The people of Ogoni have raised the alarm over the spate of encroachment on their farmlands by armed herdsmen who, they allege, “brazenly” destroy their cultivated crops.
In a statement issued yesterday in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, by the GboKabaari Ogoni, the Ogoni Elders’ Forum and signed by the Chairman, Monday Abueh and Secretary, Desmond Nbete, the Ogoni said they were compelled to cry out following the militarization of Ogoniland, which has undermined the livelihood of the natives.
They declared: “The GboKabaari Ogoni, the Ogoni Elders’ Forum, are compelled to raise this urgent alarm on the menacing encroachment on farmlands in some Ogoni communities by armed herdsmen who brazenly graze cows on cultivated crops.
“Not only does this act threaten public peace and security in the affected communities, it also undermines the livelihood and, thus, threatens the very existence of a sizable population of our people and presages violent clashes and, God forbid, loss of lives and more property if it is not nipped in the bud.
“For the past weeks, armed Fulani herdsmen have occupied vast areas of farmlands under effective cultivation in the Ogoni communities of Baa Luekun, Kpaa, Seme Luekun and Dae in Khana Local Government Area and Eteo in Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State.”
According to the group, Ogoni people have deserted their farmlands for fear of being killed by the armed Fulani herdsmen, who equip themselves with sophisticated weapons like AK-47.
The elders said: “The invaders, armed with sophisticated weapons especially the dreaded AK-47, some of which are strapped to their cows, have driven away farmers from their farmlands, forcibly occupied the farmlands and are grazing their cows on cultivated crops.
“We are particularly concerned by the fact that when confronted by community leaders and representatives of our people, they have threatened mayhem and even boasted that the powers-that-be and the security agencies are aware of their presence, and would decisively deal with our people if further confronted.
“With some sense of deja vu, when we became aware of arrangements by HYPREP for the drafting of soldiers to Ogoni communities ostensibly to provide “security services” for the Ogoni clean-up and remediation project, we vigorously protested against the plan via letters to both the Vice President and the Minister of Environment.
“We saw the planned militarization of our land as a ploy with some sinister motives since we could not understand why such militarisation would be needed for a clean-up exercise that we, as a people, enthusiastically want to be properly carried out to save our lives and environment. The current invasion by armed herdsmen and their boast of being ‘protected’ by security agents now seems to justify our worst fears”.
They, however, called on the government to come to their rescue by evacuating the herdsmen from Ogoniland, stressing that Ogoni people must not be sacrificed for cows.
“We want to raise this alarm to the authorities and alert all lovers of justice in the world that our people cannot afford to be victims of another pogrom. We have had a pitiably sad history in recent times of being massively killed, as well as having the very basis of our livelihoods devastated by decades of wanton environmental devastation,” the Ogoni elders agonised.
“Our people mainly depend on subsistence farming as their source of livelihood and sustenance and do not want any further attempt to add the menace of the marauding invasion by these armed herdsmen to the toxic mix.
“We are, therefore, calling on the government and its apparatus to protect our lives and property as a people even as we demand the immediate evacuation of these herdsmen and their cows from our farmlands. The lives and livelihoods of our people cannot and must not be sacrificed for cows.”