Armed herdsmen defy lockdown, terrorize residents in Delta towns

Posted by News Express | 17 April 2020 | 1,090 times

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• Herdsmen

Notwithstanding the security seal in Delta State, where Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, introduced a dusk-to-dawn curfew, Tuesday,  to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, some suspected armed  herdsmen have flagrantly undermined the security measures  and unleashed a reign of terror on  residents at Ibusa and Okpanam communities in  Oshimili North Local Government Area of the oil-rich state.

The armed herders between the ages of 18 to 28 years  not only intimidate and overawe their victims, who they usually take unawares, they command them when they invade their homes  to prepare meals for them (kidnappers). They also demand additional foodstuff and drinks when their families and friends later negotiate ransom to secure freedom for the hostages

At Okpanam, a source revealed that occupants,  near the Asaba Airport,  have fled their houses,  following the siege by  kidnappers, who act as if they are above the laws of the land.

”Even when the owners of the homes  have fled, they impudently break into their abandoned apartments  in search of  food items, money and other valuables,” the source  added.

The lawlessness of the herders is without restraint at the moment in the state, but  effrontery at the Admiralty Neighborhood Estate, Ibusa is unbelievable. The estate is named after a former Chief of Naval Staff, CNS, under the ex-President Goodluck  Jonathan government, Admiral Dele Ezeoba, who owns a sprawling mansion in the under-attack developing area on  Ibusa bypass,   Asaba-Ibusa-Ogwashi-Uku Expressway.

More than 20 residents of the area that spoke in separate interviews during the week at Ibusa, said they were living with their hearts in the mouths.

“They do not come through the entrance to the estate, they sneak in through the farmlands behind the developing neighbourhood. Those committing this havoc are in their teens and twenties,” one of them said.

A worried contractor, Mr Lawrence Ojeashi, abducted about 9.00 pm , April 8, told our reporter: “I was outside in my compound playing with some of my children when we heard our dog barking uncontrollably.

As I moved to check what was going on, two of them, Fulani, by the language they spoke, intercepted me.”

“They marched me into my house, locked my son and  I in one  of the rooms and asked my family to prepare them food to eat. It was rice that my wife cooked for them , after eating rice, they asked her to make eba for them.

“After eating, they took me with them, nobody had the guts to raise alarm. They were taking me to the bush when they saw a generator that was on in another compound, they pulled out the wire to make the owner come out, but his family raised alarm when they saw them, which made them to move away faster with me into the bush.

“The way they meandered the bushes, it is like they have a map of the area. We first stopped at a farm hut and stayed there for over three hours. In fact, they used me as pillow to sleep so that I will not run away.

“They woke up to continue the journey,  manoeuvring through different routes in the forest. They clearly knew where they were going. When they got to the point where they knew it was safe to talk to me, they asked me how much I wanted to pay them.

“Really, I had no money and a bank alert of N1,000 just came to my phone, which  they had  confiscated. I told them that they just saw the alert on my phone, that I had only N1, 000. They slapped me, asking me if I thought they were joking.

“They threatened to kill me if I joked with them. I said I could call some friends and relatives. They became interested and inquired how much they would pay. I said I did not know, but they might raise up to N100, 000. They pounced on me again  like wounded lions, shouting angrily if I thought they took me hostage for mere N100,000.

“My abductors subsequently took me to a valley, brought out sticks and started whipping me on my head and other parts of the body as if they were flogging  an animal. They kept asking about how much I would pay as they flogged me.

“I insisted that they should allow me call my friends and relatives, but one of them said they should cut off my head and the other brought a sharp cutlass, placed it on my throat and made moves as if he actually wanted to slice off my head. I pleaded with  them that money would come before they left me that period and  went to sleep.

“About 6.00 am the next day, they took me further into the bush, deeper into the valley and they allowed me to make phone call.

“They first placed the ransom for my release at N10 million and later came down to N3 million when they saw from my calls that such amount would not come. I knew that pastors and many others were interceding at that point.

“At about 3.00 pm, they said they were giving me and my people a deadline of 5.00 pm to bring ransom. By  5.00 pm when they called, it was N150,000 that they raised.

“The kidnappers said they would tell them  where to bring the ransom, but they should buy food, drinks, Suya, water as they come with the ransom.

“They were giving them directives on phone on where to pass as they drove. When they arrived with a car, they searched each of the person that brought the ransom and the car for money. They also checked the food and drinks they brought.

