The OMBATSE traditional prayer group of Eggon people of Nasarawa state has been described by other ethnic groups in the state as a militia group which is being linked with the crisis that has bedeviled the state in recent times. In this interview with Zachary Zamani Allumaga, our correspondent in Lafia, ABEL DANIEL seeks to unravel the secret behind the OMBATSE group and their activities.
The ombatse group has been linked by many to a militia group in Nasarawa state, how would you react to that?
When you find such violence involving Eggon people in the state particularly the southern senatorial zone of Nasarawa state, it means their population is very much. I want you to understand that violence is one of those things that is not acceptable to azhili.But putting azhili aside, all Eggon indigenes are not members of ombatse group .
As it is normal to find Christians and muslims in any society in Nigeria, the same applies to Eggon people in Nasarawa state who might be members of azhili. I don't think if a Christian or a muslim is caught in any crime, then such Christian or muslim was sent or represents the church or the mosque? The same thing is what is happening. According to the Police, they have arrested over 19 suspects in connection with the recent Agharagu feud. Let them carefully carry out their investigation and tell us if any Eggon person who is involved will claim he is from ombatse or whether ombatse sent them to go and fight.
The reason why there is serious animosity against the ombatse group is simply because they are aware that we went to azhili and prayed for the political landscape of Nasarawa state to change for good, and indeed it changed. Our prayer is working. As 2015 is approaching, we are aware that some people are planning to ensure the Eggon nation is dislodged from the political landscape of the state, so they call us all kinds of names so that they can hang us. But I can assure you, we are prepared to pray to azhili with all legitimacy. Sooner or later, everything will come out clear.
What happened at Nasarawa Eggon leading to road blockage was also connected to the azhili as an attempt to cause crisis that would cause bloodshed...?
It was the German war General Joseph Govle of the German Nazi who said and I quote "if you tell a lie and wants people to believe it as truth, all you will do is tell it several times". These people who do not want us in the state have said so many things against us, that we are the ones fueling the entire crisis in Nasarawa state. In fact, right now, it is difficult for anyone to believe that we are not responsible for any of such things. What we keep telling people is that it is not possible for ombatse to engage in all that.
I think it is in this mistaken belief that the security agents heard and without proper investigation, just came and invaded the azhili shrine for the purposes of arresting one person according to them. Over forty security agents just invaded the shrine on that fateful day and shot sporadically for hours. Unfortunately for them, the god of azhili was there and no member of ombatse was hurt. It was the security agents themselves that secured the injuries and fled .
If we are a problem group or militia group as they tag us, those security agents who invaded our shrine would not have survived. But none of them was hurt or beaten by us. I assure you that we are a peaceful group. The security agents while trying to run away when they discovered they could not achieve their aims, left one of their operation vehicles and we did nothing to their van after all they did in our shrine. If any one was hurt by us, let them come out and tell the world. So how do you then link us to a militia group?
We on the other hand are giving God thanks for making it very safe for them to leave the shrine unhurt because it would have been difficult to explain to anybody. If it was in us to do harm as they accuse us, look at the distance from Alogani village to the express way, it is about eight km, and from Alogani village to the bottom of the mountain where the shrine is located is another two km. You can see how far they went into the interior. It would have been easy for us to ambush them if we are really a militia group.
The crowd you saw that day blocking the road at Nasarawa Eggon did not use even a single tyre or wood or any metal to block the road. The members just came out and stood on the road, and that was enough to block the road for four hours demanding the governor who is the chief security officer of the state to explain to us why our shrine should be invaded by armed security operatives.
What happened that day at the azhili shrine when the security operatives invaded us was reminiscent of what terrorists would do by using a suicide bomber to bomb a church. I can't still imagine how armed security agents numbering forty invaded a shrine, shooting sporadically to kill. It brings doubt to our minds whether or not the security agents are the Boko Haram we hear about. And when they got to the shrine, what did they see to show that we are a militia group? When they got there, they ordered all of us to kneel down and we all obeyed as law abiding people. They even went ahead to use our microphones to make announcement. What did they see that makes us look like we are militia?
But why did you choose to return to the shrine after a very long time, don't you think that might be the reason behind people linking your group to all crises in the state?
Well, something has to start at any time and now is the material time, and now is the time. Let me take you a little back to history. The invasion of the Europeans, Christianity and the Islamic jihad, all these influx changed the status quo. Our forefathers had their own way of worship which is the traditional way of worship before the influx. The coming of these foreigners infiltrated the place and consequently affected their style of worship. My father who is still alive practiced both the traditional religion and Christianity and he is still alive. I also have an uncle who is a muslim and at the same time practices the traditional religion. These have all tested the two divides. I am a confirmed communicant catholic and at the same time too, a traditional worshiper.
