March 25, 2017

Storm over alleged helicopter supplies to herdsmen in Delta

Storm over alleged helicopter supplies to herdsmen in Delta

.No such supplies- Police
•We see helicopter make supplies – Residents
•My constituents told me they saw helicopter dropping supplies – Lawmaker

By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South and Perez Brisibe

THE police in Delta State are unwittingly embroiled in a pointless controversy with a member of the Delta State House of Assembly, Chief (Hon) Evance Ivwurie, representing Ethiope East Local Government Area, over an allegation that suspected sponsors of Fulani herdsmen were allegedly making arms supplies to them with a helicopter at the barren region of Ovre-Abraka and Ovre-Eku in his constituency.

Ivwurie’s constituents, who have been under attacks by the herdsmen, reported their strange findings to the lawmaker, who, sometime, last year, launched a campaign, tagged: ‘Operation Arrest, Meet and Engage Their Sponsor,’ designed to discover the criminal elements among the herdsmen, meet the masterminds and engage them.

During the launch of the campaign, the lawmaker, Divisional Police Officer (DPO) Abraka, Mopol Unit Commander, mobile policemen, vigilante, etc combed the entire area of Ovre-Eku and Ovre-Abraka, where the herdsmen reside, and according to Ivwurie, “Our discovery in the area was startling.”

“Immediately they sighted us, the herdsmen, who in our estimation numbered about 500 to 2000 seen in the various parts of the vast deserts with their herds, numbering thousands, fled into the interior regions of the area leaving behind their herds of cattle. Like the Biblical saying goes, ‘The wicked man runneth when no one pursueth.’

“Much to our chagrin, we realized that they have several escape routes within the adjoining forest and bushes. Though no arrest was made on that day, we thought we had sent a message to the herdsmen that it won’t be business as usual as regards their activities.

“The coverage of my efforts and campaigns over this strange development and occurrences in Ovre-Eku, Ovre-Igun and Ovre-Abraka are well recorded, documented and escalated by the media to keep every individual and institutions abreast with the happenings in my constituency,” he added.

Findings by Saturday Vanguard revealed that among the startling discovery by the Ivwurie team was that the herdsmen seemed to have a warren in the hideaway, which is almost like a no-go-area to the villagers, who own the land. Since the shocking finding, the police have not visited the hideout to find out what exactly is happening in the desert area.

However, the current Commissioner of Police, Mr. Zanna Ibrahim, apparently unaware of Ivwurie’s battle with herdsmen in his constituency, was miffed, some weeks ago, by reports, which quoted Ivwurie as saying that an helicopter was allegedly making supplies to herdsmen secretly in the desert areas of Ovre-Abraka and Ovre-Eku.

Saturday Vanguard learned that the lawmaker was immediately invited by the commissioner to identify the helicopter and probably show it to the police, or else, they would take him into custody. The Department of State Service, DSS, also contacted the lawmaker on the same matter.

A security expert, who spoke to one of our reporters, said: “It defies logic how the DSS and Police expect the lawmaker to provide the identity of the helicopter that his constituents, who briefed him sighted, and suspecting that the sponsors of the herdsmen were making arms supplies, almost certainly took to their heels to avoid being killed”.

“Are they not aware that in the past 11 months, several persons have been killed and massacred in the area by suspected herdsmen, who shot them dead while in their farms, so who would wait to identify the helicopter and give them the identity. They should do their investigation and leave the lawmaker alone,” he added.

No helicopter makes supplies to herdsmen—Police

Reacting, last week, to the report of a helicopter delivering arms supplies to herdsmen, the Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, DSP Andrew Animaka, said: “The command wishes to state unequivocally that a thorough enquiry conducted, following the purported 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.”

DSP Aniamaka asserted: “Needless to state that Ovre-Abraka, a forest reserve area, is temporarily inhabited by a minimal number of herdsmen, who have been living peacefully with the community.”

“The command enjoins members of the public to ignore the baseless information and continue to live peacefully with one another. It also urged those spreading false rumors capable of endangering public peace to desist forthwith,” he added.

Residents confirm supplies

Residents of Abraka community, who spoke to Saturday Vanguard on the development, claimed that unknown persons in military camouflage were, indeed, making strange supplies with helicopters to herdsmen at a barren region of Ovre-Abraka village, saying they were scared at the development.

When Saturday Vanguard visited the community, spokesperson of one of the communities, Efe Samuel, confirmed that the people were panicky over the supplies, adding: “Yes, we have seen helicopters flying around in that area, but their objective is what I do not understand.”

“Most of the times, the helicopters normally land inside the desert area. There are two helicopters with different colours. One of them is painted in green army colour, just like the herdsmen, most of who are dressed in military camouflage and armed with rifles. Though I cannot give much detail on their operations inside the desert area because as you know, we do not stay there, but only go there to hunt and farm, these herdsmen also use motorcycles in patrolling the area most of the times and they shoot at anyone who questions them,” he said.

A farmer in the area, Victor Erherha, said it was common knowledge in the community that some persons were using helicopters to make supplies to herdsmen occupying a desert area of Ovre-Abraka.

