FOR years, there have been abductions and banditries by criminals who have turned hostage-taking into a booming business in Delta State.
Many of the victims, in their testimonies, described their abductors as herdsmen.
Findings, however, show that it was not only herdsmen that engage in such criminality, locals and immigrants from neighboring countries, including Niger, Mali and Libya, were also in the money-making enterprise.
By last year (2019), things were getting out of control at both Delta Central and parts of Delta North, but, between January and May, this year, they fully relocated to Delta North where they built camps in bushes and coordinated their attacks on residents.
From Oshimili North to Aniocha North, Aniocha South, which borders Asaba, the state capital, Ika South, Ika North-East, Ndokwa East and Ndokwa West, no local government in Delta North was spared by the suspected herdsmen-kidnappers.
There was a pathetic case at Issele -Azagba community, Aniocha North local government area, where the security guard of a poultry farm opened the gate at night on hearing the familiar voice of a herder that usually came to take water in the daytime for his cattle, only for the herder, who came for another mission that night with others, to kill him and the farm manager, who incidentally slept over the ill-fated night.
A herdsmen leader at Okpanam community admitted to some top state government officials, a fact that the Secretary to State Government, SSG, Mr. Chiedu Ebie, confirmed to Sunday Vanguard, that one of his sons, who turned uncontrollable, had left the family’s abode to reside with miscreants in the forest, where they probably carried out profit-making kidnapping and other crimes.
Some herdsmen actually acquired small portions of land from some communities in Delta to build camps in the suburbs, but many who went deeper inside the bushes to hibernate cannot be vouched for.
7-day quit directive
Following the growing insecurity in the state, especially with many of the kidnappings taking place in Oshimili North, Chairman of the area, Hon Ndukwe Louis, in an Executive Order, dated May 20 and entitled: ‘Immediate vacating of all illegal structures within Oshimili North Local Government Area’, and addressed to all Serikis/Igbo Camp Leaders at Akwukwu Igbo, Ibusa, Okpanam, Illah, Ebu, Ukala, Ugbolu, Atuma and Aninwalo, ordered them to quit the camps within seven days.
The Executive Order read: “Be informed that due to the security challenges we recently face as a local government and the urgency of the need to rid our area of all secret hideouts where criminals use as safe havens, we herewith communicate that you vacate, advise others considered your wards within our local government area to move and take up rents with our people, live with our people, or build permanent structure that shall be registered and owned by you, your proxies or wards like every other Nigerian who live and do business in our local government area.
“Take note that after seven working days of this notice, all camps and unapproved structures in our LGA shall be totally declared illegal and destroyed. Recourse shall only be given to structures approved by Oshimili North Local Government and Delta State Government.
“All inconveniences are regretted as this remains the only way we have resolved to enable us account for our residents and fish out the bad elements who only live in our bushes and shanties in the local government area.
“You may wish to quote this message as Executive Order II in lieu of the Security Alert in the Local Government Area. Your utmost cooperation is expected”.
Few days after, nomadic residents in the area, protested the eviction order, denying the culpability of herdsmen in the increasing levels of crime there.
Speaking on behalf of the protesters, the Public Relations Officer of Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria, Delta State branch, Mr. Idris Abubakar, described the Oshimili North council quit notice as draconian, null-and-void and likely to worsen the problem it was meant to solve if implemented.
Abubakar claimed that the Hausa-Fulani residents “are lawful tenants and we have been paying rent, and we have documents to prove that.”
The council boss, in reaction to the protest, clarified that the Executive Order was not aimed at antagonizing anybody within the locality, but only to clear the bushes where heinous crimes were being committed.
“We have not asked them to leave the local government area, but to come out of the bushes and live socially and economically with us in the towns and villages. Our government is people-friendly, and the people of Anioma (Delta North) are very friendly too,” he added.
“At the initial stage, when the herdsmen opted to live in the bushes, there were no problems, but recently crimes are being committed in the bushes; people are being killed, kidnapped for ransom, and our women are being raped in the bushes.”
But, stakeholders, including lawyers, activists and community leaders, across Delta expressed their minds on the raging controversy.
