BY AUSTIN OYIBODE
Residents of Ozoro and Oleh, the headquarters of Isoko North and South local government areas of Delta state are yet to come to terms over the killing of 12 Oleh indigenes in a farmland on Friday, October 16, 2020. The murder was said to have occurred at a place called Ada bush. The names of the murdered persons as given in a press statement by president general of Oleh, Mr. Believe Alakri, include Mrs. Glory Emiedafe, Mr. Sunday Uyeh, Mr. Victor Egeme, Mr. Friday Egeme, Mrs.Bridget Egeme, Mrs. Naomi Egeme, Mr. Ogheneovie Egeme, Mr. Solomon Emmanuel and Dennis Ojakovo. Their bodies were recovered on Friday, October 16 by a combined team of security operatives of the Isoko North and South. The bodies of two others were recovered on Wednesday 21 October 2020, leaving one, Orezinmena Egeme,still missing. According to Alakri, the murdered persons were hired to work on the farmland by one Barrister Lucky Okperi. He said the land was leased to Okperi by Oloro family, the owners of the land, for farming purposes.
Our reporter who visited the two communities reports that at the time of filing the report there is palpable fear of reprisal attack over the unwarranted killing of the Oleh 12. Although there has been a long drawn battle between Oleh and Ozoro over boundary separating the two communities from the other, findings revealed that the place where the killing took place was not close to the disputed boundary between Oleh and Ozoro communities. This is why some well meaning Isoko people have argued that if the murder did not occur at the disputed boundary, it therefore does not make sense alleging that the killing was carried out by the people of Ozoro community. Moreover, our reporter’s findings also revealed that Isoko people do not kill people in such a gruesome manner this killing was executed.
Emerald News also gathered from community sources that some Ozoro people had insisted that they do not fight secret fight, rather if they are to engage in a fight with any community, it will be physical combat, face to face and not a secret one of killing innocent souls who may not have any issue whatever with anyone. However, there are unverifiable reports from those who were able to escape from the scene of the killing that the perpetrators were heard speaking Isoko language.This development is a leading controversy in the entire issue surrounding the murder.
Arising from the killing, there is fear of the unknown still hovering in the air. There is still a great level of distrust between the two communities. As at the time our reporter visited, most okada riders would rather ply the express way and enter Oleh or Ozoro through the roundabout where the headquarters of the Isoko Development Union (IDU) is situated. For those who dare to ride through the Ozoro/Oleh back road, they are seen attaching leaves to their okada or cars.
An okada rider, who took our reporter through the back road said Ozoro residents who live along the back road leading to Oleh do not sleep in their houses at night. According to him, as the time ticks to between 6 and 7pm they abandon their homes and move to join their relatives and friends inside the Ozoro main town over fear of any eventuality. For him, there seems to be peace in the air, but it is superficial as there is annoyance from the Oleh end. The buildings in those areas are lonely and the people in them are daily living in fear.
Further investigations around the communities revealed that the land where the incident took place neither belongs to Oleh nor Ozoro communities. Other sources say the land belongs to two families. It neither belongs to Ozoro nor Oleh community. Our reporter learnt that there has been a long time conflict in the land. It has been generating tension over the years. Community leaders were said to have earlier advised them to settle and allow peace to reign. Investigations showed that one of the two families reportedly sold a portion of the land to Fulani herdsmen, but the other family disagreed with the plan of selling the land to Fulani herdsmen who are believed not to be friendly with people of religion other than theirs.
Following this disagreement, our reporter gathered that Fulani herdsmen have not been allowed to take possession of the land nor build any structure on it for whatever use. It was also learnt that the same piece of land was sold to another person who intended establishing a farm on it. That disagreement has been on before the ugly incident that happened on October 16, 2020. .Available reports indicate that the people murdered are mostly from one quarter in Oleh. They were said to be hired labourers who were working for their wages and had no connection to the land in whatever form.
