76 farmers from Ugwuneshi Autonomous community in Awgu Local Government Area of Enugu State, who were on 17th March, arrested and detained consequent to a clash which occurred between them and the Fulani herdsmen operating in the area, were granted bail over the weekend by a magistrate’s court sitting in Umuahia, Abia State.
The farmers had been arrested for protesting the alleged abduction of two of their women by Fulani herdsmen, arraigned and remanded at Umuahia prison on March 18, were they spent about two weeks, following allegations of arson and illegal possession of firearms, by “men in military uniform,” who had stormed the community in three trailers, almost immediately after the clash.
As a result of public outcry and condemnation of their detention, the 76 farmers were on Friday grouped into three and arraigned in two different Magistrate courts-Court 2, and Court 5, with court 2 handling two batches.
The men were arraigned on a five count charge which includes: conspiracy to commit arson, burning down of 90 houses belonging to herdsmen (at Obinwanne Fulani Community Settlement in Umunneochi), unlawful possession of fire arms, possession of five locally made single barrel guns, and being armed with 42 machetes causing apprehension and terror to members of the public. When the charges were read to them, they pleaded not guilty.
In an interview after the court session, the lead counsel to the farmers, Barrister Damian Uche-Aja, revealed that the two batches presided over by Chief Magistrate I. U Kalu of Magistrate 2 were granted bail in the sum of N200,000 each with one surety in like sum, who must be resident in either Umuahia or Umunneochi. Or alternatively, they could be bailed by the traditional head of their community or two high-profile persons who live either in Umuahia or Umunneochi.
According to the lawyer, the bail conditions by Mary Emenike, the Magistrate of Court 5, who did not allow journalists to cover the proceedings, was N200, 000 each, five sureties who must be resident in Umuahia, and two passport photos each.
Their bail conditions were fulfilled at about 4.47 pm, prompting a celebration in the court premises as they expressed their happiness for regaining their freedom after two weeks of being in prison.
The matter was adjourned to April 29, 2016.
It was jubilation all over the town as the 76 farmers regained their freedom. Speaking shortly after receiving the released farmers, Igwe Godwin Nwobi, the traditional ruler of the community who had been in Umuahia for three days doing everything possible for the release of the men, expressed joy over their eventual freedom saying, “at least I can now sleep”. He also applauded the efforts of the state governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, who was among those instrumental to their release. According to Igwe Nwobi,
“I am happy that they are back. I thank the Government of Enugu State for its efforts in making sure that my subjects come back. I appreciate the efforts of our Governor, Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi who has visited my community over this matter. That shows he is a man of the people. We pray God to grant him wisdom to continue piloting the affairs of Enugu State. I also thank my community for their understanding.”
Appreciating the fact that they came home in one piece, the Igwe and other political stakeholders made a heartfelt request to the Federal Government to find long-term solutions to the constant fights between the nomadic Fulani/Hausa herdsmen and the indigenous farmers, noting that grazing of cattle on their farmlands by the Fulani herdsmen had led to the destruction of their crops.
Hon Nelson Uduji, member representing Awgu South Constituency in the Enugu state house of assembly, also commented on the issue saying he was happy that his constituents have been granted bail despite the strenuous task they had to go through before they could secure bail or the 76 farmers.
He appreciated Governor Ugwuanyi and other political leaders from the area for their timely intervention which in no small measure facilitated the bail of the detained 76 farmers.
A farmer from the community, Chief Edwin Okeke, also called on both the Federal Government and Enugu State Government to find a lasting solution to the problem, lamenting that he took a loan to plant about 7 hectares of Cassava which he claims have been destroyed.