Omon-Julius Onabu in Asaba
Residents of Issele-Azagba town in Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State have raised the alarm over the siege of armed herdsmen.
Addressing a press conference on Saturday at the palace of the monarch in the town, the people said eight persons have been killed and 16 others kidnapped by the bandits during the series of attack, including three attacks between February 6 and March 4 that left a trail of blood and sorrow.
The octogenarian traditional ruler of Issele-Azagba kingdom, HRM Obi Francis Jidouwa Ijei II, who personally led the protest march and press conference, was joined at the event by some members of his royal council including the Ogbelani of Issele-Azagba, Chief Christian Uwandulu, executive members of the Issele-Azagba Development Union led by its President-General, Chief Benneth Uche Iloh, the leader of the community youth association, Comrade Ogegbu Edozie, the vice-chairman of Aniocha North Local Government Area, Mr. Tobechukwu Uwamedua, and the palace secretary, Mr. Loius Ndoh.
The people motef that they have been left with no choice but to call on Delta State Government, the federal government and peace-loving global community to come to the aid of Issele-Azagba as they have been overwhelmed by the persistent attacks by the bandits they consider as “terrorists.”
While restraining themselves from stating categorically that their community was under siege of Fulani herdsmen, the people said portions of land belonging to Issele-Azagba has been forcibly taken over by the herdsmen with thousands of their cattle, scaring away the people from their farmlands with dangerous weapons.
“Issele-Azagba people are well known as a peace-loving people; we cannot take laws into our hands. We don’t even have the wherewithal to fight our attackers, who we considered as nothing else but criminals and terrorists.
“There is a place in Issele-Azagba bush that has been forcefully occupied and filled with thousands of cattle by herdsmen, and they are well armed. It is Issele-Azagba land but now no member of the community dares go there for fear of being killed by the heavily armed herdsmen.
“We have reported the forceful takeover of our land by the herdsmen to the police. This is a failure of government; the government at all levels have failed to protect the people.
“People who were abducted interacted with their kidnappers; and, they know their abductors by the language they speak while in the kidnappers’ den. So, they are able to tell who their kidnappers are,” Edozie said.
Speaking further on the ordeal of residents of Issele-Azagba, the community youth leader said they could no longer sit back and watch a situation where women and children were daily being turned widows and orphans due to the unprovoked attacks.
“The hoodlums have decided to take this place as their refuge and doing whatever they like. How can the federal government secure us in Issele-Azagba from Abuja? Meanwhile, the attackers come to make our women widows and husbands widowers. This situation now is: Issele-Azagba people versus the herdsmen and criminals.
“Yes, the community has been doing its best; and, the police too have been doing their best. They have been patrolling the town in the past few days, but we don’t know whether it will be sustained. Therefore, we want the state government to fulfill its promises in October last year, to fence the mixed signals school for the safety of the students and teachers. Secondly, there should be good access road from Issele-Azagba to Otulu community by tarring the two-kilometre road,” he added.
Although, the community has for decades played host to numerous people of different ethnic extraction and religious affiliations, including Hausa and Fulani, Urhobo, Edo and Yourba, most of who reside there and work in Asaba, Onitsha and other neighboring towns, the unsolicited presence of armed herdsmen in their kingdom has been a major source of pain and unhappiness to Issele-Azagba people.
The president-general of the development union lamented that though the vigilance group in the town has worked tirelessly to complement the efforts of the police and other security operatives to ensure security in the community, the attacks have apparently increased in intensity and frequency.
Two persons including a teacher were killed when Issele-Azagba community was attacked by bandits who abducted several persons in October 2019.
The gunmen struck again on February 6, then on February 23 and, yet again on March 4, killing two people, injuring many and taking others hostages for ransom on each occasion.
Illoh said, “On 6th February, 2020, another attack was carried out in which one engineer, Sebastine Kadiri was killed in his house. On 4th March, 2020 another attack came that was one too many.”
Nonetheless, youths, men, women and the elderly besieged the venue of the press conference in protest with placards bearing various messages: “Enough of killings in our beloved town, Issele-Azagba; “Herdsmen attack has become unbearable in Issele-Azagba;” “Our wives not safe, husbands not safe, children not safe, teachers not safe, property not safe, crops not safe.”
Other placards displayed at the venue of the press conference read: “Okowa! Okowa!! Okowa!!! Issele-Azagba is calling for help, bandits have taken over our community;” “We cannot walk free in Issele-Azagba!;” “The activities of herdsmen must stop in Issele-Azagba;” and “It is the responsibility of government to protect lives.”