Laide Raheem, Abeokuta
Fuming like Sango (Yoruba god of thunder) but short of emitting fire from his mouth and eyes, the Eselu of Iselu, Oba Akintunde Akinyemi, bellowed in guttural voice and threatened to invoke the spirit of his forebears and unleash ancient warriors of the land against the killer herdsmen, who had laid siege to and wrecked havoc in his kingdom and the adjoining towns.
Iselu is a town belonging to the Ketu speaking people, located in Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State. The town, like others at the fringe of Nigeria-Benin border, has been at the mercy of rampaging herdsmen. They destroyed acres of farmlands, raped women, maimed and killed people, especially the farmers.
Iselu and environs have been battered by herdsmen from the neighbouring Republic of Benin. Apart from the wanton destruction of farmlands by the armed-to-the-teeth herdsmen, streams which were the sources of water for the people, were taken over by cows and polluted for human consumption.
Apparently fed up by their helplessness and determined to bring their misery to a halt, scores of residents of Iselu, Oja Odan and 10 other communities, recently stormed the Palace of Eselu, to a permanent end to the incessant attacks by herdsmen, since government and security agents could not rescue them from the claws of the killer herders.
Bearing leaves and chanting traditional war songs, the protesters, including farmers, women and victims of herdsmen attacks, besieged the monarch’s residence to lodge their grievances.
Exasperated by the anguish of his people, the Eselu warned the herdsmen to vacate his kingdom or face the wrath of ancestors of Iselu. He equally vowed to release his “traditional warriors” against the herdsmen if government refused to intervene and stop their nefarious activities in his domain.
The monarch disclosed that the herders invaded his community in their large numbers after the Benin Republic’s gendarmes drove them away from their country. He added that the herders resolved to settle in Eselu, Oja Odan and environs with over 8,000 cattle feeding on the farmlands of the people.
The monarch alleged that one of his people was killed recently by violent herdsmen, who also cruelly chopped off one of the hands of the murdered man’s son. He claimed that his people lost tens of millions of naira in farm crops to the over 8,000 heads of cattle that routinely graze on their farms, devour the crops and trampling down others as they move indiscriminately from one end to the other.
Oba Akinyemi, however, called on both the federal and state governments to intervene and let the Fulani herdsmen leave the community immediately before his people would resort to self-help:
“Well, my people are here today to agitate against the abuse, killings, destruction of crops by the Fulani herdsmen in our community. It is surprising to me to see my people, representatives of different communities where we have over 26,000 voters protesting this morning.
“Ever since I ascended the throne, this has always been a problem we have been trying to deal with, but, because of the stubbornness of these herdsmen, it has become so difficult to tame them.
“The problem has become more worrisome because many of them are now from Benin Republic and Niger. We can’t take it anymore! The soldiers in Republic of Benin have chased them out and they have now seen our community as an alternative at the expense of the peace of our people in our land.
“They are now destroying our crops raping our women, maiming our men among others. So, as a matter of fact, I have to appeal to the government to please come to the aid of our people as a matter of urgency.
“We have, sometime ago, got an interlocutory injunction against these herders. Our lawyer wrote the Commissioner of Police to enforce the verdict of the court. Rather, during a meeting, they (police) told us that they could not restrain the Fulani herdsmen because they are Nigerians.
“We have our own warriors too, this is Ketu land and we are warriors. Our forefathers took over this place through war. If they could face the war then, we still have the spirits in our jungles. If the government refuses to intervene, we would be forced to invoke their spirits to swing into action and defend our land and people without mincing words.”
A protester, whose farmland was destroyed by the herdsmen, Kushoro Michael, said over 10 hectares of his cassava farmland were destroyed: “I have hectares of cassava plantation but the herders have destroyed about 10,000 of it.
“Many people have lost their lives; the herders do nothing but just to wreck havoc. Initially, they were friendly and cohabited with us in peace, but since 2007 they have been unleashing terror on us.
“We can’t take it again, the government should please wade in quickly before the situation turns into internecine.”
The Jagun Oba of Iselu land, Chief Festus Olabode Aina, who spoke on behalf of the protesting farmers at the Palace of Oba Akinyemi, said the herdsmen were intruders from Republic of Niger and Chad and having been chased out of Republic of Benin by the country’s soldiers during the movement, surged into their villages and practically took over the farms and forest.
He urged the monarch to convey their plights to the state and federal governments to come to their rescue quickly and drive the herdsmen away, fearing that they could be bloodshed as witnessed in 2007, should the “peace loving villagers’ patience thin out and give way in self defence to direct confrontation with the offending herdsmen.”
He said their age long stream supplying them water for drinking and domestic purposes have been muddied, polluted and soiled with cow droppings by the cattle which go there for water daily: “Our women, daughters and sisters also suffer dehumanisation, abuse and humiliation in the hands of herdsmen.”