Chiemelie Ezeobi writes on the looming danger at the Ayetoro Gbede and Iluhagba Communities in Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State, over the alleged disappearance of one of the Bororo Fulani Herdsmen and the subsequent threat by the latter. For these communities, particularly worrisome is the fact that these herdsmen have in times past repeatedly plundered their farmlands without any punitive action taken against them
Fear! Palpable fear can be felt at both Ayetoro Gbede and Iluhagba Communities in Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State. While
Ayetoro Gbede is a town along the Ilorin – Kabba Federal Highway, Iluhagba on the other hand is a small community next to Ayetoro on the way to Mopa along Kabba-Ilorin Highway.
Their fears are not unfounded! Both communities were recently inundated with threat of a possible attack. The threat emanated from the Bororo Fulani Community, that resides in Ayetoro Gbede. Given that both communities have no fewer than 87 Fulani settlements in and around them, the threat has not been treated with kid gloves as all measures are being undertaken to douse the situation.
According to the President, Aiyetoro Gbede Development Association (AGDA), Mr.
Ezekiel Olorunfemi, who raised the alarm, their apprehension was was based on a security tip-off from police. He said the traditional ruler, Olu of Ayetoro Gbede, Oba David Ehindero, who is the present regent, invited them to his palace to brief them of how the DPO informed him of the looming danger arising from the Bororo Fulani’s report that one of their sons was missing, having been chased by three people.
The grouse of the Fulani community was over the alleged disappearance of a young herder by some unknown gunmen from Iluhagba community. Based on that, his father had threatened the community if they fail to produce his son.
According to reports made available to THISDAY, from the discussion on the community’s WhatsApp platform, the Bororo man, who raised the alarm, claimed he was in the company of the missing person when three persons, who were allegedly from Iluhagba, gave chase. He further claimed that while he managed to escape, his companion may have not been lucky as he heard gunshots.
Accordingly, the traditional ruler was said to have acted immediately he was briefed about the attack. It was gathered that he invited the community vigilante, 20 hunters from Ayetoro Gbede and four from Iluhagba to join four policemen for the search. They were all accompanied by 40 Bororo persons. The search did not yield any result. Interestingly, during the search, no trace of blood or the boy was found in the bush or its surroundings.
Destruction of Farmlands
Meanwhile, the traditional ruler had disclosed that the Bororos’ recently destroyed the cassava farm of a notable politician from the community. At the last count, over 300 Diana truck load of cassavas were uprooted from the farm. This was confirmed in the statement of Oluode of Ayetoro Gbede when he joined the meeting.
In fact, instead of the search for the missing person carried out by the vigilante, police, local hunters and Bororo representatives, to unearth the whereabouts of the young herder, they discovered farmlands that were destroyed and the crops prematurely harvested.
According to findings, that would not be the first time these herders have gone on rampage on people’s farmlands. Already, many farmers have lost millions in investment to the herder’s activities in the community. On each occasion, the devastation they leave behind is far reaching. Time and time again, these herders have reportedly uprooted the cassava and yam tubers to feed their cattle, with no recourse to the financial loss they inflict on the farmers.
Notwithstanding the pain of the premature harvests, the communities have always toed the path of dialogue instead of beating war drums.
Meanwhile, the Bororo herder whose son was lost has insisted that he must be found. He visited the traditional ruler and issued an ultimatum that he was traveling to his home town in the North to inform his relatives, adding that he should not be held responsible for the consequences.
According to Olorunfemi, there and then, the traditional ruler had told him to report to the DPO and also inform the traditional ruler of Iluhagba, on whose territory the incident occurred, in case he would be needed. He further noted in his reply, the Bororo man said he had gone to meet the DPO but was hesitant to go to Iluhagba on the grounds that the Iluhagba people had reportedly promised to wipe them out.
He eventually left after the traditional ruler of Ayetoro Gbede called Iluhagba people to host them peacefully. However, the Iluhagba people had revealed that the Bororos’ had already issued an ultimatum to them to produce the boy, else they would face their wrath.
Having reported the threat to the DPO, the traditional ruler of Ayetoro Gbede had invited stakeholders of the community to deliberate on the matter. It was then announced that the meeting of Gbede Obas has been summoned to hold immediately and the hunters have been enjoined to be at alert.
The meeting was to ruminate on workable solutions given that the Bororo man had threatened to go to his home community in the North and report for the incident if the boy was not produced within three days from last week Thursday, adding that the traditional ruler and the communities should be held responsible for any consequence of his action.
Expectedly, the threat from the Bororo Community has flagged a red alert for the two Kogi communities. Asides measures by security agencies, the stakeholders have put plans in motion for their own personal safety.
According to one of the community stakeholders, while they pray for the son of the herdsman to be found, the Ayetoro Gbede community on the other hand needs immediate help from indigenes who are security experts. Noting that information is very key in this kind of situation, he posited that the Bororo community must be infiltrated and 24-hourly surveillance mounted on their movements around the village.
He added that although the threat from iluhagba community worked to instill fear in them, it must also be made very clear to them that any assault on the village will herald the end of their stay in their community.
Pointing out that four policemen would not be enough to counter any uprising, he stressed that there must be reliable reinforcement with adequate mobility for rapid respond. Thus, he argued that every male in every household in the community must be on 24 hours watch over their family and neighbourhood, with the mantra being – ‘if you see something, say something’.
