An endless train of visitors, sympathisers and condolers continues to writhe through Oda-Nimbo, the community in mourning in Uzouwani Council of Enugu State, bearing flowers of fresh life to the community.
The visitors include international news organisations, governors, military top brass, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), philanthropists and charity organisations, such as the Baywood Continental, the Catholic and Anglican hierarchy and state and national assembly members.
Others are professional groups, like the Lagos branch of the Nsukka Professionals, the Igbo in Diaspora, State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), among others.
And daily, more groups register their presence, with relief materials, cash and promises of more cash.
But despite the occasional siren blaring convoys signifying the presence of dignitaries or the detachment of soldiers and policemen, purposed to re-instill a sense of security and which have swelled the population of the community, the aura of fear lingers.
The strangers and visitors seem to outnumber the indigenes, some of who are returning, but apparently not feeling reassured in the presence of soldiers and policemen in the 10 villages of Nimbo.
The feeling of suspicion and betrayal is still in their eyes. Many homes are still under lock, as the people look reluctant to be persuaded to return to their ancestral homes and farms.
But evidence that the desertion won’t be for too long is beginning to manifest. Unwilling to venture into the farms yet, they wait for the distribution of relief materials donated by visitors, gathering ostensibly to pick up the pieces of their nearly shattered lives.
With no farm to cultivate and the market stalls still empty, they hang on to the various gift food items, like rice, beans, pasta, and other relief materials, such as mattresses, bed sheets, nets, detergent and soaps, according to need.
The sharing of the relief materials is coordinated by a seven-man “Nimbo Relief Coordinating Committee,” headed by Pastor Clement Akogwu, which was set up shortly after the incident to help NEMA and SEMA in the collection and distribution of relief materials.
Has everything gone smoothly? Akogwu explained that the relief materials are shared among the 26 wards, and non-indigenes who don’t have wards and depending on extent of damage.
“The deceased families get the lion share, followed by the families of the wounded, then displaced persons and others.
“We give special attention to the deceased and those in the hospitals. But we share food equally among the others,” he noted.
Pastor Samuel Chukwuemeka, who lost everything when his church, Christ Holy Church, was burnt, complained that he was not getting due recompense and wants to be treated like the families of the deceased.
But the committee chairman noted: “He has been asked to make an inventory of his loss and submit to the Igwe Cabinet, pending when the monies will be disbursed. He has not done so.
“Food items cannot repay the loss of a house. His group has been given food items according to what is available and they get when others get.”
The Agaba Idu 24th of Nimbo, Igwe John Akor, looked pained as he watched his subjects share relief materials. Battling with his emotions, he said: “Most of those displaced were staying in the government field in Nsukka from where they started returning to Nimbo about three days after the incident.
“They are the ones who have returned now, but those who are yet to return are probably those who have relatives in the urban areas or in Enugu metropolis or who have gone to relatives outside the state. We hope they will return and not abandon the village.”
The financial secretary of the Nimbo Town Union (NTU) and an auditor in the office of the Enugu State Auditor General, Mr. Steven Ogbobe, is convinced that the crowd of people presently visiting the community is one reason that has made the people to be coming back to their homes. Another is survival.
He explained: “This is the planting season and we have to plant; we are essentially farmers who rely on the land.
“Since the attacks became incessant, the people have refrained from going into the distant and more expansive farmlands. Now, they stay close to their homes to cultivate the smaller portions, which is essentially for subsistence. This latest attack has even put more pressure on them.
“The show of support by various people and groups is encouraging them to return, because, at least, they will have something to eat. For those who have not too serious medical issues, the opportunity is now there for free medical attention up to a point.”
Almost three weeks later, a fatigued audience of returnees showed up at the four-day Afor market, most looking uncertain. The market, like the small cottage hospital, was deserted. There was not much to sell or buy in the usually bustling market situated by the main road leading into Nimbo, but at least the people were home.
And it was enough to make Ogbobe concede that it is a good sign and the fear is beginning to abate.
