Paul Osuyi, Asaba
Residents of Issele-Azagba, a security flash point in Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State are living in perpetual fear following constant attacks by gunmen suspected to be Fulani herdsmen in the last few months, leaving no fewer than eight people dead.
The vicious attacks have also resulted in the abduction of several residents who only regained freedom after huge ransom are paid. Four of such deadly attacks have been recorded in the last five months.
Most residents have fled the agrarian community while those who dared to stay back now take precautionary measures to guide against being victims of the criminal elements. They no longer expose themselves to the attackers who operate at night.
One of the residents, Samuel Ikenna told Daily Sun that people no longer stay out beyond 7pm, noting that the town, which is a stone throw from Asaba, the state capital, is practically dead from dusk to dawn.
“Am even afraid to drive my car to Issele-Azagba each time I close from work in Asaba. I have left it with my mechanic because of the security situation in Issele-Azagba. I don’t want them to come and kidnap me, thinking that I have money.
“When I am at home, I don’t go out as from 7pm, I don’t even open my doors. If I must operate my power generating set, I will just refill the fuel to last for about two hours, after which it will go off by itself without requiring anybody to operate turn it off,” Ikenna stated.
Though Ikenna agreed that herdsmen were responsible for the incessant attacks, he was quick not to rule out possible collaboration by indigenes and security agents who he accused of getting kick backs from the proceeds of kidnap ransom.
Ikenna said herdsmen usually operate with masks, adding that in recent attacks, some of the hoodlums wore masks to conceal their identities.
“For me, there is more than meet the eye in what is happening at Issele-Azagba. We cannot continue to blame herdsmen for every attack, some persons in the community are assisting them, and in turn get rewarded.
“Issele-Azagba is not the only community around here. In February alone, there were three attacks which led to the death of five persons. Why can’t we repel them if they don’t have collaborators within?” he wondered.
Besides Ikenna’s position, sources in the community attributed the perennial attacks to perceived internal crisis in the town, saying that an aggrieved party must be responsible for the attacks to prove a point.
One of the sources, a commercial bus operator who pleaded not to named in print, said there was a deep seated acrimony among the various layers of authority in the town, adding that what is playing out has a nexus with the perceived grievances.
But the president of Issele-Azagba Youth Association, Comrade Ogebu Edozie was quick to dismiss allegations of disagreement within the layers of authority in the town, even as he exonerated natives from the attacks, blaming herdsmen squarely for it.
“There is no disunity of that proportion in this community. This is not about the governance of the people, it is an attack from people we don’t know, they kill, rape women and leave people sorrowful and sad. It is external, and they come heavily armed,” Edozie stated.
He added: “Victims confirmed that these people are Fulani herdsmen from the language they speak and their physical appearance. We were told by those abducted and later freed after ransom payment that they were speaking Hausa.
“We are not trying to stereotype anybody, if a Fulani man is involved, nobody should shield him likewise an Igbo man or a Yoruba man. It is not about tribe, what we are saying is that we are under siege and vicious attacks. The people doing this is our enemy.”
Edozie confirmed that the development has reduced socio-economic activities to the lowest ebb in the town, insisting that nobody dares go into the forest for farming activities for fear of being killed, or raped in case of women.
“We are now trying to get our people sensitized on how they can be security conscious. Social and economic life have been paralyzed. People can no longer go out after 7pm. We are farmers, out of the fear of the unknown, nobody ventures into the forest to farm anymore.
“So socially and economically, we are under siege. Again, the community is a kingdom, we have a monarch, there is a structured system of governance. There is no disunity, there is no form of acrimony that can result in this kind of attack,” he maintained.
Edozie further stated that the community has done soul searching, noting that the community did not wrong anyone whether native of stranger, to warrant the present siege which residents have be subjected to.
He said Issele-Azagba is a receptive community that places high premium on hospitality of both natives and non-natives, adding that the invaders must have taken advantage of such disposition to causing mayhem.
“Our community is very hospitable but the tragedy is that some people are coming to destroy and kill people. People have the right to stay here and if we don’t want them, we must seek redress in a civilized manner,” he stated.
Edozie chronicled the various attacks on the community since October 14, 2019, and the number of people killed during each invasion, describing the development as one attack too many.
His words: “October 14 was the first attack at the community secondary school. Two people were shot dead trying to resist abduction. Six teachers including the principal were taken into the forest and because it was during the day, there was effort to retrieve them, no ransom was paid.
“On February 6, another attack took place and two persons were also killed including one Sebastian who was taking a call outside his house. He was trying to resist abduction.
“Then one man that ran into the scene was also killed. An electrician was shot in the arm, he is still at the hospital. A 13 year girl was abducted and ransom was paid for her release.
“On February 23, there was another attack, a man was shot in his house and killed, his wife was abducted and the daughter was left with a gunshot injury at the arm.
“On March 4, another attack took place, one attack too many for a community. This was at the guest house. Two were killed for resisting abduction and five were taken away. You can see what we are facing, even during the civil war, am not sure we lost that kind of number.”
On his part, the President-General of Issele-Azagba Development Union, Mr. Ben Uche Illoh, appealed to the Federal Government to prevail in security agencies to come and rescue the people of the town from the clutches of herdsmen.
Mr. Illoh who described the incessant attacks as a new security challenge, said the situation has already overwhelmed the local security mechanism, and called for the constant presence of security operatives including the citing of a police station in the town.
“Within a space of four months, we have four attacks with killings. We are not happy about it, we cannot take laws into our hands, we don’t have the wherewithal to fight back, that is why we are crying out for people to come and help us,” he stated.