Now, what led to us bringing back this traditional worship to our people is because of the complaints we receive every now and then from our people about the evil and vices that have pervaded our society and our state. These things were not there according to what our fathers told us. The society used to be serene and orderly till the advent of the foreigners. Some of those societal ills include murder, theft, rumour mongering, secret society and witchcraft. Some of these evil were not there before now and even where they existed, there are quick ways of punishing people who were involved which was based on the azhili occult who through intercession, mediate between the people and the god of azhili.
One thing you need to know about this cult is that it has no form of moderation unlike what the Christians or muslim will tell you that God will punish anyone who commit atrocity and may be forgiven if they ask God for forgiveness or that God can allow them live until the judgment day, thereby allowing the offender to move about freely. Like other religions ,azhili was a place where people go to pray for prosperity, progress, success, good health and every good thing. Some elders from Eggon land have received instructions by one form of inspiration or the other to resort to azhili who can bring back sanity to the land again.
We also discovered that some politicians from Eggon nation, the likes of Solomon Ewuga, now a serving Senator, who aspired to be governor of the state, was rigged out by Alh. Abdullahi Adamu, the first civilian governor during the PDP governorship primary election. As I am talking to you now the result of that primary election has not been declared apart from simply saying Abdullahi Adamu won it. Nobody has told anybody what margin he won with. As if that was the end, when his government got to power, he conspired with other tribes in the state and brought up a policy he called the DEPLOYMENT POLICY.
In other words, according him, all Eggons should leave wherever they are settled in the state to Nasarawa Eggon. A decision that was challenged and we went as far to the Supreme Court and the judgment was delivered April this year in our favour, declaring such directive as illegal. It was an infringement on the fundamental right of the Eggon people. They all know that the Eggons were on ground before whoever arrived in Nasarawa state did. And now, you are the one telling us today that we should go to Nasarawa Eggon. That was one big dead slap we have ever received and the consequence was bad. I can assure you that not less than twenty of our people died as a result of resisting that policy and the hardship it created. Yet no one is ready to apologize to anybody.
Again less I forget, in 2007, these same people in their conspiracy still rigged out Solomon Ewuga in the governorship election, this time around in ANPP. That again was not an easy one. Al these put together made us put heads together to resolve to pray to azhili.
But do you think as a retired magistrate that your spiritual prayer group has any constitutional backing?
I don't seem to understand what you mean by legal backing. As a lawyer, I know that the constitution gives right to assembly. Freedom of assembly you may call it, though the constitution did not specify how long the assembly. Infact we are in the process of registration of members for the purpose of complying with what the constitution says about who to register. We equally have our constitution too.
Don't you think that this cultural group you are part of could eventually emerge to be another militia group like the MOSSOB, OPC?
The leaders of those groups you mentioned did not in their wildest imaginations plan to use the group for killing; but some people hijacked the group to perpetrate all kinds of evil. But one thing I will also want you to understand is that the leaders of those groups are still very much on ground. The azhili is quite different in formations and purpose. Azhili is purely a prayer group and not for any selfish or ill motive. People are seeing the results of our prayers in the political landscape of the state and are not comfortable with the outcome because the Eggons are taking the rightful place in political leadership.
It is believed that governor Al-makura is romancing with ombatse group, don't you think so?
Ignorance is a bad disease. I told you from the beginning that the membership of ombatse is only meant for Eggon sons alone. Women are not even allowed. Is governor Al-makur an Eggon indigene and son? The answer is no, so how come they are saying he is romancing with ombatse.
What happened that day at Nasarawa Eggon that led to our blocking the road was because we as law abiding people felt violated and we resolved to block the road, calling on the governor who is the chief security officer of the state to come and explain to us why some armed security agents will come and invade our shrine for just no cause. When the governor eventually came, he insisted he wanted to go and see the shrine but we said no because he is not a member and therefore he is not in the position to visit azhili shrine. That was why the governor was led to the chief's palace to address the people. That was not the first time the governor would respond to an angered group.
When the Polytechnic students demonstrated the other day, the governor went and addressed them in person. The same was the case when NURTW blocked Makurdi road the other day, the governor was there to address them. Now that Eggon people did it because our right was trampled upon and the governor came to calm us down. It is now interpreted to mean the he is romancing with us. It goes well to tell you how some people are out to frustrate the Eggon nation but they have failed already.
Now that things are the way they are,what is your advice to government?
I don't want to pretend to hold brief for the government. I strongly believe they know what to do. When the governor came to talk to us when we stopped movement of vehicles at Nasarawa Eggon, we told him what we want.
We are not hiding, we are out, we are not faceless; we are the leaders of ombatse, the azhili traditional prayer group. We have visited the state director of SSS, we are still talking. We shall also meet with police and the commandant of the Army and other security agents to let them know who we are and what we are out for so that people will not go about peddling false story against ombatse group.
Secondly if we place our cards before them and they want us to partner with them to preach and install peace among our people across the length and and breathe of Nasarawa state, we are ready. If we can be allowed to go round to inform and sanitize our people especially some of the places where this provocation is high,we will do so because we the ombatse have nothing to do with blood.