The people of Ubulu-Uku, a predominantly farming community in Aniocha South Local Government Area (LGA) of Delta State, have raised the alarm over herdsmen’s siege on the area and other neighbouring communities, including Onicha-Ugbo and Isele-Uku, in Aniocha North LGA.
The people of Ubulu-Uku and its environs under attack from gunmen alleged to be Fulani herdsmen, have cried out for urgent intervention, saying they need the protection of the police, other security agencies and government attention in general.
In the past two weeks alone, suspected herdsmen have shot dead an illustrious son of Ubulu-Uku, Mr. Chikwe Ojinji, while the medical director of Goodnews Hospital, Isele-Uku, Dr. Andrew Odozi, a native of Onicha-Ugbo, was also murdered by gunmen suspected to be herdsmen.
Dr. Odozi was killed in the line of duty while rushing to the hospital to save the life of Mr. Meme, who was shot in the neck by herdsmen along the Isele-Uku/Ubulu-Uku Road.
The doctor received a distress call from his staff that Meme was rushed to the hospital in Isele-Uku for gunshot injuries. He was on his way to rescue the injured man when he ran into a roadblock mounted by herdsmen, who were robbing commuters unchallenged. The doctor was subsequently robbed and shot.
Dr. Odozi died on the spot and his body has since been deposited at the mortuary. Meme was rushed to the Federal Medical Centre, Asaba, where he is now recuperating. Also in the hospital was a legal practitioner who declined to be named for personal reasons. He was abducted on Isele-Uku/Ubulu-Uku road and paid a N1 million ransom before the herdsmen released him. The lawyer was visiting his hometown from Lagos when he fell into the hands of the gunmen.
He said: “I saw hell. I had a brief worth millions on Monday and I was abducted at the weekend. I was released on Wednesday after my wife paid a N1 million ransom. This is a shame. I have lived in the North and I understand a little Fulani. My abductors were Fulani people. How can people from far North come to be abducting people in our land and we are keeping quiet?
“Can people from the South and East go to the northern part of the country and be abducting people, demanding ransom and killing them? This is a shame, and we must address it and rise up against this affront or else we have been captured.”
Under the current scenario, one-time peaceful and serene communities are now under the siege of herdsmen.
Speaking on the plight of Ubulu-Uku people, a member of the local vigilance group, Emeka Chukwudi, described Ubulu-Uku as a conquered community at the mercy of herdsmen: “That is the truth. We have been conquered by strangers who have taken over our farmlands. This is because we are incapacitated by the police who have disarmed us and allowed the herdsmen to move freely with sophisticated firearms. The herdsmen are doing well in their agenda to take over our place. Today, I am so sad that one-time strong Ubulu-Uku is suffering from attacks by Fulani herdsmen.
“Herdsmen abducted our king about three years ago and butchered him like a common criminal. We are still suffering from the abominable act on our king, His Royal Highness, Obi Akaeze Christopher Ofulue. As if that was not enough, the hoodlums, who masquerade as herdsmen, want to render us jobless. You know that we are predominantly farmers, that is our pride, but we are scared to go to the farms for fear of being killed. We are surrounded by other communities such as Abu-Ugba, Ogwashi-Uku, Obior and Isele-Uku. The herdsmen have virtually taken over the border land between Ubulu-Uku and other towns and are callously unleashing terror on us on a daily basis.
“Recently, a woman was killed between Ubulu-Uku and Obior. She was going to Umunede Market when she was waylaid by herdsmen, who butchered her and stole her motorcycle. We saw her corpse but we don’t know what they did to her before they finally killed her. A few days after, some indigenes coming home for Christmas were robbed. The two incidents forced people to abandon the Ubulu-Uku/Obior road for Isele-Uku/Ubulu-Uku road in order to access other communities.
“As it is, we are in deep trouble. The hoodlums have taken over all the bushes surrounding Ubulu-Uku, through Isele-Uku, Ogwashi-Uku, Obior, Ubulu-Unor, Onitcha-Ugbo and Abu-Ugba.
“There are no longer safe access roads in and out of Ubulu-Uku and there is no help in sight, as people are scared to go to the farm for fear of being killed. Even if one is courageous enough to go to the farm, how will the person transport the farm produce to neighbouring markets, when the access roads have been taken over by killer herdsmen who unleash terror on road users? These brigands are doing their nefarious business unchallenged and this is a slap on our faces. But there is no way we can challenge gunmen with machetes and stones. Our children who live outside the town are scared to visit home because of the killer herdsmen that have taken over our surroundings.
“Recently, Monday Ike, who was working on his farm along the Ubulu-Uku/Onticha Ugbo road, was accosted by Fulani herdsmen who had kidnapped some victims and kept them in the thick forest. The herdsmen were running out of food and water, so they boldly approached him and ordered Ike to go to the village and bring them water and food, at his own expense, warning that they would kidnap him from his farm if he spilled the beans. Ike pledged not to report what he saw to anybody.
“He eventually reported the development to the vigilance group, who called in the police. The police and the vigilance group stormed the forest, rescued the victims and arrested a herder. But a few days later, the suspect was freed by the police.
“Recently, herdsmen blocked the Isele-Uku/Ubulu-Uku road and abducted two occupants of a car. They released the the victims after collecting N600,000. Again, an indegene of Isele-Azagba living in Ubulu-Uku, Mr. Sunday, his wife and son were accosted along the road. Their attackers, suspected to be herdsmen, shot the man in the neck and abducted his wife and son. After two days in captivity, the victims were released after N1 million was paid. The man is still battling for his life in the hospital.