Obey Executive Order – Ex-TROMPCON scribe
A former Secretary General of Traditional Rulers of Oil Minerals Producing Communities of Nigeria, Prince Maikpobi Okareme, speaking on the Executive Order, said: “Those protesting should be humble enough to obey the law before complaining.
“What is wrong in having an address in where individuals want to live to do legitimate business? If they are visitors or tourists, they are free to stay in hotels inside communities.”
Order lawful – Ikimi, CENTREP boss
Executive Director, Centre for the Vulnerable and Underprivileged, Warri, Oghenejabor Ikimi, told Sunday Vanguard: “Section 14, Subsection 2, paragraph b of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) states that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.
“To this end and going by the spirit and intent of the above provision of the Constitution, I submit that as an Executive Chairman, the Oshimili North Local Government Council Chairman has the inherent powers to sign an Executive Order to ensuring the security of lives and property within his area.
“In other words, the Executive Order to herdsmen to quit camps in bushes in communities in the council area within 7 days is in order following known activities of kidnappers who operate from camps in bushes within the council area to the detriment of her citizenry.
“However, before enforcing the Executive Order of quit after the expiration of the 7 days, the Oshimili North Council must approach the High Court, Akwukwu-Igbo for an order to enforce the said Executive Order by way of demolishing the said camps for the safety of lives and property within the council area.
“I am not oblivious of the fact that in the face of the above Executive Order, some protesting herdsmen have alleged that they bought these lands and have receipts for such transaction.
“However, there is no evidence that these lands, which are designated as rural areas, have certificate of occupancy from the Oshimili North Local Government Council.
“Under the Land Use Act, the Executive Chairman of Oshimili North Local Government Council has the power to issue certificate of occupancy for lands designated as rural within his council area and, in the absence of a valid Certificate of Occupancy issued by the Oshimili North Local Government Council in the above regard, the council can lawfully acquire such lands for public purpose to protect lives and property.
“Above all, in the interest of public safety, public order and public morality, the argument by these protesters that they bought some of these lands pails into insignificance in the light of overwhelming evidence that these lands/camps are being used to perpetuate violent crime with the Council Area”.
Council chair acted within law – Mudiaga-Odje, constitutional lawyer
Warri-based constitutional lawyer, Akpo Mudiaga-Odje, stated: “The unprovoked onslaught against the people of Delta North in recent times calls on all of us to synchronize our collective response.
“In retrospect, the people of my mother’s maternal lineage of Uwheru have recently been a victim of this unrestrained belligerence exhibited by these herders.
“In this case, over 10 people were killed and properties destroyed.
“The impunity with which these herders inflict their terror on innocent Deltans ought to put us on notice that they indeed they have prominent backers.
“Their claim to these acts of brigandage is that they were granted a lease over where they occupy and, as such, they are afortiori indigenes of those communities!
“We are of the strong view that these herders, whether as tenants or landlords as they claim, are not entitled to even dominate their territories, as they can only be heard or seen through their landlords who are their respective communities.
“As the chief security officer of his local government, the Chairman was quite in order when he made that declaration. “Any aggrieved person should go to court, a bush is a no man’s land! The herdsmen cannot own lands, whether in town or bushes, without the consent of the owners.
“They can also not lay claims to areas dominated by government or individuals rightly granted leases over such lands.
“From the foregoing, based on my limited knowledge of law, the council chair is in order both in terms of law and the arithmetic of commonsense”
Council can take steps to secure citizens – Ekiyor, ex-Commissioner
A former Commissioner in Delta and one-time council Chairman, Dr. Chris Ekiyor, on his part, told Sunday Vanguard: “The truth is that herders live in camps and since the camps are known, residents must raise their own security network to monitor activities in the camps.
“The council must also sanction those who sold lands while the herders’ leaders must be invited to document the nomadic family and be made to take responsibility for any breach of the peace.
“However if the settlements are problematic and there is clear evidence of civil unrest, then as chief security officer, the council boss must take steps to secure its citizens.
“Note that the settlers must be censored in other not to allow the formation of a margrave, a killing field in ancient herders’ settlements in the Turkish history”.
Excesses must be checked- Unagha, APC leader
All Progressives Congress, APC, leader in Delta and lawyer, Alhaji Mumakai Unagha, also contributing, said: “I read the ultimatum issued to herdsmen by the Chairman of Oshimili North local government to leave their camps and bushes, and relocate to town.
