…Top police officers from the North provide cover— Community leaders
…Allegation is unfounded – Mohammed, AIG Zone 5
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Sam Oyadongha, Simon Ebegbulem, Festus Ahon, Egufe Yafugborhi , Ikechukwu Uche, Chioma Onuegbu, Emma Ayungbe, Davies Iheamnachor, Emem Idio, Perez Brisibe and Ochuko Akuopha
FOR many months now, tongues have been wagging over the impunity with which suspected herdsmen from the northern part of the country attack, rape, rob and kill residents in the six states of the South-South with not a few pointing fingers at the top hierarchy of the police, which, from the Assistant Inspector General of Police, AIG, Zone 5, Benin City to the police, Commissioners of Police in the region, is dominated by northerners.
Apart from Akwa-Ibom State, where Mr. Donal Awunah is the Commissioner of Police, others states of the South-South have police commissioners of northern extraction.
Itsekiri leader and Chairman of Warri Study Group, WSG, Chief Edward Ekpoko, a resident at Ukwuani, Delta State, Daniel Ogiriki and Mr. Kenneth Ojingwa (Rivers State) berated the police for allegedly shielding herdsmen.
Others said the daring herdsmen boasted after attacking communities that if the villagers hit back, they would call for reinforcement and invite their kinsmen in the security agencies to bombard the communities.
Besides, herdsmen were threatening agricultural production in parts of Edo and Delta states with their incessant attacks on farmers and destruction of their crops.
AIG debunks allegation
But, the AIG, Abubakar Mohammed, and the Commissioners of Police , who were confronted by Sunday Vanguard, denied the allegation making the rounds that top police officers from the North were providing cover for killer- herdsmen in their respective states because they were from same part of the country.
Mohammed, who spoke through the Zone’s spokesperson, DSP Emeka Iheanajo, said: “That is not true; there is no element of truth in that. Let us not politicize that. In fairness to them (top northern police officers), they are doing their best to curtail the excesses of these herdsmen. It is a problem that all of us must come together and fight.”
He added: “This is something that has to do with law and order and no AIG or Police Commissioner will want to ruin his career protecting perceived killers. The AIG here has adopted a strategy that is working, that is why we hardly see any serious conflict. There is a committee set up by the AIG which includes Commissioners of Police in the Zone and they have been working together with community leaders and the herdsmen, and any time there is tension, the matter is reported and settled. And any herdsman that intends to perpetrate trouble is not spared too because we always have a way of fishing them out”.
“We are doing all we can to curtail herdsmen and farmers’ clashes by engaging community leaders and herdsmen in dialogue. There is need for all the stakeholders to collaborate with the police to fight crime and criminality. The AIG has directed all the Commissioners of Police within the Zone to continue to engage the community leaders, farmers and herdsmen on the need to live in peace with one another.”
Regarding the posting of Commissioners of Police to South-South states, he explained that the posting of those of northern extraction to the Zone had nothing to do with the herdsmen and farmers’ clash.
It’s offensive – Zanna, Edo CP
Delta State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Zanna Ibrahim, said it was outrageous to say he was providing cover for herdsmen because he has the mandate to protect life and property, irrespective of creed, religion, tribal or ethnic disposition. “For somebody to stand up and say that I am protecting a particular tribe against the other is unfair to me,” Ibrahim said.
“If I do that, I will lose my command, if I do that, I do not deserve to answer the title of Commissioner of Police. In as much as I am from the northern part of the country, I am neither an Hausa man nor a Fulani man. I am a Kanuri man, which is quite distinct from the two tribes you are talking about.
“I want to tell you, without any iota of doubt, that I am not here to protect any person. A criminal is a criminal before me and before the law. Even if you are my tribesman, a Kanuri man, and you engage in criminality, I will get you arrested and show you where you belong, so, that insinuation has no place at all. I am doing my work. I am judged by my conscience. I am guided by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and extant rules of the Nigeria Police Force.”
Allegation unfounded- Rivers CP
On his part, Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ahmed Zaki, who hails from Gwandu in Gwandu local government area of Kebbi State, told one of our reporters, “This allegation of providing protection for herdsmen to operate is unfounded. If you are a security chief, you have to be fair and objective and listen to the two parties fairly in any matter.
“Anybody that is wrong, I will tell that person that he or she is wrong and disciplinary measures will be taken against him. Every allegation against any of the parties will be investigated objectively and the result of the investigation will be made public. “Nobody is taking sides with anybody; so, anyone that commits offence will be treated as one who broke the law.”
