Ogbadibo Local Government Area of Benue State is the gateway to northern Nigeria from the eastern part of the country, and it is made up of three communities, Otukpa, Orokam and Owokpa, which are populated by peasant farmers.
Until the recent uproar across the state occasioned by the clashes between Fulani nomads and communities in various local government areas leading to the loss of lives and properties,the communities in Ogbadibo had lived in peace with each other, and had also welcomed and accommodated visitors from all over the country.
But recent developments have forced the communities to raise alarm over the massive influx by Fulani herdsmen, who throng the communities in their hundreds.
In May 2013, hundreds of Fulani herdsmen with thousands of cattle found their way to the local government area, a situation which some of the residents said was unprecedented.
But before the coming of the recent herdsmen, the local government had previously accepted and accommodated a number of them in various locations, so the question is what is new about this coming group?
Alhaji Mohammed, who was one of the early Fulani men to settle in the local government, and respected as the most senior, told Daily Trust that there was no need for the residents to be apprehensive about the movement or presence of the herdsmen in the area.
“For us Ogbadibo is like home. Some of us have stayed here for over 17 years, we registered and have been casting our votes in this place ,and we have come to respect the culture and ways of the people. We have also never had any issues or misunderstanding with them,” he said.
But Agada Ochani, a community leader and ex-serviceman in Otukpa, said the presence of the Fulani men has placed them on alert, considering what is happening between Fulani herdsmen and their host communities in other local government areas.
A first time visitor to the local government area will be surprised at the number of young Fulani girls hawking ‘nuno’ and other products round the villages. More surprising is their ability to speak the native dialect fluently and their high sense of humour.
The girls in answer to questions about where they are from would gladly tell you they are from Ai’Ojobi clan in Agbaha in Otukpa.
According to Mohammed, the Fulani community in the local government, have been active participants in all activities undertaken by their host in the last decade.
Hon. Slyvernus Itodo, Special Adviser to the Benue State Governor on Inter-Party Matters and an indigene of Agbaha in Otukpa, said that the Fulani’s have been living in harmony with the community since their arrival in the village 15 years ago.
“They have been peaceful since their arrival here.We have not had any issue with them ,and they even participated actively in the last general election,” he said.
Some of the herdsmen who patronise various business outfits in major locations in the local government areas at their leisure ,said they are already looking forward to the first marriage between them and women from the local government area.
On whether men of the communities are also planning marriages with their maidens, Shehu Sule, one of the young herdsman said there are not aware of such plans.
“We have been open to the indigenes and we have lived peacefully with them,” he said.
The peaceful co-existence in Benue state was recently jolted with the fighting between the people of Agatu, Agila and Ichama communities with Fulani herdsmen, that led to the death of many and wanton destruction of properties.
When the report of the clashes between the Fulani herdsmen and the people flittered into Ogbadibo local government area and the subsequent influx of the herdsmen, the residents of the three communities began to live in fear.
In Ola-Ogbe in Otukpa an elder, Pa Akogwu, told Daily Trust that since the coming of the Fulanis, farming has no value, as their cattle continued to ravage farms destructing crops and livelihoods.
“We are going to be facing one of the greatest impacts of the activities of the Fulani cattle since their arrival, as we are not going to harvest any maize or cassava this season, because the cattle has eating them,” he said.
Mr Akor Ogbe, a native of Olachagbaha in Otukpa told Daily Trust that the coming of the herdsmen spells doom for the entire community ,as their cattle have continued to wreak havoc on their farms.
“My cassava farm which should have given me a five pick-up van load at harvest time, visited by the Fulani cattle, and as we speak everything on the farm was completely destroyed. I went to the Fulani to seek compensation for the destroyed farm ,but it is all stories as they kept tossing me from one settlement to another,” he said.
Ogbe’s story was also corroborated by Okpe Chris Audu, chairman, Agbaha Ehaje Youth, who said that though the community had lived in harmony with the Fulani settlers ,but that the only issue of great concern and requiring urgent attention, is the destruction of their farms by cattle.
“We accepted the Fulanis here and have no problems with them ,but the only problem we have is the destruction their cattle inflict on our farms. The leaders of the Fulanis promised to compensate those whose farms were destroyed ,but so far we are yet to see any such compensation,” Audu said.
Paulina Igobyi, a widow and peasant farmer recalled her ordeal in the hands of the Fulanis.
“My maize farm was completely eaten up by the cattle. In the last two months I have been going up and down to get compensation from them ,but to no avail. Now how to feed my children and pay their school fees is a big challenge,” she said.
In Orokam, Sunday Apeh, said that the community has been in fears since about five groups of herdsmen in their hundreds, moved into the community with their cattle two months ago. “Since then farming no longer has value.”
Pa Ojo, a 70-year old community elder in Orokam, told Daily Trust that he had never witnessed such influx of Fulani herdsmen and cattle all his life. “We have to be careful in accepting and accommodating these people. We all see and hear what is happening in other places so accepting them here I’m sure is a great mistake.”
Daily Trust checks in the three communities of the local government revealed that the herdsmen settled in the communities after getting approval from the local chiefs, whom sources alleged were given monetary and cattle gifts.
Steve Agbo, a youth leader in Otukpa said they had made several attempts to address the reckless way the cattle destroyed farms within the community, but each time, the elders would prevail on them to drop the idea.
“How long do we have to fold our hands and watch helplessly while farms are being destroyed and livelihoods wasted. Because they have settled the chiefs we can’t say or do anything,” he added.
Mallam Gambo, one of the herdsmen told Daily Trust that their relationship with the chiefs was a sign of respect. “We associated with them on arrival here to pledge our loyalty.”
The tension is high in the communities on the possible outbreak of violence between them and the Fulanis, and this has greatly affected farming in the local government area, but the local government council as part of efforts to allay the fears of communities, have instituted some measures to establish a cordial relationship between the Fulanis and their host.
Among such measures was the recent census of all Fulani’s and cattle in the local government area, so as to keep track of their movement.
The Fulani community according to Alhaji Mohammed was also working with their host to settle cases arising from the destruction of farms by their cattle.
“If we receive any complaint about the activities of our cattle destroying a farm, we will go to the farm to see for ourselves and evaluate the level of destruction ,upon which we will now appeal to the farm owner to forgive us. But if he refuses and wants payment we then pay him for what was destroyed,” he added.
By Alex Abutu
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