“I equally read the protest by herdsmen. To me, the step taken is in the right direction, and I agree completely that they should vacate the various camps and bushes to join people in town. I don’t know why they choose to stay in bushes.
“Although herdsmen, like other Nigerians, have the fundamental right of staying in any part of the country, they are abusing the right as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended.
“The Chairman is not denying them the right of owing property in the area, but that they should leave the bushes where some have turned kidnappers and robbers in guise of cow rearing.
“I do not know when the country became a herdsmen colony or their conquered territory. If they are claiming that they bought or rented the bushes where they stay, it is not a passport to commit all kinds of criminalities in the bushes. “Their excesses must be checked now, otherwise it will too late, as a matter of fact, is already getting late”.
Herdsmen should leave N’Delta forests – 21st Century Youth
The 21st Century Youth for Niger Delta and Agitators with Conscience, in an electronic mail to Sunday Vanguard, posited: “Though every citizen of the country has a right to free movement and to live anywhere he wants, harmonious living should be paramount.
“We take a very strong exception to the wanton brigandage in the Niger Delta. We wholeheartedly support the eviction of herdsmen from our forests as their presence is unnerving and it is making our citizens uncomfortable.”
Leader of the group, self-styled “General” Izon Ebe, said: “The loud silence of the Federal Government and security agencies on tackling this menace gives credence to the sinister and domineering motive of the perpetrators and, as such, the Niger Delta and its people have the right to self-defense.
“We urge affected local government councils to repay money collected from these attackers for lease of ancestral lands and warn their chiefs and traditional rulers to desist forthwith from leasing and selling of lands to them.
“We want to state categorically that if any killings and kidnappings continue, they will give us no choice to chase herdsmen out of the Niger Delta because enough is enough. We want to warn herdsmen leaders to call their subjects to order before this madness gets out of hand”.
Nothing wrong with Order- Alaowei
National President, Centre for Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Crusader (CHURAC)/Special Assistant (Political) to the Governor of Delta State, E. Alaowei, also shared his perspective on the matter: “On the herdsmen’s brigandage, I do not see anything wrong with the executive order issued by the Oshimili North Council Chairman.
“The claim that herdsmen bought the lands they are occupying will not stop government from taking steps to protect lives and property.
“The primary purpose of government according to the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is for the protection of lives and property.
“The council Chairman did not drive them from Oshimili land. He only said they should vacate the bushes herdsmen are occupying.
“What is wrong telling herdsmen to live in their host communities instead of the bushes which has become a haven for unscrupulous herdsmen to perpetrate mayhem against the defenseless populace?”
Chairman should find out who gave herdsmen land- Ogbonna
An Itsekiri leader, Comrade Amechi Ogbonna, however, slightly differed from the lot, saying, “My take is that the local government Chairman should be bold to ask questions: Who gave herdsmen land and who issued the receipts they are holding; they have a right to live but we should tell the truth to ourselves; kidnapping was part of our culture before herdsmen came to the state”
Chase them out – Chair, IYC, Western Zone
Chairman, Ijaw Youth Council, Western Zone, Frank Akiefa, however, countered him, declaring: “The council should do the needful because this people are becoming unbearable in our communities.
“I am in support of the action they are about to carry out. I have said it before that we need these people out of our communities.
“As the Chairman of IYC, Western Zone, l will not tolerate herdsmen in Ijaw communities, I am taking drastic action in that direction soon”
Other Delta LGs should emulate Oshimili North – Ozobo, IPDI President
National President of Ijaw Peoples Development Initiative, IPDI, Mr Austin Ozobo, in a statement, last night, said: “The steps taken by Oshimili North to evict killer- herdsmen from the area is commendable and should be emulated by every local government council in the state.
“They do not have land here in Delta. Nobody sold land to them. The areas they are illegally occupying do not belong to them.
“They have no right to claim land here in Delta and let them be repatriated immediately. Allowing them to rent house in the town is dangerous, it is like inviting a criminal to live with you. Let them be evicted from all bushes in the area. Their protest is frivolous and be ignored”.