Following the incessant killings of their kit and kin including the latest murder of a clergyman by suspected herdsmen, two communities took their protest to Edo Government House. Adibe Emenyonu who monitored the protest chronicles how the killings took place
Pius Eremosele is a clergyman. He is a pastor of one of the branches of Church of God Mission (CGM) located at Odighi, one of communities in Ovia North East Local Government Area of Edo State. Being an agrarian community, Eremosele aged 61, also engages in agriculture as he owned large hectares of cassava farm including a plantain plantation.
Due to the size of his farm, he employed extra hands that helped him in land preparation, cultivation, weed control as well as harvesting his produce during maturity.
The man of God has been engaged in this routine vocation apart from his pastoral work for many years until April 8th this year when he and two of his workers went to farm and didn’t return home. His two workers only managed to return three days after their departure.
This development threw the entire community into panic. A search party was immediately constituted after the matter was reported to the Enogie (Community Head). The villagers were about going into the bush when his wife’s phone rang.
Expectantly she picked the call after seeing that it was her husband’s number that was calling her.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t her husband that responded, but someone who identified himself as leader of a group of herders in the area. The person instructed her to arrange a ransom of N4 million else her husband will be killed.
Before they could arrange for the ransom, Pastor Eromosele was reportedly shot behind close range before his attackers used machete to cut through his skull and all parts of his body. His decomposing body was found after three days by the search party comprising hunters, vigilance group and the police.
But for the shoes and clothes he wore before going to farm on that fateful day, his relations wouldn’t have recognised him.
Narrating the ugly incident, one of workers who narrowly escaped the killer herdsmen, Kingsley Emmanuel, said two herdsmen stopped them at the farm with guns. He said the herdsmen showed them a man in a photograph as being the person that sent them to kill Pastor Eromosele, adding that the herdsmen had already collected the sum of N31,500 that was with him (Pastor) after asking the late Pastor to call his wife for the ransom payment.
According to him, “After they beat us with sticks and guns, my boss called his wife around 5p.m. and told her what happened. They said she should bring N4 million but later reduced it to N2 million.
“They took us to another place and tied my boss down. My boss was begging them but they refused. My brother Akpan was cut on the hand but he managed to escape.
“The next day, they said they want to kill us since my boss wife did not bring money. After my boss begged them, he told his wife to keep the money and used it for his burial. “They used cutlass to cut my hand and shoulder but my boss told me to run so I ran but was very weak so I slept in the bush.”
This is not the first time the community and their neighbours of Odiguetue are experiencing the menace of this cattle raiders. On March 17th five persons including an undergraduate were murdered in cold blood by the herders while several others were hospitalised.
The undergraduate was a first year student of the Ambrose Alli University Ekpoma, named Collins Ojierakhi. He was killed alongside his friend and another at Ugboha, Esan South East LGA, while the other two other victims met their untimely death in the same Odighi and Odiguete communities with 12 persons said to be on danger list following the attack by herdsmen.
The incident at Ugboha, THISDAY was told, occurred Friday night of the same day at about 7:30p.m. when the deceased (Collins) and his friends were on their way back to the village from Uromi.
Father of the deceased, Mr. Festus Ojierakhi, while narrating the incident said: “I was actually in the house eating at about 8p.m. and I started asking about my son who was not there. I was told he went to Uromi with his friends on a motorcycle.
“It was around 9p.m. that the mother of my sonÂ´s friend started shouting, crying that herdsmen have killed her son. I rushed out of the house and I asked about my own son. I was told he died too with his friend.
“We immediately detailed boys and ran to the place. When we got there we were told that the police had come to take the corpses to Ubiaja mortuary. I was told my son and two others including the friend died. They said the other person that died is an Igbo person.
“The information we heard was that as my son was driving home with his Okada, the herdsmen and their cattle blocked the road and they waited for them to leave the road. Immediately they passed, some of their people in the bush opened fire on my son and his friends and they died at the spot.â€
On the other hand, the killing at Odiguete and Odighi communities in Ovia North East, as learnt, happened early morning Saturday, when the herdsmen invaded the community, shooting sporadically and in the process killed two persons.
It was gathered that the community and the herdsmen have been having a running battle in the area for sometime now.
Against this backdrop, elders, women and youths in the communities stormed the State House of Assembly, the palace of Oba of Benin, HRM Oba Ewuare lamenting that their lives were in danger as the herdsmen have made their children orphans, widows and widowers and now threaten to revisit them with more deadly attacks for daring to report the excesses of herdsmen to the police.
Led by Osaro Ademoyo, they alleged that millions of naira worth of farm produce and houses have been lost to the menacing activities of the cattle herders.
