Life in Ubulu-Uku, Isele-Uku, Onicha-Olona, Onicha-Ugbo and environs, all agrarian communities in Aniocha and Oshimili local government areas of Delta State, has fallen on hard times.
The PUNCH reports that some members of the communities have had reasons to curse their fate in recent months.
They can be said to be united by a common sense of helplessness. Gone are the days when peace reigned in the communities and everyone went about their business, predominantly farming, without fear of attack. Sadly, in a cruel twist of fate, many residents have deserted their farmlands to save their lives. There have been continued attacks by gunmen alleged to be Fulani herdsmen, forcing many of the residents out of their lands.
In the last one month alone, a prominent chief in Ubulu-Uku Kingdom and the Medical Director of Good News Hospital, Isele-Uku, Chief Chikwe Ojinji and Dr Andrew Odozi respectively, have been murdered by gunmen suspected to be Fulani herdsmen.
The affected communities were saddened by the deaths, which caused a sense of gloom, despondency and weary hopelessness to descend on residents. Odozi was killed in the line of duty; he was rushing to his hospital to save the life of one Mr Meme, who had been shot in the neck by suspected herdsmen along the Isele-Uku/Ubulu-Uku Road, when he met his death.
The doctor had received a distress call from his staff members that Meme was brought to the hospital in Isele-Uku for gunshot injuries. Odozi left everything he was doing to get to the hospital, but on his way, ran into a roadblock mounted by the assailants, who were robbing commuters. The doctor was subsequently robbed and shot dead.
Odozi was said to have died on the spot and his body was deposited at a mortuary. Meme was later rushed to the Federal Medical Centre, Asaba, where he is still recuperating.
Our correspondent was unable to speak to Meme at the hospital but a legal practitioner who was also there following his release after being abducted by the suspected Fulani herdsmen, described his experience as terrible.
Several times, the lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity for personal reasons, squeezed his eyes shut and desperately tried to tell himself that it was all a horrible nightmare, which would soon be over. Sadly, it never did. According to him, he was abducted on Isele-Uku/Ubulu-Uku Road and N1m ransom was paid by his wife to secure his release.
The lawyer was visiting his hometown from Lagos when he fell into the hands of the gunmen.
“I saw hell. I had a brief worth millions of naira that I was supposed to handle the following Monday; meanwhile, I was abducted at the weekend. I was released on Wednesday after my wife paid N1m as ransom. This is a shame. I have lived in the North and I understand Fulfulde a little. “My abductors were Fulani people. How can people from far North come to be abducting people in our land and we are keeping quiet? Can people from the South and the South-East go to the northern part of the country and be abducting people, demanding ransom and killing them? This is a shame, and we must address it and kick against this affront or else we should take it that we have been captured,” he said, with palpable frustration.
All over the communities, one could sense the growing frustration among the residents left there.
Mr Charles Ojinji, younger brother to the slain Ojinji, narrated how his brother was killed, describing the situation as shocking.
“We are still in shock at our elder brother’s sudden and unnatural death. He was a warrior who had the interest of the community at heart. We all were farming on the land before Fulani herdsmen, who followed the high tension wire to a forest reserve near a stream in Aniagbala, a suburb of Ubulu-Uku, took over our farmlands. When we saw that they were fully armed, we left our farms for them. What attracted the herdsmen there was the beautiful stream, which has now become a curse to us.
“Their cows would eat our farm produce, eat the yam tubers in our barns, cassava, vegetables, drink our water and mess up our stream. The stream is the only source of water in our community.
“One day, we challenged the herders and they beat some of us up. They held them hostage at gunpoint. Since that time, some people stopped going to the farm to avoid the wrath of herdsmen who have taken over our land. We did nothing and we owe them nothing, yet we have been subjected to all manner of inhuman treatment. Our women are not spared.
“I was shocked this year when my brother went back to the same farmland that we had abandoned for the herdsmen to start farming again. Well, other people were still farming there but, one day, over 200 cows entered the farm and ate up everything. My brother was enraged. I don’t know what transpired between him and the herders. Anyway, an eyewitness told me that my brother was attacked with machetes and then shot dead.
“My brother’s wife had travelled to Lagos so there was nobody at home. When his neighbours noticed that he did not return from the farm, they called me and we went to the farm and saw him in a pool of blood. We rushed him to hospital but the doctor confirmed him dead on arrival.
“They have killed my brother, what else can they do? Today, it is my brother, who knows the next person tomorrow? Well, herdsmen are everywhere in the bushes surrounding our community; we are under siege. The police deposited his body in a mortuary. We want the body of our brother so that we can bury him to allow him rest in peace,” he said as he recalled the unpleasant experience.