“They brought me out from where they hid me and joined us in the car to be dropped off at another exit. We saw some herders on the way and they exchanged pleasantries , showing that they knew themselves. “They took us through a different route entirely to leave the place so that we would not recognise the place,” Ojeashi told us. He was still in fears when  he spoke.

A resident of the estate, Emmanuel Ironbar, abducted with four others, March 30, said he was  returning home with his Supervisor and another worker, all working for their boss , Frank Nwabudike, when the incident occurred.

“We saw a vehicle facing the bush and a boy lying face down and we thought he was hurt. As we stopped to find out what was wrong, the kidnappers lurking around pointed gun at us , along the farm road.  Two of them wore mask , they seized me, my supervisor, Victor and two others. We were five.

“They took the five of us into the bush, we were seeing the zincs of some buildings at Okpanam and the Navy School in Ibusa from where they kept us. They asked all of us to lie down when we got there and used my phone to call my director in Lagos.

“They  were the ones telling me after they called my director that he said there was no money. They beat Victor and one other hostage before Victor people brought N100,000 ransom. They searched my supervisor and took the N30,000 in his possession.

“When they brought the N100,000 ransom for them, it was with plates of rice, meat and ‘pure’ water. They later took us to a cassava farm, they saw a motorcycle rider, bailed him up and collected N5,000 from him.

“They ran into a Benin man and his wife, who they kidnapped and left us that night. They seized my phone and since then, I have not been able to buy a new phone,” he added.

His words: “We are living in fear in this estate, we are not secure, police come in the night since abduction escalated in this estate, they blow horn when they pass from one end to the other, reverse their car, come back to where they started and depart.”

“As I speak to you, I hardly sleep in my house for fear of abduction by Fulani herdsmen, we know they are Fulani because that is the language they speak,” he added.

Another  resident, Ebenezer Ejimogha, a timber dealer, who escaped abduction after armed herdsmen pulled the wire off his generator, April 8, asserted: “As they removed the wire, I came out from inside my room and asked one of my sons to put off the generator since it could not supply light anymore. But one of my daughters ran inside to alert me that  they were intruders in our compound.”

“I want out to peep, they saw me and ordered me to open the door and let them in. Already, my wife was shouting and my family was making phone calls. I used force to close and lock my door and started making calls myself. While they were threatening and went to the back of my house, trying to force the door open, I told them Army and Police would soon arrive to catch them.

“I got my son in Asaba on phone , who drove down and went to the Police Station at Ibusa for policemen to come to rescue us. They asked him to make entry, after he made entry, they told him that they would not be able to come that night. He contacted one of the local vigilance groups, which told him that the members would not intervene since police refused to move.

“We were in the house frightened to our pants for five hours when my son,  tired of the antics of the police,  finally drove to the house to discover that the marauding Fulani herdsmen had left. It was when we heard his voice asking us to come out that the abductors were gone that we came out,” Ejimogha said.

A community leader in the area, Mr Joseph Okonmah told our reporter: “Life here has been very miserable for us because of Fulani herdsmen. We know they are Fulani herdsmen from the narratives of the victims they have kidnapped, people from at least five households. Really, we feel frightened, we do not sleep with our two eyes closed.”

Okonmah stated, “We have reported our plight to the the police in Ibusa  and alerted some of the vigilance groups, but there is no good response from the police.”

“We plead with the the appropriate authorities and government to disarm the herdsmen and disperse them from the illegal locations they are occupying in the bush and inside the town from where they launch attacks on us every now and then,” the community leader asserted.

A legal practitioner and inhabitant,  Olisekwu Omezi Esq said, “The situation we have is that in real terms, kidnappers have invaded the neighbourhood, moving from house to house,  abducting people and this has thrown  the whole neighbourhood into a state of fear and very traumatic experiences.” “People are living in fear of the unknown, the entire neighbourhood is a developing area, extending to farmlands from where the kidnappers seem to have their routes.

“Residents have held meetings to address the issue, met with the police, the Obuzor of Ibusa and other well-meaning individuals and groups. In fact, after the meeting with the DPO, Ibusa Division, he pledged that his men would patrol the place and we have put in place an internal  security committee to handle the emergency,” he added.

