Life is no longer normal for the agrarian community of Ugwuneshi in Awgu local government of Enugu as the rural folks brood over the fate of 76 farmers now languishing in the federal prison Afara, Umuahia in Abia State following a clash with Fulani herdsmen.
It was gathered that the hapless farmers, including youths were rounded up by “men in military uniform” and bundled into trucks only to surface at Umuahia where they were divided into three groups and arraigned at magistrate courts.
After the brief court appearance the farmers were whisked away to prison custody as none of the magistrates agreed to grant them bail.
Confirming the arrest of his subjects the traditional ruler of Ugwuneshi, His Royal Highness Igwe Godwin Nwobi, said that the incident, which happened last week Thursday was the high point of the menace of herdsmen in his community.
He said since the Fulani herdsmen settled in the community on their own they had been destroying crops with their cattle and over the years all entreaties for them to exercise caution had always fallen on deaf ears.
According to him, the people of Ugwunesi had been enduring the impunity of the herdsmen as they continued to ravage crops and rendering farmlands unproductive, adding that neither security agencies nor government had done anything to call them to order.
After several warnings and pleadings, the royal father said the youths of the community could no longer bear the excesses of the herdsmen and decided to protest the unending impunity.
He further stated that things came to a head when information filtered into the community that herdsmen had abducted two women who went to farm.
“When we got such information, the youths and men were gathering in our village square to discuss the matter and plan for a rescue mission when suddenly they were surrounded by men in military uniform who arrested 76 of them and carried them away in trucks,” he said.
Igwe Nwobi said that the farmers and youths had not returned since they were taken away over a week now. He appealed for the intervention of Enugu State Government to secure the release of the detained villagers now languishing in prison in the Abia State capital.
He lamented that with the arrest of his people the herdsmen who were the aggressors were now being portrayed as victims, adding that the people of Ugwuneshi had done nothing wrong by protecting their means of livelihood.
Meanwhile the circumstances surrounding the arraignment of the 76 persons in Umuahia courts after their arrest in Enugu State is still confusing as it could not be established where the men in military uniform came from to make the arrest.
The military formation in Abia State had denied knowledge of the “men in military uniform” and the arrest of the Ugwuneshi people.
The Army public relations officer 14 Brigade Ohafia, Major Sydney Mbaneme, said the “Men in military uniform” may not be soldiers as impersonation of soldiers by civilians do occur. If at all they (men in military uniform) are soldiers, they are not our soldiers,” he insisted.
The Army spokesperson noted that if men in military uniform were real solders, the attention of the Brigade would have been drawn to it because “when such arrest is made, the first thing is to carry out preliminary investigation and inform the various units”.
The Nigeria Police Zone 9 Umuahia, which jurisdiction covers Enugu also said it was not aware of the Ugwuneshi people who were arrested and brought to Umuahia with the Zone 9 police public relations officer (PPRO) DSP Emmanuel Jiakponna, saying that the incident was not brought to the attention of the police.
Hope of any help coming to the detained Ugwuneshi villagers in order to regain their freedom is not in sight as their state government appears indifferent to the plight of the 76 people in detention.
Chief press secretary to the state governor, Mr. Uwakwe Abugu, who was contacted on phone, said that it was not necessary that Enugu state government should intervene to secure the release of the detainees.