•Says it’s wrong to accuse Okowa of inaction
BY CHARLES KUMOLU, Deputy Editor
Second Vice Chairman of Delta State Council of Traditional Rulers, Pere S.P Luke, Kalanama VII, in this interview, speaks on the claim that alleged ceding of land to herdsmen in the state by traditional rulers is chiefly responsible for herdsmen killings in Delta.
The traditional ruler addresses other factors suspected to be contributing to the alarming state of the crisis. Herdsmen killings have been a source of tension in Delta of late with about 30 camps identified as places where herders launch attacks on communities in the state.
Traditional rulers in Delta State have been accused of ceding land to herdsmen. The act has been identified as a contributory factor to the incessant killing of natives by cattle rearers in the state. As one of the leaders of the state council of traditional rulers, what can you say about the allegation?
The traditional council in Delta State, led by the Chairman, Obi of Owa kingdom, Obi Emmanuel Efezomor, the first Vice-Chairman, Orodje of Okpe and myself met recently because of the increasing rate of clashes between herdsmen and the host communities, especially in Delta North Senatorial District.
Early this year, we also witnessed clashes between herdsmen and their host community in Ughelli North Local Government Area, specifically in Agadama town. No fewer than 10 people died in that incident. Recent clashes became a source of worry to the traditional rulers and we have seen that government is doing its best. The governor has convened two security meetings to put an end to the crisis. It appears all efforts have not yielded desired results.
As a result of that, at our meeting which was held last Thursday, we asked the Commissioner of Police to come and brief us on what is happening in Delta North and other parts of the state. In addition to the clashes between herdsmen and natives, particularly in Okpanam, kidnapping for ransom is also widespread there.
The Commissioner came and briefed us. Another issue discussed was the influx of almajirai into the state. Since his men are manning the borders, we were surprised that the borders became so porous to the extent that people can actually come into the state freely without being stopped by his men. The Police Commissioner in his response said from their preliminary findings, they discovered that most of the traditional rulers in Delta North where the crisis is alarming, gave out land under dispute to herdsmen. Sometimes they are sold completely to them or given to them in exchange for something.
He also told us that the vigilante groups set up by various committees to check the menace of kidnapping and herdsmen clashes with host communities have been successfully infiltrated by the herdsmen. The vigilante groups are actually members of the communities, but the Police Commissioner said as things are today, they have been infiltrated by Fulani herdsmen and are the ones giving out information to the herdsmen who terrorise these areas.
The criminal elements among the herdsmen are those said to be involved in criminal activities. Since the indigenes of the communities connive with herdsmen, it is easy for the herders to carry out successful operations in the troubled communities. These were the observations of the Police Commissioner. He, therefore, called for concerted efforts by traditional rulers to rejig the security apparatus of the various communities.
Since the vigilante groups have been infiltrated by the herdsmen, there is need to look inwards to separate the bad ones from the good ones. He said to a large extent, doing so would solve the problem. He went further to say that most of the kidnappings in Delta North were being made possible by some criminal natives who connive with Fulani herdsmen. They give information to the herdsmen.
What was the resolution at the meeting?
We resolved that the vigilante groups who have the responsibility of providing community policing actually work with the herdsmen. That is why there are clashes. The Commissioner of Police supported his findings by saying that there are no disturbances by herdsmen in Asaba, but from Okpanam to Agbor is the theatre of the crisis. The particular areas are Okpanam, Issele-Azagba, Ubulu Okiti, Onicha- Ugbo, Azagba- Ogwash, and Ubulu-Uku among others. The herdsmen have become emboldened since they gave out some money to reside in those places.
They feel that nobody can drive their activities, especially the destruction of farmlands since they paid money. When we were growing up, herdsmen who visited our areas were not violent like the ones we have in our communities today. From time immemorial, Fulani herdsmen rear cattle in our areas but the criminal elements among them have bastardized the trade to the extent that one becomes apprehensive when he sees herdsmen. The Police Commissioner told us that we should rejig the vigilante groups in our communities. He said doing that would reduce the frequent clashes between herdsmen and natives.
Since the Commissioner of Police identified the ceding of land to herdsmen as a major contributor to the crisis, have you people identified the traditional rulers involved and how are you handling the matter?
The chairman of the state traditional council is also the chairman of Delta North traditional rulers’ council. When the police made the resolution and since it bothers mainly on Delta North, the house resolved that our chairman who doubles as chairman of Delta North traditional council should convene an in-house meeting of his council.
The revelations by the police have become sources of worry to all the traditional rulers in the state. Even though he said traditional rulers in Delta North are the ones involved, the allegation affects all traditional rulers in the state. One would not shy away from the fact that some traditional rulers, as a result of some reasons, give out land to herdsmen. Some do not give the land out wholesomely. Sometimes, the herdsmen come to my area which is riverine and they leave when the water starts rising.
When they come, they tell us that they would be around for three months after which they would leave. When they come with proposals that they are giving out some things to the community, some members of the given community may suggest that the money should be accepted, but doing so is dangerous. If you collect money as a traditional ruler and give out land to herdsmen, the aftermath of that action would hurt the people of the community. Sometimes, the herdsmen come with juicy offers which they make to some traditional rulers. They sometimes pledge to give three cows at the end of the season to a traditional ruler. Sometimes they come with money. There are some among us who can actually fall into such a temptation and give them land. When such a mistake is made, they build their huts in the bush or forest after which they acquire more knowledge about the terrain more than the natives. Having established themselves in the forest, they become emboldened.
