There is palpable fear of ethnic crisis in Ondo State following the killing of a member of Yoruba militia group, Odua Peoples Congress (OPC), by suspected Fulani herdsmen. James Sowole writes on how reprisal attacks were prevented by the government and other stakeholders
“Mr. Governor, we are not happy to be here today. What we wanted to do was to retaliate. Our being here makes people to be looking at us as cowards. We are not cowards but we were restrained by Chief Olu Falae, who even cried while begging us so that we will not revenge. If not you and Baba Falae, things would have gone worse. We had wanted to start from the Shasha settlement of the Hausa and by the time we begin, they will know that we are not cowards. Let me tell the whole world, the people that killed our colleague must be found and made to face the law. Our leader, Otunba Gani Adams had called our state coordinator to appeal to us. But we cannot allow this to continue”.
These were some of the words of Comrade Toyin Olaoye, the State Coordinator (Defence), Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Ondo State, at the meeting of the State Governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, with leaders and members of the Yoruba militia group in Akure on the killing of Ayodele Ige by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
Ige, who was one of the OPC members hired by the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Olu Falae, was abducted and killed by herdsmen that invaded the elder statesman’s farm for resisting them from grazing on his principal’s farm.
The emotional opening statement of the OPC defence coordinator was buttressed by other leaders and members of the group, who spoke at the meeting on what they had experienced across the 18 local government areas of the state.
The governor, who could not hide his feeling about the situation appealed to the OPC members to remain calm in line with the directive of their leader, Gani Adams, who had spoken with him on the matter assuring them that the government would assist the family of the deceased that he later visited.
While describing the situation as disturbing, Mimiko said the time had come when Federal Government and various states’ government must work together and find a lasting solution to the menace which if not checked could escalate into full crises because what is happening in Ondo State was not different from the situation in other South West states.
In an interview with journalists after the departure of the OPC members, Mimiko opened up on the looming danger on the herdsmen/farmers- relationship in the country saying “Nigeria is heading towards the precipice if the trend is not checked”.
“There’s no question about the fact that this is becoming a monster of sort. I’ve had cause to express my views on this and I think we all ignore this menace as a nation, I can see us moving towards a precipice and we must do something about it, it’s getting dangerous, the audacity is very disturbing.
“Apart from the fact that this is a challenge to food security, I can tell you that there’s hardly any full scale farmers or business farmers in Ondo State that has not had one form of encounter with these herdsmen.
“When it comes to killing now, killing people over their own property, or land, it is a very big challenge, For me, I think the way out is for the Federal Government to collaborate with some states government in the North to set up big ranches with dams and other facilities, even schools for these herdsmen. If we don’t do this, it will get to a stage that people will defend themselves”, he said.
The governor, who said the matter should not be politicised in whatever manner, said all stakeholders must come together and decide on how to find a lasting solution to the menace that is threatening the peace of the nation.
“The current situation requires all the stakeholders from the President down the line and this is a bi partisan issue, all major stakeholders must come together on how to resolve this issue.
“These herdsmen must be called to order, these wanton destructions and audacious incursions in other people territory cannot continue for too long”, he said.
Mimiko said the proposed law for the establishment of grazing reserves in the country before the National Assembly rather than solving the current problem, would only aggravate it.
“For me, I see the proposed grazing reserves law aggravating the problem, though I’ve not read the law but I don’t see how that law can find comfort with the people.
“Land Use Act is there , the control of land is vested in the governor of the state, I cannot see any federal law that will compulsorily acquire any land from any state government, in my state for example, it cannot work.
“The owners of these cattle, according to the information in my disposal are well to do people, they are elites and if cattle rearing is commercial venture, why should they not contribute in collaboration with state government or Private Public Partnership or whatsoever to set up ranches, so that if you want to graze on such ranches, you pay a fee, after all they don’t sell these cattle for free. It is a commercial issue.
“They should step up these ranches. Any law on grazing reserves will not find comfort in the constitution”, he said.
The governor noted that the menace of herdsmen was a threat to the general call for diversification of Nigeria’s economy because it would be counter-productive if one spends so much on the venture and only for somebody to lead cattle to such farm and destroy it.
The governor said the activities of herdsmen had turned many farmers in the state to perpetual debtors saying “there is hardly any medium scale or large scale farmers that has not had any encounter or the other with the herdsmen.
