The people of Imobi town in Ijebu-East Local Government Area of Ogun State have been in sorrow after a herd of elephants invaded the agrarian community and practically turned their farmland into wasteland as they feasted on crops that were due for harvest.
Some of the farmers that spoke to Sunday Sun recounted how the herd of elephants came in, saying that the elephants were first spotted sometime in June 2018, when they came into the community and later started feeding in their farms.
Of the more than 30 villages that make up Imobi town, the elephants are mostly spotted in five villages, namely, Totunba, Ararome, Okemayan, Tonigbon, and Itasin, where they have seemingly settled permanently, and causing much devastation. They said the elephants have been roaming the villages for almost two years, destroying crops, breeding more elephants and causing general panic in the village.
Imobi is one of the major food baskets of the Southwest known for the cultivation of cocoa, plantain, banana, cocoyam, pawpaw, rice and sugarcane.
However, even with their economic contribution to Ogun State, other parts of the Southwest and the country at large, the residents live under a harsh condition as they suffer acute lack of basic social amenities like electricity, good roads, health care, and schools. This level of deprivation and neglect by the government at all levels had gone on for decades, leaving the people seething with rage each time they recall how the government has abandoned them to their plight.
In Imobi, farming is the only thing that makes them happy. But their source of joy has become the cause of their living in fear following the invasion of dozens of elephants that now literally act Boko Haram insurgents, cleaning out practically all crops in sight.
When Sunday Sun reporter visited some of the destroyed farmlands in Ararome and Totunba, a large acreage of plantain and banana trees were seen pulled down to the floor. At other farms where cassava and cocoa were planted, thousands of the cassava stands were uprooted. The leaves, stems and mature tubers of cassava were eaten, while several pods of cocoa littered the floor. All over the farms, clear evidence of the giant footprints of the ‘conqueror’ elephants were everywhere.
“The elephants don’t even care if the plantains are mature or ripe. Once they enter a plantation, they pull out the plantain and swallow everything,” said Mr. Adewale Adeboyejo, one of the affected farmers.
The villagers had always been calm and unfazed about their farms until the unwelcome visits of the elephants began.
“Our lands are very fertile; we also have farms around the riverbank, where we plant plantain, rice, cocoa, cocoyam, and other crops. We have been managing ourselves until the elephants invaded. They were first seen at Ararome village on June 4, 2018. On that fateful day, around 10:00a.m, we saw a herd of about 17 elephants moving into our community.
“There was huge furore in the village because we had never seen a live elephant before. We only see it on television, so when we saw the elephants in our village, people screamed and trooped out to catch a glimpse of them. The elephants seemed startled at the uproar and then ran into the bush. We thought they were gone and had moved to settle in the jungle. But a few days later we started seeing the elephants feasting on our crops in the farm. The first farmer that saw them inside his farm came to the village and raised an alarm that he saw elephants. People didn’t believe him. We thought it was a sick joke until we started sighting them roaming around farms and seeing how they ate and destroyed crops,” Adeboyejo said.
Narrating his own encounter with the elephants at his farmland, he said: “The elephants have destroyed two out of my three farmlands. In these farms, I have crops like cocoyam, plantain, sugarcane and cocoa. All of my crops were destroyed by the elephants. When I visited my farm I was shocked that all the crops had been destroyed. Even the little hut where I sleep inside the farm was also demolished. All the plantain and banana I planted were uprooted. It was then I noticed the elephants’ huge footprints on my farms. I was still wondering what to do to salvage my loss when I saw the two bull elephants come out from the bush. I was stunned and ran out of the farm to save my life.”
Mr Jamiu Sulaimon is another farmer affected when the elephants wreaked havoc on his maize farm. “I was weeding in my farm when I heard loud rustling sound near me. I turned round to see what was making the noise, and came face to face with the giant creature. I threw away my hoe and ran away. Honestly, I kept wondering what elephants could be doing on my farm and why they had come to settle in our community,” Sulaimon said.
Some other farmers while counting their losses cried bitterly over the devastation done to their farms. “I am very sad,” said Mr Sunday Igbokoyi, who lost virtually everything in his large cassava farm after the elephants massively feasted on his farm. “Many of us took loans of up to N250,000 to buy seedlings during the planting season, and when we were expecting to harvest our crops, the elephants came from nowhere and took over our farms. These elephants have disrupted our lives, especially our farming activities here because we are now afraid to go to our farms. And whenever they enter our farms to feed, we all scamper and stand aside to watch them destroy our crops on the farm. It is really painful,” Igbokoyi lamented to Sunday Sun.
The resident also disclosed that efforts to get the state government to send a rescue team, to drive the elephants away from inhabited areas to prevent further damage, had not yielded any result.
Some of the community leaders claimed to have tried all means to draw the attention of the government to their plight, but their cries seem to have fallen on deaf ears. “We’ve called on government several times through petition letters to get the attention of the government when Senator Ibikunlu Amosun was in office and even under the present administration of Governor Dapo Abiodun, but they never responded to any of our letters”, said Mr Olamilekan Bakare, convener of the Imobi Descendants Union (IDU).
Bakare disclosed that they also meet a brickwall anytime they tried to see the governor. “Any time we visited the Government House, the officials there never allowed us to meet him. When we went their again in 2019, we were told that the governor was yet to fully settle in office. They said that we had to wait much longer before coming with our complaints.”
Researchers in series of studies to understand how elephants migrate learned that elephants have a very good memory and can remember places where they had found food and water in the past. This could be the situation in Imobi town because some of the residents told Sunday Sun that their community had hosted elephants in the past.
On this, Mr Bakare said there were old stories of wild elephants finding a home in Imobi 70 years ago. “According to old accounts, elephants first appeared in Imobi in 1948 and they disappeared and were not seen again till they came in 2018. They seem to have permanently settled here because they’ve refused to leave our community. We hear that they are now living and breeding in the forests in Itasin village. But whenever they are hungry, they move out of the forest into people’s farms across the five villages to eat their crops,” he said.
Another community leader, Mr Oluwaseun Salami, revealed that the youths at a time became provoked and wanted to start killing the elephants. “There was a time the youths decided to start hunting and killing the elephants because of the havoc they were causing on their farms and the rate at which they were breeding. But we pleaded and told them never to do that because the elephants had been harmless towards people. Again killing them could also bring us trouble with the government. For me, I even feel that since these elephants have found a home in our community, it could be used to make Imobi become a tourist attraction.”
Renewing their appeal to Governor Abiodun to ameliorate some of the problems they face in the community, the residents who spoke through Adeboyejo said: “We come last in everything. It’s even as if we don’t belong to Nigeria. Our roads are in a deplorable state and we’ve not had electricity since 2008 after the poles fell along the road. We kept calling the attention of the power authorities to fix it, but they have refused to come and fix the damaged facilities for us to enjoy power. Even our cries, asking the government, to help us have fallen on deaf ears. They only come to us during election time to make promises and solicit our votes. But after the elections, they abandon us again to our peril again.”