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Farms, cows and blood: Untold story of reprisal attacks on Fulani herdsmen in the South-East

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IN a video clip which has gone viral on the social media among members of the Fulani community in the South-East, a number of able-bodied young men, armed with guns and dressed in the dark blue uniforms of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), a vigilante outfit set up by the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), marched through farmlands in Awgu, Enugu State.

A voice running in the video said the ESN men were looking for Fulani herdsmen who were grazing cows in farms.

At a point in the video, the ESN troops raced off in pursuit of herdsmen who were sighted with cows inside a farm.

The video ended after a cow which was grazing in the farm was shot dead by one of the ESN ‘soldiers’.

Members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN)
Members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN)

As the cow fell, dying from the bullet wound, the voice in the video vowed that herdsmen would not be allowed to graze cows in farmlands in any part of Igboland.

A South-East youth leader of the Miyetti Allah, the umbrella body of Fulani herdsmen, Mr Yunusa Usman, shared the video clip via WhatsApp, with The ICIR.

Usman and other members of the Fulani community say the emergence of the ESN had resulted in a spike in attacks against herdsmen in the South-East.

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Mr Gidado Sidiq, the leader of the Miyetti Allah and the Fulani community in the South-East, told The ICIR that more than 50 Fulani in the region have been killed, or gone missing between January and March.

Gidado Sidiq
Gidado Sidiq, leader of the Miyetti Allah and Fulani community in the South-East

According to Sidiq, about 22 Fulani were killed in Anambra, while over 30 were lost in Ebonyi State.

He also alleged that no fewer than five herdsmen were killed in Enugu during the period.

But the claims made by the South-East Fulani community could not be independently verified by The ICIR. Police commands and other residents in the zone also doubted the claims.

  • Emergence of Eastern Security Network informed by desire to ‘retaliate’ and protect

However, what is not in doubt is the dread with which the Fulani community in the South-East views the activities of the ESN.

The ESN was launched in December 2020 by IPOB leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, to protect the South-East and the South-South – the areas that made up the defunct Republic of Biafra – from ‘criminal activity and terrorist attack’.

The infamous ‘Nimbo massacre‘ in which about 20 persons were killed by suspected Fulani herdsmen at Ukpabi Nimbo, an agrarian community in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State, in April 2016, was the first high profile attack linked to the cattle rearers in the South-East.

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Since then, several indigenes of the zone had been killed in numerous attacks by suspected armed herdsmen. The victims include women who were raped to death in their farms, and clergymen, particularly Catholic priests, who were kidnapped and killed.

Ensuring the safety of forests and farmlands – which the IPOB leader said had been converted to slaughter grounds and raping fields by suspected herdsmen – is one of the major mandates of the ESN and it is not surprising that the emergence of the vigilante outfit has coincided with a spike in reports and allegations of attacks on Fulani herdsmen in the South-East.

  • Members of Fulani community recount ordeals in South-East

In separate interviews with The ICIR, members of the Fulani community, who had fallen victim to attacks on cattle rearers in the South-East, linked their travails to the emergence of the ESN.

Usman, the Miyetti Allah South-East youth leader, told The ICIR that it is believed that the ESN was behind the recent upsurge in attacks on the Fulani in the zone.

Yunusa Usman, Miyetti Allah youth leader in the South-East
Yunusa Usman, Miyetti Allah youth leader in the South-East

“We heard that it is the Eastern Security Network (ESN) but we are not sure,” he said when asked if he knew the identity of those attacking herdsmen in the South-East. “They kill our cows everyday – sometimes they will kill the boys who are with the cows and hide the bodies. We have reported to the police, to the civil defence, to the DSS and to every other security agency but nothing has been done to stop this.

In parts of Enugu like Aninri and Awgu, we are being attacked. Since the #EndSARS protests, police have not been responding to complaints against these people that attack our cows,” he alleged.

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Usman further alleged that, just recently, three of his cows were shot and killed at Mburubu, a community in Nkanu East Local Government Area of Enugu State.

