A traditional ruler, the Eselu of Iseluland, Oba Akintunde Akinyemi, is one of the leaders of Ketuland who petitioned the state government and the military authorities on the harassment of the people of the area by soldiers who connived with Fulani herdsmen. In this interview with DAUD OLATUNJI, the traditional ruler in the Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State explains the ordeals of the people in the hands of the soldiers and the herders
is it true that some soldiers connived with Fulani herdsmen to flog your people?
It is true. The Fulani have been coming to our areas, but they don’t reside here. What we usually see is that yearly during the dry season, they move here with their cattle from the North. Some come from Niger Republic. We have not been having problems except when they destroy farms and farmers have confrontation with them.
What then went wrong ?
This very time, why this issue became problematic was because the Benin Republic government passed a law that the Fulani should not graze their cattle in the country. I am also aware that they (Benin Republic) wrote Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ogun State Government that they don’t want cattle to be grazing in their country. So, this year, the routes of the Fulani changed. They now come from the North to our area because during the dry season, we have green grass that their cattle can feed on. This is not the first time. But when they are coming the government is always aware. When they are coming, government sends anti-riot policemen to take care of their feeding and logistics. The policemen would be there to protect the Fulani and their cattle. Sometimes, the Fulani spend three months here and go. But this year, instead of policemen, soldiers escorted the Fulani to our areas.
Did you mean you were not aware ?
I was not aware. The police were also not aware. What the soldiers did was to assemble our people and beat those who cautioned against destruction of their farms by the herdsmen.
What evidence do you have that the soldiers beat your people?
We have video and pictures . When the soldiers came, they did not know this area. Even the Fulani that came did not know the border between the Benin Republic and Nigeria. On the Benin Republic side, there were Gendam (security agents). When the soldiers came with the Fulani, they strayed into the Benin Republic and there was exchange of fire between them and the Gendam. In the process, some of the Fulani got missing and they have not been found up till now.
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What efforts has Ogun State Government made towards resolving this security issue in your areas?
The state government sent a powerful delegation. I heard they had a meeting last week with the Deputy Commissioner of Police and the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and the Special Adviser to the Governor on Security. The governor took the necessary steps he ought to take. I was invited to a meeting. I was the only one (monarch) at the meeting and I briefed them on the issue because they thought the Fulani that got missing were on Nigerian land and I made them to understand that the place is in the Benin Republic. When the Fulani were mounting pressure that they could not find their people, we thought they came to attack us. We made them understand that the place the Fulani went to is not part of Nigeria. We know that the Fulani entered another country and that was why there was an exchange of fire.
But what we now need to know is that where did soldiers came to harass our people come? The soldiers are from Alamala, (35 Artillery Brigade, Abeokuta). Our people could identify them. That is why I said there are still pictures and video evidence that the soldiers actually came to our place to beat us because of the Fulani. The Fulani are yearly visitors and they are usually accompanied by police not soldiers who beat people.
Do the Fulani pay money to the Baales or the Obas in the areas?
They don’t. They just go into our own farms and destroyed them.
Do you have the data of the Fulani destructive activities in your areas ?
You can’t even quantify the destruction because when the Fulani come with their cattle, they would break the silos and give all the maize there to their cattle and tell the farmers that they are willing to pay. One of them even told me that giving maize to their cattle gives the animals carbohydrate. So intentionally, they break the silos and give their cattle maize.
Can you mention the areas that Fulani have destroyed farms and killed farmers and residents ?
The areas include Agbon, Asaa, Eselu and Ibeku. They have destroyed farms and killed people in 22 communities in Ketuland. Chief Oluomo and Michael Kudoro’s farms were destroyed. Even Apesi farm was destroyed. The police always come to see the level of destruction. The major effect is that our farmers who take soft loans to go into farming can’t pay them back. A lot of children don’t even go to school because their parents can’t pay school fees. That is why there are many smugglers because if a father cannot afford to send his child to school and the child sees a way he can make money by selling two to three bags of rice, what will he do?
Do you also have pictures of those that have been killed so far by Fulani ?
We have a whole lot of them . For the past 16 years I have been on the throne, no fewer than 70 people have been killed. There was a year they killed 32. That was in 2007. The Fulani attacked a church during a vigil and killed 32 people. That was in 2007. As of that time (former president Olusegun) Obasanjo was the President and he set up a committee.
Can you identify criminals among the herdsmen?
You cannot differentiate them because they are all Fulani. It is the local Fulani that aid them.
Do you believe part of the problems is our porous borders ?
The major problem, aside from the fact that the borders are porous, is that these areas are not developed. Anytime I am interviewed, I always pose this question to the Federal Government. The border commission should come and tell us one single project they have done in the border areas . To the best of my ability, I have not seen one, not even a borehole. There was a documentary recently showing the level of the dilapidation of our schools. Some of the schools don’t even have English or Mathematics teachers and we are preparing them for examinations. There is a high level of neglect by the government.
What effects do these have in your area?
It has a negative effect on our people. Children are not going to school because their parents can’t afford to send them to school.
Can you suggest a way out ?
There is nothing that can be done without the government. You cannot acquire land without the government. Whatever you want to do the government must be ready to support. Our place is a belt of gypsum, cement and limestone. It is difficult to bring a company to invest here.
Can you give graphic details of how the soldiers flogged your people ?
They visited Ibeku. They called the Baale to arrange his people. They visited Moro, they gathered people there and subsequently visited Asa area and the person they beat reported to the Police. The scars he sustained are still there up till now. He opposed rearing of cattle by the Fulani on farm lands. Incidentally I was in the palace and the place we are talking about is a village in the jungle but it is in my area. They came and that is why we wrote a petition because there is nothing you can do to someone carrying a gun. That is why we wrote the petition and send it to the appropriate quarters.
Was your petition acknowledged?
It was acknowledged by the Department of State Services and even the police.
How about the Nigerian Army ?
They did but, they have not responded.
Who did you address the petition to ?
The petition was addressed to the governor, the Commissioner of police, one to Brigade Commander Alamala barracks and the Director of DSS.
Have you heard anything from them about the petition ?
There has not been any response from any of them, not even from the government. Even the Army was silent .
What is your advice to government ?
My advice on the aspect of security is that the governor should please resuscitate the approach people are used to. If the Fulani must come, there must be anti-riot policemen on the ground. He should give the chairman the power to oversee that area. Aside that, we also want the governor to develop the border areas.The Federal Government should do the same. We, the traditional rulers, why are we there? Everyone is talking about the role of traditional rulers. We can do farming now. It is just for the government to give us money and experts who will guide us. We have the land and we would work in collaboration with the ministry of agriculture.
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