However, tension heightened in the neighbourhood when  barely 24 hours after residents met with the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, Ibusa, Thursday,  last week, and got assurance of protection from the police,  armed Fulani men stormed a Celestial Church on the said Asaba- Ibusa expressway, not far from the police station, and shot dead the pastor,  reportedly holding a prayer vigil and counseling session.

In fact, there was confusion in Admiralty Neighbourhood Estate when the rampaging herdsmen, who have made the estate their looting joint, broke into the Breakthrough Cathedral, Ibusa, Parish 1 and shot dead Most Senior Evangelist Stephen Akpor.

According to Omezi, “We had a meeting with the DPO,  penultimate Thursday , and the next day, Friday, a Celestial Church pastor was shot dead  by the same group of marauders. This has heightened tension and made people more agitated than ever, as it calls for serious attention by the authorities “

“There is need for more concerted efforts to address the menace so that people can live here peacefully. “To the residents, what is happening is double jeopardy, we are at home because of the lockdown, we do not move about , but herders breach the law with impunity and  go about with arms unchallenged,” he said

Reports said that armed Fulani herdsmen besieged the Celestial Church  at about 8:30 pm when Evangelist Akpor was praying and counselling five of his members in  front of the church hall. The deceased transferred from Calabar, February,  last year, according to sources, had a wife and five children.

Most Supreme Evangelist Isiaiah George of the Archdioceses of Ughelli 1, who came in from Ughelli on getting the information, told Saturday Vanguard that the hoodlums , numbering two after a failed attempt to break into the house, forced the window of the room open and shot the deceased severally through the window.

We learned the wife took cover in the kitchen while the shooting was on. George disclosed the late Stephen Akpor in his mid 50s hailed from Orogun in Ughelli North local government area of the state. Also speaking  a member of the church, Mr. Temitope, narrated: “We were here in the church premises with the Prophet and some church members, when suddenly two Fulani men came with rifles and ordered us to lie down, then our pastor got up and went into his room.

“They beckoned on him to come back but he ignored them. At that point, those of us lying down were marched into the bush and they ordered us to remove our garments and lie facing down.

As we were about complying, one of them realizing that they had left one person at the church , again led us back to meet with the pastor. When we got back, they again ordered us to lie down while one of them went to meet the pastor in the room.

“Next we heard was an argument as the pastor refused to open the door. At that point , the second one joined them and they started shooting inside from the window after they removed the net,  that was when we had the opportunity to escape into the bush.

“He was gunned down through the window. Before police got here and took him to the General Hospital, Ibusa, he gave up the ghost,” Temitope explained.

Patron of the Church, Mr. Peter Lotobi who spoke on phone, said; “As soon as I got  wind of the sad development, I got in touch with the police when I saw them around Kefas Road in Ibusa and alerted them about it, but before we got there it was already too late.”

A medical doctor at the Ibusa General Hospital,  Ibusa, said: “The bullet shots were devastating, there is practically no way he would have survived except God ruled otherwise.”

Contacted, the Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, in the state, DSP Onome Onovwakpoyeya, confirmed the incident, adding that the Police have commenced investigation into the matter.

She said the Police and local vigilante were on the trail of the suspected hoodlums, expressing hope that the suspects would be apprehended and brought to book.

From our findings, the situation at Okpanam is quite scary. Two of the quarters were said to be in strong contention over an area, which  a very powerful personality ceded a portion  to Fulani herdsmen to spite the other side.

An informed villager hinted: “Like anywhere that you have Fulani settlement, once you give them a little space, they expand and once some miscreants come to join them, it is finished.”

He, however, said that the authorities of Oshimili North Local Government Area had waded into the boundary dispute between Obodoogba village and the other warring village in the community with a view to identifying  landmark boundaries to resolve the problem.

While the feuding parties await the authorities whose intervention  has been hampered by the lockdown, residents, who  believed they bought houses from the genuine owners of the land are hounded by armed  men, forcing them to flee their homes.

Before abducting victims for ransom in Okpanam, they  also ask them to prepare food for them. A man identified as Joseph had his own baptism when some suspected armed herders stormed his home, asked him to instruct his wife to cook food for them. After eating, they abducted the couple. They couple fled the area after their release. They were yet to return as at yesterday when we filed this report.

An indigene of the town in a viral video,  showing several  homes deserted by the owners in the controversial Okpanam street, accused some community leaders of collecting money and using  Fulani herders to cause unrest.

He reigned curses on them, saying they will face the evil they have unleashed on their people. (Vanguard)



Source: News Express

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