Olutunde Aninkan is the leader of the Coalition of Youth Groups in the Imeko-Afon Local Government Area of Ogun State, where herdsmen have allegedly been on the rampage, including the recent killing of a farmer while asleep. He tells DAUD OLATUNJI the terrible challenges currently facing the people of the area
How will you describe the challenges facing the people of Imeko-Afon in terms of herdsmen and farmers’ crisis?
The challenges can be said to be economically and emotionally devastating although the Yoruba- Fulani clashes have been on for ages and the same can be said of Imeko; I can remember when I was a child when we went to the farm, we got to the farm to see cattle eating our cassava and other crops, but it wasn’t like this, it was not as rampant as we have it now.
What do you think are the factors aiding the invasion of the area by herdsmen?
The invasion is caused by the presence of forest reserves in the South-West – like in Imeko, we have a forest reserve of about 378 square metres that the government is not doing anything with. The reserve is abandoned and it is not being used for the purpose for which it was acquired many years ago. It is part of the reason for the invasion and also the attitude of the government towards security and curbing the activities of these people is a major part of the problem that is aiding the invasion by Fulani of the area; the presence of the forest reserve contributes to farmers/Fulani clashes.
Imeko is an agrarian society having a very fertile land with hundreds of streams that never run dry throughout the year. So, like the forest reserve area that we have in Imeko, we have rivers around them like the River Oha extending even to Oyo. It is one of the reasons these people find it comfortable to invade and settle in the area.
What are the other factors that aid the invasion?
Other factors that contribute to this invasion include the geographical position that is supposed to be an opportunity but has now become a threat; Imeko is a border community between Nigeria and Benin-Republic; apart from locally reared cattle in the area, we have influx of cattle coming in from Benin republic and Togo every day. If you are travelling to Imeko as I am speaking, I am sure you will meet herds of cattle coming from this area, either from Ilara or from Iwoye through Imeko to supply big markets in Abeokuta and Lagos. The last time, it was estimated that 250 to 2,500 cattle pass through Imeko in a week coming from all these foreign lands and they come on foot.
How can you describe the loss and suffering in the hands of the herdsmen by your people?
I can say the losses are colossus and monumental because there are losses of lives, incessant killings and unchallenged attacks by the Fulani people. When you meet them in your farm destroying your crops, you dare not say anything, because they travel with cutlasses and knives, and some of them with guns; they are so bold; they go about with arms and destroy your farmland, eating your cassavas and yams; and when you raise the alarm, there is no significant solution.
Because there is palpable fear in the community, many farmers cannot go to the farm again; most times we see these people passing through and they invade your farm and you can’t talk. I have an uncle, he just got to his farm and cattle were eating his yams, immediately he raised the alarm he was cut with a machete and managed to run for his life, and you can see it not only in our area but also in Ketu land in Ogun State. In Eggua, they recently killed people, apart from the one that happened in Imeko last Sunday, when Dele Olowoniyi was gruesomely slaughtered and we have been having a series of incidents like that before; last year, we had a similar case when 25-year-old Yakubu Tiamyu, popularly called Obama, was killed in a similar manner on his farm in this forest reserve area. Imeko has boundaries with Ibarapa land in Oyo State and the herdsmen have been displaced from Oyo and the next available place is Imeko; that is one of the reasons for the invasion.
They have a settlement in Iwoye; they are presently trying to settle in Oke-Agbede. I can say famine is looming in the area as many farmers are afraid to go to their farms and we are close to the planting season; something needs to be done.
What roles have those who represent the area at the National Assembly played to curb the invasion of the area and killings?
I think voices are being heard. I heard Senator Tolu Odebiyi describing as barbaric the killings and invasion by Fulani herdsmen of the entire Ketu land in Ogun State, and asking the government and the President to find solutions to it. Recently too, I was hearing the voice of the House of Assembly member, Egungboun, but considerably, I don’t think I can really pinpoint what many of these representatives are doing, apart from the few I have mentioned.
What are some of the groups in the area doing to stop the killings?
Actually, anytime there is a challenge, we come together from many groups in the community; our membership cut across different groups and we are non-partisan and apolitical without religious sentiments, and we try to find solutions to the problem and interested in the development of our community; that is why we have the Coalition of Youths of Movement. The other time when we had security challenge, we came together with the National Youth Council of Nigeria, Ketu Defenders, Imeko-Afon Patriots, Southern Youth Assembly, the Federation of Imeko-Afon Local Government Students’ Association and the Yoruba Youth Council of Nigeria; all these groups came together for the purpose of addressing the situation.
Have you notified the government about the killings and destruction in your area?
They have been informed several times, because we are law-abiding citizens of the country; we have written letters to the government and security agencies in charge to come to our aid in curbing this menace; we engage them and also wrote them but, I will tell you that nothing encouraging has been done; we have never felt the government’s presence.
If you are to calculate the losses your people have suffered since these incidents started, how much will that be in naira and kobo?
The losses are priceless; the losses are colossus and monumental; they’re not something we can put value on. How much can you put on someone’s life? How much can you tag the sorrow, the anguish and the effect of killing a youth who had a young wife and a child? How much can you estimate those losses? How can you estimate the destruction of farmlands? Like I told you, it has economic implications; the emotional losses are priceless; it has no price because human lives are priceless.
