Hunters or criminals in disguise?

Mon, Feb 12, 2024 | By editor


 By Emeka Omeihe 

A number of events last week, appear to have unearthed a new dimension to the escalating insecurity in the country. They have to do with the challenge of truck loads of people who claim to be hunters but whose manner of entry into some communities in south has continued to raise serious apprehension.

This is by no means, the first time trailer loads of people with no clearly defined mission would be intercepted in parts of the south. In such recorded suspicious situations, those arrested were profiled with the innocent ones allowed to go. But some others who had suspicious motives were made to face further interrogation.

Ironically, the same trend is re-enacting, albeit in a very dangerous manner. Nothing bears this more eloquently than the arrest of 149 suspected criminals posing as hunters by the Ondo State Security Network Agency (Amotekun).  The suspects who were inside trucks from very far parts of the country were arrested in three local governments of the state. At the time of their arrest, they claimed to be hunters even as they were found with different weapons concealed inside their luggage kept in the trucks.

 State commander of Amotekun, Adetunji Adeleye said a majority of those people who claimed to be hunters were arrested around the black spots in the local governments with rampant robbery and kidnapping incidents.  

Before the Ondo incident, a social crusader, Chinonso Uba (Nonso Nkwa) had in a widely circulated video, raised alarm that a truck from the north was suspiciously dropping off some people at the fringes of one local government area within the Imo state capital territory, Owerri.

 He was miffed by the mission of those people as each was accompanied by a dog. He wondered what the mission of the people was in a state that does not boost of serious forests and has no reputation for hunting.

Uba’s suspicion was further raised by the fact that the strangers and their dogs were dropped off by the truck at a shanty where some northerners warehouse condemned iron; wondering the type of hunting expedition they are into without any knowledge of the forests in the state. 

Not long after Uba’s alert, an independently circulated video showing a group of people with their dogs being profiled by the security agencies began to circulate in the social media space.

Given the similarities the trending video bore with Uba’s account, the impression was created that it was the Imo scene he complained about.  But credible information indicated that it was a different but closely related situation altogether. 

It was an earlier arrest and profiling of people who arrived Delta state in a similar suspicious fashion but with assorted weapons ostensibly for the same hunting expedition. Available snapshots from the Delta state police command indicated that they were profiled, found to be genuine hunters and set free.

That may as well be. But the Delta police command’s clearance left many searing questions unanswered. Their hurried clearance cannot really bring a closure to the puzzles raised by the manner of arrival of the suspects, the weapons found in their possession and the type of hunting they are into. 

The clearance was too simplistic and hasty when all the facts of the matter are considered. Not with the increasing multidimensional insecurity and the cover of the forests in complicating the situation. Not with the increasing inability of the security agencies to smoke out the rampaging criminals taking advantage of the bushes and forests to levy war on the rest of us.

About last December, a welder very familiar with this writer had informed him that while working at a site somewhere in the outskirts of Owerri, he saw about 30 strange men of all sizes with local dogs of all descriptions combing the forests. Since he had lived in the north and speaks the Hausa language very fluently, he asked them in Hausa, my friends are these dogs for sale? They ignored him but one of them turned back, looked at him without uttering a word.

When Uba came up with the alert in one of the popular radio stations in Owerri, the same man told me that ‘Nonso Nkwa’ has come public with that story he told me earlier. But since Uba’s account happened on February 1st, 2024, it is clear that the so-called hunting has been going on without anybody raising an eyebrow. 

That is the dilemma some states in the south are currently entangled in. There are obvious questions to be resolved by this emerging brand of hunting. If the authorities in Delta did not address the pertinent questions thrown up by hunting narrative and had to release the suspects in that manner that should be their kettle of fish. The good thing is that questions are now being raised in Ondo and Imo on the criminal motive of the touted hunters. 

There are issues with where the supposed hunters were coming from, their number and mode of arrival. There should be explanations for the weapons they carry and what manner of hunting they intend doing; the timeframe of that activity. We also needed to know how they got information about those forests before setting out for the long journey. And many more!

And as Adeleye queried, if they are genuine hunters why not come open? Why hide the weapons they ferried from far-flung parts of the country to Ondo? And why would they have to come from the northern parts of the country or outside our shores to hunt in an Ondo village forest they have no knowledge of?

There is also the propriety of not reporting either to the security agencies or the traditional rulers in whose domain the forests are domiciled. You just cannot invade someone’s backyard ostensibly for hunting without seeking permission. There is everything wrong with that.  

If they were genuine hunters, they should have made consultations to know the limits of their endeavor. Certain forest reserves require permits and registration before entry. None of these conditions were met by the supposed hunters. Yet, they had the temerity to invade forests and bushes in cultures alien to them. 

It is not just about the right and freedom of movement. Neither is it about the right of any Nigerian to choose where to live and do business. Such rights have their limits. They stop where those of the owners of the forests begin. 

These forests and bushes belong to people and communities. You cannot possibly invade them without permission or consultation with the locals. Even then, the touted hunters may not even be Nigerians to speak of rights and freedom to do business anywhere. 

As in the case of the herdsmen, we have since been told that many of the criminal elements amongst them are foreigners. That they speak a language common to most people in the north and shared by Nigerian neighbors does not make them citizens. Nobody is there to profile this dimension. And that is the danger.

What will the scenario look like if truck loads of southerners with arms and ammunitions are ferried and dumped in Sokoto or Yobe states ostensibly on a hunting expedition at these uncertain times? And are there no longer restrictions on arms and ammunition bearing by unauthorized persons?

There is little doubt that the emerging development is a potent danger to lives and properties. It is a possible recruiting ground for the banditry and kidnapping that has left a greater chunk of this country at the mercy of all manner of criminals. It is surprising the authorities are treating this dimension with kid gloves even in the face of their helplessness in maintaining law and order.

The Ondo state Amotekun commander said they have strong reasons to believe that the touted hunters are the people who turn to kidnappers and armed robbers at night especially at the bad portions of the roads. He is not far from the truth. The arrest of most of the suspects at the bad spots within the local governments of the state gives further credence to this.

 It is a matter of grave concern that the security agencies are not according priority attention to this possible dimension to the festering insecurity. That could be part of the reasons insecurity is defying solution. How the so-called hunters traveled from the far north with arms and ammunitions undetected at the litany of checkpoints remains a puzzle.

Amotekun deserves commendation. Chinonso Uba also needs to be commended for his courage in alerting the citizenry on possible threats to lives and properties. It is incumbent on state governments working with the traditional rulers to ensure that communities monitor events in the bushes and forests around them. With events from some other parts of the country, it strikes as a mortal risk to allow forests in the south to be occupied by a band of invaders under questionable hue. This brand of hunting must stop.

***This article was first published in The Nation Newspapers.


-FEB 12, 2024 @ 11:55 GMT|