“I think if we don’t do anything about the activities of these herdsmen, I can see a threat to the security of this country so it’s a major challenge and I think the President and all major stakeholders should take this as a very serious challenge”, he said.
The fear of many seem to have been confirmed four days after the OPC meeting with the governor as a Fulani herdsman identified as Dan Bako was feared killed at Ilara-Mokin in Ifedore Local Government Area of Ondo State.
The incident was disclosed by the head of Fulani herdsmen in the State, Alhaji Alli Dongo , the Chairman of Hausa Community in Akure Kingdom and head Arewa Community in the state, Babangida Sodiq Kusada, in an interview with journalists in Akure.
The duo of Hausa/Fulani leaders said Bako was declared missing after all efforts to trace him proved abortive.
Dongo, who spoke through an interpreter, alleged the commencement of reprisal attack from the OPC members, adding that the allegedly killed man had been living in Ilara-Mokin for the past seven years and was already preparing to relocate to his state when the incident happened.
According to Dongo, the missing man was sent by his colleagues to buy food for them at Igbaro-Oke, the headquarters of Ifedore council area.
Dongo said a search party was organised to look for the missing man, who left with his motorcycle.
“Bako motorcycle was seen beside a bush along the road. His herds were also seen in the bush without him. They did not see him or his remains. Four people including his family members have been arrested over the incident.
While stating that the herdsman was killed because his cows destroyed someone’s farm in the town, Dongo appealed to people who have their farm products destroyed by herdsmen to report to the head of Hausa or Fulani community instead of taking laws into their hands. He said they crave for peace among the residents of the state.
A security source told reporters that a detachment of policemen had been deployed to the community in order to prevent breakdown of law and order.
Sequel to the rising tension and the difficulty in identifying herdsmen that are causing various problems in the course of grazing of their animals, the Police in Ondo State had directed heads of various herdsmen to open register and produce valid identity cards for their men.
The Commissioner of Police for the state command, Mrs Hilda Harrison, gave the directive in his opening remark at a stakeholders’ meeting involving various farmers groups, leaders of the various groups in cattle business, Hausa/Fulani leaders and community leaders.
Harrison directed that the register must contain names of all herds’ camps in a particular community and their owners and also the identity of those leading cattle to grazing.
The commissioner also directed that the camp leaders must first report to heads of communities before entering into any community.
She said leaders of herdsmen would be held responsible for the activities of their men and ordered that people should organise themselves into identifiable groups stating that leaders of the groups would henceforth be held responsible for activities of their men.
The commissioner said with the register, activities of everybody in a particular community could easily be monitored.
While various farmers’ groups revealed various forms of destruction occasioned by grazing on their farmlands, they also stated that most of the problems were caused by underage rearers, who do not know the implication of what they are doing.
Some of the farmers said these underage rearers usually leave the herds to go astray while they too go about looking for fruits.
One of the Hausa spokespersons, Mallam Baba Umar said those Fulani herdsmen causing problems were not from Nigeria but from Chad, Niger and other West African countries.
While noting that there are increasing cattle in the South in recent time, Umar said the trend was caused by long dry season and because the grazing lands in the Northern states had been encroached upon.
He also alleged that the alleged devastation were caused by the fact that farmers had planted on cow routes.
Speaking on the frequent crisis between the Fulani cattle rearers and farmers in the state, Chairman of Ondo State Farmers Association, Mr Akin Olotu, decried the rate of destruction of farmlands by herds adding that herdsmen always threatened to kill them whenever they tried to resist grazing on their farms
Olotu noted that the activities of the herdsmen had become a serious threat to the security of the nation saying farmers in the state had called the attention of the State and Federal Government to the hydra headed problems of herdsmen who he alleged of rape, robbery, kidnapping and setting of farms on fire.
However, the Chairman of Miyyati Allah Cattle Breeders Association, Alhaji Bello Garuba, denied the allegation against his men saying those perpetrating the acts were not from the state. He said herdsmen in the state were peace loving and would not destroy the existing peace in the state.
Garuba said the herdsmen had suffered the same causality like the farmers alleging that there had been cases of farmers shooting their cows which they care for like children and said many of their animals had been killed in the process.