Meanwhile, findings by Sunday Vanguard showed that the activities of herdsmen are more pronounced in some states with Delta being the worst hit. It was the people of Uwheru community in Ughelli North local government area of the state that first got a bitter dose from herdsmen, who came as far back as 2004.
Though, locals from Ossissa community, Ndokwa East local government area of the state said the activities of herdsmen currently holding sway in their community was noticed in 2001, the herdsmen left the area, but begged to return in the dry season and, now, they have built a nomadic school for their wards.
Residents finger security agents
Accusing some prominent individuals in the community of giving land to the herdsmen to graze and stay after parting with an undisclosed amount of money, a resident of Obiaruku community in Ukwuani local government area of the state, Daniel Ogiriki, fingered some security personnel for aiding and abetting the nefarious activities of the herdsmen, who move about with dangerous weapons.
Giving a breakdown of the losses suffered by people of Uwheru community as a result of the attacks by the herdsmen, the President General of the community, Chief Ogarivi Utso, disclosed that, from 2004 to 2016, 31 indigenes of the community have been killed while hundreds of others have suffered various degrees of injuries following attacks by herdsmen.
In April, 2016, the lawmaker representing Ethiope East constituency in the Delta State House of Assembly, Hon. Evance Ivwurie, raised the alarm about the activities of herdsmen in his constituency, alleging that some influential persons were delivering arms to over 2, 000 herdsmen residing at the barren area of Ovre’Abraka and Ovre’ Eku areas.
The lawmaker buttressed his position during a meeting with his constituents at Abraka where he alleged that locals in the area had sighted a mysterious helicopter dropping supplies for the herdsmen in the area.
No proof of helicopter supplies – Police
Describing the claim by the lawmaker as false and baseless, the state Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Andrew Animaka, said: “The command wishes to state unequivocally that a thorough enquiry conducted, following the claim credited to the member representing Ethiope East in Delta State House of Assembly, revealed the claim as highlighted in the report to be false, baseless, reckless and misleading.”
Reacting to the statement of the police image maker after a gang of herdsmen ambushed a five-man police team and killed one of the officers, Ivwurie said: “In as much as we the people of Abraka would want to condole with the family of the police officer that was killed and those injured, we believe the policemen fell victim to the minimal number of herdsmen living amicable with the locals in the area according to the PPRO.”
Authorities shielding herdsmen – Ekpoko
On his part, the Chairman, Itsekiri Leaders of Thought and Warri Study Group, Ekpoko, accused the authorities and security operatives of failing to enforce the law against the activities of the herdsmen, adding that there was a political undertone to the herdsmen menace.
He said: “Herdsmen killing people in their own homes is sheer criminality and the laws are there to punish offenders, but the authorities are shying away. There is no law allowing a civilian to carry an AK47 and kill people with it at will. You do not need a new law to deal with that. You just need to enforce the existing laws.
“There is a political undertone to the menace. Those from the North say the routes traveled by these killers which transcend Nigeria to Niger Republic and the Chad have been existing for over hundred years and there seems nothing they can do about it. That is not an excuse for these gunmen to go about killing people.
“Unfortunately, state governors have their hands tied because the management of our security apparatuses is structured to place authority in the hands of the Federal Government.”
How herdsmen encroached into Ossissa – Olisenekwu
Chief Edward Olisenekwu, a notable indigene of Ossissa, narrated how herdsmen brought trouble into the community. “About 16 years ago, we suddenly saw the herdsmen in our bush. They came in without permission of our people. We then asked them to leave and they promised that they will not enter our farmlands. They said they will stay in the grassland.
“The grassland is usually watery during the rainy season and, during that period, they will leave and return in the dry season. Later, they built some tents in the grassland and even a nomadic school. Gradually, they started entering our farmlands. Initially when we asked them to leave our land, they begged us and then left.
Buhari govt emboldened herdsmen’
“After some time, they returned fully armed and that was when they started attacking our people after destroying their farmlands. They have been unleashing attacks on our people, but they became more radical since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office. They have been boasting that the President is from their area and that there is nothing we can do to them. But some of them are saying they are not from Nigeria and that they came from other countries.
“Even the police are not helping matters. The police always refuse to act when we complain about the atrocities the herdsmen are carrying out. But when the people get angry and attack their cows, the police will come and make arrest.