One family has five members, another had two brothers, there were also one husband, wife and son. Another family involved has a wife, husband and two sons who were brutally murdered in the unfortunate incident. One of the youths murdered was preparing for the NECO examinations. Reports say the attackers were many and covered their faces with masks to avoid easy identification. The assailants shot at the people, thereafter butchered their bodies with cutlasses and gathered them in one place with a feather reportedly left on their bodies.
Another report says a middle aged woman was once killed in that place prior to this incident. It was learnt that the presidents general of both Oleh and Ozoro were once arrested and taken to Asaba but the outcome had remained shrouded in secrecy. The police in the two communities are on red alert in the case of any eventuality. The communities appear to be peaceful but there is fear of the unknown.
The president general of Oleh, Mr. Believe Alakri, in a press statement, disagreed with all the findings. For him, the murder was carried out by Ozoro people. In the press statement, he gave various instances where Ozoro people had threatened Oleh indigenes with dangerous weapons, alleging that Ozoro people have, over the years, been posed for war with Oleh people. He said since 2011 till date, Ozoro people have been posing threats to the Oleh people. He said the people of Ozoro through their presidents general have been pushing for war with violent agitations.
He disagreed with the belief that a portion of the said land was sold to Fulani herdsmen. For him, “It is a very fallacious claim that the land in reference, where Oleh people were murdered in cold blood, was sold to Fulani herdsmen. This spurious allegation is a total fabrication being deliberately propagated to divert attention from diligent investigation of the real culprits.”
He added: “At no time did the Oloro family, owners of the land, or the Odiologbo of Oleh kingdom, sell or lease the said land to any Fulani herdsmen.” He insisted that there has been no activity of Fulani herdsmen in Oleh land for the past five years. He added that herdsmen are not known to stick feathers on the ground as were found in the site of the incident. He said such action is a traditional symbol of killer-warriors called “Ogbu” or “Igbu” which is only common to the Urhobos and Isokos of Delta state. He called on the Inspector General of police and Delta state commissioner of police to spare no efforts at arresting and prosecuting the murderers of the Oleh 12.
Our reporter also visited the palace of the Odiolgbo of Oleh. One of the palace boys who told the monarch of the presence of journalists returned with a message from the king that he had made his statement and would not want to make more press comments any longer. He also said he was mourning the death of his subjects, hence he could not attend to journalists.
Director General of Warri, Effurun and Uwvie Development Agency, Chief Ovuozorie Macaulay, who is a stakeholder in Isoko land, in an earlier interview, said the killing was not in the nature and character of Isoko people. He noted that the people killed were in the land to work for their wages “and some people went there and murdered them. These persons were working in the farm and some persons with guns went there, shot them and afterwards, cut them in pieces.” He described the incident as barbaric and the height of wickedness. He said though some people alleged that feathers were placed on the corpses, he said the matter should be allowed for proper police investigation for good results. He said the issue was not a clash between Ozoro and Oleh.
He pleaded with the people of Oleh community, the traditional ruler and the families involved to be calm and not retaliate until the government and security agencies have been able to identify the culprits. “I do not call it Oleh/Ozoro clash. It was a security issue and it remains so. If you follow what I have said, there could be more to those killings. I am not also saying that it could not be what some people are thinking. But I do not like to narrow my thinking. I choose to leave it very broad,” Macaulay said.
President General of Isoko Development Union (IDU), Chief Iduh Amadhe, called for peace while waiting for the police report. He said IDU has been wading into Oleh and Ozoro land dispute over the years. He said there have been issues of destruction of materials, people being beaten up, holding some to ransom but the IDU which he heads has tackled them all headlong. He told our reporter that traditional oaths have been administered on both communities, all for peace to reign.
To the best of his knowledge, IDU has tried for Isoko people. But now he is disturbed at the recent development between the two communities. But he will continue to call for peace and the parties involved to calm down. “The role IDU can play is to appeal to all parties to calm down, those who are bereaved, we pray that God will give them the fortitude to bear the loss while we seek ways of peace. This kind of thing will not happen again. We want peace at all cost. We have not been able to say it is A, B, or C that did it.”
