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Killings: Herdsmen, cultists taking centre stage in southeast

…Catholic priests, innocent ones falling victims

By Chioma Gabriel, Editor Special Features & Vincent Ujumadu

In the beginning

A spate of killings is creeping into the southeast. Cultist, bandits and herdsmen are gaining ground in the southeast once again. Very recently, gunmen initially suspected to be herdsmen killed a Catholic priest, Reverend Father Clement Ugwu who was said to have been kidnapped from his Parish, St Mark Catholic Church, Obinofia Ndiuno in Ezeagu Local Government Area of Enugu State.

Herdsmen
Nigeria: Herdsland

His body was later found in a bush decomposing, a week after he was allegedly kidnapped. The abduction and killing of Reverend father Clement was one death too many. It was reported that Rev. Fr. Ugwu was kidnapped on Wednesday 13, March 2019, around 9:00 p.m. after they had shot him in his church premises. His remains were laid to rest at the Catholic cemetery at the Holy Ghost Cathedral during which the Catholic Bishop of Enugu Diocese, Most Rev. Callistus Onaga, called on the police to fish out the killers of the priest.

Bishop Onaga at the burial of Reverend Father Ugwu decried the spate of violent killings around the country, advising that Christians should intensify their prayers for the survival of the country.

When efforts to get the priest released failed, a search party was initiated by his parishioners in collaboration with the community; and after two days, his body was found decomposing in a bush on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, a week after he was kidnapped.

According to Onaga, “All is not well in Enugu State. We should not continue to pretend about it while our people are killed every day. Enugu State is not secure again. Criminals have shifted to Enugu State from Anambra.

“When Father Ugwu was kidnapped, we reported it to the police and since then, I have visited the police station three times, yet, they kept telling me we are closing on the kidnappers. I doubt they were doing anything because where the deceased body of Fr. Ugwu was found is not up to 20km from his house.”

But recently, operatives of the Enugu State Police Command arrested two leaders of a kidnap gang alleged to have abducted and killed Rev. Fr. Clement Ugwu in the Ezeagu Local Government Area of the state.

Operatives of the anti-kidnapping unit of the state command arrested the leader and the second-in-command of the four-man gang that killed the priest.

The source said the leader of the gang was arrested in Abuja where he went to be with his family members after killing the priest.

The killers of the priest were said to be a six-man-gang but only four participated in the kidnap and killing of the Reverend father.

The state Police Public Relations Officer, SP Ebere Amaraizu confirmed the arrest of the suspects, saying , “The Enugu State Police Command wish to inform members of the public, particularly the people of the state, that some of the suspected kidnappers who were connected with the kidnap and murder of one Rev. Fr. Clement Ugwu, the parish priest of St. Marks Catholic Church in Obinofia Ndiuno in the Ezeagu LGA have been arrested.

“The suspects are helping the command in their investigation with a view to arresting the remaining fleeing members of their gang,” the statement read.

He said the suspects would be paraded alongside other suspects, adding that the two suspects were the ones that shot the priest and used his ATM to make withdrawals.

This also put paid to earlier suspicion that the priest was abducted and killed by herdsmen.

Before the abduction and killing of Rev Father Ugwu, on July 4, 2018, Rev. Fr. Paulinus Udewangu of St. Marks Catholic Church, Nsude in Udi Local Government Area was kidnapped while he was jogging.

Death of a woman

While Enugu State was still mourning the death of Reverend Father Ugwu, the Head of Nursing Services, HNS, Federal Psychiatric Hospital, Enugu, Mrs Mary Amadi, nee Obeta was murdered by unknown persons in Enugu.

Mrs Amadi, was murdered while trying to open the gate to her family house after closing from work.

She was reportedly trailed from her office at the hospital until she alighted from her vehicle to open her gate at the Federal Housing Estate, near Nowas Filling Station, when her killers started pumping hot leads into her stomach, some few minutes after 4 pm.

The assassins reportedly made a U- turn and sped off, having accomplished their alleged mission.

Neighbours rushed the victim to the Enugu State University Teaching Hospital, ESUTH, Parklane, where she had earlier worked and doctors at ESUTH battled in vain to save her life as the bullets had caused a lot damage to her major organs.

