• Saturday, May 25, 2024
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Enforcement of ban on open grazing will check armed herdsmen’s atrocities – Victim


Jude Onyebadi, a two-time abducted farmer and Delta indigene, has said that enforcement of the recent ban on open grazing will check the menace of armed Fulani herdsmen in the state.

Onyebadi also advised Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State and all the southern governors not to look back in their decision to end open grazing across Southern Nigeria, because, according to him, the Fulanis living in the land are not sincere when they claim they are harmless.

According to the victim, Governor Okowa and his southern counterparts should not look for any other proof to convince them that the herdsmen/jihadists have evil agenda as the criminal activities they have continued to carry out should serve as enough evidence against them.

Onyebadi, a reverend father who between 2016 and 2020 was abducted twice from his farm located in Isselle-Uku in Aniocha North Local Government Area, Delta State, and tortured for four days each time he was kidnapped, disclosed this in an exclusive interview with BusinessDay in Asaba.

He described his experience as hellish, adding that he would not wish the inhuman treatment and torture he passed through in the hands of his abductors for his enemy. He said that their target was not just to torture or maim but to ensure their victim has nothing to live on (resources) even after he regains freedom from their hands.

He said he was tortured to bring money for ransom before they could release him but when he told them he had no money, they told him to sell his over 100 hectares of land (from where they abducted him) and use the proceeds as ransom.

“That is to show you how greedy and wicked the Fulani herdsmen are,” he said.

The most scary aspect of his experience was what was he said were the words of one of his abductors.

“Why we are combing your bushes first is to make the bushes unsafe for the people to run to when we start attacking their towns. We are not Nigerians. We come from Niger Republic and after our operations, we go back to our place,” they told him and even made sure they collected millions of naira from his friends and associates before they released him.

“I can’t say the exact amount they were paid to free me but I know they were paid millions of naira. My friends and associates negotiated with them and paid because I didn’t have the kind of money they were demanding from me and I was not ready to sell my land,” he explained.

The victim is a big-time producer of corn and plantain with over 1,500 hectares of land and over 150 workers, but presently, the farm enterprise he had pursued with passion over the years, has crumbled and no longer booms, because, according to him, “I must first be alive and safe before continuing to run and sustain the enterprise.”

“I no longer go to farm and if I must go, I must provide security for myself because I’m not ready to risk my life in the hands of the Fulani herdsmen. My workers are no longer coming to work because the farm is no more functional as herdsmen and their cows have taken over the entire area,” he said.

The farmer is a priest in the Catholic Church and he is fondly called Father Jude. He has been indoors since September 2020 when his second abduction and subsequent release took place.

“My workers have all left. I’m now at zero level and that is the agenda of the armed herdsmen. They treat you in a manner that there would be nothing left for you to survive on even after they’ve released you,” he said.

He further said: “Even if I am to start farming again, I don’t even know where to start from because they have taken over the over 1,500 plots of land where I and my workers produce corn and plantain.”

Recounting the huge losses he has incurred, he said his farm that used to be a major supplier of corn and pineapple in the region has suffered a huge setback even as farming season is rolling away.

“We are major supplier of corn and pineapple to Delta markets, Onitsha markets and even to buyers that come from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, but today, there’s no produce from the farm and no supply,” he lamented.

This situation has impacted negatively on the food security of southern Nigeria, especially Delta State, considering that his farm alone when functional, could feed the entire state, as he revealed.

He therefore, urged southern governors, lawmakers and the law enforcement agencies not to allow themselves to be intimidated into dropping the anti-open grazing bill.

It would be recalled that alleged Fulani Jihadists had few months ago threatened to attack Delta State and its people should Governor Okowa not withdraw his support for ban on open grazing.

By the time Deltans reacted to the threat, the Fulani Community in the state distanced itself from the purported threat, saying they were peaceful and law-abiding people that could not hurt the communities that have hosted them for years.

The threat seemed to have resurrected the militant spirit in Delta youths as they threatened to give back to the Fulanis a hundred fold of any attack they launch on the state and its people.

The southern governors had agreed on September 1, 2021 deadline for all the Houses of Assembly in the south to pass the law prohibiting open-grazing. Delta State House of Assembly, last week, precisely on July 27 and 28, held a public hearing on the bill for the law.

The armed Fulani herdsmen however, appear not deterred as they continue to attack farmers in Delta. Many have been maimed for life in their own farms; many have been killed; women raped and others abducted and tortured like Fr.Jude.

Since last week, the people of Obiarukwu Community in Ukwuani LGA of the state have been groaning under the havoc being wreaked on their lands as most of them can no longer go to their farms for fear of being killed.

Old women who cherish farming even as a major source of livelihood are seen crying on the Federal Government to intervene and remove cows and their armed herders from their farms so they can earn a living once again.

The southern states should go beyond passing the law, to enforcing the law, said Fr. Jude. He also advised that they should not succumb to threat but should know that the law and its enforcement is the only way to defeat the strategies of the Fulani herdsmen, he advised.

“Why they should do so is that even them, their families and properties are not also safe if the armed herdsmen continue the occupation of farmlands and bushes in the south.

“Now, they have occupied the bushes and farmlands. They have followed up with the blocking of certain roads in some LGAs, killing and abducting road users. Gradually, they would take over towns as they have done in most northern states and by that time, their strategy would have worked as there would be no bush to run to for safety, because the bushes and even the farmlands are already unsafe,” he said.

Onyebadi further said: “It is a tree that you tell, I will kill you and the tree remains where it is.” He urged the southern states never to miss the September 1, 2021 deadline, for the good of the south and its people.

“If we are able to move them out of the bush, their strategy will be defeated. Therefore, they should go ahead and pass into law, the bill prohibiting open grazing and ensure that the law is signed and enforced. In addition, they should ensure any security issue is paid attention to as the major duty of a government is security of lives and property

“A taskforce should be set up to execute the ban. Presently, it is a crime to touch their cows even when they invade your farms and destroy your crops. Right now, if you arrest them, they have a god-father that would fight for them but when the anti-grazing law is passed, we have the authority over the cows that trespass our farmlands. It becomes an offence for the cows to enter your farm because if they do and you touch their cow, you’ve not committed a crime.

Passing of the bill into law gives right to the enforcement. And the enforcement is very easy. Just give the youths the authority,” he said.

According to him, “Now, if you arrest them; before you know it, they have a god-father that would fight on their behalf. Let the law give us authority over the cows that trespass our farmlands. We want to be law-abiding. They should give us a law that when we abide, we would be saved.

“The armed herdsmen have threatened that everything in the country belongs to them and I am saying that, my fatherland is my fatherland. Except they are saying we don’t have fatherland. So, our fatherland should be protected. There is nothing wrong with somebody driving away a stranger out of his father’s house.”

He advised President Muhammadu Buhari to be sincere in his approach to governance, rather than being nepotistic, adding that “The government is for themselves and not for the masses and this is wrong.”