Again, he called for centralised communication command to be set up so people will know what telephone numbers to call immediately there is an emergency. Also, to ensure adequate safety of lives, he said people must avoid going to farm alone and must be very alert, to minimise the element of surprise assault.
Meanwhile, he noted that roadblocks must be mounted throughout Ayetoro Gbede land to forestall large movement of Bororo militia, adding that rapid response is the key to neutralise and minimise any uprising.
In addition, one of the professors from the community said there must also be a parallel strategic approach to the earlier tactical position on managing the crisis, part of which involves carrying the chief imam of Ayetoro along.
He said the Islamic cleric must be engaged to speak to the father of the boy as a fellow Muslim, while they continue to engage their community (Fulani) in discussion to neutralise the tension, so they don’t think of taking laws into their hands. “They must be reassured that we recognise them as one of us.
“Investigation must also commence on the other hand concerning the vandalised farm. The boy’s father may also help. Is there any other motivation apart from grazing? Are there sponsors etc. The owner of the farm must also be taken into consideration in any compensation. The state government must be brought in from this perspective. If they are serious at all, then this is a test for them.
“This is an unfortunate situation. It is a situation like giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it. I suggest the police should invite the second son for interrogation and the head of the Fulani (Ardo) community to confirm if the man has ‘two’ sons. As for vigilance, it’s a pity that the reprisals could be earlier. Let every effort be made to unravel this claim. The whole Gbede should be on red alert. I suggest the local government should be brought in. The LG chairman is the closest link to the state government. Let us bring him in to picture immediately”.
Another stakeholder had also suggested that while they toe the path of resolution, their community policing strategies must be scaled up. In that vein, he said the main Ardo for the Fulani community should be contacted or possibly Miyetti Allah in Kogi in order to involve them in the matter.
Red Alert to Security Agencies
One of the immediate solutions posited by stakeholders was that the traditional ruler should inform the state government and other security agencies like the Department of State Security (DSS), about the matter.
They also tasked the security agencies to be proactive by immediately profiling all the Bororo settlements and individuals.
Another stakeholder appealed to the elders to escalate the threats to the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu and perhaps President Muhammadu Buhari. According to him, the communities are at risk of being attacked the way some other parts of the Middle belt has been attacked.
He further tasked that the Bororo man who made the threat be invited for interrogation and the entire community as well. He added that if possible, after the investigation, they can tell them that they are no longer wanted in their lands because they have created an atmosphere of fear even without the establishment of a cattle colony.
He said: “The threatening Bororo should have been arrested. While I am in total support that we need to make the necessary efforts to investigate this matter and possibly unravel truth, I feel very sad that these Bororos’ will come to our land and be threatening us despite our efforts to ensure they make a living on our land without molestation.”
However, one of the stakeholders was the voice of caution. According to him, even though they must carry the security agencies along, they (the community) must not give the impression that a Bororo issued a threat that threw the whole city into panic. “It’s quite in order to mobilise the Olodes (security guards) with money, but it should be to defend the town. Let the police do their due diligence of the alleged mising child, let the Olodes watch over the town and also hand over the Bororo to the authority for threatening the city. He should not get away with his threat because it’s a crime. Our actions or inactions should not discourage investors to the city”.
Personal Safety Efforts
While the government has been called on to act, the communities are definitely resting on their oars in ensuring their own personal security.
One of the stakeholders also posited that the oba-in-council needs an urgent security fund, thus, all groups AGN/ AGDA and individuals should help make special funds available to the council. According to him, they don’t want a situation where hunters will lack gun powder, searchlight, fuel for patrol vehicles or credit for phone calls. He also tasked anyone with spare cars at the village to release it to the Oba-in-council as patrol vehicles.
While expressing fear that the government of the day may not rise to the occasion, he argued that they cannot at this point, concede command and control of security of the village to government agencies. According to him, they have had instances where the state security agencies shield perpetrators because there is ‘order from above’.
One of the chiefs reiterated the calls for personal security. He said: “Definitely, we at home know what we are doing. It’s just that we cannot rely on the police. We want our lives and properties protected right in God’s hand and handled by those whom we can call upon at anytime the need arises. We all know the type of security personnel we have in this country.
“You call on them they tell you they have no fuel in their van and we don’t want to be caught. As from now, we want our own security to be working throughout the night.
The commissioner of police, the area commander, the sole administrator ,and the D.P.O have all been informed, but we must get prepared on our own. We have I.G. and they still kill in Benue and other areas”.
Also in the chat room, another suggested that the community needs something to prepare against any possible attack. This he said, was where the financial contribution of all and sundry, matters. To clarify that his suggestion was not in any way to arm people, he said the community should lead a delegation to the heads of these agencies including the DSS.
Some of the unanswered questions that were raised by the group include: “what happened to the commercial farm that was vandalised? No report? No investigation? Who organised and paid for the search for his son? Could the police not verify if there’s any missing son? Was it established yet that a child was missing? Just one Bororo alleged that his child was missing without going to the police and if he went to police, shouldn’t police be the investigator and/organise the search and also escalate the incidence to higher authority? And the destruction of the farmland is not enough to galvanise the town to action?
With the impending danger looming, it therefore behooves the state government and also the security agencies to first restore the confidence of the communities in their capabilities by doing the needful in securing their lives.