By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South -South and Ochuko Akuopha
RESIDENTS of Ossissa community in Ndokwa East Local Government Area, Abraka in Ethiope East Local Government Area and other flash-points in Delta State, where killing, kidnapping, armed robbery and maiming of villagers by suspected Hausa/Fulani herdsmen have escalated in the last few months are understandably angry at the security agencies for their apparent incapacity to checkmate the herdsmen.
The security agencies, especially the police, are not finding it easy, as the herdsmen have also been attacking and killing police officers, but not without consequences on their part, as police had gunned down and arrested a number of them in series of attacks and counter operations in the last few weeks.
However, the herdsmen appear to be operating with impunity and unusual bravado. But the people’s anger is not only against security agencies, they are correspondingly unhappy with the state government for its supposed failure to address the threat, which they insist is a basic responsibility of government to its people.
With the most recent unprovoked killing of five indigenes of Ossissa and other neighboring towns in the area by herdsmen, the governor of the state, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, May 15, went to Ossissa to sympathize with the people, but the youths of the community laid siege for him.
Villagers voice pains, anger
Since the unfortunate incident, tongues have been wagging on why the villagers decided to vent their anger on Governor Okowa. Recalling the ordeal of the villagers in the hands of the herdsmen at a meeting with the governor on May 15, the people did not betray the latter offensive by the youths.
They, indeed, spoke their minds, telling the governor that many natives had died in the herdsmen attacks. One of them, Hon. Joseph Kukaye, pointedly called on the government to take proactive steps to check the menace of the herdsmen, saying that it was no longer safe to go to their farms because of the rampaging herdsmen, a development that has led to famine and low economic activities in the community.
Okowa harps on intelligence gathering
In his response, Okowa, who led top government officials in the assessment visit to the community, proposed that intelligence gathering should be adopted as one of the best ways to tackle Fulani herdsmen menace in the country.
“You should identify, notify security men or government officials on the location of armed herdsmen and they will be dislodged,” he said. The Governor who decried the effects of Fulani herdsmen menace in Deltans, called on communities to be proactive, assuring that any herdsmen caught with dangerous weapon or perceived to be a threat to Deltans would face the laws of the land.
According to him, a detachment of police officers would be sent to the community to check the menace of the herdsmen.
He assured Deltans that the Federal Government was working on policies to check activities of herdsmen, noting that they should be patient.
“No doubt, you people are in severe pains, unfortunately, we lost some people,” Governor Okowa said while commiserating with the families of the victims.
He emphasized: “Surely, the people, who are carrying AK 47 assault rifles and other unlicensed weapons are not on the side of the law and anyone who is caught with such, will face the wrath of the law.”
Findings by Saturday Vanguard, however, showed that the attack on the governor while he was leaving the community after a fruitful meeting with the leaders was a transferred aggression against some top government officials and political appointees from the area, who they accused of not doing anything while herdsmen were killing their people.
Attack not directed at Okowa – Chief Olisenekwu
A notable indigene of the community, Chief Edward Olisenekwu, who condemned the attack on the governor’s convoy, reiterated that whatever grievances the youths had were not supposed to be vented on the governor whom he said came to sympathize with the community over the killing of their people by the herdsmen.
Famished and livid
On the reason for the attack, he said: “The people are hungry and angry because many of the farmlands have been destroyed by the herdsmen. Secondly, the people feel bad about our representative in Asaba . Since they started destroying our farmlands, killing our people and wounding so many people, only the local government chairman, Mrs. Nkechi Chukwura among the elected and appointed political office holders has continued to show concern at the state of affairs in our community.”
Olisenekwu disclosed: “In one of the incidents, she helped to settle the medical bills of two of our indigenes, Mr. Emeke and Laurence Okutu, who were injured by herdsmen and she has continued to show sympathy with us in Ossissa, but those representing us in government never visited us. In fact, it was the day that the governor came that he first entered the community.”
“We even made efforts to meet him in Asaba, last year, with leaders of some other communities facing the herdsmen problem like Obikwelle, Isselegwu and others. He received us once, but he never fulfilled any of the promises he made to us,” the community leader asserted.
The community leader added: “Our people are not happy that the authorities kept quiet while herdsmen continued to kill our farmers in their own farms and refused to leave our land.”
He, however, said: “We have apologized to the governor through text messages and the community has written a letter of apology to him. We are also making plans to visit him and also apologize to him because what the youths did is condemnable.”
“The governor spoke very well and responded very well to our requests. He promised to bring security agencies to our farmlands to enable us go back to our farms and be happy again; so there was no need for the attack on the convoy,” he added.
They threw stones at us- Osanebi’s aide
Mr. Presley Idi, an aide to the Deputy Speaker, Hon Friday Osanebi, Delta State House of Assembly, expressed shock at the attack on the governor’s convoy, saying: “Why it happened still baffles every one of us, who attended the meeting because the coming of the governor was supposed to placate the locals. So, frankly speaking, it is either someone incited the youths or they were showing their anger through the wrong channel.
“This happened at a point when the convoy of the governor was leaving the venue where the meeting was held to the Okpala-Uku’s palace, which means that the governor had already outlined steps that the state government intends to put in place to end the lingering crisis between the community and the Fulani herdsmen.
“I was seated in the same car with the Deputy Speaker and immediately we drove out from the venue, some of the youths who were already positioned at the gate started hitting our car, first with sticks and then, they started throwing stones at us with one of the stones landing on the wind shield, leaving behind a very visible crack,” he said.
His words: “The governor did what was expected of him, and the measures he had promised to take to ensure the issues were resolved were well received by everyone present; the people were supposed to be very grateful that he took out time to personally attend to the issue, so why would they attack the convoy after all he promised to do is still what we are yet to phantom, unless of cause this was already scripted from the very beginning”.