He said he is calling for peace because if the issue escalates, it will be very bad. He said Oleh and Ozoro are the major communities in Isoko nation and if anything happens to both communities, it will have spiral effect. “That is why we must maintain peace, we must protect the road. It is a call to all Isoko communities, traditional rulers and all Isoko politicians. They should come and help to bring permanent peace to Isoko land,” Amadhe said.
Also, Chief Paul John Odhomor, leader of Isoko Advancement Network (IAN), condemned the killing describing it as avoidable and unfortunate. He called for peace as terror would pay no one any good. He appealed to the peace loving people of Oleh to avoid reprisal attacks as such will escalate the already unfortunate situation in the land. He counselled that both parties should exercise restraints for the greater good of Isoko people, saying it will be devastating to have escalated hostilities between the two communities which are the headquarters of the Isoko nation.
He said: “We call on both sides to exercise restraints in the interest of peace. If hostilities continue, it will lead to a very destructive war that can bring about wanton loss of more lives and properties. We cannot afford the cost of this looming crisis. It will disrupt the advancement and gains we have made as a people.” He called for an all-embracing peace and reconciliation committee to be constituted to lay to rest the issues that have led to the crisis in the first place.
Rev. Dr. Godspower Agbuduta, Executive Assistance on Peace Building and Conflict Resolution to the governor, told The Pointer in Asaba that he paid visits to the two communities and had pleaded for peace and restraints. He said: “I paid a condolence visit to the Odiologbo of Oleh to condole with him for the killing of the 12 persons. I appealed to him to uphold the the peace he has been maintaining between his subjects and the Ozoro community. I told him until the police are done with their investigations, nobody can tell what must have transpired and that peace should be maintained between his subjects and the people of Ozoro.”
He said that as at the time of his visit and more calls he made, he said: “The Odiologbo told me he has been in pains, the cloth he was on for five days he has not removed it, though he said he is doing fine. I think he is doing fine with his subjects at the moment. I also spoke to HRM, the king of Ozoro, he pointed out that his people are calm, they are not making any trouble.”
On the issue of tension in the two communities, he said there is usually the fear of the unknown in situations as this. He, however, said as at the time he visited, the communities were calm. He said there are plans to erect police post on both sides of Oleh and Ozoro, he is of the belief that such should not be as it will be a sad reminder of the ugly incident for years. He said: “From my view, I will discourage the erection of that structure because it will remind the people of what is going on. That idea should be discouraged. By the time a post is here and there, it will keep on reminding the people of the incident.”
He advised that community leaders should be spoken to. “I have spoken to the chairman of Isoko South and North. We are talking about peace and calming people’s nerves because if you want to take an eye for an eye, both eyes will definitely go blind. We don’t want any eye to go blind any more. 12 souls have gone. So, what we need to do is not to aggravate the situation by panicking or using words that are not palatable on each other. So, I think I need to find out on what is going on that road.”
He advised the people of both communities to remain calm and peaceful. He assured Oleh people that the murderers will be fished out. “God will expose them and the police will get to the root of the root of the matter. This is how far I have gone because in absence of peace, there can’t be any development. We can’t sleep. We can’t live well as human beings. Peace is paramount in our human cycle, our homes, where we work, our state and country.”
Meanwhile, the eldest daughter of the slain four, Gift Igeme, decried the fate of suddenly becoming an orphan through unscrupulous elements.She lamenting that, the breadwinners of the family are all gone including the younger brother to the father who was also murdered with the wife and a son in that same incident.
As she grieved and wept bitterly, the girl who could possibly be in her early twenties released an outburst of curses against the perpetrators of the heinous crime who she said took advantage of the helplessness of the women and children who were killed alongside the men thereby committing an abominable sacrilege in Isoko land. She added that though her family was living below the average standard, their little support, their advice and defence were of great value to her.
According to her, she has nowhere to go and the only breadwinner is the eldest brother who is into bricklaying. “Presently I don’t have parents who will caution me and defend me during the constant fight and beatings l usually receive from my boyfriend who l had been co-habiting with against my parent advice”.
She called on the state government to ensure that justice is served speedily and also on well meaningful individuals to come to their aids, noting that their only fear at the moment is abandonment.