Shadowing by herdsmen
Ogiriki, a resident of Obiaruku community, in his own account, said herdsmen gain access to Delta communities by paying money to some residents (in some cases, chiefs and elders) to allow their cow to graze for some time.
“When they enter a community, they mostly stay in the bush, thereby familiarizing with the forest in the area. Through the forest, they start moving to other neighbouring communities and monitoring the activities of different communities around the area. “The security personnel seem to be behind the nefarious activities of these herdsmen as this is the only reason they are so powerful in Delta State.
“Moving all the way from the northern part of Nigeria to Delta, they can only succeed in these nefarious activities through the backing of the various security agencies (both direct and indirect backing). This also explains the reason why when most of them are arrested, they easily get released by the security personnel.”
RIVERS: ‘Herdsmen have strong backing’
Although there has not been reports of constant hostilities between local farmers and herdsmen in Rivers State, two persons were killed recently after suspected herdsmen attacked Afam-Uku community in Oyigbo local government area.
A community source said the reason behind the killing was that the victims, who owned farmlands, which the herdsmen converted to a grazing area for their cattle, resisted them from entering the farmlands.
Caretaker Committee Chairman of Oyigbo LGA, Dr. Chisom Gbali , said: “Two persons were killed in Afam-Uku by the herdsmen. I do not actually know the reason for the killing. But I believe that has to do with the destruction of farm crops by the cattle. “The victims, I learnt, had questioned the motive behind the destruction of their crops by the herdsmen’s cattle. There might have been hot exchanges between the victims and the herdsmen. One of the victims was from Tai.”
Mr. Kenneth Ojingwa, resident in the state, told our correspondent that the herdsmen operate like people who have strong backing.
“The herdsmen enter our farmlands in Ibaa in Emohua local government area and destroy our plants. If we confront them, they are always ready to attack us even on our land”, he said.
“When we tried to confront them further, they will boldly tell us that if we touch them, they will go and bring their brothers from the army barracks. I think most of these security people provide cover for them; if not, why they will be operating without fear?”
No serious conflict in Rivers – Commissioner Zaki
Commissioner of Police, Mr. Zaki, told Sunday Vanguard that the state had not recorded any serious conflict between herdsmen and farmers. “What we are doing now in the state to ensure that there is no clash between herdsmen and farmers is that, we have set up a consultative forum and, at every level, we have our Police Community Relation Committee, and members of the planning committee are involved”, he said.
“We have regular dialogue with stakeholders so that all forms of misunderstanding are resolved amicably and on time. After each meeting every one of them leaves venue smiling because the dialogue is reassuring.
“We also collaborate with traditional rulers in the communities. The IGP has also held a meeting with traditional rulers on the menace of herdsmen and the meeting is yielding dividends. All the DPOs have been commissioned to have regular talks with all the parties with a view to ensuring that there is no conflict while differences are resolved.”
BAYELSA: Grazing land controversy
Despite the controversy, that trailed Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson’s allocation of 1,200 hectares of land (Bayelsa owned Elebele Palm Estate) to herdsmen for grazing, three months after, the strategy appears to be paying off.
Bayelsa could be counted as one of the few states in the federation with minimal friction between herdsmen and local farmers due to the proactive steps taken by the government and other stakeholders in the predominantly riverine state.
Since the enforcement of the policy, which restricts the grazing and nomadic activities of the herdsmen to a site, there has not been any skirmish between herdsmen and farmers in the state.
Dickson had, in February, during a meeting with leaders of Ijaw youths and ex-militant leaders from the nine states of the Niger Delta over the controversy surrounding the alleged provision of the Bayelsa government owned Palm Estate for herdsmen, explained that the land was allocated and not sold as believed by many.
When Sunday Vanguard visited the Bayelsa Palm Estate, construction work on the proposed abattoir was ongoing. Interestingly, few weeks after the government order restricting the herdsmen to the Bayelsa Palm grazing field, the Centre for Niger Delta Studies, in conjunction with the State Conflict Management Alliance, embarked on the erection of “No Grazing” signposts in farm areas in Yenagoa and other council areas across the state.
The “No Grazing” signposts were conspicuously mounted at farm areas to prevent herdsmen from grazing in such areas and in the process destroying the crops of the local farmers.
Director of the Centre for Niger Delta Studies, Dr. Sunday Abaraye, convener of the awareness campaign, told Sunday Vanguard that the exercise was aimed at encouraging herdsmen to relocate to the state government approved Bayelsa Palm Estate and to promote peaceful coexistence between the herdsmen, farmers and the host communities.