Erherha, however, said he had not sighted the helicopters himself, adding. “They also use trailers to transport things into the area and they normally brandish guns on the face of the farmers in the area. I have personally fallen victim to their attack sometime ago.”

Accusing security agents of conspiracy, the farmer said: “There is a synergy between the Alhajis and some security agents, who have the phone numbers of some top officers. In the event of any arrest, these Alhajis, who have contacts with the security agencies, facilitate bail for the herdsmen.”

My constituents reported helicopter supplies to me — Ivwurie

Responding publicly for the first time on the matter, Chief Ivwurie in a press statement made available to Saturday Vanguard, said: “My attention has been drawn to a report in some sections of the media where I was apparently quoted out of context to have said, ‘I sighted unidentified helicopter dropping supplies to herdsmen at the barren area of Ovre-Abraka and Ovre-Eku in Ethiope East Local Government Area of Delta State.”

“After the said report went viral, I have been inundated with calls from the general public and security agents on the said ‘unidentified helicopter’ and I feel it is of paramount importance that I make this clarification in order to set the records straight.

“Sometime in March 2016, I was briefed by my constituents residing across Ethiope East mainland; towns/villages and Ethiope East hinterlands; Ovre-Eku/Abraka/Igun of the sighting by some of them of an unspecified helicopter said to be dropping supplies in the same Ovre-Eku/Abraka axis.

“Having been elected as the lawmaker representing the wonderful people of Ethiope East constituency, I have a duty to ensure that my constituents reap the dividends of democracy which includes the protection of their lives and properties,” he said.

The lawmaker asserted: “Let me state emphatically here that my constituents reside across Ethiope East mainland and hinterlands. Those staying in the Mainland of Abraka, Eku and Igun township also go to the hinterlands across the River Ethiope for farming and hunting, and as their representative and lawmaker, they have confidence in me hence they reported the matters to me.”

Apparently reacting to the line of questioning by security agents, he said: “At no time did I ever inform or say to anybody that I personally sighted a helicopter or an unidentified helicopter in the said area, more especially as I do not live, farm or work in the hinterlands of Ovre-Igun/Eku/ Abraka. But specifically, my constituents reported that to me.”

Herdsmen, Presco Plc soldiers oppressing my people

Explaining his well-known campaign against herdsmen, he said:”10 months ago, my constituents cried out to me after the despicable killing of two of my constituents Mr. Philip Akpine and Mr. Francis Okotie in their farmlands in Ovre-Abraka by suspected Fulani herdsmen. The records are there and can be verified. I was briefed of the heinous activities of herdsmen within the Eku-Abraka axis, especially the Ovre-Eku and Ovre-Abraka environs, which is known to be a safe haven, dwelling and business place for Fulani herdsmen in their masses and their herds of cattle also in their masses.”

“My constituents also briefed me of the daily attacks, beatings, flogging and molestation they are receiving from Presco Plc soldiers in the area. They reported that the location is also a safe haven for the nefarious operations and activities of Presco Plc and Newcross Petroleum Ltd illegal annexation and occupation of Ovre’ Abraka/Eku/Igun lands, wherein they have seized and established a military base/ unit that dehumanized them daily.”

According to him, “As the lawmaker representing my people, who have become susceptible, defenseless and vulnerable to this menace, I took up the matter on the floor of the Delta State House of Assembly and even reported to the security agencies, including the former Delta State Commissioner of Police.”

“The herdsmen and Presco Plc have recently intensified their escapade and atrocities against my exposed constituents- killing and kidnapping them, maiming, rapping and attacking them as were the case of Mr. Philip Akpine and Mr. Francis Okotie, who were murdered in cold blood by the Fulani herdsmen.

Increased tempo

“10 months after, the dangerous activities of these herdsmen have continued in the area unabated. A case in point is the audacious and dastard killing of Mr. Sunday Couple and Mr. Eyabigun Akpovena two of my constituents this past December of 2016 in the same Ovre-Eku/ Ovre-Abraka axis,” he disclosed.

My action not unbecoming

On the allegation that he raised a false alarm, he said: “I did not and I never raised alarm that I personally sighted or that I was there and saw an unidentified helicopter. As I have told the DSS and NPF, my constituents brought the information to me and they bring me all kinds of information regarding their experiences and what is going on, and it’s my duty to evaluate them.”

“I have not behaved inappropriately as I have sufficient information to support my claim that my constituents duly reported to me and indeed informed me that an unidentified helicopter usually land in Ovre’ Eku/Abraka axis and it was not a classified report and that is why I refused to jeopardize the information,” he added.

Security agencies should conduct proper investigation

Ivwurie stated: “I did not want to help to compound the issue. A lot of security information get published daily, whether falsehood or truthful and it is the duty of the security architecture to visit the mentioned site for evaluation of the claims to liberate my constituents from the reality of the apparent land mines they have been thrown into in their own land by the herdsmen and Presco Plc.”

“On a final note, it is based on the above premise that I urge the security agencies to properly investigate the activities of Presco Plc and the criminal elements of the herdsmen and bring those of them culpable of any criminality to book,” he added.