Exactly a week ago, some police officers in Delta State had a taste of what residents of Orhorho community, Ughelli North Local Government Area and other communities in the state have been experiencing in the past few months.
The residents had been screaming that suspected Fulani herdsmen, armed with AK 47 and other dangerous weapons, had not only confiscated their lands, but also attacked their men and raped their women with impunity.
They also grumbled that, on several occasions, the rampaging terrorists, who attacked under the guise of herdsmen, prevented farmers from accessing their farms, which they illegally converted to grazing fields for their cattle.
Nobody seemed to understand their plight, even when angry Orhorho mothers, for hours, laid siege to the East-West Road, January 18, demanding that the so-called herdsmen be kicked out of their territory.
Baptism of fire
On Sunday, February 5, over 50 police officers, drawn from the Quick Response Squad, QRS, Dragon, a special unit under Delta State Commissioner of Police, and a patrol team from Area Command, Ughelli, Delta State, had a taste of what residents of different communities, where Fulani herdsmen hold sway, had been undergoing in the past few months.
The team had, on the fateful day, mobilized to Orhorho to confront the herdsmen. Unknown to them, what they thought was a rag-tag militia was a well-equipped force.
What first baffled the team was that the men, numbers unspecified, were dressed in camouflage police uniform and were waiting for them, as if they had foreknowledge of their visit. Before the leader of the tea, ACP Usman Ndanbabo, Area Commander, Ughelli, could contemplate their next move, the gunmen opened fire on the police officers, many of whom were saved from untimely death by the bullet- proof vests they wore.
Faced by a superior firepower, the police officers voted with their legs with the team leader and some of his men sustaining injuries while some went missing.
The state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Zanna Ibrahim, either made light of the calamity or was yet to figure out the gravity of the situation when, in reaction to the incident on Monday, February 6, he told Sunday Vanguard that no policeman was injured and missing, and that some of his men collapsed out of fatigue, having found themselves in a difficult terrain.
His words: “There was no injury, what happened was that the policemen were fatigued, they entered the terrain they were not used to and some of them collapsed out of fatigue.”
A source, however, said that the Area Commander was among the police officers injured and that he was rushed to a private hospital at Ughelli. Our findings showed that he is back to his feet as of the time of this report.
The discovery of the remains of an Inspector of Police serving in the Ughelli Area Command, two days after the gun battle, appears to put a question mark on what authorities of the police in the state want the public to believe.
The acting President General of Orhorho community, Mr. Power Oba, told Sunday Vanguard: “The police were attacked by the herdsmen. Two of the officers were missing at the end of the incident, but the corpse of one of them was discovered on Tuesday floating on the river, near the scene of the clash, while the second officer is still unaccounted for.”
The February 5 clash between the police and the herdsmen was not the first in the area. On January 23, five days after women of the community, barricaded the East-West Road, causing traffic snarl for over seven hours, the Area Commander actually stormed the community with a battery of police officers.
Before the women lifted the siege on January 18, part of their conditions for peace was that the herdsmen should vacate their land.
In that encounter, which was also curiously played down, the herdsmen engaged the police officers in a gun duel with one of the policemen allegedly sustaining gunshot wound.
A community source hinted: “The police officer was shot on the leg and receiving medical attention at a private hospital at Ughelli, while one of the herdsmen was apprehended with an AK47 rifle and taken to the state police command headquarters, Asaba.”
Contacted on the January 23 gun duel, the police boss denied knowledge of the incident, stressing that he would have been informed it truly occurred. But, Orhowho community President General, who corroborated our findings, said: “One policeman was shot on the leg, while one of the herdsmen was apprehended with an AK 47 rifle.”
Our ordeal- Umukoro, women leader
Orhorho, like other communities in the state, has been at the mercy of Fulani herdsmen, who have allegedly turned themselves to lords over the villagers.
They did not just happen in the community; they have been around for many years, but their alleged escapades are getting more pronounced by the day. The first case in the community was said to have been recorded in 2004.
Assistant women leader in the community, Roselyn Umukoro, told Sunday Vanguard before the protesting mothers vacated the East-West Road at about 1.44 pm, January 18: “Recently, they raped three pregnant women in our community and maimed our sons and fathers at will.”
What infuriated the women that morning was that a housewife, who went early to the farm, was allegedly attacked by herdsmen for refusing their sexual advances. The cries of the woman, abandoned in a pool of her blood by the attackers, attracted sympathizers, who took her to a pharmacy in the community for medication and subsequently, they sealed the East-West Road.
They gave herdsmen in the community a four-day ultimatum to vacate their land or else they would return to the road in a bigger protest, which was what made the Area Commander, Ughelli to initially storm the community, January 23, a day after the quit order.
A villager told one of our reporters: “Though the ultimatum by the community has since expired, the police, in maintaining law and order in the area, swung into action by trying to fish out these criminal herdsmen from the community.”
It was the ostensible helplessness of the police that made some youths in Ossissa Kingdom in Ndokwa East local government area of the state to resort to self help after their kinsmen, one of them, a well-known farmer, were allegedly killed by herdsmen.
The youths were said to have taken two herdsmen hostage, last month, and, 72 hours after, their remains were found floating on a river.
A top police officer in the state told Sunday Vanguard that the corpses were found on Saturday, three days after they were declared missing alongside the cattle in their possession.
“On January 25, at about 10.00 p.m., one Abubakar Abdul, a cattle owner reported that two of his herdsmen were missing around Olor-Ossissa, along with about 140 cattle”, the officer narrated.
“Following the information, there was a search by the police in the Ashaka Division, led by the Divisional Police Officer, the owner of the cattle and members of the local vigilante team.
“It was in the course of the search that they found the two corpses and some of the cows were recovered. We are treating it as a case of murder and we are investigating what could have led to the killing of the herdsmen. The case is before the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, SCIID.”
Five days after the herdsmen were killed, the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ibrahim, warned Deltans against jungle justice. In a statement by the Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Andrew Aniamaka, the command said: “The CP, who gave the warning against the backdrop of recent attacks and killing of headsmen by community youths in some parts of the state, noted that the resort to jungle justice is uncivilized, criminal and impedes the course of peace and security in the state, stressing that the people should learn to seek legal redress whenever they feel wronged.
“The CP equally frowned at the attitude of the herdsmen, who provocatively graze their cattle on people’s farm-lands and warned them to refrain from such criminal acts, stressing that any herdsman caught destroying people’s crops, molesting, or preventing farmers from accessing their farm lands or bearing fire-arms or any other dangerous weapons will be arrested and brought to book”.
“Meanwhile, the CP reassured Deltans of the readiness and willingness of the Police and other security agencies in the state to continually discharge their duties responsibly and called on Deltans to continue to support and cooperate with the security agencies towards ensuring that peace and security prevails in every part of the state”.
Will Ibrahim keep his word?
Though the warning by the police against jungle justice was timely, the question being asked is why it took the killing of two herdsmen for the police to issue the warning, whereas no such warning was issued when residents of different communities in Delta were killed, maimed and raped.
However, sources said Commissioner Ibrahim is a no-nonsense police officer, whose posting to the state had brought a new lease of life to policing in Delta. It is, therefore, left to be seen if the AK-47 bearing herdsmen, who have seized many communities in the state and harassing villagers, would be arrested and brought to book, as the commissioner has promised.