“I reported to the police but nothing was done. A week ago, at Awgu in Enugu, they (ESN) went to the bush and started shooting Fulani cows with AK47 and posted it on the social media. “They are the Eastern Security Network, Nnamdi Kanu’s people,” Usman added.

Like many of the Fulani in the South-East, Usman said he was born and bred in the zone, and has not travelled to the North.

Usman's cow was killed for grazing on a farm
Usman’s cow was killed for grazing on a farm

“I was born and brought up here (South-East). My mother gave birth to me at Obolo Afor and I also had all my children here in Enugu. I live at Akuke Awkunanaw in Enugu. I have not even travelled to the North before. I am an indigene of the South-East,” Usman said while noting that, sometimes, members of the Fulani community are attacked because of misgivings arising from the actions of their kith and kin in the northern part of the country.

Commenting on alleged cases of kidnapping involving Fulani herdsmen in the South-East, Usman observed that criminal elements among the Fulani and the Igbo sometimes collaborate in criminal activities.

A Fulani settlement in the South-East
A Fulani settlement in the South-East

He said, “You see, before anybody will be kidnapped, the person’s brothers would be involved. If it is an Igbo man Igbo people will be involved because they will be the ones that know he has money. Even if it is Fulani that will kidnap the Igbo man, Igbos would also be involved as informants. Whenever an Igbo man is kidnapped they will say it is Fulani but I believe Igbo people are involved. If a Fulani man is kidnapped a Fulani would be involved. Sometime ago my senior brother was kidnapped and they killed him even after we paid ransom. We later found out that the kidnapping was carried out by our people (Fulani) who knew that he has money.”

Noting that the Fulani in the South-East wish to live in harmony with their host communities, Usman said, “We are begging the government and the people to understand that we are also indigenes. We are ready to work with the government, community leaders and the security agencies to ensure peace and harmony in the South-East. If there are bad people among us we will hand them over to law enforcement agencies.”

Ardo Saidu, Sarkin Fulani Enugu (Chief of Fulani in Enugu), was in a meeting with some other elders of the Fulani community at New Gariki, Awkunanaw, when The ICIR approached him for an interview. The Sarkin told The ICIR that series of meetings convened by governors in the South-East had not stopped recent attacks on members of the Fulani community, particularly the herdsmen.

“The governors of the South-East are not doing anything about this problem. Whenever we report that our people have been killed, the governors call for meeting and promise to take action but in the end they will not do anything and nobody will be arrested,” he said, adding that the situation is worse in Ebonyi State.

Ardo Saidu, Sarkin Fulani, Enugu
Ardo Saidu, Sarkin Fulani, Enugu

“No single Fulani is remaining in Ebonyi State,” Saidu said. But the claim was found to be untrue, as The ICIR‘s correspondent met members of the Fulani community during a subsequent visit to Abakiliki, Ebonyi State capital. When the reporter wanted to talk to them, they referred him to their leader, Alhaji Sani. But Sani ignored requests to speak with The ICIR. Also, efforts to speak to him on the telephone after The ICIR‘s correspondent had left Ebonyi State were not successful.

During various phone calls, Sani only said he will call back. He had yet to do so even after suspected Fulani herdsmen reportedly attacked Obegu, a community in Ishielu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, on March 29. About 25 persons were reported to have been killed in the attack by the suspected herdsmen.

Some Fulani herdsmen, who spoke with The ICIR at a herders’ settlement at Awka, Anambra State, narrated what transpired in recent attacks on their members.

Isyaku Idris said he knows four out of 22 Fulani that were allegedly killed in Anambra since January 2021.

“I know four of the 22 people that were killed. Ali, Hassan, Hamidu and Usman,” he said.

Another herdsman, Mohammed Idris, explained that he survived an attack on the Fulani community at Ugwuoba, in Awka, Anambra State. “They killed two people in my presence during the attack at Ugwuoba. Herdsmen were attacked and killed while they were out grazing cows and as a result, the cows were left to roam free all over the area. I was the one that went to our Sarkin to report what happened,” Idris said, adding that the attackers were on motorbikes, but were not wearing uniforms.