Apart from the deep sense of loss felt by members of the affected communities, they are at a loss to find a solution to the problem of insecurity affecting them. Speaking on the plight of Ubulu-Uku people, a member of the local vigilance group, Emeka Chukwudi, described the community as a conquered community, which was at the mercy of herdsmen.
“Yes, that is the truth. We have been conquered by strangers who have taken over our farmlands. This is because we have been rendered incapacitated by the police who have disarmed us and allowed the herdsmen to move freely with sophisticated firearms. The herdsmen are doing well in their agenda to take over our place. Today, I am so sad that the one-time strong Ubulu-Uku is suffering from attacks by Fulani herdsmen.
“Herdsmen abducted our king about three years ago and butchered him like a common criminal. We are still suffering from the abominable act carried out against our king, His Royal Highness, Obi Akaeze Christopher Ofulue. As if that was not enough, the herdsmen want to render us jobless. You know that we are predominantly farmers; that is our pride, but now, we are scared to go to the farms for fear of being killed,” he said.
He continued, “We are surrounded by other communities such as Abu-Ugba, Ogwashi-Uku, Obior and Isele-Uku. The herdsmen have virtually taken over the border land between Ubulu-Uku and other towns and are callously unleashing terror on us on a daily basis.
“Recently, a woman was killed between Ubulu-Uku and Obior. She was going to Umunede Market when she was waylaid by herdsmen, who butchered her and stole her motorcycle. We saw her corpse but we don’t know what they did to her before they finally killed her. A few days later, some indigenes returning home were robbed. The two incidents forced people to abandon the Ubulu-Uku/Obior Road for Isele-Uku/Ubulu-Uku Road in order to access other communities.
“As it is, we are in deep trouble. The hoodlums have taken over all the bushes surrounding Ubulu-Uku, through Isele-Uku, Ogwashi-Uku, Obior, Ubulu-Unor, Onitcha-Ugbo and Abu-Ugba.
“There are no longer safe access roads in and out of Ubulu-Uku and there is no help in sight, as people are scared to go to their farms for fear of being killed. Even if one is courageous enough to go to the farm, how will the person transport the farm produce to neighbouring markets, when the access roads have been taken over by killer herdsmen who unleash terror on road users? These brigands are doing their nefarious business unchallenged and this is a slap on our faces.
“But there is no way we can challenge gunmen with machetes and stones. Our children who live outside the town are scared to visit us at home because of the killer herdsmen that have taken over our surroundings.
“Recently, a resident, Monday Ike, who was working on his farm along the Ubulu-Uku/Onicha Ugbo Road, was accosted by Fulani herdsmen who had kidnapped some victims and kept them in a thick forest. The herdsmen were running out of food and water, so they boldly approached him and ordered Ike to go to the village and bring them water and food, at his own expense, warning that they would kidnap him from his farm if he told anyone. Ike pledged not to report what he saw to anybody.
“He eventually reported the development to the vigilance group, who called in the police. The police and the vigilance group stormed the forest, rescued the victims and arrested a herder. But a few days later, the suspect was freed by the police.
“Recently, herdsmen blocked the Isele-Uku/Ubulu-Uku Road and abducted two occupants of a car. They released the victims after collecting N600,000. Again, an indigene of Isele-Azagba living in Ubulu-Uku, Mr Sunday, his wife and son were accosted along the road. Their attackers, suspected to be herdsmen, shot the man in the neck and abducted his wife and son. After two days in captivity, the victims were released after N1m was paid as ransom. The man is still battling for his life in the hospital.
“In fact, we are like Automated Teller Machines to herdsmen. They are dealing with us unchallenged and it is so sad. Right now, we are living in fear and abject poverty because our farmers are afraid to go to their farms. Commercial motorcycle operation is the only lucrative business in our town now, as farmers have abandoned their farms. And we can’t blame any farmer who has abandoned their farmland.
“Of what use is it, if after investing in your farm and working for almost one year, herdsmen take their cattle to graze on all you laboured for in just one day? That is the problem. Can you imagine what would happen when over 200 cows enter a farm? And when the owner of the farm challenges the herders, they shoot them.
“The worst of it all is that they rape women in the presence of their husbands and children and rape daughters in front of their parents and siblings. I don’t want to mention the names of victims because of the despicable nature of the act. Abomination is being witnessed in our land.
“We, members of vigilance group, are handicapped as it is today. We used to patrol our roads, but our vehicle has been grounded and the police have disarmed us, while the herdsmen are fully armed with AK-47 rifles and other sophisticated weapons. We are only left with machetes, knives and axes. How do we use ordinary cutlasses to confront herdsmen armed with AK-47 and other assault rifles?
