Fulani herdsmen terror: No end in sight
By Jon Egie
An end to Fulani herdsmen terror attacks on local farmers and indigenes of communities in Delta state is not in sight soon as the Delta State Commissioner of Police , Mr Baba Akali Usman , has declared that he has no constitutional powers to forcefully evacuate the Fukani herdsmen.
At a town hall meeting with stakeholders from Delta Central senatorial district held at the Kingdom Hall, Ughelli, Thursday, May 12; the people had requested the police boss to take decisive measures to evacuating the herdsmen who overpower indigenes of the host communities with superior and sophisticated weapons.
The CP had earlier noted that there were serious cases of criminality, armed robbery, communal clashes, kidnapping and more dangerously, the issue of herdsmen clash with the natives.
Hoping to tap on the ingenuity of members of the public, he called for contributions in tackling the social problems stressing that only the police cannot tackle the menace of crime in the society.
“As an agency created to serve the public the police is accountable to members of the public and hence the contribution of the public is necessary to improve on our services so that we can make life comfortable for the people of this area” the CP said.
Drawing the curtains, the Chairman of the NBA in Ughelli, Barr Alex Amusu in an emotion laden voice told the CP, point blank, that men and officers of the Nigeria Police attached to the ‘B’ division, Agbarha-Otor, have failed in their responsibility to provide security for residents in their beat, particularly in the Ekredjebor area of Ughelli township.
He said violent crimes of murder and kidnapping are often recorded in that area of the town with the police doing nothing to check the trend. He noted that a former chairman of the NBA in Ughelli Barr Chege was aasissinated in the area not too long ago and only recently, a young enterprising businessman, Chief Owei was also assassinated in the area adding that a member of the Ughelli branch of the NBA, Baar Okoriko, was kidnapped along the same Ekredjobor Road and taken hostage before he later regained his freedom.
He submitted that the Ekredjebor Road has become a centre of crime in the area and hence called on the CP to do something about the situation.
But Comrade Blessing Egbagbara who is the Secretary of the Police Public Relations Committee (PPRC) to the ‘B’ division recalled that the division was created 10 years ago and had since then been neglected by the hierarchy of the police. He complained that the division lacked operational vehicles and has less than 30 men pointing out that the police unit in Ofuoma, a community with over 4000 residents has 4 police personnel, two men and two women. For him, the police in B division could do better if they had the necessary logistics support.
Corroborating Egbagbara’s submission, Prof S.U. Ibodje who is the President General of Agbarha community hailed the observation of the NBA chairman but said it was presented in bad light. He confirmed and endorsed the submission of Blessing Egbagbara in its entirety. He was however disturbed about the tenure of stay of DPOs posted to the ‘B’ division who hardly settle down before they are transferred away.
“This year alone I have received three DPOs, a situation where you do not have working equipment and the head is transferred every month is not good enough for fighting crime in the present day Nigeria” he said.
Speaking on the issue of cultism and its related criminal activities, the Executive Director of an Effurun based NGO, AA Peace Works, Chief Dr Judith Burdin Asuni highlighted the effort of local vigilante in attempting to curb the activities of cultists and in the process carry out extrajudicial killing of suspects, citing a case in Ighwrekpokpo area of Ughelli where some innocent students were allegedly mowed down by vigilante members on suspicion of being involved in cult activities. She therefore called on the CP to ensure that proper investigation was carried out on suspects to avoid the killing of innocent people.
In his response to the first set of contributors, the CP said, “nobody has every working tool before he works”. He said the issues raised bordered on problems militating against the performance of the police. According to him, the police as an institution has not embarked on recruitment of personnel since 2011, but he assured that the Buhari led administration was already making effort to recruit more able bodied men into the force so that there could be more personnel available to be posted to divisions where there are inadequate man power supply.
“When I have some man power to release I may not have the equipment to give. The society is expanding but the tools to do the work are limited. I am aware of the problems stated and we have admitted that we cannot do it alone. I always go cap in hand to the State governor begging for support and that is why we are looking for cooperation from the public. We are not looking for money but if you support us with logistics they will be helpful” he said, explaining that the frequent transfer of DPOs is necessitated by factors beyond his control.
“All policemen know that extrajudicial killing is an offence and must be accountable to it but when you find yourself in a scene of riot and demonstration and you see guns coming out, gone are the days when you presume that the rioters will not shoot, it is the policeman’s security pact to defend himself.
“If a vigilante killed any suspect he would be subjected to investigation and there is nowhere that any of our personnel errs that he will not be punished. As far as manpower short supply is concerned, there is nothing I can do for now until the recruitment exercise is done.”
Round Two of discussion
The second round of discussion was heralded by Hon Paul Etaga, Chairman of Ughelli South LGC who observed that the police have not been encouraging members of vigilante groups on volunteer security services in policing communities in his LGA when the police request the vigilante members to write statements before receiving suspects arrested by the vigilante, a commitment which most times, places the vigilante in a difficult position to do their work and hence urged the CP to charge his men to ccoperate with the local vigilante.
He drew the CPs attention to the activities of Fulani herdsmen who have been terrorising communities in Ughelli South since 2011, killing and maiming. He complained that the Fulani herdsmen when confronted claim that the land belongs to them and therefore, called on the CP to tell the Fulani herdsmen to “leave our land”.