Isyaku Idris
Fulani herdsmen, Isyaku Idris and Mohammed Idris

Asked what led to that Ugwuoba attack, Idris said, “I don’t know why. Whenever our cows destroy crops in farms we usually pay compensation.”

Another member of the Fulani community, who identified himself as Alhaji Buba, said he lost a brother in one of the attacks.

“I can’t remember the date but my brother, Yunusa, was killed during an attack on herdsmen at Aguleri, in Anambra State. He went to graze his cows but when he was coming back in the evening, around 6:00 pm, one Igbo man shot and killed him. He was rushed to the hospital but died on the way. He was killed alongside his friend Isa. Isa was killed while he was grazing cows and his body was thrown into the river. Machete cuts were seen on the body,” Buba said.

A herdsman displays an alleged bullet wound sustained during an attack on the Fulani community in the South-East
A herdsman displays an alleged bullet wound sustained during an attack on the Fulani community in the South-East

He also said the killers were not arrested.

Noting that the attack was unprovoked, Buba added, “We don’t know the reason for the attack. Before we started grazing in that area we met the Igwe (traditional ruler), the president general of the town union and the youth leaders. Whenever our cows destroy crops in farms we pay compensation, we have been peaceful.”

Buba observed that differences between the herdsmen and their host communities worsened since the setting up of the Eastern Security Network.

“Many of us (herdsmen) were brought up in the South-East here, we are not newcomers. We have been having some problems with Igbo people but things became worse this year. We heard that the people attacking us are the Eastern Security Network but we don’t know whether this is true or not,” he noted.

Alhaji Buba
Alhaji Buba

Mohammed Koridu, a Fulani herdsman, told The ICIR that his brother was killed during an attack on a herders’ settlement at Amansea, in Anambra.

“They killed my brother. They also killed two other persons, Ali and Dogo. Many cows were also killed in that attack on that day. After that they came to our settlement very early in the morning and killed five people. Those killed include Adamu, Gadahi, Beto and Dere,” Koridu said.

Although he said he was born in Anambra State and had never been to the North, Koridu said he can’t speak Igbo language. “I am from Anambra but I can’t speak Igbo because we don’t usually go into the town. We are always in the bush with our cows.”

Abubakar Shagari, a cattle rearer, told The ICIR that his only son was killed during an attack on a Fulani settlement.

“They killed my only son. His name is Adamu Dere. They shot him in the leg and after that they used a machete to cut off his head and his hands. He is my only child,” Shagari said, urging the authorities to bring the killers to book.

  • Herdsmen and host communities are accusing each other of attacks, killings… Fulani chief

The leader of the Fulani cattle market at New Gariki, Enugu, Mr Baba Ali, took a break from settling a dispute to tell The ICIR that traders were not involved in the problems between Fulani herdsmen and the people of the South-East. 

“I don’t want to go deep into this issue of killings but just as members of the host communities are complaining that herdsmen are killing them, the herdsmen are also saying that the indigenes are killing them. None of our traders in the market here have been killed but the herdsmen in the bush say they are being attacked and killed,” Ali told The ICIR at his office inside the market.

Mohammed Korodu
Mohammed Korodu

Ali added that, sometimes, bodies of herdsmen who were killed in the bush are brought to the market, which also serves as a sort of settlement for the Fulani, before they are taken to the burial ground for burial.

“In such situations I always ask for doctor’s report or police report. That is to make sure that the matter was first reported to the police before they are buried because as Muslims, we don’t keep corpses before burying. They have brought bodies of killed herdsmen so many times without number here,” Ali said.

He noted the the corpses four herdsmen that were killed in the bush have been brought to the market since January 2021.

During the investigation, The ICIR‘s correspondent sat in on a meeting between leaders of the Fulani and a delegation from the Nigerian Red Cross Society at Awka on March 18. At the meeting, leader of the Miyetti Allah in the South-East, Gidado Sidiq, informed the Red Cross officials that, since Januar, more than 30 herdsmen have been killed, or gone missing, in Ebonyi. Sidiq also reported that about 22 herdsmen have been killed in Anambra, while about 15 and five, respectively, were killed in Abia and Enugu States.

