MEET FRANK OSHANUGOR
By Frank Oshanugor
The people of Ubulu-Uku Community in Aniocha South Local Government Area of Delta State are now living in fears as unknown gun men and Fulani herdsmen have invaded their forest, with their latest victim, Mr. Onuwa Ukwa escaping death by whiskers.
According to Ukwa who spoke on Tuesday night with AtlanticNewsonline , he had gone to attend to his palmwine on Easter Monday evening in their farm forest, a distance of about ten kilometers from the town.
He said on arrival where the felled palmwine trees were located, he was in the process of the usual inspection of the palmwine filtering points, when someone pointed torch light on him with an instruction that he should come forward.
The 43-year-old palm wine tapper cum trader said initially, he had mistaken the man who ordered him to come forward to be one of his fellow palmwine tappers but before he could truly ascertain who was talking to him, four other hefty men with torch lights and rifles in their hands emerged from nowhere, jointly commanding him to come closer.
When he realized the strangeness of the people who were closing in, on him with rifles in their hands, he became afraid and quite indecisive of what to do next. In a jiffy, he chose to do their bidding as they queried him asking him if he is a native of the town.
According to him, he replied in the positive and the five men told him that they were escaping from ill fated mission but suddenly missed their way. So they asked him to show them pathway that leads to where they could get to the main road leading to Agbor-Asaba expressway.
They were coming from the Ogwashi-Uku end through the pathway of electricity high tension commonly known in local parlance as Power line. He tried to convince them that walking backwards through the Power line pathway towards Ogwashi-Uku would be shorter for them, but they feared that they might end up falling into the hands of their pursuers and sternly warned Ukwa not to mention Ogwashi-Uku again.
So they ordered him to take them through another direction with a threat that should he fail to take them to where they could easily escape, they would kill him. Courageously, he led them westward assuring them that they would get easy access through Ute Ogbeje Village. He was leading the way with tough light brought by the armed men. As they journeyed, the men ordered him to switch off his phone with a threat that if the phone rang, they would kill him.
The journey took them hours through the bush path from about 8pm on Monday night to 5am on Tuesday morning. Ukwa told AtlanticNewsonline that after some hours of trekking, navigating the dangerous bush paths, the armed men who seemed to have lost some energy, suggested that they took some rest. While clustering around some trees, he was asked to stay some metres away.
After they had rested and checked time to be about 5am, they were informed that the distance to Ute Ogbeje was not much. There and then, they continued with the journey and on sighting some houses in the village and getting more direction on how to access the main road leading to Agbor, they told him, he was free to go back while the five of them would continue with the journey.
Having secured his freedom, Ukwa said he took to his heels fearing that the men might come after him. He ran as fast as he could, with the excitement of one who narrowly escaped death.
Meanwhile, since he stayed beyond his normal time of returning from palmwine evening inspection, members of Ukwa’s immediate community (Udo Quarters) had gathered themselves into a search team largely made up of youths.
The youths in their dozens armed with matchets had stormed the forest searching through familiar palmwine tapping areas where Ukwa’s motorcycle and gallons were seen. According to one of the youths who spoke anonymously to *AtlanticNewsonline , immediately they discovered the motorcycle without any trace of him, there was the near conclusion that Ukwa must have been killed by unknown persons particularly as Fulani herdsmen had over the years invaded the forest with their cows ravaging everywhere.
After hours of fruitless search for Ukwa, the youths returned home about 2am to report to their elders. It was gathered that report about the missing Ukwa was made to the local vigilante group and the police station at Ubulu-Uku before the search team embarked on their journey.
Coincidentally, as the Udo community elders were strategizing with the youths on Tuesday morning on how to decisively storm the forest in search of the missing Onuwa Ukwa, he suddenly arrived the community about 7.30am to the joyful embrace of family and community members.
He described his experience with the gunmen as life threatening and very harrowing. According to him, those who took him hostage for hours might not be Fulani herdsmen as two of them could be heard communicating in Igbo language.
Meanwhile, the fears of Ubulu-Uku Community with respect to the settlement of the Fulani herdsmen in parts of the community’s forest is giving residents serious concern as rumours have it that given the audacity of the herdsmen in settling down without qualms, some indigenes may have clandestinely sold parts of the community’s forest to the herdsmen for cattle grazing.
Of recent some concerned citizens had raised alarm trying to know if the leadership of the community has in anyway had relationship with the Fulani herdsmen. Some residents who spoke to AtlanticNewsonline on the basis of anonymity expressed worry that a dangerous group collaborating with the Fulanis seemed to be emerging with respect to the sales of the Community’s forest and land generally. They feared that in no distant time, the Fulani herdsmen would highly entrench themselves and possibly claim ownership of the entire Ubulu-Uku community.
However, the President-General of Ubulu-Uku Development Council (UDC) Sir Jonathan Monye in an interview with AtlanticNewsonline on Thursday dispelled some of the rumours in town. He posited that while it may not be proper to go public with detailed security issues about the town, it is necessary to say that a seven-man Committee had been set up recently, principally to interface with every stranger settling in the community including the herdsmen in the forest. The Committee’s mission is like trying to reach accord with settlers.
The idea according to him, is to properly identify who the settlers are, their leaders, mission, who to hold accountable at any time and the best possible way to promote peace in the community. He emphatically stated that the Ubulu-Uku authorities have not ceded any part of the land or forest belonging to the community to any settler or herdsmen to the best knowledge of the Development organ and several visits made by them to the Traditional Council if there was such discussion and such invite from Palace never happened till date.
He confirmed that he was also aware of the rumour in town that some indigenes had collected money from unknown aliens. He explained that this has prompted him to lead a delegation to the Royal Palace with a view to interfacing with the chiefs and establish the truth.
The President General noted that even though everyone seemed to disbelieve the rumour in the town, the UDC leadership as at the time of going to press was still making effort to establish the truth since the rumour which portends a great danger could not be dismissed with a wave of the hand.
He explained further that one of the reasons for the latest move to identify the settlers and their mission is to put paid to the endless rumour of attack by the herdsmen on the indigenes and counter attack on the herdsmen and their cattle.
By profiling the herdsmen and other settlers and establishing link with their leaders, it would be easy to give conditions and terms that would guide their stay on the community land or forest, the UDC chieftain further expatiated. He added that by interfacing with the leadership of the settlers, it would be easy to establish if truly some indigenes collected money and sold land to them, who are the persons, amount collected and so on since nobody is authorised by any law of the land to sell the community’s land or forest to any stranger.
According to Monye, the Ubulu-Uku Community is not governed by only one man but rather some institutions which include the King, the Chiefs, the UDC and so on. For this reason, he said it would be absolutely out of place for any body to sell any part of the community to strangers without the knowledge of the aforementioned institutions.