Mrs Amadi, a mother of two little children and native of Aku in the state was said to be a first class brain, was appointed HNS on merit, having performed better than her male counterparts working in the hospital during a special examination organised to select a suitable candidate for the position. It was said that even as the HNS, the deceased was able to complete her Masters degree and PhD programmes before she was cut down in her prime.

Woman survives herdsmen attack in Abia

Abia State has also had its share of unnecessary killings. Early this month, the Police command arraigned a herdsman, Salisu Garuba, for the attempted murder of a lady, Esther Ibemecha.

The herdsman was arrested for cutting off Ibemecha’s four fingers at No 1 Pepples Road, Ogbor-Hill, Aba when she asked the suspect to move his cattle away from her business premises where she sells drinks.

Ibemecha, currently receiving treatment at the Abia State University Teaching, ABSUTH, Aba, said she runs a beer parlour and hails from Asaga in Ohafia council area of Abia State.

Narrating her escape from death at the General Hospital, Aba, Ibemecha said, “On Sunday 31st of March, around 4:37pm, I was going to my shop at No.1 Peoples Road, Ogbor Hill.

“I couldn’t pass or enter my shop because a herdsman with his cows blocked the way. I asked the herdsman to move the cows out of the shop area, but the herdsman threatened to cut off my head. I thought it was a joke and insisted that the herdsman move his cow, but before I could know what was happening, the herdsman hit me with a stick. As if that was not enough, he brought out a machete, trying to cut off my head, I defended it with my hand and it cut off my four fingers. People were not around.

“When the herdsman saw that blood was gushing out and that my cries have attracted attention, he ran away. I pursued him with the blood and was shouting.  I ran to the military checkpoint near the area and reported the incident and the soldiers went after him and arrested him.  They knelt him down and flogged him with his machete before handing him over to the police.”

Police Public Relations Officer, Abia State Command, SP Geoffrey Ogbonna, confirmed the arraignment of the suspect, saying he was arraigned for murder and was later remanded.

Late last year, police operatives in Abia State arrested three suspects for allegedly robbing, kidnapping and killing a serving member of the National Youth Service Corps identified as Nnadozie Ohanyerem in Umuahia.

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The suspects were Uchenna Kalu, Augustine Ihekoronye and Eze Anthony. The deceased was a serving corps member in Rivers State who came to Abia to visit his friend at the Escoba Estate, Umuobia, Olokoro suburb of Umuahia but was ambushed by the suspects while driving into his friend’s residence in the estate.

The suspects robbed him of his cell phone and that of one Daniel Ayelabola who came to open the gate for him. The suspects abducted the deceased in his Toyota Avalon car with number plate KYA 383 E and later shot him, threw away his body along the Olokoro Road, while his car was taken to other gang members in Owerri, Imo State.

The deceased’s car was taken to one Martins Anthony, a car dealer and the alleged kingpin of the gang, through the help of a naval officer identified as Victor Oparacha.

Luck, however, ran out on the suspects when Anthony called the father of the deceased and told him to pay some money into his account for him to return the stolen car.

Last November, a self-acclaimed evangelist, Prosper Peter, killed his friend, Kelechi Iwuanyanwu, a pastor in a new generation church in Umuahia. He recruited three persons that murdered Mr Iwuanyanwu, his alleged mistress and Woman Leader in the church, Ruth Eze and Kalu Ikeagwu, the assistant pastor.

Iwuanyanwu, who was the founder of Winds of Glory Ministry, Umuahia, was murdered along with the two others at his residence, located at Umuobia Housing Estate in the early hours of October 14.

Narrating how the deceased was killed, the suspect said he and the hired killers laid ambush in front of Mr Iwuanyanwu’s residence around midnight.

“As soon as he came back and opened the gate, the boys went into the apartment, where they matcheted the three of them to death,” he said.

He said the original plan was not to kill them, but that they were killed after one of the killers realised that he had been recognised by one of the deceased.