“In fact, we are like the bank Automated Teller Machine (ATM) to herdsmen. They are dealing with us unchallenged and it so sad. Right now, we are living in fear and abject poverty, because our farmers are afraid to go to farm. Commercial motorcycle operation is the only lucrative business in our town now, as farmers have abandoned their farms. And we can’t blame any farmer who has abandoned his or her farmland. Of what use is it, after investing in your farm and working for almost one year, and herdsmen start grazing their cattle with your labour in just one day? That is the problem. Can you imagine what would happen when over 200 cows enter a farm, and when the owner of the farm challenges the herders, they shoot him or her?
“The worst of it all is that they rape women in the presence of their husbands and children and rape daughters in front of their parents and siblings. I don’t want to mention names because of the despicable nature of the act. Abomination is being witnessed in our land.
“We, members of vigilance group, are handicapped as it is today. We used to patrol our roads, but our vehicle has been grounded and the police have disarmed us, while the herdsmen are fully armed with Ak47 rifles and other sophisticated weapons. We are only left with machetes, knives and axes. How do we use ordinary cutlasses to confront herdsmen armed with AK47 and other assault rifles? The only solution is to fall back to the police, but the police post in our community is manned by a man and a woman. There is no other policeman there. Let government give us adequate police manpower and leave intelligence gathering for us. We have all it takes in intelligence and we will assist the police in fishing out the herdsmen because we know where they are, but we have been disarmed by government.”
Younger brother to slain Ojinji, Mr. Charles Ojinji, who narrated how his brother was killed, said: “We are still in shock over our elder brother’s sudden and unnatural death. He was a warrior who has the interest of the community at heart. I have envisaged his murder, because we all were farming on the land before Fulani herdsmen, who followed the high tension wire to a forest reserve, near a stream in Aniagbala, a suburb of Ubulu-Uku, took over our farmlands. When we saw that they were fully armed, we left our farms for them. What attracted the herdsmen there was the beautiful stream that is now a curse to us. Their cows would eat our farm produce, eat the yam tubers in our barns, cassava, vegetables, drink our water and mess up our stream. The stream is the only source of water in our community.
“One day, we challenged the herders and they beat some of us up. They held them hostage at gunpoint. Since that time, some people stopped going to the farm to avoid the wrath of herdsmen who have taken over our land. We did nothing and we owe them nothing, yet we have been subjected to all manner of inhuman treatment. Our women are not spared.
“I was shocked last year when my brother went back to the same captured farmland to start faming again. Well, other people were still farming there but, one day, over 200 cows entered the farm and ate up everything. My brother was enraged. I don’t know what transpired between him and the herders. Anyway, a witness told me that my brother was attacked with machetes and shot with a gun. My brother’s wife traveled to Lagos and there was nobody at home. When his neighbours noticed that he did not return from the farm, they called me and we went to the farm and saw him in a pool of blood. We rushed him to hospital but the doctor confirmed him dead on arrival.
“They have killed my brother, what else can they do? Today it is my brother, who knows the next person tomorrow? Well, herdsmen are everywhere in the bush surrounding our community, we are under siege. The police deposited his body in the mortuary. We want the body of our brother so that we can bury him to allow him rest in peace.”
On his part, the palace secretary, Joseph Obaze, the mouthpiece of His Royal Majesty, Obi Ofulue, described the siege on Ubulu-Uku community as worrisome: “We are really under serious attack by herdsmen. We are really going through excruciating pains. We have just finished meeting and we are planning for a massive peaceful protest over the attacks on our people by Fulani herdsmen. We have met heads of farm roads in the town and they all narrated their ordeals in the hands of herdsmen and their cattle. They told how their farms are being ravaged by cattle. Apart from the fruits and vegetables, the herders would go to our barns and feed their cattle with the yams. We have written to the police and they said they were going to discuss the issue in the security meeting.
“There is another keg of gunpowder ready to explode. A native has just opened a cattle ranch and tomatoes market in the town. We are not against him, but he has started employing Fulani to take care of the ranch. Our fear is that, wherever these herders settle, they start bringing their people to the place. We have given the businessman an ultimatum to leave the place because we are not comfortable with killer Fulani people.
“What surprises me is that we rear native cows in this area, yet they don’t stray into people’s farms. Our cows don’t feed on yam and cassava but only grass. They should leave us alone, we don’t need their meat. They should not use their business to disturb ours. As they love their cows, so also do we love our farms.
“Many people are scared to go to the farms for fear of being attacked by the herdsmen. Women are being abused and the men are being killed. That is why we are crying to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and the Delta State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Adegoke Adeleke, to come to our rescue and save us from being exterminated by killer herdsmen. The governor and the CP should expedite action as we are living in fear. There is tension in the town, things have really fallen apart.
“It is not as if we are cowardly but we want to explore all avenues for peace. We love peace but our peacefulness should not be taken as weakness. Let government intervene and save us from a war situation.”
Obaze has, however, appealed to Ubulu-Uku indigenes and residents to be law-abiding and conscious of the development: “Let us not abandon farm work that we are known for. People should go to the farm in groups while those travelling should avoid night journey, until government is be able to solve the riddle,” he said.
Meanwhile, CP Adegoke said he was aware of the killing of the doctor, even though the case was not reported to any police station: “I am also aware of the attack on a lawyer and the killing in Ubulu-Uku. I personally led an operation to the bush and some suspects were arrested and are with me. I want to assure you that the police are not keeping quiet. For me to lead an operation to the bush, you must agree that we are doing something about it,” he said.