by herdsmen. No arrest was made, so we just rely on the statements of the victims.

Locals kidnap, trade them to herdsmen — Patrick

A resident in Abraka, Ethiope East local government area, who simply chose to be identified as Patrick, said: “Herdsmen are in almost all the long stretch of forest on the old Abraka-Benin road. We heard they kidnap on the Abraka – Benin old road most times.

“These herdsmen live in our bush, they even know the bushes more than we owners of the land. We have tried to drive them but you still find them.”

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