Anambra gets baptism of fire

ANAMBRA was one of the few states where the problem between the herdsmen and the local farmers did not escalate when it started because of the way the state government handled the matter. Before government’s intervention, reports of alleged rape of women    and destruction of crops belonging to farmers, as well as the frequent killing of cows belonging to the herdsmen were the order of the day in many communities in the state.

Worried by the development, Governor Willie Obiano set up a joint security task force comprising the police, the army, the navy, the paramilitary outfits, the local vigilante groups, government officials, traditional rulers and presidents general of the town unions, to handle the matter and ensure that peace reigned in all parts of the state. After series of meetings, the task force ordered that any group that violated the agreement would be sanctioned.

For instance, it was agreed that in the event of any attack that led to loss of lives, the victims’ families would be adequately compensated and the appropriate value of crops destroyed and cows killed would be paid for by those responsible. With that arrangement, peace returned in most of the communities and the herdsmen controlled the movement of their cows with very minimal destruction of crops.

However, there still exist cases of attacks in some communities, which are attributed to the influx of herdsmen from other parts of the country, who were not registered with such communities. The unregistered herdsmen, it was gathered, were the causes of the continued loss of lives and property in parts of the state, particularly in Anambra East and Anambra West local government areas of the state. This area, lying along the Anambra River, is the food basket of Anambra State, with its year- round availability of greenish environment, which, perhaps, was the attraction of the herdsmen to the area.

Despite the promise by both sides to maintain the peace, occasional security breaches still occurred. Last week, the people of Mmiata in Anambra West local government area were taken unawares when some people suspected to be the militant arm of the Fulani herdsmen swooped the area and killed about six persons. Several others who were wounded were later taken to hospitals for treatment.

One of the survivors of the recent attack at Mmiata Anam,  Mr.  Augustine Udalor said the survivors escaped death by the whiskers. He told Saturday Vanguard that all the local farmers now live in fear, as they have become afraid to go to their farms.

“The frequent killing by the Fulani herdsmen is causing excruciating hunger in Anambra West local government area and we do not know when this will end,” he said.

Narrating his experience to Saturday Vanguard, Udalor    said: “It was around 10: am when I was working in my farm close to my house and one of our neighbors came and told my wife that the herdsmen were around. Ten minutes later, my wife told me that she saw heavily armed eight Fulani herdsmen with guns and machete. I didn’t know that they had already killed five people at Agweugbu.

“Unfortunately, we did not know when our neighbors ran way. I ran to a point and hid.   It was God that saved us because they came and searched for me. In fact, they almost saw me where I hid because I was looking at them very closely, but they could not see me.

“They were eight in number, one of them was carrying a bag loaded with gun, while the other eight were holding machete in their hands. Before then, they had also killed four persons in the nearby farm settlement called Iyiogbu Camp and burnt their houses.

“After staying for some hours in the bush, I came out and started searching for my wife and the other woman. By then some people had started calling me. I came out and saw my wife and she then told me that the Fulani herdsmen had killed Chief Obugo Nnakwe who was fetching fire wood before the herders came and gave him deep cuts. My other neighbour was also inflicted with machete while she was running.”

He said that although his people had issues with the herdsmen on 2nd January, 2019, when two herdsmen raped the wives of two local farmers, the issue was later resolved to the satisfaction of both sides, adding that his people did not know that they would come to attack the farm settlements.

Another indigene of Mmiata Anam, Mr. Ojukwu Obakasi, who is a senior special assistant, SSA, to Governor Obiano told Saturday Vanguard that life is no longer the same in his area. Going down memory lane, Obakasi said: “Following skirmishes between the herdsmen and farmers in the area, during which some lives were lost on both sides in December last year, the herdsmen pulled out of Anambra West, but their militant wing who are usually armed to the teeth, have been attacking some communities at odd hours in Anambra West.

He said: “The crisis began in December 2018 when there was a clash between farmers and the herdsmen. We tried as much as we could to quell the crisis, but before peace returned, many lives had been lost on both sides and property worth millions of naira, were destroyed.

“However,, since that December 2018, there had been intermittent skirmishes between the herdsmen and the local farmers. Several meetings were also held between the leaders of the herdsmen and the farmers and the knotty issues were again resolved.

