People have been wondering why warriors of Ombatse traditional religion were able to ambush and successfully kill about a hundred policemen and State Security Service (SSS) operatives answering a distress call on Wednesday, May 13, without even a single member of Ombatse being killed. In an interview he granted Nigeria’s oldest newspaper, Tribune, the National President, Eggon Cultural and Development Association (ECDA), Mr. Chris Mamman, seemed to give an insight when he claimed that Ombatse devotees are immune to bullets. Ombatse is an Eggon group, so Mr. Mamman (shown in photo) is well qualified to speak on the group. Below are excerpts of the interview which centred on the killing of the security operatives at Alakyo village in Lafia East Development Area of Nasarawa State, North-Central Nigeria.
Question: What is the origin of Ombatse group?
Mamman: The Ombatse is a spiritual tradition which was handed down to the Eggon people 100 years ago. We have not been hearing of the group because of the advent of Christianity and Islam, but the decadence in our society prompted this generation to go back to the hills to cry to our ancestors for the resurrection of the Ombatse. This movement started in 2002 and by 2006, the group had positioned itself and had members.
How did the killing of security operatives happen?
I was not there, but I will tell you the truth. This is a community whose only road is about five metres wide, which cannot be passed at the same time by two vehicles. The community lacks government presence: no water; no electricity and many other things. There are about five villages before Alakyo and they are all Eggons. 70 per cent of the population have never seen mobile policemen before, so, to see vicious-looking people with guns entering the village, jumping down from vehicles and shooting tear-gas sporadically shocked them and that was what led to the crisis.
If you go to an unknown territory, even if you have a gun, for how long are you going to keep killing? We don’t know how many rounds of ammunition they fired before these people rebuffed. I will advice the government of Nasarawa State and Nigeria to allow the truth to prevail, instead of looking for scapegoats. Don’t let us personalise what happened. Let us use what happened to learn from our mistakes.
Who actually killed the security operatives?
The Eggon nation has always been truthful. We are loyal and peace-loving citizens of Nasarawa State and Nigeria. We have never started a fight. Although we have been involved in a series of crises in the past, we never at any point fought anywhere. Every tribe in the country has its culture and tradition. The Ombatse leadership is structured such that its high priest is Lega Agu, popularly known as Baba-Alakyo.
I have started it clearly that the fact that a pastor or reverend was molested by some miscreants does not mean they did it on behalf of Ombatse.
This group is a spiritual movement which you cannot force anybody to join. Even if you want to join, you have to undergo a three-hour education on the rules and regulations before you can take the oath of membership. It is easy for people to use diversionary tactics to take the minds of Nigerians away from the source of the problem by linking a peaceful group to the incident of May 7. If Ombatse was involved in the crisis, the members would have either been sick or dead by now because it is not in their character to engage in violence.
Unfortunately, no journalist reported that some members of Alakyo community were killed. After the invasion of Alakyo, I got distress calls that three people had been killed. So, if you are concerned about the death of the security men who are constituted to protect us, what about the villagers, because the casualty figure would be higher on the part of villagers? They were going there to arrest a 76-year-old man, as they claimed. Does it mean the Eggons don’t have a traditional ruler or constituted authorities? By this attitude, the Nasarawa State government has no respect for its own traditional ruler. If the government says, ‘bring this man,’ I would bring Baba-Alakyo within 24 hours. Our paramount ruler, who has been contacted or the local Eggon chief in that community to bring this man for interrogation as to the concoction he is giving the people. This should have been done. I sent delegate to Baba–Alakyo that some boys are forcing people on your behalf and he said those boys are not acting on his order and he wants these boys to be arrested and prosecuted.
What are the practices and ideology of the group?
The main practice of Ombatse is based on the laws in the Bible. Thou shall not kill; thou shall not convert your brothers’ property; thou shall not join secret society or witchcraft, and thou shall not sleep with your brother’s wife or engage in actions that are detrimental to the greater goal of a community.’ These are the basic tenets of the Ombatse. Anybody who knows the Eggon nation very well would know that for some years now, secret societies were so prevalent and people had to go back to their ancestors and cry unto God, asking what to do to eliminate these social vices.
Who started it and what led to its creation?
The Ombatse’s structure is not hidden. The leader of Ombatse is called Zachariah Kigbu. The leadership has posted several advertorials in some daily newspapers, stating the position of the group. Their legal adviser is Mr. Zachariah Alumaga. They have gone round, stating the aim of Ombatse because it is not responsible for violence. It is not everybody at Alago community that belongs to Ombatse. Ombatse is everywhere. They have places of worship. They go and sit like churches and mosques where the worshipers are taught to abhor violence. They don’t carry guns, but when the need arises, they use cutlasses or knives to defend themselves.