He continued: “We started noticing some activities last Eke day, the other four-day market in the town, but because Eke Ukpabi-Nimbo is situated in the heart of where the attack occurred, and the security people troop in and out, it is difficult to say for sure if the market is in full swing.
“Although the Eke has been bustling with busy people, it is at the Afor market that we noticed encouraging signs.”
There are less encouraging signs in the schools. A teacher said: “The report of low turnout is the same in the eight primary schools in Nimbo.
“One of the teachers at Owere was among those butchered in the attack. No one knows when the schools will resume fully. They are village schools. The turnout isn’t even high at the best if times.”
Ogbobe said: “Certainly, the children will only return when their parents venture back.”
The return of normalcy for most people would be when “we go about our usual businesses without looking back in fear. Right now, even the slightest noise sends the people scampering. It is a terrible situation and the reason we are pained more is because this is the beginning of the farming season.”
The point is made at every opportunity that agriculture is the mainstay of the economic life of the community. How would they manage now?
“Only God knows what will become of the community in the next one year,” a school teacher added.
Ogbobe continued: “We want the security men to remain for a long time, so that the confidence of the people will be restored and to enable the people to farm without fear.
“Leaving the community in the hands of the local vigilante is not healthy, because they couldn’t do anything when the herdsmen attacked, as none of the attacking herdsmen was killed or harmed, for example.
“Our people don’t know even go into the farther farms steads anymore because of the fear of the herdsmen. But can they even look after their farms that are near their homes without the presence of the security men?
“We don’t pray that this will be the end of farming in our community, because it will be a disaster. What will the people be doing; what will sustain them?
“The government can help with security and in ensuring the steady flow of relief materials, because these are poor people who have just been dislocated from their comfort zone.”
Nerves are still frayed, and despite the presence of the soldiers, any shout or raised voice triggers a reason to run. The tale is still told of how, last week, soldiers dealt with a father and his son after the boy raised a false alarm.
According to an eyewitness, the boy had raised an alarm over what he said was a strange light in the bush. His father, who was with him, ventured to raise his voice in an effort to verify, but that only caused panic, which triggered a small stampede, as the villagers ran for safety. It turned out to be nothing.
But the soldiers didn’t take kindly to that. Their fuming officer scolded them, saying: “What are we here for if you panic like this? We are here, don’t be afraid.”
Igwe Akor summed up the collective fears of the community: “What happens when these people leave one day? They won’t stay here forever. We feel safe in the villages, but it is in the farms that the reason for the fear lurks.
“Our people are traditional farmers. Their farms are located between 15 and 20 kilometres from the village. In the peak of farming activities, they spend between four to five days in the huts they erect in the farms, where they cultivate yam, cassava, maize, vegetables, fruits and other economic produce.
“It is going to be so difficult for them to come back and return to the farms. They are afraid now; it wasn’t like this before and it won’t be the same again.
“Those distant farms, incidentally, are located near our boundary with Kogi State. It is on this boundary that the vast fertile lands lie.”
His own personal fear is that famine could be looming because of this situation, noting: “When we farm, we eat and survive on the farm. If we don’t, then we starve. There will be no relief materials at the end of the farming season and we will have nothing to harvest.
“The relief materials will certainly only offer a temporary succour; the most important thing is for the people to return to their homes and be able to farm again. That is from where they get the money to buy what they need in the markets and send their children to school.”
A kidnap victim, who refused to be named, recounted his ordeal in the hands of the herdsmen in February and the lingering trauma.
“I return home in fear and driving home is a source of further anguish for me. I was driving when three armed herdsmen stopped the car, robbed me the four people in the car and dragged me into the bush.
“They might have felt he that as the car owner, I was worth some ransom. I was with them for four days in the bush, always moving deeper inside the bush. We slept on the bare ground, with grass as mattress, always moving and relocating.
“On the first night, we trekked for over four hours without stopping. They have mastered the geography of the area better than most of us indigenes.