From Abraka, tears over recurring herdsmen killings
• Leader Flays FG’s Inaction, Urges Self-defence
Residents of Abraka in Ethiope East Local Council of Delta State are living in fear, following a spate of killings by suspected Fulani herdsmen. A walk in the forest is now fraught with danger, as the townspeople risk being shot, macheted or raped. At the last count, over 12 people have died at the hands of the attackers. Others have been wounded. The assailants, lurking deep in the Abraka Reserve, have assaulted even grey-haired grandmothers.
Mrs. Patience Akpomiemie had gone to the farm with her husband and three children to harvest cassava on February 21. She bent down to dig up the tubers, gathering bag loads. She probably thought: “Thank God, I will now be able to pay my son’s school fees.” She might have smiled at the glimmer of hope.
Suddenly armed herdsmen appeared. “Run away quickly with the children!” her husband said. She obeyed. She flew to where the children were and ordered them to take to their heels, as fast as they could. But the men caught up with her. They asked to be told what her husband had said. “Nothing,” she replied, as she made a frantic bid to flee. She heard shots fired. Hot bullets lodged in her thigh and back. Yet, she continued to run. At the nearest house, bleeding, she narrated her ordeal and was rushed, first, to a local hospital, and later to the Delta State University Teaching Hospital, Oghara, about an hour’s drive away.
The husband was, however, not lucky, as the bullets snuffed life out of him. Still recuperating, a sorrowful Mrs. Akpomiemie, who currently lives with her septuagenarian mother at Erho Abraka, cried: “The load is too much for me to carry. My husband was a good man and never offended those Fulani herdsmen. I don’t just know why they killed him. How do I take care of the children? Now, I am a widow. It is going to be tough and lonely.”
Her 24-year-old son, Samuel, was in Asaba, the state capital, when the incident happened. He had been preparing for the just concluded Joint Matriculation Examination. From a distance, he sighted mourners and sympathisers at the family’s home. He knew instinctively that tragedy had visited. He wailed: “How am I supposed to carry on? What did dad do? This is the most trying period of my life. I am confused and don’t know where to start from.”
Also on March 20, 2012, misfortune struck the home of another resident of the town, 30-year-old Kate Okotie. Her mother was shot dead by suspected herdsmen. Six years after, she is yet to recover from the shock. Katie was only five when she lost her father and had to be raised singlehandedly through Mama’s subsistence farming.The two cases are a sad pointer to the reality in Abraka, a place where almost everybody knows someone who has been raped, injured or killed by herdsmen.
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, however, declared his administration is leaving no stone unturned to solve the problem. He said efforts have been made to boost collaboration with the police through the office of a special adviser on conflict resolution. The adviser, he said, works closely with a northerner as assistant, alongside a Delta indigene who grew up in the north and speaks the Hausa language fluently.
“And to that extent, we have been able to minimise things, though we still have occasional clashes. We have also involved traditional rulers. We have held two sets of meetings with the traditional institution, the farmers, and representatives of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association. We held a meeting early last year and we held another two weeks ago,” Okowa said.
The governor insisted Delta State would not be party to the Federal Government’s controversial policy to set up cattle colonies across the country. According to him, “There have been cattle ranches in the Mambila area for some time. So, why can’t they do ranches? For those who have plenty of land and want colonies, we have nothing against it. But for us in Delta State and for most of the south south, I do know we have limited land for agriculture. And therefore, it is difficult for us to be able to relinquish such land for cattle colony.
“It is different if the cattle were moving and grazing on grass and not on the legitimate efforts and produce of people. But the situation has changed. Obviously that is not acceptable. And all over the country, there has been a lot of cry.”
He noted that the threat of herdsmen overtaking Uwheru community in Ughelli North Local Council was being addressed by security operatives, adding that his administration would always employ diplomacy to avoid loss of life as a result of the activities of herdsmen.
But the lawmaker representing Ethiope East in the Delta State House of Assembly, Chief Evance Ivwurie, was more incisive in his denunciation of the killings, stressing: Abraka will have no choice but resort to self-help in the face of impotence by the Federal Government.” He disclosed that he has since written to President Muhammadu Buhari and heads of foreign countries to step in and stem the tide.
According to him, “Our women are being raped daily and killed by herdsmen. Abraka people have resolved to turn the other cheek no more. They will defend themselves, since the government has failed. Henceforth, we will no longer condone the activities of these killer herdsmen. I will not advise my people to surrender arms to the police when Fulani herdsmen are heavily armed and are killing our people daily.”
Last year, daring herdsmen reportedly opened fire on a team of policemen in Abraka, killing four. Reacting to the incident, police spokesman, Andrew Aniamaka, hinted that the force remained poised to checkmate the excesses of violent herders and would fish out the murderers.
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