I heard that a good number of weapons were returned. This is to tell you that Eggon people are not interested in violence. If they could get guns free and return them, then, that shows that they are not violent. There was another report of a large number of weapons in Baba-Alakyo’s house. For God’s sake, if that man fires a gun, he would certainly fall down. This man cannot walk 200 metres without stopping to breathe. Somebody who hardly gets a three-square meal has a large number of weapons? This is unthinkable! He had sent word that he was coming to the palace on Thursday before the incident happened on Tuesday.
How were you able to get followers because Baba-Alakyo was said to be forcing people to join the group?
This is a misrepresentation of fact. Baba-Alakyo has been contacted several times and he said anybody caught using his name to force anybody to join the group should be taken to the police station.
What risks has the group posed to the society since it started its crusade?
The group is more peaceful than any other in the world because they don’t promote violence, but preach against it. It is only miscreants that tell people that they are members of Ombatse. Because you steal, you must be Ombatse!
But some rifles and other ammunition belonging to the dead officers were found in his possession three days after the massacre…
If he is an armed robber, he should be prosecuted. If you stole as a member of Ombatse, you are lucky if you are alive.
How do you mean?
That is part of the ritual and you would be made to understand it before you take the oath. I heard that some people went to the market and claimed to be members of the Ombatse so that people could be afraid. Ombatse has strict rules and regulations. The group is not about violence, but spiritual power that can be beneficial to the generality of the Eggon people in the state and the country at large. The time is coming when Nigerians will look for healing through the Ombatse. If Pastor Adeboye preaches, people come from different places across the country to receive blessings. Ombaste is coming to that.
Are you considering apologising for the killing of the security operatives, bearing in mind that they were obeying order?
It is not a question of apology, but condoling with the president and the entire people of Nigeria for the loss of valuable lives because the Federal Government spent so much to train them. It is not in the character of the Eggon nation to kill people. We have sent a letter of condolence out. It is convenient to hide under Ombatse because the group is spreading like wild fire. This is a spiritual movement, not for violence. It is about healing and providing succour to the people.
How do you worship?
You sit down, raise your hands and pray to your god. There is no idol anywhere that we are worshipping. You go on your knees or sit down and raise your hands to pray.
Is it true that group’s devotees cannot be killed by bullets?
For those who abide by the tenets of the law, there is the mystic protection in times of violence. It is not that they would bring special concoction and later, you go and steal, only one bullet will take you down. But if you meet a child who keeps to the rules, you can shoot all you want; the bullets would not get him, because God is the One fighting for Eggon.
People are now comparing Ombatse with Boko Haram because of the recent gruesome killing of the security personnel. What is your take on this?
To be a militia group, you must have the mind of carrying out violence. This means you are visiting people in their own domains; you are visiting police stations; you are going into banks; you are breaking down doors and killing people. Can you give one instance in which Eggon people visited another community to kill them? No. Have they visited banks? Have they gone to churches to beat them up? Have they presented any demand? No. This is a spiritual movement asking you to convert to their way of thinking; to worship God the way they do.
The assertion by the press or certain persons in high positions that Ombatse is a cult or militant group is the biggest fallacy this year, reason being that Boko-Haram has demands, follow people to their homes, follow security men to their stations, but Ombatse members have never followed anybody to his house, his place of worship or his office and say, ‘I am a member of Ombatse and I have come to arrest you,’ let alone to engage anybody in a fight. Cultists deal in human blood. They kill people for sacrifice and these are things Ombatse stands against. If you have any Eggon friend that decides to join Ombatse, let him go and practise witchcraft or steal somebody else’s goat or steal N1,000 and let him come back and tell you the story after three days!
What are the objectives of the group for the 2015 general election?
The group has no political objective. If Eggon people, at any given point, decide to participate in politics, it is up to them, not Ombatse. We voted for Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura. He has not spent two years and he has come out to say he has broken his accord with Eggons. What is the problem? Eggons do not have any problem with Al-Makura but the cabal has problem with Eggon people.
The problem is because we voted Al-Makura to become the governor, they want to punish us. The cabal wants to demonize us. The Eggon people have been paying taxes here. There is even tax document from London from 1918 which other tribes can prove as well. We had Eggon councillor here when democracy started in 1950. We have Eggon people who were governors before independence and some cabal would just wake up today because they are losing out; because the smaller tribes like the koros and Agatus are waking up now. The Eggon people are now saying they can no longer have who goes to the state House of Assembly chosen on their behalf.
This cabal is to decide who becomes governor, who goes to House of Representatives. But we demystified them when we voted for Tanko Al-Mukura. Anybody that says we are fighting Al-Makura is just misleading the press. No one can finish the Eggon race because we are God’s chosen. He has blessed us, educated us, and we are industrious, not beggars. In 1999, what happened? Solomon Ewuga won the primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but they came and told our chief so that he could step down and accept the deputy governor slot. In 2003 when Eggons wanted to present a candidate, Obasanjo came here and pleaded for Abdullahi Adamu and we agreed. In 2007 and 2011, the same thing happened. We voted Al-Makura and he has not reneged on his promise with the Eggons, either publicly or secretly.