By Ozioruva Aliu
BENIN CITY -In the last two months, residents of Edo state have been living in fear following an upsurge in kidnappings, killings and rival cult clashes that led to the death of not less than 12 people.
Although the police have neutralized several suspected criminals mostly during shootouts, their activities have remained within the three senatorial zones of the state.
Barely few days after the massacre at the Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo state, hundreds of suspected Fulani herdsmen migrated from the state to Akoko-Edo Local Government Area, Edo state before they were forced to leave by a combined team of community vigilantes, security agencies and community based organisations in the area.
Besides, there have been reports that some of these migrant Fulani herdsmen paid money to some traditional rulers in the area to allow them stay and graze in their domain and in the process, the criminally minded ones among them engaged in killings, raping and kidnapping.
There have also been reports of suspected collaboration between these criminal elements and the locals going by experiences shared by victims who have been kidnaped and freed.
About a year ago, a lawyer (name withheld) who was kidnapped alongside other occupants of his vehicle somewhere in Edo Central Senatorial district said the person who was negotiating with his family for his release told him he was from Delta State and a graduate of Philosophy.
The enogie of Igieduma in Edo South senatorial district, David Obasohan once told Vanguard that hunters and vigilante in the area chased suspected kidnappers from the forests and by the time the kidnappers ran to the highway, a vehicle was already waiting to take them away.
He said “These kidnappers are the field workers because they have their managers or executives who are always somewhere, so when they collect ransom, they hand it over to their managers who in turn give them a token. One of the hunters told me that they saw some of the suspected kidnappers and started pursuing them but the kidnappers were running towards the tarred road and that when they got to the road, a jeep was waiting for them and they quickly entered and zoomed off. So, those people who are on the road kidnapping are field workers who have masters. They would have connected the driver of the jeep vehicle with their phone.”
The last kidnap that really provoked Edo state government to read the riot act to stakeholders in the state was that of four catholic priests in three different locations where one of the priests, Rev Fr. Christopher Odia, was killed.
Odia was kidnapped on a Sunday morning while preparing for early morning mass in Ikabigbo, Etsako West local government area. The community mobilized to rescue him but in the process, the kidnappers killed Fr. Odia and the chief hunter of the community who was leading the pursuit of the kidnappers.
However, luck ran out on two of the kidnapers as one of them was caught and burnt while the other was rescued by the police.
Similarly, an Italian Catholic Priest of the Somascan Father’s Community, Rev. Fr. Luigi Brena, aged 64 was reportedly kidnapped along Ogunwenyi through Usen Community in Ovia South-West.
A press release by the Deputy Police Public Relations Officer (DPPRO), ASP Jennifer Iwegbu said he was rescued by the police which they said was part of the efforts the Commissioner of Police Abutu Yaro adopted by deploying policemen to the various identified flash points in the state and that three of the suspected kidnapers were killed.
Some members of the catholic community in the area however faulted police claim as they said they were actually the ones who resisted the kidnappers who in the process unleashed bodily injuries on the priest. The state was yet to recover from this development when the police confirmed the kidnap of two Catholic Priests identified as Rev. Father Peter Udo of St Patrick’s Catholic church Uromi in Esan North East and Rev. Father Philemon Oboh of St Joseph retreat center Ugboha in Esan South East Local Government Area both in Edo Central senatorial district. They were kidnapped along the Benin/Ekpoma road.
The Edo state police command spokesman, Chidi Nwanbuzor said “the Divisional Police Officer in charge of Ugboha police Division has called to inform that one Rev Father Amos Abhulimen came to the station to report the kidnap of the two Rev Fathers.
The two clergymen had attended a programme in Benin city on Saturday, July 2, 2022 and were returning to base when their vehicle ran into some unknown gunmen who violently intercepted their car.
The suspected gunmen were said to have fired several gunshots into the air which forced their car to stop and they were led into the bush by the gunmen.
The two catholic priests were released a few days after but the details of how they were released were not disclosed.
This development led the Acting Governor of the state, Comrade Philip Shaibu to call an emergency state security meeting with heads of security agencies and religious leaders including the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to review the security trends in the State and re-strategize to deal with emerging threats.
He said new strategies have been adopted and that the people would soon begin to see their implementation. He assured that the state government was committed to securing the church and everyone in the community as well as their property.
The acting governor further convened a security stakeholders meeting to address the prevailing security situation in the state.
Among the attendees were first class traditional rulers, heads of local government administration (HOLGA), heads of security agencies, heads of vigilante groups, representatives of Edo Hunters Association and others where Shaibu said the State Government has perfected measures to reorganise the security architecture of the State, to ensure a holistic approach to security challenge.
Although the resolutions were not officially released, Vanguard reliably gathered that Shaibu read the riot act to the traditional rulers. Some of the resolutions reached included:
“That everybody currently residing in any forest in Edo State in the guise of camping should vacate such areas with immediate effect.
“The LGA as a matter of urgency should recruit hunters and vigilante groups who understand the terrain in their areas to assist in this task and provide the necessary logistics and equipment for the task.
“That henceforth, any traditional rulers and village heads who have collected money from any herdsmen therefore permitting any form of camping or grazing in any Edo State forest should refund such money and ask the herdsmen to leave with immediate effect.
“That government more than ever before, is determined to reduce and possibly stamp out the wave of kidnappings and killings that have pervaded the entire State within the last few weeks. Government also affirmed that it will deal decisively with any groups or individuals that will want to sabotage its efforts in this renewed vigour and determination to ensure safety of lives and property of all law abiding citizens in the state.”