No fewer than 300 Fulani indigenes, mostly herders, have taken over a section of Okpanam community, Oshimili North Local Government Area, Delta State, and slowly turning the occupied area into a community without the authorisation of the traditional ruler (Ugoani) of Okpanam Kingdom, HRM Michael Ogbolu.
HRM Ogbolu raised the alarm during a tripartite meeting, last week, at his palace in Okpanam, involving the indigenes, chairman of Oshimili North LGA, Mr. Innocent Esewezie and Fulani leaders, as the community gave the intruders a 15-day ultimatum to vacate the area they are occupying.
Following the incursion of Fulani people into the woodland of Akwukwu-Igbo, Okpanam and other communities in Oshimili North, increasing killings, kidnapping and maiming of residents, the council under the leadership of Louis Ndukwe, passed an executive order in 2020, ordering all herders and strangers residing in undergrowth of the communities to vacate and relocate to the towns where natives live.
The monarch, who spoke to Vanguard on phone, yesterday, said: “Fulani people just went to occupy one part of Obodogba land belonging to Okpanam community. In our previous engagement, Obi Eluunor told us that anything concerning the Fulani people, we should route it through his office.
“I wrote to Obi Eluuno, I gave him seven days to remove the Fulani people from our bushes.
“Then the Commissioner of Police wrote, fixing a meeting for last week, at the same time, the local government chairman, Mr. Esewezie, came around, asking that we sit down to address the issues. He galvanized the whole of them and we met here in my palace and I told them that the matter is very simple, only that the government in Delta State does not respect the laws made by it.
“During the tenure of the former council chairman, Louis Ndukwe, the council came up with executive order requiring all Fulani people, herders and strangers in our bushes to vacate and come and live with us in the town, but nothing was done.
“Our position is that the chairman of Oshimili North, Esewezie, should give effect to the executive order; we cannot accommodate these people in our bushes. We are predominantly farmers, they bulldoze their way into the bushes, they eat up our farm crops and also rape our women.
“The long and short of it is that we gave them 15 days with which to relocate and that by July 14, 2022, the council chairman will go there (occupied area) himself to witness the evacuation.”
Esewezie could not be reached for comments, but sources said the council boss has waded into the matter and met on Sunday with the herders.
However, a community leader, said: “The council chairman held a meeting with Fulani herdsmen even on Sunday, you know that the former council chairman came up with an executive order in 2020. It has to be implemented. Few days ago, he also met with Fulani people, he is dealing with the security challenges community by community.
“The truth is that these people (Fulani) went to Okpanam, forcefully took a parcel of land and as we speak, they are turning themselves into a community of over 300 persons without authorisation from the community.
“They just come into any community, bulldoze their way and are doing all sorts of nonsense. Luckily for us, the leadership of the Fulani is cooperating with the council, the police are also cooperating.
”Ndukwe added: “We have agreed with traditional rulers and stakeholders. We have informed the police and other security agencies.
“What we are saying is enough is enough. We do not want to accommodate anybody in our bushes anymore. It is about the security of our people.
“If you want to live in Oshimili North, buy a piece of land and stop living in bushes,” he added.
Displeased with the directive, some of the herders at the time took to Benin-Asaba highway in protest. Their spokesperson, Idris Abubakar, said they were legal occupants of Oshimili as they pay rents.
He said: “The Federal Government should come to our aid so they can allow us stay as legal occupants. The government should come to our aid and halt the council chairman from passing this so-called executive order.
“Whoever is living in any place is a legal occupant of that place. We have receipts that they gave to us. We pay tenancy each year.”
Ndukwe, reacting to the protest, insisted that the order was not to victimize any tribe or persons but to rid the bushes of criminals using the scrublands to perpetrate crimes.
Govt not aware of Okpanam’s land invasion by herdsmen— Aniagwu
Meanwhile, the state Commissioner for Information, Mr. Charles Aniagwu, while reacting to the development, said the state government was not aware of invasion of part of Okpanam land by herdsmen.
Aniagwu, however, said there were some northerners in the area doing menial jobs to earn a living, urging Nigerians to learn to live together as one.
Acknowledging that there were some bad elements from the north, he said it was not enough to label every northerner a herdsman.