“Subsequently, the herdsmen, on their own volition, left the troubled area, but their militant arm has been coming to cause trouble, killing people and destroying property. They usually come at night when the people are already asleep. Their modus operandi was to start firing in the air and anybody that stepped out of his house became a victim.

“After the attack that usually lasts less than 10 minutes, they run back towards the Kogi State border where they usually come from”. According to him, the problem is that there is a porous border between Kogi and Anambra states, stretching into hundreds of miles, which is very difficult for policing by security agencies.

The traditional ruler of Mkpunando Otu and chairman of Anambra East traditional rulers’ council, Igwe Alex Edozieuno, who spoke on the herdsmen/farmers clashes, said that even Anambra East local government was not spared in the weekend’s attack and called on the state government to intervene in the misunderstanding between Fulani herdsmen and Anambra West because their presence had continued to generate tensions in the area.  .

Narrating how Anambra East, which is also Governor Obiano’s local government was attacked by the herdsmen at the weekend, the Monarch said: “They (Herdsmen) crossed from Anambra River and the first people they saw were from Ezi-Agulu Otu in Anambra East where they killed two people, an Anam indigene and the other, an Abakaliki indigene, apparently thinking they were from Anambra West.  The killing nearly caused a war between Aguleri and Anam people, until there was information that herdsmen also killed other people at Mmiata, which helped to douse the tension.”

Igwe Edozieuno also explained how traditional rulers from the two local government areas were almost detained when they honoured an invitation by the Commissioner of Police to answer questions on the recent attack, adding that what saved them was that another traditional ruler, Igwe S. O. Nnose of Ifite Anam, volunteered to identify them.

He said further: “The herdsmen claimed that some of their men were killed along with their cows in the past.  These herdsmen are occupying Anambra West and Anambra East and the state   government, should therefore know how to handle the situation because it has been a source of frequent killings in the area.”.

Following the recent attacks in some communities in Anambra West local government area, the state police command said it had deployed two units of the Mobile Police Force and other regular policemen to the troubled area to maintain peace. Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Mr. Mohammed Haruna said investigation into the incident had begun, assuring that the state police command was on top of the situation.

Eight butchered over boundary dispute in Ebonyi

Ebonyi State is known for unending boundary disputes either with a neigbouring Cross River State, Benue State or communities within Ebonyi State. Just recently, eight persons including a three months baby were killed in   a renewed boundary dispute between two communities in Ebonyi state. Six of the victims were of the same family were burnt to death in a bus they were traveling in while two others were killed from bullet wounds they sustained from the attacks.The attack happened along the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu Alike road near the border between the two communities.

Police Spokesperson, Loveth Odah said one of the victims was a wife of a Police officer serving in the state but who is on secondment to Bornu State to fight insurgency in the Northeast.

According to her, “It is a longstanding dispute between Ndiagu Alike community in Ikwo Local Government Area and Enyibichiri community in Abakaliki Local Government Area that erupted the on Saturday. A vehicle was seen burning on the road, allegedly set ablaze by warriors from one of the communities. The victims were coming from Abakaliki where they attended a matriculation of their son. Five of them were from the same family including a little baby and one is a neighbour who joined them. They were burnt to ashes.

“Also three other persons were also attacked and two of them were killed. One of them, a woman was the wife of a police officer deployed to Bornu State”, she said.

Reacting to the development, Governor David Umahi organised a stakeholders meeting with leaders from three local government areas where some of the killings took place. They included Enyibichiri in Abakaliki local government area, Echie Alike in Ikwo local government area and Umuogodoakpu and Ukwuagba communities in Ohaukwu Local Government Area. Enyibichiri and Echie Alike have been having interactable boundary dispute for decades.   Umuogodoakpu and Ukwuagba communities have been having boundary dispute with Agila community in Ado local government area of Benue state which over the years have claimed many lives.