“I can’t really tell why these attacks are occurring at this time. People have been alleging that Fulanis are destroying farms, kidnapping and killing people and all that but I know that, in the South-East we have mechanism for conflict resolution that were put in place by government,” Sidiq told The ICIR in an interview after the meeting with the Red Cross officials.

The Miyetti Allah South-East leader promised to furnish The ICIR with a list containing the names of the 22 Fulani that were killed in Anambra.

But he has not been able to provide the material as of the time of filing this report.

Abubakar Shagari
Abubakar Shagari
  • Police says it is not aware of the alleged killing of Fulani herdsmen in South-East 

Fulani leaders had said they reported the various incidents in which their people were attacked and killed in the South-East to the police and other security agencies. But, when contacted by The ICIR, the various police commands in the zone, particularly in Anambra, Ebonyi and Enugu, where most of the alleged killings were said to have taken place, said they were not aware of the development.

Police Public Relations Officer, Mr Ikenga Tochukwu, said the Anambra State Police Command has no record of the killings alleged by the Fulani.

“We have no record of that. We are not aware that 21 persons or more have been killed. They [Fulani herdsmen] should come up with a petition to the Commissioner of Police so that proper investigation can be done,” Tochukwu said.

He, however, also observed that, in recent times, the police received reports of attacks on some Fulani settlements. “The incidents are not as serious as what you are saying,” the police spokesman added, noting that the incidents are being investigated so as to identity the perpetrators. “But we don’t have any reports or record of the killing of 21 or so Fulani herdsmen in Anambra State,” Tochukwu stressed.

In the same vein, spokesperson of the Ebonyi State Police Command, Loveth Odah, told The ICIR – “I don’t know about 30 killed or missing Fulani herdsmen in Ebonyi State.”

Rather, Odah observed that the police has records of several cases where the Fulani have been arrested for killings in Ebonyi. According to her, recently, a 20 years old Fulani man raped a 56 years old woman to death at Ohaozara LGA. She also disclosed that, in several instances, crimes committed against Fulani herdsmen in Ebonyi were discovered to have been perpetrated by fellow Fulani.

Instances cited by Odah include the burning of about 40 huts in a Fulani settlement by a Fulani man, and the raping to death of a Fulani lady by two Fulani boys.

The police spokesperson further informed The ICIR that claims that Fulani herdsmen were leaving the state might not be unconnected to the vow by the state commissioner of police to enforce hitherto un-enforced laws which banned night grazing, as well as grazing by under-aged herdsmen.

“It was after the commissioner of police declared that he was ready to enforce the law that some herdsmen decided to leave the state,” Odah said, noting that “There is no state that is as peaceful as Ebonyi for the Fulani.”

Also, when contacted by The ICIR, spokesman of the Enugu State Police Command, Mr Daniel Ndukwe, expressed surprise at the alleged killings of Fulani herdsmen in Enugu. “I am not aware of that, we don’t have reports of such,” he said in response to enquiries by The ICIR.

  • Eastern Security Network won’t relent in securing South-East, IPOB vows

Meanwhile, despite fingers being pointed at IPOB in the allegations by the Fulani community, the pro-Biafra group vowed that its vigilante outfit, the Eastern Security Network, would not relent in securing the South-East.

The Fulani cattle market at New Gariki in Enugu
The Fulani cattle market at New Gariki in Enugu

Speaking with The ICIR, IPOB spokesman, Mr Emma Powerful, said, “We can’t relent in protecting and securing our land. IPOB and ESN will remain resolute in chasing away the terrorists ravaging our land without hindrance no matter what they do. We must chase them away with their cows.”

The IPOB spokesman further vowed that the ESN would retaliate the latest killing of about 25 indigenes of Ebonyi State by suspected Fulani herdsmen.

If you or someone you know has a lead, tip or personal experience about this report, our WhatsApp line is open and confidential for a conversation

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