Oko Ako Fulani Herdsmen Invasion: Still Reeling from the Shock

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Olakiitan Victor, in Ado Ekiti, reports on the recent invasion of Oke Ako community in Ekiti State by Fulani herdsmen

Before the recent tragedy, where two persons, including one Lekan Arosanyin, were killed by rampaging Fulani herdsmen in Oke Ako Ekiti, in Ikole Local Government Area of Ekiti State, the town was generally sleepy, remote, agrarian, and accommodating of various ethnic nationalities in the country. The fairly big town is about one and half hours’ drive from Ado Ekiti, capital of Ekiti State, and 30 minutes’ drive from Ikole Ekiti, the headquarters of the council area.

The community, located in the northern axis of the state, shares boundary with Irele Ekiti, a town a few kilometres to Ponyan in Kogi State. Its location makes a favourable entry point for northerners, particularly, the Ebira and the Fulani herdsmen, who would like to benefit from the propitious atmospheric condition of the town as well as the lush vegetation for grazing.

Attack

But on the night of May 20, suspected Fulani herdsmen attacked Oke Ako town and killed two residents, while 11 persons were injured. The longstanding mutual relationship and cohabitation between the natives and the nomads became strained as a result of the development.

Efforts are now being made to restore normalcy to the town.

Eyewitnesses confirmed that the gory incident happened about 8pm. A woman, Mrs Grace Olofin, alleged that the herdsmen in their numbers invaded the community, brandishing dangerous weapons like guns, bows, arrows, sword s, and machetes. With the weapons they hacked down their victims in the ensuing melee.

Olofin alleged that the invaders shot sporadically.

Another witness, who narrowly escaped death, Adebayo Ajayi, described the incident as a reprisal attack. He said the herdsmen had previously fallen out with the villagers over their grazing activities in the community. He explained that the villagers had been resisting the use of their farmlands as grazing fields by the herdsmen.

Bribery Allegation

The police were accused of culpability in the night massacre. Some of the residents accused the police of laxity and extortion. A resident, Muyiwa Olukosi, whose wife sustained machete cut, told newsmen that the case was reported to the police in the area but there was no response from them. According to him, the police demanded N12, 000 before they could move to the scene. He said the police complained about lack of fuel in their van.

Olukosi maintained that things would have gone worse if not for the prompt response of a team of Nigerian Army soldiers from Akure. He also noted that the attack would have been prevented if the police had acted swiftly when the case was reported to them.

Olukosi called on governments at all levels to beef up security in the area in order to avert the reoccurrence of such development.

Confusion

The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Mr Alberto Adeyemi, tried to dispel a rumour that the attack was a robbery incident. This followed a confusing account by the Divisional Police Officer in the area who said he could not ascertain if the incident was an armed robbery or an attack by the Fulani herdsmen. Adeyemi also denied allegations that the police that had demanded a bribe from the attacked community, saying investigation would unveil the identities of the assailants.

The PPRO said, “This sounds unreasonable. How can the police be making demands from those that were already bereaved? Oke Ako to Ikole where they went to report is about 30 minutes’ drive. How do they expect the police not to make preparation or to get there within a second?

“We are not spirits; we are human beings as well.”

Adeyemi urged members of the public to discountenance the allegation, assuring that the police will continue to do their best to ensure protection of lives and property in the state.

Angry Response

Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose, who was away in Port Harcourt during the incident, reacted angrily. He warned that there could be reprisal attacks on Fulani herdsmen in the state if they did not desist from invading communities in Ekiti and attacking the people. He described the Fulani herdsmen that invaded Oke Ako as “agents of the devil that must be fished out and punished accordingly.”

A statement issued by the governor’s special assistant on public communications, Lere Olayinka, quoted Fayose as saying, “I have directed the police and other security agencies in the state to fish out the killer herdsmen. I am in constant touch with the security agencies and I hope that the killer herdsmen will be fished out wherever they are and made to face the full wrath of the law.

“The people of Oke-Ako should, therefore, remain calm while the security agents do their job. However, the security agents must be mindful of the fact that the people’s patience has a limit and they must, therefore, act promptly and decisively.

“I am sounding a note of warning to the Fulani herdsmen and those who can talk to them should also do so now. If they continue with these wanton attacks, killing of the people and destroying farmlands in Ekiti, I cannot guarantee that there won’t be reprisal attacks.”

He called on President Muhammadu Buhari to stop paying lips service to the attacks by the Fulani herdsmen, saying, “As patron of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), President Buhari has the capacity to call the herdsmen to order.”

Grazing Banned

Fayose visited the town the day he returned from the PDP national convention in Port Harcourt. The governor placed a ban on free cattle grazing in Ekiti State and ordered the security agencies and local hunters to gun down herdsmen seen terrorising the people.

The governor was accompanied to the town by the Commissioner of Police, Mr Etop James, director of the Department of State Security, Mr Andrew Iorkay, and commandant of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, Mr John Ikemefuna.

Fayose donated a Toyota Hilux van and a sum of N5 million to the local vigilante group operating under the auspices of the Association of Ekiti Hunters to facilitate their operation in defence of the town. He also donated N2.5 million to the families of the deceased.