Still on Fulani herdsmen terror, a chief who represented the Orodje of Okpe stated that over 40 Fulani herdsmen presently cause havoc in Aghalokpe. “At night they stay in uncompleted buildings and in the day they ravage crops”. He said investigation has revealed that not all the Fulani people are genuine herdsmen and hence, he requested the CP to take immediate action to evacuating the herdsmen from Aghalokpe.
Chief Benjamin Ohworeko from Uwheru told the CP that herdsmen have killed over 30 people in his community and blamed the police for allowing the herdsmen to have freedom to access and parade with sophisticated weapons thereby giving covert support to the herdsmen otherwise, the excesses of the herdsmen could have been contained.
Chief Samuel Okoro from Idjerhe alleged that sometime ago, some armed Fulani herdsmen were arrested by the local vigilante and handed over to the police, when the leadership of the community later sought to know the state of the matter with the police they were told that the case had been transferred to the CPs office in Asaba and therefore, demanded the CP to give an update on the matter.
A member of the Hausa community in Abraka wailed over the recent attack on their mosque by youths of Abraka in reprisal to the attack of Fulani herdsmen in the area.
“We are always in the town looking for our daily bread; some of us are shoe makers, some sell suya, nail cutters shoe shiners and all sorts of odd jobs; we are disturbed that the Abraka people attacked us in our mosque in retaliation of attacks by Fulani herdsmen. We do not have the same culture with Fulani men, even in the North there is a clear demarcation between Hausa and Fulani people. We are always with you in the town, why will you attack us because some people offended you in the bush? You know who your enemies are and you failed to confront them but came to us who are with you in the town. Maybe you cannot fight them that is why you came after us who are selling suya and rendering other services to you in the town” he wailed and called on the public to mark a difference between the Hausa community and the Fulani herdsmen.
Taminu Adamu who is the president of Sarkin Hausawa in Sapele told the CP that they (Hausa community in Sapele ) have been able to curb the excesses of the Fulani herdsmen in Sapele. According to him, the Hausa people are clearly different from the Fulani people and based on the menace posed by the Fulani herdsmen, they (Hausa) who have been enjoying cordial relationship with the Okpe people for years, decided to in conjunction with the DPO in Sapele, screen any Fulani herdsman who entered the town and anyone found wanting was immediately ejected. He called on other communities emulate the strategy for peace to reign.
Responding again, CP Baba Usman said apart from the police, there are other agencies involved in the criminal justice system but in trying to find solution to the problems of crime and criminality in the society, “I am being pushed to be the law maker, law enforcer and judge at the same time.
“I do not have the power to ask Fulani herdsmen to move out of a place but if there are laws by the Delta State House of Assembly then the police can act.”
He said the solution on the issue of Fulani herdsmen terror activities is not really moving the herdsmen out of the local area where they are doing grazing predates the present generation and in those days when a Fulani herdsman committed an offence he would be sober but that these days they do so with impunity.
“We all have a problem, there is no land that has no owner yet we have the Land Use Act. Government was able to make rule that enables the Fulani man to move from Futajalon to any part of Nigeria freely. The Fulani herdsmen may be there but the actual cow owner may be you or I. So, there is no way you can ask me to go and evacuate them but you can regulate their behaviours within the provision of the norms and values of your society. You cannot come from somewhere and say you have taken over the land”.
He said there are herdsmen is 18 local government areas of Delta State and some of the Fulani men had been peacefully coexisting with the people for the past 20 years.
“Government is working on the intelligence to confirm the claim that the herdsmen menace is a new face of Boko Haram” he said and assured that the police do now allow illegal possession of firearm by Fulani herdsmen saying, “the Fulani herdsmen stay in the bush and commit their crimes in the bush it is a matter of coming together to confront the problem” he advised and hailed Taminu Adamu’s suggestion on how to tackle the Fulani herdsmen.
He said unless one was a complainant in a case, the police may not report to the public on a matter undergoing investigation even though the police is accountable to the public. He assured that the police will brief the Idjerhe people on the update of the suspects if the leadership of the community could visit the state command in Asaba.
For the CP, it is not possible for a land lord to arbitrarily eject a tenant who has stayed in his house for a year because “there are rules”.
He said brothers and sisters must be allowed to coexist stressing “Nigeria is a very complex society, allow other people to live with you; the shoe-shiner does his business to survive, as a police officer I do my job with fear bearing in mind that somebody from Delta state might be in my area doing something to survive.”
On vigilante issues, he said vigilantes are creation of necessity, to work with security agencies to police the society. “But we are making things out it in leadership tussle and resources collection. Every society ought to be able to control such groups by stipulated rules and regulations.
“If you as a vigilante member arrested and brought a suspect to the police, the police will certainly ask you to make a statement. You cannot just say this man is a criminal and hand him to the police; it cannot work because it has to go to the next level, the court, and you must prove the allegation. So, making a statement is not much an effort because there is no secret trial in court. If you do not want to make a statement to the police it is as good as you have not arrested anybody” the CP told the vigilante leaders.