•Police say it’s a national issue— Victim
•We’re training in counter-ambush tactics —Commissioner
•… to invade dreaded ‘Sambisa Forest’
By Emma Amaize & Perez Brisibe
AMATEBE—INDIGENES of Amatebe, an agrarian settlement in Patani Local Government Area of Delta State, have cried out about how herdsmen collect cigarettes, beverages and garri as ‘ransom as well as extort money from villagers, especially farmers and fishermen, to allow them access their farms and fish ponds in the area.
It was learned that the rampaging herdsmen have taken over portions of the community’s forest, which serve as their hideout and grazing ground for their cattle.
15 villagers held hostage: Recounting the ordeal of farmers in the area, a resident, Meshach Selekowei, disclosed that the herdsmen have become lords over the locals to the extent of imposing their whims and caprices on the people.
He asserted: “Sometime in April, 15 persons from the community, who went fishing on a lake in the hinterland, were held hostage by a gang of herdsmen in the area and they demanded for N10,000, a crate of mineral, four baskets of garri and packets of cigarettes before they would be allowed to work in the area.
Demand N6, 000 bribe from another villager
“The same thing happened two months back when a man went to harvest fish from his lake. The herdsmen accosted him and told him that if he really wants to work in his fish pond, he must pay them N6,000 before he would be permitted to work unhurt.”
For a farmer, Preye Ebiyerin, “I suffered similar attacks from the herdsmen; they normally accost us in the farms and collect the items which are either in cash or food items. We have reported the matter to the Police at Patani Division, but as far as I know, they are yet to take any action on the activities of the herdsmen, which they keep telling us is a national issue.”
Police get anti-terrorism training—Commissioner
Meanwhile, Delta State Police Command has initiated training of about 200 police officers in ambush and counter-ambush (anti-terrorism) to flush out gun-totting herdsmen from their dreaded stronghold known as “Sambisa Forest’ at Ovre Abraka community and notorious flash-points at Ossissa and other communities in the state.
The state’s Commissioner of Police, Mr. Zanna Ibrahim, who gave the hint in an exclusive interview with Niger Delta Voice, said the police would take on the identified flash-points one after the other, pointing out that the combat exercises were to minimise casualties, if any, on police side during the operation.
Abraka residents roused: The presence of the policemen in Abraka has ignited apprehension among herdsmen in Ovre-Abraka, while residents, especially farmers, who have been unable to go to farm because of the raging activities of herdsmen, were excited at the new fighting points established by the police in the area.
Ibrahim asserted: “Presently, we have 200 men on ground undergoing local training; the exercises are very important because most of these herdsmen ambush communities and police. So we are engaged in ambush and counter-ambush (anti-terrorism) training so that we will be able to reduce the casualty rate if any.”
Speaking on Ovre-Abraka, where killer-herdsmen suspected to be fleeing terrorists from the North-East had hijacked an area in the bush, now nicknamed ‘Sambisa Forest’ by villagers, he stated unambiguously that police would enter the forest any moment.
His words: “For Abraka, we have also identified three flash-points already; everything is in place to deploy. We have erected canopies for the comfort of our men in the desert area and other places, and constructed fighting points with sandbags; we have about eight fighting points in that area, and so we are going into Abraka.”
Okowa confirms planned invasion
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, who corroborated the police chief at a session with journalists last Tuesday in Asaba, said: “We are aware that there are challenges at the Abraka area. But I will not call it Sambisa Forest. As I speak with you, in the past two weeks, two units of mobile policemen which is about 126 policemen with some specially trained anti-terrorist policemen, are already resident at Abraka, though at a high cost to us; looking at the best avenues to get these herdsmen to move out of the forest.
“It is something that has to be planned in such a manner that we do not have any casualty. But these operatives are providing security there and currently escorting farmers to their farms.”
Why police avoid open battle: Commissioner Ibrahim, who was unwilling to discuss his battle plan, added: “We have tried to avoid open confrontation with these herdsmen because open confrontation does not always solve the problem. If you kill their people, there is likelihood of reprisal. If you kill anybody from the community too, there is likelihood of reprisal and that is what we want to avoid.”
New synergy with communities: He, however, said that the police have received tremendous cooperation from the communities in recent times and even the disagreement between the command and Ossissa community in Ndokwa area of the state had been laid to rest.
“All along, there has been communication gap between us and the community because there is suspicion and distrust, but I can tell you that we now understand each other better. We met at two levels, the level of the leadership and the people, so we have agreed on some strategies to checkmate the activities of these marauders.
5 flash-points in Ossissa alone
“We have been able to identify five flash points and as soon as logistics are made ready, we are going to deploy. Few days ago, the community came out in numbers to clear the bushes so that we can come and erect our canopies, so you can see we have a better understanding of each other now. The hostility that used to exist is no more, “he said.
According to him, “Like I said, we have seven major flash-points in the state; we intend to take them one after the other, step by step, both the communities, the herdsmen, indigenous herdsmen because there are those that move from one place to the other and the sedentary ones.”
Mastermind, Mudi nabbed: According to him: “Recently, I had a stakeholders’ meeting at Kwale with the Ossissa community and other communities ravaged by the activities of herdsmen and we had cause to arrest one Alhaji Mudi Mohammed, who is supposed to be, according to sources, the mastermind of most of the problems in Kwale, so investigation is still ongoing and as soon as we are through, it will be made known to members of the public.”
Herdsmen challenge not same in all states: Commissioner Ibrahim, who attended the national security summit convened by the Inspector General of Police, specifically to address the issue of herdsmen, kidnapping and other violent crimes, about a fortnight ago, with five other nominees from the state, asserted that the command was encouraged by the support of the state governor.
“It is a national problem, a lot of issues were raised, resource persons were there and they proffered one or two solutions to the problem, but you know every state has its own peculiarities. In Delta state, the problem we hae with herdsmen may not be the same with that of another state, so we are tackling the issue of herdsmen as it affects Delta state,” he declared.
Activist blasts security agencies: On the activities of herdsmen, who now collect ‘ransom’ from villagers, acting spokesperson of the Ijaw People’s Development Initiative, IPDI, Mr. Timi Ogobiri, who said that some of the villagers had complained to the group, accused security agencies of treating the matter with kid gloves.
“The revolting escapade of herdsmen in Ijaw communities in Delta State is a slap on the face of Ijaw nation and I dare say that the people can no longer condone this criminality and blatant defiance of the laws of the land,” he said.
Food supplies drop: Findings by NDV showed that for several decades, the access road to Amatebe has remained dilapidated, in spite of that, agricultural produce from the community manage to get to Yenagoa, Warri, Ughelli and other cities in Delta and Bayelsa states, but lately, supplies from the community have witnessed a sharp decline owing to the activities of herdsmen.