In what looks like a replica of the Aba women riot of November 1929, women in Ekpoma, Edo State took to the streets on Thursday to protest the alleged killing of a 57 year-old mother of six, Mrs Margaret Odiamehi. Hell was let loose when the women, who were at the market, learnt that their colleague had been raped and murdered in the farm by suspected herdsmen. The murder brings to six the number of women murdered in the area in the last two by alleged herdsmen.
The tension caused by the latest killing in Ekpoma forced Governor Godwin Obaseki to send his deputy, Philip Shaibu, the state Commissioner of Police, Haliru Gwandu and the state Director of DSS, Aliru Ibrahim, to the university town to bring the situation under control. Killings linked to herdsmen are becoming worrisome in Edo as none of the suspects has been arrested by the police.
Women in several communities in Edo North and Central in particularly no longer go to farm alone due to fear of being killed.
It is within this context that you will likely understand the mood on Wednesday, when members of the state House of Assembly commenced the debate on the bill for a law establishing Grazing Control Agency to check the activities of herdsmen in the state. The bill sponsored by the lawmaker representing Ovia North East Constituency 11, Mr Bright Osayande, elicited unanimous condemnation of the activities of herdsmen in Edo by the lawmakers, who lamented low food production across the state due to the activities of herdsmen.
The Majority Leader of the House, Folly Ogedegbe, Deputy Speaker, Elizabeth Ativie, Crosby Eribo, Gani Audi, among others, stressed the need for the speedy passage of the bill into law to save the lives of farmers. In his contribution, Audu asserted: "If you go to my constituency, 90 per cent of my people are farmers. And we suffer every day from the activities of these herdsmen. But the establishment of this agency will check the activities of these herdsmen".
Igbass (Esan North East Constituency 11), narrated: "We have a business man who came in from abroad to invest in agriculture in Edo. He brought his entire family and brought a piece of land along Sapele Road, brought in equipment but after a while some herdsmen invaded his farm and destroyed all he had.
"Today the man has gone back to Europe. Grazing and ranching are two different things. Everywhere in the world these days, what we have is ranching. A man who wants to go into farming must be prepared to secure a place where he or she will do his business. A situation where you use your own business to obstruct other people's businesses should not be condoned. Grazing as far as I am concerned is outdated, it is inhuman and evil and we don't want grazing in Edo. The herdsmen are evil, they have come here to kill and to destroy. We are tired and we can no longer tolerate them. We need to pass a law so that our people in the rural areas will have peace of mind in their farms".
However, less than 24 hours after the bill passed the second reading, Mrs Odiamehi was murdered in Ekpoma allegedly by herdsmen. The eldest son of the deceased, Mr Joseph, narrated: "My mother went to the farm in the morning. At about 4pm when she had not unusually not returned, we started wondering what happened. We became scared and I rushed to the police station to report that my mother was missing. The policemen told me to give them 24 hours. I went home but I was agitated. I called my brother that we should go and look for her in the farm. We searched for her and later found her dead body without head in the farm. They raped her and beheaded her and that is the trade mark of herdsmen who operate in our area.
We rushed to call the police and it was when they came that we started searching for her head and we found it somewhere around the farm. The police took the body to the mortuary. We are devastated because my mother was the breadwinner of the family. I don't have a job, I have just been managing my life. In fact, we are confused. Just last year, her (mother) daughter lost the husband and my father died years ago and, since then, she has been the one shouldering the responsibility of the family. My mother was not sick, she was hale and hearty before she went to the farm. And the worst of it all is that the herdsmen did not only kill her, they raped her before beheading her.
"The herdsmen are the ones we see that operate in our farms. A ritualists would have taken away the head and will not rape her, it is only Fulani herdsmen that operate that way and we have many of them in our area. You can imagine that with her age she was raped by these evil people who are here to destroy our people. Our hunters went into the bush but we have not seen them. Each time they operate this way they disappear but I don't think we will continue to condone this in our communities. Women are now scared of going to the farm, so what are going to do now for a living. This is destabilising and I don't know how we are going to cope with the situation because she was the breadwinner".
"Deputy governor Shaibu, who appealed to the protesting women and youths to be calm, recalled that similar incident occurred at Elele in Etsako West Local Government and Ewu in Esan Central Local Government Areas of the state. Within the same period, news of herdsmen sacking school pupils from their class rooms also surfaced in Ikpoba Okah Local Government Area. He, therefore, charged security agents to fish out the suspects. His words: "It is a very sad development and we sympathize with you on this. The governor got the sad news less than three hours ago and asked me to come immediately. We assure you of government's commitment to eradicating the menace. No matter what we do now, we cannot replace the loss, but I pray God to give you the fortitude to bear the loss. I also want to assure you that these perpetrators will not go unpunished."