Agu-Amede: The forgotten Enugu community with no drinking water, where herders rule supreme

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Down the steep of a drying upstream in Ugwu Oduma village, 16-year-old Chidera Anaku scoops brown-coloured water into a black bucket from a shallow well she dug with her hands. Her sister, who is nine, transfers the scooped water from the bucket into a yellow gallon of about 25 litres. They repeat the process till they fill the other five gallons they came with. From there, they ferry the gallons home, where they will keep the water for the impurities to settle down before usage. Surprisingly, that is how her family of seven and other families in the six villages that make up the Agu-Amede community source water for domestic use.

Chidera, currently in Senior Secondary School, plans to leave the community to go wherever she can find a better life after she sits for the annual Senior Secondary Certificate Examination next year. She says finding water to bath is a problem in the community, and the situation does not have an end in sight. Since the rain has ceased to fall regularly, they depend heavily on the dried-up streams that litter the community, which also depend on constant rainfall for adequate flow. This is also the case for every family in Agu-Amede. Agu-Amede is a community in Ehamufu, Isi Ụzọ Local Government Area of Enugu State. It has its peculiarities arising from the fact that it is a border community. Residents of the villages are mainly farmers who produce garri, yam, palm oil and other farm produces they could lay their hands on, which they sell at Nkwo Agu-Amede to buyers from far and near. The land is notoriously fertile, with locals saying it has a high water retaining capacity, making farming during the dry season ideal.

Families live on farm estates inherited from their forebears, making them vulnerable to attacks and killings by Fulani herders. Aside from the killings by herders, waterborne diseases are prevalent in the community and are significant causes of death. Locals say water for domestic use has been a problem in the community for decades, but they have always relied on early rainfall for survival. This situation is changing since the rain has fallen just a few times, even in May. No electricity exists; a borehole has never been sunk to solve its water problem. Government, they say, only remembers them during elections. Worst still, basic education in the community is also a problem. Teachers posted to government schools dread residing in the community due to its rough roads, lack of water and poor mobile network penetration. They say the headmaster of the only government primary school in the community comes to the school once in two months. Locals say despite their cries to the government, issues concerning them are relegated, and they have since adapted to their isolated world.

In Agu-Amede, herders are kings, chasing farmers away from a specific part of the community where they rule with their cows. Ọgwụ Ikeala, a 63-year-old farmer, said he and his family deserted their farm when killings by herders spiked last year. Herders’ attack on other communities like Mgbuji in the same Ehamufu has become regular in the previous five years. More than two hundred persons have been killed by herders in Ehamufu in the last two years, according to a government source. “It has led to a drop in agriculture produce, and most farmers and families are leaving for the townships”, he added.

Mgbuji, like other communities in Ehamufu, shares a border with Benue State. According to Ikeala, they lived in peace with the herders who came into the community from the Benue border until the killings started last year. Countering the attacks, he said, is challenging since the herders are armed with AK47 rifles while they have none. He said herders ambush residents in their farms and kill them, uproot the cassava and yam they planted and feed to their cows.

Agreeing with Ikeala, Okede, who said he doesn’t know when he was born as his parents did not inform him of the actual date, explained that most families have left the farm settlement due to the killings and abduction by herders. He said women taking food to their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers on the farm were regularly abducted by herders and raped. Those who are lucky are left alive to live with the trauma. Okede said government Representatives came to the community when the last killing occurred but didn’t chase away the herders occupying their farms.

With no motorable roads, residents depend heavily on motorcycles and bicycles for their transportation. Those who are well-to-do buy tricycles on hire purchase. Access to mobile phones is poor since there is no phone network in the community. However, marks of tires of trucks that come to the community for logging activities could be seen from the narrow path that leads to villages near the Benue border. Residents say the loggers come from different towns to cut down specific types of trees.

At Ikpakpara village, Obioma and other women could be seen in groups peeling off the barks of harvested cassava. She says community residents are suffering from water scarcity and other basic amenities. She explained that having daily baths has become a problem since they have to save water from other domestic use but hopes that something urgent could be done. Adaugo, a member of the women’s group, say they only depend on the dried-up streams for the water used in washing the peeled cassava, but each day they process cassava, they’ll likely have less water to do other things, such as having their baths.

However, there is another source of water apart from the dried-up streams. 14-year-old Ekene and friends provide drinking water to residents rich enough to pay by travelling five kilometres on their tricycle to Ikem to source water. His tricycle carries 30 gallons of water which they sell for N200 per 25 litres. But on this particular day, the business had been slow following the breakdown of their tricycle. He says full load costs between N6000 to N8000 depending on the distance of the village, the same amount it costs to fill 5000 litres tank in the townships. He said he could only make two to three trips daily due to the nature of the road and the demand from clients. The road, he says, causes the constant breakdown of his tricycle, and to make a gain, he has to increase the cost. He also plans to leave the community when he is old enough.

A Priest in charge of the only Catholic Church in the community, Reverend Father Okwesili Onyekachi, tells me the situation in the community is critical. He said herders also attacked the Parish house during their last invasion. As a priest, he said there was nothing much he could do except plead with well-to-do individuals for help. He said he doesn’t know the exact number of people killed by herders but noted that there are many.The Parish has also set up a school to bridge the educational gap in the community. It also supports the only clinic in the community. However, the priest said managing the clinic takes a substantial financial burden on the Parish’s coffers since most community residents are not rich enough to offset their medical bills.