On Tuesday, June 20, 2017 when Margaret Odiamehi, a grandmother in Ukpenu, Esan West LGA of Edo state, left her home for the farm, she had planned to tend to her crops before returning home with a few harvests to cater for her relatively large family. Little did she know that she was neither going to return home, nor see members of her family again.
Like a number of other aged women since the turn of the year, she was raped and beheaded by suspected Fulani Herdsmen in her farm.
Her death, following closely that of two other women in Ewu community of Esan Central Local Government Area, triggered the youths and women in Ekpoma and they took to the streets to protest and call for the eviction of all Fulani herdsmen in the area.
Beneath the public anger is a deep-seated fear of who is next, and to curtail this, women and other farmers are increasingly shunning their farms which are now being taken over by overgrown weed and bushes.
Despite the fact that agriculture, as reiterated by the Onojie of Ekpoma, HRH, Barr.A.E. Abumere, during the “Thank You Visit” of the Oba of Benin, is the major occupation of the Esan people, they are now compelled to make a difficult choice between their lives and occupation.
The difficulty of the decision is made obvious in the fact that ignoring the farms would result in shortage of farm produce — a major source of food and trade — and as a result, hunger and widespread poverty which, at the end, causes death.
To solve the problem and prevent the grim projection from transforming into reality, a number of solutions have been proffered by individuals and groups.
To cite an instance, the Eighteenth Synod of Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, Benin Diocese, which ended in Benin City recently, recommended that Cattle Ranches should be established in the domain of those whose livelihood depends on cattle rearing, and that crop farmers should be adequately protected in their domain.
The synod expressed worry that the murderous activities of Fulani herdsmen have continued unabated and unchecked, and called on the federal government not to abdicate its responsibility of protecting all Nigerian citizens, insisting that no set of persons engaging in criminal activities should be treated as “sacred cows”.
In the same vein, the Edo State House of Assembly (EDHA) has come up with a bill aimed at establishing the Edo State Cattle Rearing and Gracing Agency, and the bill has passed a Second Reading at the floor of the House. However, the Public Hearing on the proposed agency earlier scheduled for Thursday, June 29, 2017, by the House could not hold likely as a result of scathing criticism from the state’s Christian Association and opposition party, PDP. The hearing has now been rescheduled for Thursday, 6th of July 2017.
While some argued that the hearing would give the different stakeholders involved a platform to make meaningful contributions to the bill which has the potential to end the crisis, the Chairman of Edo CAN, Bishop Oyonude Kure has kicked against the bill.
In a press conference in Benin City, on Wednesday, June 28, 2017, Bishop Kure said “CAN Edo State believes that the grazing bill before the Edo State House of Assembly is seeking to confer an unfair advantage on a particular section and ethic group in Nigeria to the disadvantage of the indigenes of Edo state, whose indigenous and ancestral lands that have been transferred from generation to generation will be taken away from them, and given to that preferred ethnic group.”
The controversy trailing the bill has forced the Edo state government to release two separate statements disassociating the Governor and by extension, the executive arm of government from the bill.
While the different bodies involved continue to exchange words and position on the matter, the people in Edo Central are still behind locked doors, ignoring their farms, and in a bid to run away from death, are starving to death.
Story by Cliff Abel