From Laide Raheem, Abeokuta
Victims of the recent Fulani herdsmen terrorism in Ogun State, particularly in in Yewa North Local Government are counting losses. The attacks left human casualties, leading to the destruction of farms, houses and other valuable properties.
It started in Oha Farm Settlement, Imeko-Afon LG when Dele Olowoniyi was hacked to death by suspected Fulani herdsmen in the midnight of Saturday, February 6, 2021. It spread like a wildfire to Owode -Ketu, Asa, Igbooro and Agbo Ojodu, all in Yewa North, where 13 persons lost their lives. Houses, cars, farms and motorcycles were also destroyed.
Village Head of Orile-Igbooro, Tajudeen Akorede, said four members of his community lost their lives, including children, while nine others were hospitalised:
“We just heard sounds of gun in the dead of the night. We did not know what to do. The herders set houses, vehicles and motorcycles ablaze. We cannot go to our farms again.” He sought a security post in Orile-Igbooro to enable the villagers who fled in the wake of the invasion come back.
Olowoniyi’s widow, Rasheedat, narrated: “The herdsmen stormed the farm settlement with guns and cutlasses on motorcycles. They were 18 in number and came at about 12a.m with six motorcycles and started shooting indiscriminately when they got to the farm to scare the people.
“We had slept that day but my husband decided to sleep outside. My son and I slept the room. I was inside when they killed him. They first started shooting; it was the gunshots that woke me up. I opened the curtains slightly and I saw them. They came on six motorcycles and three people were on each motorcycle.
“He was dragged on the floor. They beamed torchlight around to see if anybody was watching but I dodged behind the curtains. I watched as they took his phone, wallet tied to his waist and ransacked his pocket for money.
“They spoke in Fufulde (Fulani) language, that was what made me know that the attackers were Fulani. I could not shout or raise any alarm in order not to attract attention of the killer herdsmen to myself and my son.
“My husband had two months ago challenged the Fulani on why they allowed their cattle to eat his farm crops. He told them that his farm was not in the bush. They begged him and everything was settled.”
Member representing Yewa North 2 Constituency in the House of Assembly, Wahab Haruna, berated President Muhammadu Buhari, on his poor handling of security situation: “The senseless killing by Fulani herdsmen in Yewa is becoming unbearable. We cannot sleep with our eyes closed.
“Ketu area of my constituency has often witnessed violence attacks stemming from disputes between the herdsmen and the farmers. Security is said to be a right of every citizen, but reversed is the case in Ketu. We are not treated with fairness. Our farmers can’t go to farms.
“It is sad that no single herder has been arrested since security agencies have been fighting insecurity in my constituency. It is sad that our people can no longer sleep at night. Villagers are now outside burning fire and ready to defend their villages.”
But the Zonal Coordinator, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Kabiru Labar, alleged that his members were killed in what he called reprisals. He claimed that cows were also killed and markets destroyed.
He absolved his members from carrying out attacks and destruction of farms and farm produce in the host communities. He blamed foreign invaders from the neighbouring countries for the attacks.
Governor Dapo Abiodun during his assessment tour of the affected villages, said a Special Task Force (STF) comprising of soldiers, police, Department of State Security (DSS), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and hunters would be deployed to the communities for surveillance and provision of security.
He promised compensation for those who lost properties and support for others whose lost loved ones were killed. He said government would pay hospital bills of the injured.
Stakeholders’ peace parley
Government on Tuesday, February 16, 2021, organized a stakeholders’ parley. It was attended by Governors Rotimi Akeredolu, Ondo; Lalong, Chairman, Northern Governors’ Forum; Abubakar Sani-Bello, Niger; Atiku Bagudu Kebbi; Bello Matawalle, Zamfara and Abdulahi Ganduje, Kano.
Others included traditional rulers, religious leaders, heads of security agencies, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) and MACBAN.
Abiodun said: “It has become worrisome that people who had co-existed peacefully for years are suddenly at one another’s throat on account of sources of livelihood. From time immemorial, herders and farmers have peacefully cohabited and have continued to find joint solutions to their mutual challenges, occasional frictions and misunderstandings, while sorting these differences amicably.
“Our first priority in Ogun State is the safety of life and property of everyone irrespective of the circumstances of birth or religious leaning. Let me restate that we will not compromise.
“There is a need for collective action between all of us, whether as native farmers, cattle owners, herders, local community leaders, security agents, to rid the state of these criminals.
“We must use the opportunity of this parley to tell ourselves the truth, not necessarily by apportioning blame, but definitely we must come up with more practical and viable recommendations that will further cement the peaceful coexistence that we have always had in Ogun State.”
Abiodun said the Federal Government needed to take a second look at the ECOWAS Treaty, as it was meant for people and not cattle movement. He added that a treaty was expected to be signed between state government and the herders on what was discussed and agree on how to go about it.
Akeredolu warned that the South West governors would not allow foreigners occupying the forest reserves illegally to perpetrate crimes and breed insurgency in the region. He said the region was learning from the festering cases of insurgency in other states: “Criminality must be jointly fought.
“It is important to identify ways to reinforce and foster peaceful coexistence between the people in the South West and the northerners who have been living in the region for ages.
“The are lots of commercial gains and advantages of keeping cows in a designated area instead of moving them around from one region to another. Herders should reflect on the business opportunities that the situation is offering.”
He vowed that criminals illegally occupying forest reserves in the South West would be flushed out: “Those who are interested to do legitimate business in the forest must be registered.”
Ganduje, attributed the farmers-herders clashes to encroachment, poor education and poverty among the herders. He repeated his call for the stoppage of moving cattle from the North to the South.
He described the crisis as an economic issue turning tribal and religious, calling on the Federal Government to assist herders transit from pastoral to modern ranching.
Sani-Bello called for “sincere actions to address the problem before it takes a new twist”, noting that setting up of ranches was the best way to stop the crisis.
Mattawale recalled the activities of bandits in his state, regretting the loss of lives and destruction of properties from the clashes.
Bagudu submitted that though Nigerians have a right to live in any part of the country, there must be ways of identifying them and regulating their activities for peaceful co-existence.
Chairman, state Council of Obas and the Awujale of Ijebu land, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona, expressed the council’s supports for steps taken by government in solving the crisis.
Olu of Ilaro and Paramount Ruler of Yewa land, Oba Kehinde Olugbenle cautioned the MACBAN leadership to guide its utterances, while Onimeko of Imeko, Oba Benjamin Olanite, alleged that arms and ammunition were brought into Yewa land by foreign pastoralists.
He drew government’s attention to the Imeko Forest Reserve which he said has been turned into a hideout by criminals. He said the development exposed people living in the area to serious attacks by armed herdsmen.
He lamented that farmers in the area had suffered huge losses, which might not be recoverable on time except they got help from the government.
State chairman of the AFAN, Segun Dasaolu, revealed the strong collaboration with some herders who have lived in the South West for decades, adding it was time to combine forces to tackle the menace.