Uneasy calm reigns in Uwheru Kingdom of Delta State where armed herdsmen reportedly abducted at least 10 farmers/fishermen, executed them and buried them in their enclave inside the bush.
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa had, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Olisa Ifeajika, alleged that the herdsmen, accompanied by unidentified army personnel, stormed the communities in an unprovoked attack that has become an annual routine, killed no fewer than eight persons and injured many others, while President General of the community, Cassidy Akpadafe, put the figure at over 10.
However, last Monday’s exhumation of the corpses of eight farmers/fishermen, allegedly killed during the attack, shed light on the impetus of the marauding herdsmen who are said to have become landlords in the farms of these locals.
Investigation by Sunday Vanguard revealed that armed herdsmen in the area have taken their audacity a notch higher by holding their victims hostage, executing them and burying them in shallow graves.
According to the Ughelli North Council Chairman, Mr Godwin Adode, the enclave of the herdsmen plays host to lush vegetation, particularly a plant which is very luscious and good for the fattening of herds, saying, “When cleared, this particular plant grows out within four days, and is very nutritious for the herds.”
Trouble started penultimate Thursday when indigenes from the communities in the kingdom, particularly Agadama, barricaded the busy Bomadi/Ohoror leading to some Ijaw communities in Bayelsa and Delta states in protest against herdsmen attacks.
The protesters grounded all vehicular movements on the road which they barricaded, claiming they were attacked by herdsmen with the assistance of armed men dressed in military uniform.
An indigene of the kingdom, Prof. Patrick Muoboghare, who is also the Delta State Commissioner for Higher Education, said: “On Saturday, following the anger of the boys, they barricaded the road. That was when the herdsmen knew that they had to call their brothers who are soldiers and they came shooting.
“They shot one boy and they took him to Uwheru main town for treatment but he died. In anger, the people of the community took the corpse to the palace of the Odion R’ode (monarch).”
On what led to the exhumation of those allegedly killed by the herdsmen, Muoboghare said: “The soldiers insisted that we must exhume the bodies of those we claimed were dead and that if we did not exhume the bodies, they will destroy the communities since their colleagues were injured during the incident and they could not continue defending the assailants, claiming that they were not herdsmen.
“But we told them that the corpses were in the custody of the herdsmen and we could not enter the bush, but they said that they will lead the way which they did.”
Speaking further, Muoboghare stated that during the recovery mission, the security team confronted the herdsmen who stood their ground that they will not release the corpses of the victims.
He said: “On Sunday, soldiers mobilized to the place again and by the time they stormed the place, they (herdsmen) had moved again with the bodies into the forest.”
Also speaking, President General of Uwheru Kingdom, Cassidy Akpadafe, said: “A total of 17 persons have been rushed to hospital for medical attention as a result of the injuries they sustained from attacks by these herdsmen.
“If you add the present number of deaths to previous deaths, over 86 persons have been killed in the past 12 years since the herdsmen took over our farmlands.”
Pitching tent earlier with the army, Delta State Commissioner of Police, Hafiz Inuwa, had described the claims surrounding the number of deaths as moves by some individuals in the state to cause apprehension, saying, “Why are they hiding such corpses from the police?”
Eight corpses exhumed
In a move to prove the security operatives wrong, some kingdom members accompanied the rescue team, made up of the personnel from the army and police, on a mission into the bush on Monday afternoon and identified three shallow graves where six of the farmers had been buried and exhumed them in addition to two others which were dug up the previous day.
The victims were identified as Denis Itoje; Philip Emesharueke, 27; Andrew Useh, 22; Ochuko Ovwanre, 25; Samson Coach Ogheneoruese, 35; Kotor Boy, 25 and Freeborn Israel, 35.
Giving details of the recovery of the corpses, a military operative, who was part of the operation, said the team embarked on a trek for over an hour into the enclave of the herdsmen who had relocated into the interior part of the bush before they were able to identify the spot where the victims were buried.
The security source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said: “There is vast stretch of land with white side like a beech alongside a river bank where the herders built their temporary shelter and also used the river as a source of water for their herds.
“They had proceeded into the deeper part of the bush before we arrived. But we were able to identify three shallow graves where they buried the farmers in twos and covered them with white sand.
“Investigation also revealed that the hoodlums had earlier killed two of their victims and burnt their corpses probably in a bid to dispose them or something.
“The eight corpses exhumed so far are currently in the Ughelli Central Hospital for autopsy.”
Exonerating the police
Meanwhile a kingdom spokesman, while exonerating the police over its inability to arrest the armed herdsmen, said: “I do not blame the police because when they tried it some few years ago, herdsmen killed them and then-Delta State Police Commissioner said he didn’t send anybody to go and fight herdsmen.
“Not long after that, then-Ughelli Police Area Commander (ACP Usman Ndababo) visited Uwheru to help disperse some herdsmen only for him to be assassinated. Who killed him? Same people.”
Leaders in the state are questioning the role allegedly played by the army in the incident with the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, warning that “heads will roll” if the army was found culpable in the attacks on the communities.
Okowa had alleged that “herdsmen accompanied by unidentified army personnel stormed the communities in an unprovoked attack that has become an annual routine, killed no fewer than eight persons and injured many others.”
He said: “I have directed the Commissioner of Police and the Brigade Commander, 63 Brigade, Nigerian Army to rise to the occasion and bring the culprits to justice.
“As a state, our people have been very receptive to herdsmen and other visitors, but our hospitality and welcoming disposition should not be taken as act of cowardice.”
Responding to the allegation by the governor during a visit to the affected communities, Omo-Agege, who is the lawmaker representing the district in the Senate, said: “The allegation I am privy to right now is that some military people that came to Bomadi, at the behest of the herdsmen, took part in the attack.
“You can bet that I’m going to raise a motion on that and there is no debate about that. I will raise a motion on that with the sole purpose of investigating it as to whether or not that occurred. If it is true, of course, naturally, heads will roll.”
On his part, the member representing Ughelli North/Ughelli South and Udu federal constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon Francis Waive, while condemning the incident, said: “It is sad that valuable lives and property, including farms, had been lost.
“I call on our people to remain calm while we continue dialogue with the authorities to ensure lasting peace, as we will ensure no more lives are lost and this perennial menace is brought to an end.”