“The only solution is to fall back to the police, but the police post in our community is manned by a man and a woman. Let government give us adequate police manpower and leave intelligence gathering to us. We have all it takes in intelligence and we will assist the police in fishing out the herdsmen because we know where they are, but we have been disarmed by the government.”
On his part, the Palace Secretary, who speaks for the Obi of the community, Mr Joseph Obaze, described the situation as worrisome.
He said, “We are really under serious attack by herdsmen. We are really going through excruciating pains. We have just finished a meeting and we are planning to have a massive peaceful protest over the attacks on our people by Fulani herdsmen. We have met heads of farm roads in the town and they all narrated their ordeals in the hands of herdsmen and their cattle. They told us how their farms were being ravaged by cattle. Apart from the fruits and vegetables, the herders would go to our barns and feed their cattle with the yams. We have written to the police and they said they were going to discuss the issue in their security meeting.
“This is a major problem brewing. A native has just opened a cattle ranch and tomatoes market in the town. We are not against him, but he has started employing Fulani to take care of the ranch. Our fear is that, wherever these herders settle, they start bringing their people to the place. We have given the businessman an ultimatum to leave the place because we are not comfortable with people who would kill us.
“What surprises me is that we rear native cows in this area, yet they don’t stray into people’s farms. Our cows don’t feed on yams and cassavas, but only grass. They should leave us alone, we don’t need their meat. They should not use their business to disturb ours. As they love their cows, so we love our farms.
“Many people are scared to go to the farms for fear of being attacked by the herdsmen. Women are being abused and the men are being killed. That is why we are crying to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and the Delta State Commissioner of Police, Mr Adeyinka Adeleke, to come to our rescue and save us from being exterminated by killer herdsmen. The governor and the CP should expedite action as we are living in fear. There is tension in the town; things have really fallen apart.
“It is not as if we are cowardly but we want to explore all avenues for peace. We love peace but our peacefulness should not be taken as weakness. Let government intervene and save us from a war situation.”
Obaze has, however, appealed to Ubulu-Uku indigenes and residents to be law-abiding and conscious of the development. “Let us not abandon farm work that we are known for. People should go to the farm in groups while those travelling should avoid night journey, until government is able to solve the problem,” he said.
However, Adeleke said he was aware of the killing of the doctor, even though the case was not reported to any police station. “I am also aware of the attack on a lawyer and the killing of the Ubulu-Uku chief. I personally led an operation to the bush and some suspects were arrested and are with me. I want to assure you that the police are not keeping quiet. For me to lead an operation to the bush, you must agree that we are doing something about it,” he said.
There have been recurrent cases of kidnap by alleged herdsmen in the state and it seems the security agencies and the state government have so far failed in protecting the people.
While briefing journalists in Asaba recently, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa had said the state government was very much aware of what was going on, but required a very strong directive from the Presidency.
“If that is done, it becomes easier for the security agencies to work with us to take some certain actions. Until that is done, we might just find ourselves doing the best we can and that may not be able to bring out the best in us.
“It is very unfortunate we find ourselves in this country. We are going through some challenges in Delta but if we look at it from a national angle, Delta State is not even among the top five of states you would consider to have a high rate of insecurity. There are worse cases going round this country and it ought not to be so.
“The issue is that everybody is agitated and we are now being put on our toes. In fact, the President has called for a meeting of all the governors.
“The issue that is going to be discussed is that of insecurity across the nation; it is something we need to find solution to before it consumes us completely. It is rather unfortunate on where we are but as it is, it is important to find appropriate solution,” he had said.
The governor noted that the security agencies were doing their best, adding that with a strong statement from the Presidency, he was “sure that a lot more would be done”.
“I hope we would come out with such at the end of our meeting.
“It is truly unfortunate, even on Tuesday, I had to sit to discuss this issue with the Commissioner of Police and he is very worried about what is going on in Delta. The issue of kidnapping and the fact that our people are not able to freely go to their farms because of herdsmen is actually worrisome and we feel it is necessary to do something out of the ordinary to be able to deal with the situation,” Okowa had added.
The governors met with President Muhammadu Buhari behind closed doors on Friday, June 7, 2019.
Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum, Dr Kayode Fayemi, who is also the Ekiti State Governor, while addressing journalists after the meeting, said, “We discussed extensively all of these issues and looked at the various ways we felt as governors we could assist Mr. President as the Commander-in-Chief to curb these issues.
“We were able to look at the nexus between our economic challenges, the security challenges and the importance of tackling the causes of crime, not just crime on its own.”
Culled from The PUNCH