– from Kalu Oko, Umuahia –
The people of Umuobasi-ukwu in Ozuitem community in Bende Local Government Area of Abia State have fled their homes as a result of mass arrest by the State Police Command.
The mass arrest was triggered by the death, last Sunday, of suspected herdsman following a clash between the villagers and the herdsmen.
Crops worth millions of Naira were also said to have been destroyed during the incident.
Commissioner of Police, Mr. Leye Oyebade, confirmed this at a press briefing on Monday in Umuahia.
In a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon, Secretary-General of the community, Chief Uwakwe Mbonu, disclosed that Police have swooped on the village.
“My people have fled their homes and the community has been turned into a ghost town. Some are taking refuge in the neighbouring villages and bushes without food, in order to avoid random arrest by the police,” he said.
While the villagers maintained that the police, during their raid, arrested eight persons, the Police Public Relations Officer, Geoffrey Ogbonna, said only six persons were arrested. He did not say if any of the herdsmen were arrested following the clash.
Ogbonna said that the arrests were in connection with the death of the herdsmen but the villagers said the corpse of the herdsman was recovered by the Police in the bush, far away from where the clash took place.
Mbonu disputed the police claim, saying that his people had no hand in the death of the herdsman as no death was recorded during the clash. According to him, the herdsmen allegedly invaded the community farmlands in the early hours of Sundaywith their cattle.
He said that the herdsmen took to their heels, along with their cattle, when the youths mobilised to resist their invasion.
Mbonu said that the community was utterly shocked when the Police that came to the community on the heels of the invasion, brought a corpse from the bush and accused the community of being responsible for the death.
He said that the place where the police claimed to have recovered the corpse was situated about 20 kilometres away from the community and absolved the community of killing the herdsman.
Mbonu said that the Police had embarked on mass arrest of the natives in the aftermath of the incident, with no fewer than eight persons so far arrested by detectives from the State Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
He appealed to the police authorities and the state government to take urgent steps to halt the mass arrest.
Indigenes of Umuobasi-ukwu who spoke with journalists at Umuahia said that the one-sided mass of arrests by the police would embolden the herdsmen to launch another attack on the community which has become more vulnerable.
“We don’t just understand why the Police should be arresting our people leaving out the Fulani herdsmen who had provoked the clash with our youths,” said Okoro Ndukwe, who fled his home and is taking refuge in the capital city of Umuahia.