“If there is any further aggression against the Agila people that will result  to our people being killed, you will present yourself for arrest  and prosecution immediately. If the chairman is not able to protect the lives of his people, then he  is not worthy to be the chairman. He should resign or I sack him, whether  it is constitutional or not constitutional is immaterial to

  1. What is important is the lives of Ebonyi people and the constitution that  we swore to uphold.”.

Cultists kill, maim in Imo

Cultists have taken centre stage in Imo and recently, left three dead and many injured. A week ago,  Imo State police command paraded five suspects over the killings by cultists in Nekede, Owerri West local government area of the state. The killings took place during and after elections in the state.

Although the police restored calm in the affected areas, it is evident cultists are holding sway in Nekede community of Owerri West Local Government Area of Imo State .

According to the State Police Command, “This singular incident sent fears within people living in Nekede and its environs. I am glad to inform you that the command rose up to the occasion and brought the incident under control and today normalcy has returned to the area.

In view of the above, five cultist were cultists paraded which included Martins Iwuagwu 28-yr-old; Obinna Ojike 25 yr-old; and 18-yr-old Chibueze Kalu. Their victims according to the police were a 39-year-old, Chidi Obilonu, and Cyracus Ekejiuba 45-year-old.

In another another development, two persons were shot dead on March 14 by cultists. The suspects were arrested and the exhibits recovered from them. They made useful statements to the police admitting to be members of a secret cult.

The cultists according to Orlando were a 22-year-old, David Ogbonna and 21-year-old,  Oparaugo Joseph Onyebuchi, all males and their victim was a male named David Udeme.”

According to the police, “On 17/02/2019 at about 21 00hrs, the above named deceased, a suspected member of Supreme Vikings Secret Confraternity was gruesomely gunned down by unknown assailants of a rival cult group at Legacy Hotel Ihiagwa in Owerri West L.G.A.

“Upon receipt of the report, operatives of Anti – Cultism Unit of the Command swooped into action and raided a number of suspected secret cult group hide-outs where a number of suspects were arrested.

“On interrogation, the above named suspects confessed to belong to Black Axe Secret Confraternity that orchestrated the gruesome murder. Investigation is on-going while efforts are on top gear to apprehend other fleeing members of the syndicate.”

However, he said that apart from the five suspects arrested in connection with the alleged cult killings, he also listed as the exhibits recovered from them, “Two   Beretta pistols; One locally made pistol; Two 9mm live ammunition and one live cartridge. A sharp kitchen knife.”

A narrow escape

Just after the elections, an aide to the Imo State Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Imo West Senatorial candidate Jones Onyereri, Nnamdi Nsorom was attacked by suspected political assassins.

Nsorom was reportedly shot at the front of Onyereri’s house behind concord Hotel in Owerri, Imo state.

The incident happened around 7am to 8am where Nsorom reportedly sustained several gunshot injuries. He was taken to a hospital for treatment.

Before this time, a party agent to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was shot dead by suspected thugs belonging to political rival groups in Eziama Obire in Nkwerre local government area of Imo state.

The Imo state Police Public Relation Officer, PPRO, Orlando Ikeokwu confirmed this to newsmen in Owerri.

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Bitter experience

Before the advent of cultists, Imo communities had bitter experiences in the hands of suspected dreaded herdsmen said to be   camping in their communities.

Saturday Vanguard learnt that the herdsmen caused a serious damage to farmlands and to an extent caused harm on the rural dwellers, included Owerri west, Owerri North, Okigwe, Ohaji Egbema among others.

It was gathered that the affected communities have continued to expect compensation on their damages farmlands which never came their way.

The ugly story came to a point that the Imo State chairman of Miyetti Allah, Audi Dikko, openly apologized to the affected communities.

He said: “I want to apologise to farmers in Imo State. Imo State is a peaceful state and we have been living peacefully with the people of the state. We want to say forgive us. We are happy that the Imo State Government has formed a committee to look into this issue and we believe that there will be positive outcome.”

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Also, Eze Iheanacho Ndukwe of Amagu community in Okigwe Local Government Area, said: “The problem is that among these Fulani herdsmen, we have one group that is organised and the other group is not organised. This particular group that is not organised goes into our farms with arms and destroy them.

“Let me tell you, we normally have this problem during the rainy season. Let us say the truth, there is a group that comes into Okigwe with dangerous weapons.”

 


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