By Julius Oweh
Ossissa community in Ndokwa East local government of Delta State has unique distinction as an agrarian community coupled with fishing activities. If you are a regular traveller on the Asaba-Kwale express way, you are likely to see tantalizing fresh water fish and depending on the weight of your pocket, you may buy one or two. Ossissa is also known for its accommodating spirit as other Nigerians and non-Nigerians make the place a second home. It was in line of the spirit of hospitality that the Ossissa people extended hand of fellowship to some Fulani herdsmen. But what do these people get in return, their farmlands are destroyed, women raped and other atrocities committed by these Fulani herdsmen.
The patience of the people of Ossissa were stretched to their limits when some Fulani herdsmen attacked the community on Thursday 11th May, 2017 and the result was the death of one of their own. According to the Delta State police public relation officer, Andrew Aniamaka, one Udoka Ossai was allegedly murdered by the herdsmen. But the people of the community are contradicting the claims of the police and that the casualties were in the neighbourhood of ten people. The youths of the community in order to vent their anger over the death of their compatriots had to block the ever busy Asaba-Kwale express way on Friday 12th May, 2017 and it took the intervention of the police and other security operatives to restore calm and normalcy to the community.
The state governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa on Monday May 15th, 2017 had to visit the community in the company of the state police commissioner and the deputy speaker of the State House of Assembly, Honourable Friday Osanebi who happened to represent Ndokwa east constituency in the house. The governor in an address to the community elders, leaders, people and youth sympathised with them and implored them not to take the laws into their hands, promising that as their elected governor he was scout ready to protect them at all times. He said that as governor, he would not watch a situation where his people are killed by some herdsmen.
This is what Okowa said at that Ossissa meeting: ‘You should identify and notify security men or government officials on the location of the armed herdsmen and they will be dislodged…..No doubt, you people are in severe pains and unfortunately we lost some people. The people who are carrying AK47 assault rifles and other unlicensed weapons are not on the side of the law and anyone who is caught will face the wrath of the law‘.
Responding on behalf of the community, Honourable Joseph Kukaye called on the government to take proactive steps to check the menace of the herdsmen. He said that it was no longer safe for his people to go to their farms and that hunger and low economic activities now stalk the community.
The youths on their part were not happy with the appeal of the governor especially when the governor hinted that police and security men would accompany the people to their farms. To vent their anger, the Ossissa youths attacked the convoy of the governor and in the process; the convoy protocol bus, ambulance and four SUV vehicles windscreens were shattered.
The Ossissa incident is one sad chapter of the long list of herdsmen attacks in the state with the government and the House of Assembly simply in slumber doing nothing and blowing the wind that they were on top of the matter. It will be recalled that recently some herdsmen bared their fangs in Abraka where they had a fierce battle with police officers following the killing of some police men by the herdsmen in Abraka. Some people were also killed and farm products running in millions of Naira were destroyed.
This made the legislator representing the area in the House of Assembly to raise alarm on the menace of the herdsmen. Honourable Evance Ivwurie pained by the sufferings of his people at the hands of the herdsmen, had to write a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, President Donald Trump and other world leaders on the menace of these herdsmen. In a ten page letter, Ivwurie said that the constant attacks by suspected Fulani herdsmen in state was getting out of hand and that urgent step should taken to stop it. He said that several lives have been lost and properties worth billions of Naira destroyed. He further explained that the letter was necessitated by the almost daily attacks on his constituents by the Fulani herdsmen who had forcefully taken over the people‘s farm. The letter was also copied to the Inspector General of Police, the British Prime Minister, the Israeli Prime Minister, the FBI and CIA.
While the letter of the legislator could draw some commendations, the better option for him is to initiate a bill in the State House of Assembly against unauthorized grazing, like the one currently in vogue in Ekiti State. It is true that the herdsmen menace is attracting international attention but we must give it a home grown solution. It is on this score that the letter of Ivwurie could be faulted.
However, a non government agency, the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights has given the state government 21 days to send all Fulani herdsmen from the state. The chairman of the group, Prince Kehinde Taiga, in a statement said that should the governor fails, the group will cause uproar in the state. A part of the statement reads thus: ‘For the killing of Delta people, I want to give the governor 21 days to address the matter or we will carry cutlasses and battle axes to defy all environmental laws to make sure all the cows are killed… the 21 days is to be used to address the issue amicably or else we will mobilise to totally flush out all the herdsmen out of the state. We will move into all the local government areas and kill all their cows in the state‘.
Neither the outburst of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights nor the docile attitude of the government about the herdsmen menace can be excused. What should be done must be in the spirit of the constitution and that no group of persons should use their profession to destroy other people’s means of livelihood and even kill in the name of animal husbandry. This is certainly the challenge before the Delta State Government.