BY KAZIE UKO
The Presidency may have unwittingly confirmed a 2017 allegation that helicopters were being used to ferry arms to Fulani herdsmen, in the remote areas of Delta State, following a statement by Mallam Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, that there was strong suspicion that choppers were being used to ferry arms for bandits in Zamfara State.
The National Security Adviser (NSA), Major General Babagana Monguno (rtd.), on Tuesday said President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the declaration of Zamfara State a “no-fly-zone”, as part of efforts to tackle the security challenges in the state.
Monguno also announced that the federal government had banned mining activities in the state.
In a report published Wednesday by Daily Trust, Mallam Shehu said the federal government’s proclamation on Zamfara was to serve dual purpose – end banditry and economic sabotage, as there were strong suspicions that gold was being swapped for arms by criminal elements operating in the state.
“Even in Zamfara, there is a strong suspicion that some of those choppers are being used to ferry arms for bandits and also to evacuate gold and illegally smuggled out of the country, so the country loses everything in the mining.
“As you are aware, Nigerian gold market is a big business and the government wants to do two things at the same time by doing this; end banditry and economic sabotage through the smuggling of gold,” he said.
Shehu also said that a big market in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is called “Nigerian Gold Market”.
Delta community alleges helicopters used in making supplies to herdsmen
In March 2017, a state lawmaker and some of his constituents in Abraka community, Ethiope East Local Government Area, Delta State, had raised the alarm that unknown persons in military camouflage were making strange supplies with helicopters to herdsmen, at a barren region of Ovre-Abraka village.
But this was promptly dismissed by the police as false and baseless.
According to Vanguard, a spokesperson of the community, whose name was given as Efe Samuel, confirmed that the people were panicky over the supplies, saying that residents had reported seeing helicopters flying around in the area.
“Most of the times, the helicopters normally land inside the desert area. There are two helicopters with different colours. One of them is painted in green army colour, just like the herdsmen, most of whom are dressed in military camouflage and armed with rifles. Though I cannot give much details on their operations inside the desert area because as you know, we do not stay there, but only go there to hunt and farm, these herdsmen also use motorcycles in patrolling the area most of the times and they shoot at anyone who questions them,” Samuel was quoted as saying.
A farmer in the area, Victor Erherha, told Vanguard that the development was common knowledge in the community, even though he had not sighted the helicopters himself.
“They also use trailers to transport things into the area and they normally brandish guns on the face of the farmers in the area. I have personally fallen victim to their attack some time ago,” he said.
Accusing security agents of complicity, the farmer said: “There is a synergy between the Alhajis and some security agents, who have the phone numbers of some top officers.
“In the event of any arrest, these Alhajis, who have contacts with the security agencies facilitate bail for the herdsmen.”
Security agencies threaten lawmaker
This allegation did not go down well with security agencies, as the lawmaker was immediately invited by then Delta State Commissioner of Police, Mr Zanna Ibrahim, for questioning. He was allegedly asked to identify the helicopter or else, be taken into custody. The Department of State Service (DSS), reportedly contacted the lawmaker on the same matter.
But a security expert, who spoke on the matter, said it defied logic how the DSS and Police expected the lawmaker to provide the identity of the helicopter.
“Are they not aware that in the past 11 months, several persons have been killed and massacred in the area by suspected herdsmen, who shot them dead while in their farms, so who would wait to identify the helicopter and give them the identity. They should do their investigation and leave the lawmaker alone,” he said.
Police dismiss allegation of helicopter ferrying supplies
In its official reaction, the State Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Andrew Animaka, said: “The command wishes to state unequivocally that a thorough enquiry conducted, following the purported claim credited to the member representing Ethiope East in Delta State House of Assembly, revealed the claim as highlighted in the report to be false, baseless, reckless and misleading.”
DSP Aniamaka asserted: “Needless to state that Ovre-Abraka, a forest reserve area, is temporarily inhabited by a minimal number of herdsmen, who have been living peacefully with the community.
“The command enjoins members of the public to ignore the baseless information and continue to live peacefully with one another. It also urged those spreading false rumours capable of endangering public peace to desist forthwith,” he added.