Who are those responsible for the recent killing of Dele Olowoniyi and do you have any evidence?
We have pieces of evidence that these killings are being done by the herdsmen, especially when they had been displaced from the neighbouring Oyo State. Although before now, I told you of many cases that we have had – Yakubu Ogunrinde was a young man of about 30 years and he was killed by the Fulani in Iwoye; also, a cousin to the late Oba Ladi of Imeko land was killed on his farm for challenging Fulani invasion just like that; I told you of Tiamyu Yakubu, popularly called Obama, 25, who was killed on his farm in the forest reserve area by the Fulani herdsmen.
Dele Olowoniyi was in his 30s and had a wife and a son of six years; he was killed in Oha village in Imeko around midnight last Sunday. We have someone, who was peeping from the bush and saw the Fulani attackers. In fact, I have some pictorial and audio evidence when they were slaughtering Dele Olowoniyi. I can tell you that it was a targeted attack because he had been a farmer in this area and most times try to resist their invasion. I told you of my uncle who was cut with a machete; I was in the farm that day and I saw him being cut with the machete but I couldn’t shout because I would have been killed; we know they are the killer herdsmen, who have been terrorising us; some of them have been identified, like in Oke Agbede, we have some of them who have been identified for their notoriety in that community and that community called a meeting to tell them to vacate the area.
In Imeko there is a notorious Fulani man, whose atrocities are many and he was handed over to security operatives and members of the community told the security agents they don’t want him in the town again; the same security personnel took him away and few days later he was returned; he is presently in Imeko living life as he wants. These men do not only kill, maim and invade farmlands, they also kidnap; last year, one person was kidnapped at Ilara, two siblings at Iwoye, even on the Abeokuta-Imeko Road two brothers of ours, a native of Idofa and another native of Imeko were kidnapped while on transit on this road.
The police said they are on the issue, do you believe in them?
Well with the police, I don’t think I have an alternative; but I can tell you that our hope is exhausting; there is no time an issue happens that we won’t take appropriate actions, like the time Tiamyu Yakubu was killed late last December, the community took responsibility for the autopsy and handed the corpse over to the police for further investigations. As you know, part of the investigation process is to carry out an autopsy; the community took care of the autopsy to aid the investigation to get justice, but up till now, we have not heard anything. As you know, our security agencies will always say they are on top of the situation, whereas nothing else will be heard; all we can do is to appeal to them to rise to the occasion and do the needful.
What are your demands from the government on the Fulani herdsmen issue?
I think the government has a lot to do, especially in the area of security. I can say the government has been doing close to nothing in securing the lives and property of the Imeko-Afon people. Yesterday, the Onimeko of Imeko received SWAT police operatives in Imeko; those people now are charged with the responsibility of curbing crimes and the community is shouldering the cost of accommodation; they have no vehicles for patrol, so, how do they move? The government needs to give a lot of support to security operatives in the area like the SWAT and that is just one example out of many.
If the government is serious today, it should give the police and other security agencies the right support and also the body language of the government is not good; the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, that is, he is the Chief Security Officer of the country like our Governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, is the Chief Security Officer of Ogun State; they need to rise to the occasion, do more in securing the lives of the people.
Like the forest reserve we talked about earlier, when you leave 378 square metres of land that was acquired ages ago, it will encourage the invaders. If they know that they are not doing anything with it, let them release it to our people for farming; there are large scale farmers who want to farm and willing to make use of the land, they can release it for them. Like Onimeko did in 2015 and I think that is what Governor Akeredolu is doing now in Ondo State that all the Fulani herdsmen in the community must be registered with the local authority; when all the tribes come to Imeko, we accommodate everybody; once they are law-abiding citizens, we live freely with them.
When issues that we have discussed happen, the resident Fulani will say the foreign ones are responsible for the invasion; all we are saying is that all the Fulani must go and register with the local authorities; the people in Iwoye should register with the Oye of Iwoye; those legitimately residing in Oke Agbede should register with the Baale of Oke Agbede. The Onimeko started this in 2015, I think this is what Governor Akeredolu is doing. When they register with the local authority, they should ask for their NIN.
Are you people satisfied with the efforts of Governor Abiodun and the state government on the killings in Yewa North?
To me the reaction of the government is appalling. The first duty of the government as enshrined in our constitution is the security of the citizens. But to the best of my knowledge, the situation has not been accorded the urgency and concern it deserves. The spate of the killings, maiming and destruction of properties, raping, kidnapping and all that is increasing and about to consume the entire population in Yewa, especially Ketu communities, where these killings have been very rampant, even before the recent happenings in the South-West states.
Yet, the governor has not deemed it fit to visit the affected areas and sympathise with the victims, let alone take a significant step to curb the menace. Almost all the states in the South-West have the Amotekun Security Network in place to curtail this ugly trend. But where is that of Ogun State? And that is why the killers will continue their heinous acts, because they are enjoying the impunity. What I will say again is for the government, especially at the state level, to rise up to its responsibility and do the needful, because as of now, the people are near to the wall and it will not be good for all of us as we will be inviting anarchy should they be pushed to resort to self-help. ,,