Delta State Commissioner for Higher Education, Prof Patrick Muoboghare and a traditional chief in Uwheru kingdom, in this interview, speaks on what he describes as moves by herdsmen to take over lands in the kingdom. He also explains the ban on sale and consumption of beef in the area over the killing of natives by herdsmen.
What is the position of Uwheru people after the exhumation of eight corpses reportedly killed by armed herdsmen?
The people of the kingdom have met and some resolutions have been reached to stop herdsmen killings in Uwheru kingdom. First, the ban on the sale, purchase, and consumption of cow meat in the entire Uwheru kingdom has taken effect. It includes beef for marriages and burials. In fact, cow meat cannot be consumed anymore in the kingdom. It has become a taboo in the kingdom already.
Second, all the children of the victims killed during the recent attack would be on a scholarship to be sponsored by the community from primary to university level.
The community would have the mandate to bury them, not their respective families and they would be buried in a central place making it a communal responsibility.
We also resolved that all herdsmen should vacate the communities in the kingdom unconditionally and the government should restrain security agents and agencies from aiding the herdsmen. We also appeal to Delta State government to pass the anti-grazing bill into law. We would continue to resist the takeover of our farmland and farmstead by killer herdsmen.
Your claims that soldiers threatened to destroy your community have been debunked by the army authorities. Do you still stand by your earlier statement?
When the place was chaotic after the soldiers from Bomadi retreated to reinforce, the Agbara-Otor military team came and said there was no reason for the protest by the youths, saying nobody died.
They insisted that unless they see the dead bodies, they were going to bring down the community. They appealed to me to talk to the youths to go for the dead bodies if any.
The soldiers now took the youths into the forest where they met the Fulani herdsmen. They (soldiers) told the herdsmen saying, ‘give us the dead bodies’ and the herdsmen said they would not release them. At that point, they dared the soldiers and the soldiers made a hasty retreat.
The next day, they went back and saw some corpses including the ones burnt beyond recognition by the herdsmen. If not that the governor prevailed on the GOC, and the matter became known, they were ready to bring down the community.
On the issue of statements made by the military that the herdsmen have left, on that Saturday when they visited and wanted to retrieve the corpses, the team made up of policemen and soldiers and some natives came face to face with the armed herdsmen who dared them not to move an inch further and of course, they couldn’t move an inch further.
The Uwheru people believe that these Fulani herdsmen would not be this daring if they do not have a cover.
We all know that the rice that we consume in Nigeria comes from the north, meaning their soil can sustain rice farming. Anywhere rice can grow, grass can grow there. All the carrots, tomatoes and onions come from the north. The northern soil is not sterile but fertile. It is just that there is an attempt to claim our land and it is a kind of Jihad.
The people of Uwheru are saying Uthman Danfodio did not conquer Uwheru. Our land cannot be Fulani land and the most painful thing is that these people tell you boldly that they are from Chad, Mali, and the Niger Republic. The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has said it many times that the herdsmen terrorising us are not Nigerians.
Since they are not Nigerians and the natives want to push them out of Nigerian soil, why do soldiers come to their rescue? There must be something fundamental that we do not understand about the Nigerian government.
Also, one of the final resolutions reached was to thank the Governor of Delta State because when it was obvious that the soldiers were going to bring the community down, we sent a message to him and told him the true position including the number of persons that died. He immediately got in touch with the GOC, who stopped his men. Even at that, we were threatened that unless there was evidence that Fulani herdsmen killed our people, they would do something. I was there. I was not told by a third party. That was what led us to going to the bush to prove that such a thing indeed happened.
Also, after the governor had made a statement on the number of persons killed, the state Commissioner of Police denied it until the soldiers went to exhume corpses. Why would the Commissioner deny it? We see this as a game plan and that is our belief because they know what they are doing. If they want to eliminate Boko Haram and killer herdsmen, they can, but they do not want to do so.
Commissioner of Police
People are carrying arms, yet you refuse to declare them a terrorist organisation. I have never seen IPOB protesters carrying arms, not even cutlass, yet you branded them, terrorists.
The first set of bodies came after the Police Commissioner had said nobody died and they saw dead bodies, unfortunately, the police were not implicated. Not that the police killed them, and we showed the DPO that these are the bodies and we are taking them to the mortuary, but the commissioner of police was not happy about that because he had said nobody died.
Ever since the corpses came or rather were exhumed and became public knowledge, the Police Commissioner has not retracted his statement.
How will the leadership of the community implement the ban on beef sale and consumption?
We have a way of ensuring that taboos are observed in Uwheru. The women would not allow anybody to sell the meat in Uwheru. It is impossible as they are the greatest victims of the attacks. Some of the young men only went there to rescue their wives, sisters, and mothers and they were shot dead. That is why you see that the victims were men because they heard the distress calls from the farmland and instinctively, they went in the direction of the distress call only for them to be killed, hence we call them heroes of Uwheru.
The sanction on anyone who flouts the ban would be the same as sanctions meant for anyone desecrating our shrines. They are not the English type of sanctions known to the world. Somebody might just be walking on the streets and be behaving, talking or crying like a cow. We have ways of dealing with such people. Once the taboo is pronounced, the ancestors take over and deal with them.
This is indeed an army of occupation. Don’t forget that Nigeria borders were thrown open to Fulani all over the world and that is common knowledge. Where are those foreigners? They are in the south and of course, you know that these cows are not owned by these boys who lead them but big men.
When did people say they would not rest until Sharia is practised all over the country what did they mean?
It is just that those people are more organised than us, they indoctrinate their children, telling them that we are infidels. They can kill us and nothing would happen. Otherwise, how can an ordinary herdsman terrorise a soldier and the soldier will backpedal? Yet when they (soldiers) mount roadblock, they would be punishing people. If soldiers were not protecting them, we can deal with them on our own. But for the protection they receive from soldiers, most communities in Delta State can deal with the herdsmen.