The governor said a bill criminalising grazing would soon be passed into law by the Ekiti State House of Assembly. He ordered that communities should henceforth confiscate cattle found on sight.

Fayose said henceforth those interested in cattle farming in the state should get their own private cattle ranches, warning that government would henceforth confiscate any cattle seen anywhere in the state, apart from ranched created for them by their owners.

Alleged Boko Haram Infiltration

Fayose described the Fulani herdsmen that attacked Oke-Ako and other communities in the country as Boko Haram members making tactical intrusion into the South-west.

“I see them as Boko Haram operating like herdsmen,” Fayose said regarding the attackers. “I have come here to commiserate with the people of Oke-Ako over the murder of two of our people by these Fulani herdsmen. I am also here to assure that this will be the last time our communities will be invaded by Fulani herdsmen under whatever guise. You have to stop them. You must go after them and kill them before they kill you.”

The governor said, “I will speak with security heads on how they can permit you to carry arms. We won’t succumb Ekiti’s sovereignty to any herdsman. If you see them moving about, gun them down. If they want to rape your wife or children, bring them down. You must fight this war like Kiriji War. Our forefathers fought that war and won and I know we won’t be conquered by any Fulani man in our own land.”

Police Laxity

A former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Bamidele Faparusi, called on the Inspector General of Police, Mr Solomon Arase, to punish policemen accused of laxity in the killing by herdsmen in Oke Ako town. Faparusi, in a statement, urged Arase to investigate the bribery allegation against some policemen at Ikole Divisional Police Station during the attack.

The former federal lawmaker described the allegation by some villagers that police demanded N12,000 before they could move from Ikole to Oke Ako to quell the Fulani invasion as a serious allegation that must not be trivialised.

Faparusi stated, “The villagers revealed that the police in Ikole Divisional Police Station demanded a sum of N12,000 before they can go to Oke Ako to rescue the people. This is an issue that must be investigated thoroughly. The IGP should send a powerful delegation from Abuja to carry out investigation and those found guilty should be punished.

“The police cannot afford to toy with the lives of the Nigerian citizens. I am sure that if they had acted swiftly when the incident was reported, that could have helped in reducing the severity of the attack.”

Appeal

Meanwhile, the Fulani in Ilorin have denied complicity in the attack launched by suspected herdsmen on Oke Ako Ekiti. The Seriki of the Fulani from Ilorin, Alhaji Mahmood Ahmadu, begged Fayose to lift the ban placed on open grazing to save the cattle business of more than 100,000 of his members across the state.

Fayose had during his visit to Oke Ako on Monday announced that every cattle dealer in the state must own a ranch, ordering the villagers to start killing cattle sighted within their premises or farmlands.

Ahmadu lamented that his members had vacated their residences and property in Oke Ako, Irele and Ipao Ekiti as a result of the order given by the governor that any cattle seen around the vicinity must be killed.

He revealed that his members had over three million cattle across the 16 local government areas of the state, saying restricting them would bring their businesses to a halt.

Ahmadu promised that his people will join hands with Fayose to bring the perpetrators of the nefarious act to book and to secure the state and prevent it from being attacked by killer herdsmen.

According to the Fulani leader, “Ilorin Fulani herdsmen are not killers, we are responsible citizens. I have been in Ado Ekiti for 40 years. My people had property in their locations and are now living in palpable fear. If we should tie all our cows, how do we feed them? They will all die and this will be disastrous to our members.

“We appeal to all traditional rulers to help our people and save them from attack. They should also help us beg the governor to lift the ban to ease our burden. We are cohabiting with our host communities peacefully and this we shall sustain at all cost.”

The chairman of the Fulani Ilorin in Moba Local Government Area, Alhaji Kayode Suleiman, urged his members to be vigilant and be ready to expose the identities of those hiding under cattle rearing to unleash mayhem on the people. He said they had set up a committee to liaise with the state government so that they can fashion out ways to deal with the killer herdsmen that are causing restiveness in the state.

Suleiman said, “We have association in Ekiti and the name in Jamu Nati Fulbe Association of Nigeria. We have our bases and we are identifiable, unlike some itinerant herdsmen. So, we want the people of the state to show understanding by separating our members from these evildoers.”

Security Beef-up

Oke Ako, however, remains a troubled town. Over 500 soldiers, policemen, men of the NSCDC, DSS were stationed in strategic positions in the town by last week. They were to work with over 1,000 hunters drawn from various towns across the state to tame the rampaging evil doers who laid siege to the community.

The security agencies, according to an insider, are mounting a similar vigilance on other vulnerable towns in the northern axis of the state. The source said, “We are not unaware of the fact that the suspected Fulani herdsmen must have shifted base. We are monitoring them closely and we are sure that such will never happen here again. We are monitoring all the susceptible towns and the confinement of grazing will also help us in winning the war.”

Now that grazing has been banned in Ekiti and security agencies have been deployed in strategic areas, people are hoping that these measures would help to secure communities in the state.