“The aim of mounting the no grazing signposts at designated farm areas is to promote peaceful coexistence in our communities. The herdsmen will know that they cannot come in here with their cattle and graze anywhere they see vegetation. The government new policy is that cattle should be taken to the Bayelsa Palm for grazing,” he said.
CROSS RIVER: Invasion
The invasion of Obio Usiere community in Odukpani local government area of Cross River State by herdsmen in April 2017 opened a sad chapter in the lives of the people in the area.
Although such an incident had never been reported in any part of the state, the people appealed to the federal and state governments to beef up security in the area, following the attack on the community by the herdsmen numbering over hundred.
The conflict that ensued according to the community recorded deaths with several persons, including children still missing and community members displaced.
Village head, kinsmen identify sponsors
Some residents of the community, who recounted their ordeal, attributed the attack to the support for the herdsmen by some Muslims who own the cows, saying upon their complaint about the damage cattle were causing to their crops, the herdsmen began shooting and thereby chasing the natives away.
AKWA IBOM: Threats, harassment
Although Akwa Ibom State is yet to witness any killing linked to herdsmen, there have been complaints from residents in communities across the 31 local government areas of the state , alleging threats, and harassment by herdsmen since 2015.
In 2016, some communities in Essien Udim, Oruk Anam, Ibiono Ibom, Eket and Abak local government areas, alleged threats by herdsmen.
Even women farmers of Essien Udim took to the streets protesting the destruction of their crops by herdsmen and petitioned the state government to urgently address the matter.
Meanwhile, community leaders in Eket local government area met sometime in March, this year, over what they described as threats and rising clashes between herdsmen and natives.
They drew the attention of the state government to the incessant harassment of their women by herdsmen operating in their communities.
EDO: Herdsmen or Boko Haram members?
Coordinator of All Farmers Association of Nigeria in Edo North, Edo State, Mallam Abdulahi Muhammed, said the atrocities of herdsmen were getting worse in the state, adding that they were indeed Boko Haram members and not herdsmen.
His words: “The situation is worse in Edo North and Central. Innocent people, particularly women, are raped and killed by these people in different communities.” “But the fear in the communities in Edo is that these people may not really be herdsmen, but members of the dreaded Boko Haram hiding under the umbrella of herdsmen to perpetrate evil in the South. The incident is already affecting the agricultural programme of Governor Godwin Obaseki due to the fact that people no longer go to the farm due to fear of the herdsmen.
“Not only that, these people are destroying our crops, maiming and killing our people in the bush. Only last week, they kidnapped a man and his wife from their farm. Only God saved them because when they were taking them to the bush, they mistook a path that took them to Ikoho Barrack. This was in Abose village. The captives raised the alarm and soldiers pursued them and they escaped leaving their victims behind.
“That was how God saved those people. Even Warrake-Iyara road is no longer safe. The herdsmen block it from time to time, people do not go to the farm again because when they do, they are sometimes kidnapped and ransom demanded from poor families. There was one they had to cough out N500, 000 before they released the victim. The situation is terrifying.”
Cattle rearers are heartless- Opoji monarch
Penultimate Wednesday, a protest took place in Ewu in Esanland where the community members took to the streets after two old women were raped and murdered allegedly on their way from their forms by some herdsmen.
The Onojie of Opoji and 1st Vice Chairman of Edo State Council of Traditional Rulers and Chiefs, His Royal Highness (HRH), Ehidiamen Aidonojie 1, who confirmed the incident at Ewu, described the activities of the herdsmen as barbaric and evil. He said, “In Ewu, the two women were coming from the farm, one was 70 and the other 65 years old. The herdsmen raped the women. After raping them, they stabbed them to death. The people went on the rampage in protest against the killings and asked the Fulani herdsmen to leave the town. One of the protesting youths was shot dead by soldiers who claimed the youths were trying to shoot them. But how can youths attack soldiers with guns?”
Too early to blame herdsmen- Edo PPRO
Speaking on the incident, Edo State Police Command spokesman, Mr. Moses Nkombe, said the police were yet to ascertain who killed the women, adding that it will would hasty to attribute it to link it to herdsmen.
His words: “Our men at Irrua got a call that some people saw two women dead in the farm. And they went there to investigate. It is too early to blame it on herdsmen because nobody saw how the women were killed. We are investigating the matter and that was why the Commissioner of Police ordered that the matter be transferred to the state Command immediately for investigation. So a crack team of detectives are investigating the matter.
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