We have advised traditional rulers from Delta North to stop them from building huts in the forests. They were also asked to stop farmers from building huts on their farms because some of them stay back and connive with Fulani herdsmen at night. They should stop sleeping in the farms so that vigilante groups would know those in the forest and how to control them. But if many people sleep in the farm, it is difficult to identify criminal elements among herdsmen. Some traditional rulers give out land to herdsmen in exchange for material things. After the meeting, some of my friends from Delta North called me to complain about their Obis, kings.
They asked me to speak to their kings, adding that the Police Commissioner’s revelation was true. They told me that the Commissioner’s claim had justified their opposition to ceding of land to herdsmen by their kings. They even said the kings always claim they are giving lands to attract development to their kingdoms. I have equally called about two traditional rulers in Delta North to convey the feelings of their people about how they give out land. I advised them to carry out an introspection to identify areas they have not done well and where to make amends. I told them to call their people and reassure them that after this season the herdsmen wouldn’t return.
In this circumstance, are you people considering any disciplinary action against any traditional ruler, whose action is found to be promoting herdsmen crisis in the state?
We have rules guiding our activities in the state. There are rules we set for ourselves and the regulations were approved by the state government. In this case, we didn’t envisage this particular problem when drafting the rules. We may have to invoke the doctrine of necessity if necessary. In our next meeting we would do an appraisal. In Delta South, the Isoko have issues with herdsmen but it is not as alarming as what is happening in Delta North and Delta Central.
The Ijaw-speaking areas are riverine areas and do not have such a problem. The herdsmen come with their cows but not in large numbers. Hopefully, in our next council meeting which would hold in June, we would address the issue. If after extensive deliberation, if there is need to impose some sanctions, we would do so because the statement from the Police Commissioner rubs off on all the traditional rulers in Delta. We would collate our findings from the three senatorial districts and set up a committee to address the issue.
To address the problem, the state government has concluded plans for an internal security outfit. How are you people going to work with government in that direction?
I have to commend the governor for the laudable idea. Security is every man’s business. As traditional rulers, our responsibility is to complement the effort of government. The outfit, Operation Delta Hawk, to a large extent, would solve many security challenges in the state. We know the proactive nature of our governor. He is a man who is not known for doing things outside the law. We would be providing the right information to the security outfit because we know our domains very well. Our people would be sensitised to provide information at any moment they notice any suspicious persons in our communities. Those residing in the communities know the criminals in their areas and would provide the right information. But when someone from Delta South is taken to work in Delta North, it would be long before he understudies the environment and gathers proper information. Therefore, those with knowledge of the environment where they would work should be in the security outfit.
Apart from reasons adduced by the Police Commissioner, from your experience, why did Delta become one of the flashpoints of herdsmen disturbances?
It is a puzzle at the moment. I said earlier that while growing up, Fulani herdsmen in our communities were friendly, peaceful and not violent. During one of the security meetings when Ikechukwu Aduba was the state Police Commissioner, the movement of cattle rearers was discussed. We realised that there was space then for them to graze then, but there is development in many communities now. Even the number of cattle has even increased because there are some Deltans who also have cows in the state. At some point cattle ranching was discussed so that the cattle would be confined to ranches. The implication of what the Police Commissioner said about traditional rulers is that if we stop giving land to the herdsmen, the clashes would occur less. It is a source of worry because we read about the incidents daily and feel embarrassed. As traditional rulers we would work among ourselves and send a memo to the governor on whatever findings we make.
The police have been accused of being complacent in the matter, thereby bringing the situation to a crisis point…
A few weeks ago, Vanguard published a report that revealed that some police stations do not have guns. It was also reported that a police station in Aboh area was sacked by rampaging hoodlums, who carted away guns. When the Police Commissioner’s attention was drawn to it, he said nobody had drawn his attention to it. When people accuse the police of being complacent, they should ask if the police have the necessary arms for crime-fighting.
Read more on www.vanguardngr.com
From the reports we got, the arms and ammunition used by these criminals are more sophisticated than what the police use. The police commissioner even told us the inadequacies they have. He said many policemen have retired and many have been killed in the line of duty. He added that the number of persons retiring and those being recruited is not commensurate.
He even said if the new recruitment had not been done, the force would have had only privates because they were left with corporals and sergeants at the lower level before the recruitment. More policemen should be recruited. They should also be provided with up-to-date equipment. You don’t expect them to confront people with superior firepower without quality weapons. People should realise that a policeman is not recruited to die but to defend the people. In doing defending the people, he should have the right equipment to fight.
But some have accused the governor of not nipping the crisis in the bud…
It is wrong to blame Governor Okowa, who is known to be proactive in his ways. The governor is doing what he was elected to do, but we have a dysfunctional system where the federal government always wants to control the affairs of states. That is not how things are done in a federal system. There is Operation Delta Safe, Highway Patrol and Rapid Response Squad. These outfits have the responsibility of providing security. However, when you have a situation whereby the federal government regulates what governors do, you have to abide by the law to avoid confrontation with the federal authorities. It is unfortunate that of all the killings nobody has been brought to book.