By Christopher Oji
Five years after Obi Akaeze Ofulue, the Agbogidi of Ubulu-Uku, Aniocha South Local Government Area of Delta State, a first class traditional ruler was abducted and killed by gunmen, on January 5, 2016, the man who was with him when death came calling, Pastor Afamefune Ugbo, has opened up.
He insisted that the Obi was kidnapped and murdered by Fulani herdsmen in this interview with Daily Sun. The grandson of Adeke Ugbo, a traditional prophetess, gave a blow-by-blow account of events before, during and after the kidnapping of the Agbogidi:
“I am in the eye of the storm because I was with the king when he was abducted. January 5, 2016, will remain indelible in the minds of Ubulu-Uku indigenes. A big tree fell, it was like the world came to a halt, as our king was abducted.
“Many people insinuated that he was politically assassinated. Even after the police concluded investigation, arrested the culprits and charged them to court, people still did not believe that he was killed by herdsmen but that he was politically assassinated.
“I had maintained sealed lips but, as a pastor and a servant of God, I have decided to set the records straight. My king was abducted and killed by Fulani herdsmen.
“On the fateful day, I had gone to the palace to meet with the king to help me book appointment with the Obi of a neighbouring community who I intended to interview for a book I was writing on traditional institution across the country. As I was coming into the palace, our king was driving out, so he stopped and told me to hop inside the car.
“He told me his water tank was bad and that he was going to Asaba to have his bathe as he was tired to repairing the water tank to no avail. I reminded him of the appointment with the Obi of Onicha Ugbo and he said we would visit him on Wednesday. He said I should meet him that day to remind him that we would be coming the next day, which was on Wednesday.
“He said he would drop me off along the expressway so I would take a commercial motorcycle to the Obi, while he would proceed to Asaba. Really, I expected him to go through Ubulu-Uku/Isele-Uku Road but he opted for Obior/Igbodo Road, which I saw as a longer journey, but my king said he preferred that route.
“We met some policemen on Ubulu-Uku/Obior Road and we exchanged pleasantries with them.The policemen knew the king very well. The king was driving alone when I met him and he had no escort because he was a simple man by nature.
“As we were driving through Obior/Igbodo Road, we saw a tall man, armed with a sophisticated rifle. The man blocked the road and was shooting up to warm us to stop. My king wanted to use reverse to escape but about six other gunmen emerged from the rear. They were armed with guns, matchetes and cudgels.
“We were trapped as the vehicle hooked on the side of the road. I opened the door and took to my heels but I fell down inside a ditch where I was soon surrounded by some of the gunmen. They asked where I thought I was running to.
“I was petrified as they marched me to where they kept my king. They started marching us into the bush. While we were going, I noticed that my king was walking barefooted, as he left his sandals in the car. I pulled of my canvas shoes and gave them to him to wear. One of the herdsmen asked why I gave him my canvas, I did not say a word, my king warned in my language that I must not speak.
“They later took us across the expressway and told us to calm down as they were just kidnappers looking for ransom. They were talking to themselves in Fulani but spoke pidgin English to us. One of them who I later understood was their commander asked if we had someone to contact and my king said yes.
“My king spoke with Professor Onochie, who I heard negotiating with the kidnappers. They said they needed N30 million. They later agreed on N10 million, but my king insisted on N3 million. Our abductors got angry. They searched our pockets and purses. They collected some dollars and foreign coins and international passport from my king while they collected the little money in my pocket.
“Later, the king pleaded with our abductors to allow him speak with his wife. It was after speaking with the wife who was arguing about the ransom that the kidnappers got angry.
“I overheard the woman asking our king whether he was still with his abductors and our king asked in return, if he was not with the kidnappers, why was he calling. His wife asked where he thought she would get such a huge amount. As the Obi was persuading her to do something urgent, one of our abductors seized the phone from him and told his wife that since she preferred her husband to be killed, she would soon get what she requested.
“That conversation changed as our abductors became aggressive. They did not allow us to speak to anyone. They started marching us further inside the bush. They told our Obi that they would kill me to show him that they meant business.
“On Thursday then following day, they started moving us from one section of the bush to another. When we got to a particular place, they stopped and one of them brought out a read cloth, designed like a mask.
“He covered his face and cocked his gun. He was looking left and right and muttering some words. My instincts told me to run for my life. So, I zoomed off. I started running and I heard gunshots. Whether they were shooting up or at me, I could not say but I was hearing persistent gunshots.
“After running for a while, I got to a location where I started hearing church prayers and songs. I traced the church but when the congregation saw me they took to their heels. Later, they summoned courage and came back. And I narrated my predicament.
“They told me that they used to see some herdsmen believed to be kidnappers. They told me how a professor was shot dead by his abductors after N1 million ransom was paid.
“The church took me to the community vigilance group, and they escorted me to Umunede Police Station. The officers advised that we should go back to Ubulu-Uku and report, since where we were kidnapped was not in their jurisdiction.
“As we were moving to Ubulu-Uku, the Obior vigilance group intercepted us. The combined team of vigilance groups, police and the army went into the bush but we did not see him. The following day, we went back until we saw his decaying body. We were able to recognize him because of my shoes that he was wearing.
“Immediately we recovered his body, I was arrested and handed over to the police. There was no humiliation that I did not go through. I was detained, released and detained again. I was interviewed by the State Commissioner of Police, as well as Governor Ifeanyi Okowa.
“But God vindicated me when the Investigating Police Officer (IPO), Mr. Julius, made arrests. I was able to recognize the man who was issuing orders to us and two others. They confessed to the crime. The abductors told the police that they recognized me very well. My phone and that of my king were later recovered from them. They were equally charged to court.
“There had been many stories about the death of our king. Some prominent sons of Ubulu-Uku were accused of being complicit in the murder of the king. As a pastor, a true believer of God and son of the soil, I have to keep the records straight.
“Our king was abducted by Fulani kidnappers who demanded ransom and killed him thereafter. I don’t know, if I had told the kidnappers that Akaeze was our king, maybe they would have spared him. They did not know that he was a king because he dressed in a simple attire without any royalty. Let heaven and earth bear me witness.
“I want to call on the new Delta State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Muhammed Ali, to do something urgently about the killer herdsmen terrorizing people in Delta communities.”