Ademoyo said, â€œWe came here in respect of what is happening in our community by Fulani herdsmen. We in Odighi and Odiguete communities, which are neighbours; they have raped our wives and killed our farmers; taken over our land and their cattle eat our crops. Even our river has been polluted and they destroyed our huts and set them on fire.”
They protesters noted that, â€œThey (herdsmen) are flinging riffles. If you see two of them rearing cattle, they will have AK-47. I learnt one AK-47 sells for about N4m. If two people rearing about 40 cows can handle AK-47 for about N8 million, meaning there is government behind them.â€
He said: â€œThe latest one is that they came and let their cows into our farms where they ate up the crops and set the farms on fire. They reported to the state police commissioner and he invited us and they questioned us that they killed some herdsmen in the bush.
â€œWe told them (police) we are not aware whether people died there or not and that the people that farm there (in the forest reserve area) are farmers as well but they are not from our communities, they came from somewhere else. The police commissioner asked us to sign an undertaking which eight of us did that we would cooperate with the Hausa/Fulani and no longer make trouble with them.â€
The latest protest carried out by the two communities THISDAY investigation revealed was not because a pastor was killed. It is because previous protests and alarm raised by the people were ignored by those who should have acted to avoid further bloodshed.
However, seeing that the authorities have demonstrated lukewarm attitude towards the killings, the people decided to stage another protest. This time, they took the casket bearing the remains of the dead pastor and deposited same at the gate of Government House, Benin City.
Armed with placards of various inscriptions such as, â€˜We Want Justice for Our Fatherâ€™, â€˜Fulani Herdsmen That Are Killing Us Must Be Fished Outâ€™, â€˜We Need Protection and Justiceâ€™, the villagers chanted that government must fish out the killer herdsmen, alleging that rather than arresting the killers, the police since the past three or four days have been coming to their communities to arrest about 22 of their people at night.
“We no longer sleep at night; they bring soldiers; that is why we decided to cry out to the State House of Assembly, the Oba’s Palace and the media.
“We have lost more than four persons with others maimed. We got uncountable gunshot injuries even so many machines and farms were burnt. What the Fulani herdsmen are even telling us now that we should not farm again. We are afraid to go to the farm now. Our sources of livelihood have been destroyed,â€ said Peter Omozusi, one of the community elders.
According to him, â€œOdighi and Odiguete communities, we have common boundary; we build houses together. We farm in the same land. Where we farm today as I am talking to you we are in March, we are supposed to be planting now. They (Fulani herdsmen) are now disturbing us not to enter our farms again.â€
He said, â€œSince this problem of Fulani herdsmen came, we are not a different people. Some years ago same thing happened. We wrote petitions to the House of Assembly. They wrote us back that the Fulani herdsmen should remove their cows from our communities. But they are not yielding to them. We donâ€™t know who is to execute the law. We are just in the middle of the stream, we are drowning.”
Apparently sensing the futility of continuously keeping quiet and expecting the danger to go on its own, the Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki in a volte face, last week summoned up courage by placing a 90-day ban on grazing in the communities and ordered that the forest in the affected communities be combed to fish out those behind the killings.
The governor said the ban became necessary to stop further killings as the duty of his administration is to protect lives and property of the people of the state.
“We have set up a special taskforce made up of the Army, Police, State Security Service, hunters and vigilante groups to comb the bushes and dislodge squatter camps of killer herdsmen and to ensure no grazing takes place in Odighi, Odiguetue communities and environs,” adding that within two weeks, the taskforce will go round the affected communities to get information that will help dislodge the criminals who pose as herdsmen in the forest.
Obaseki who noted that before now Fulani herdsmen were known for carrying sticks around to control their cattle, he lamented that today some of them have become criminals.
He said there is need to separate herdsmen from cattle rustlers who steal cattle, invade farms, rape and kill people, and assured that efforts are being made to identify the real herdsmen in the state.
Obaseki said his administration is set to scale up agricultural activities in Odighi community which was once known as the food basket of the state, and pledged to fix the water system in the area and re-construct the old roads in the community to open up the area for development.
Speaking on the incident, the Commissioner of Police, Edo State, Mr. Johnson Babatunde Kokumo, said the herdsmen have been directed to leave the communities within a specified period of time, adding that their failure to leave within the time given to them will now attract combing the forest to fish them out forcefully.
He said even when they go and decide to come back, they (herdsmen) would be properly profiled so that their identity will be known to everybody, people in the communities where they reside, the local government, state and relevant security agencies.
“Iâ€™m sure if this is done, there won’t be any more killings. The order has been give and we are waiting for them to leave within the stipulated time given to them. Failure to do so, we will then comb the forest to get them out.
“Even at that, those who leave and want to come back to the place will be properly profiled and their identity known. It is because nobody knows them that they are committing havoc. Iâ€™m sure if their identity is known, they won’t do what they are doing because they will be conscious of the fact that people now know who they are,” Kokumo stated.