By Wole Olaoye
Democracy is good. Insecurity is bad. Democratisation of insecurity is totally undesirable. Those are the truths on which I stand today as I ruminate over the gradual transmogrification of the southwestern part of Nigeria from a peaceful centre of commerce and culture to a killing field where untold savagery has become a handmaiden of daily living.
The list of cases of kidnapping, rape, destruction of farm crops and sundry acts of criminality perpetrated by real or fake Fulani herdsmen is very long. Some instances were cited by the Alaafin of Oyo, a self-confessed supporter of the Buhari administration, who was moved to write an open letter to the president.
“Today, it is not merely infraction in the course of doing business, but blatant and criminal violation of the constitutional right to life and liberty of innocent citizens of Yoruba land”, wrote the Alaafin.
He gave examples of people kidnapped along Erio-Aramoko Road, Ekiti State who were tortured and exposed to danger in the forest for upward of two weeks; the kidnap of the Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association, Ikole Branch, Adeola Adebayo, whose decomposing body was eventually found after a ransom of four million Naira had been paid; the kidnap of Musibau Adetumbi, a legal practitioner, along Ilesha-Akure highway; the abduction of Professor Adegbehingbe, a surgeon at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, was adopted along Ibadan-Ile-Ife highway; the kidnap of Dr. Muslim Omoleke, the Administrative Secretary of the National Electoral Commission, around Ilesha, Osun State; the kidnap of Dayo Adewole, son of a former Minister of Health, on his farm at Iroko along Ibadan-Oyo Road.
The Alaafin said he was writing, “after due consultations with Yoruba leaders”. He further explains: “I have held series of consultations with opinion moulders and eminent Yoruba leaders across board about the menace of these cattle herdsmen with such assault like raping of our women and in some occasions, in the presence of their husbands. That is apart from massive destruction of our agricultural lands; which ultimately points to imminent starvation. On top of it all is the menace of professional kidnappers usually in military uniforms.…”
There is widespread frustration among the local populace in western Nigeria because they have never witnessed this level of insecurity since Nigeria’s flag independence in 1960. Not even the political violence of the ‘Wetie’ days of the old wild west comes close.
Ondo State has been at the receiving end of this tragic development for a while. The most horrific was the sacrilegious slaying of a a first-class traditional ruler, the Olufon of Ifon, late 2020. Before that, the daughter of Yoruba leader, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, was also killed in a kidnap attempt. That incident came after the kidnap of former presidential candidate, Chief Olu Falae.
Historically, there are Fulani herdsmen who had been living peacefully with their hosts for generations. The local indigenes of the various communities don’t have problem with them. But these murderers are a different breed, as attested to by a local farmer in Owo: “We had until recently handled the incursion of genuine herdsmen in accordance with the law and tradition. But of recent the calibre of herders changed for the worse. They carried hard weaponry and their activity rose from ruining farms to attacking the homesteads, raping the women, stealing the money of homebound workers, kidnapping and murder. Clearly these were no longer herdsmen”.
It was against that background that Governor Rotimi Akeredolu issued a seven-day ultimatum for all herdsmen to vacate the forest reserves in Ondo State because the forests served as place of refuge for the merchants of death. It was not a blanket order as there are Fulanis who have been living in approved settlements side-by-side with the indigenes for generations.
As usual in Nigeria, there have since been various misinterpretations of the governor’s order and a reduction of the serious issue of security to ethnic jujitsu. There are Igbo, Ijaw, Urhobo, Tiv, Hausa, Ibibio, Fulani, Ebira, Nupe and other ethnic groups living peacefully in Ondo State. They have not been expelled. Only those who have been using the forests as haven for kidnapping and terror have been told to leave.
In past incidents of hostage taking, rape and cold blooded highway murders, the Fulani community has always claimed that the criminals were not Nigerian Fulanis but those from the West coast of Africa. Not a few people have wondered how Nigeria would open its borders to any foreign nomad herding cattle into Nigeria without documentation or tracing device.
What continues to befuddle observers is that Fulanis are not kidnapping citizens in Ghana or Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, or any other West African country. Why Nigeria?
The new wave of kidnappings and banditry is alien to Ondo State. It is crueller than armed robbery because the murderers most times just fire their AK47s at moving vehicles. The wife of the governor’s chief of staff had once been kidnapped by those bandits. There doesn’t seem to be any difference between the style of those terrorising the Southwest and those doing the same thing in the North. And it seems it has a lot to do with economic considerations because it is all very profitable.
Recently, Sheik Dr Ahmad Gumi visited the Sabon Garin Yadi bush in Kaduna State accompanied by the state commissioner of police to meet with bandits terrorising Zaria and Birnin Gwari axis of the state with the hope of educating and persuading them to shun criminality. According to the Desert Herald, the over 500 armed Fulanis that were present included about 25 of their top commanders.
Excerpts: “The bandits told Sheikh Gumi and CP Umar Muri that they were forced into taking up arms… They lamented that security personnel have killed many of their family members with many of them losing virtually all their possessions through cattle rustling, extortion by security agents and through military bombardments. As a result they lamented thousands of their youths do not have anything to do and there is no means of livelihood hence their decision to go into arms struggle.
“The Ardos (Fulani leaders) told the large gathering that most of them, including the armed Fulanis, only accepted the invitation to come from far and near because of the respect and confidence they have in Sheikh Gumi.
“In his response, CP Muri who spoke in their native Fulfulde pledged understanding and patience and assured them that he will deliver their message to IGP Adamu. He said the Police will continue to support any peace initiative and that the leadership of the Police under IGP Adamu recognises the rights of all Nigerians and told them that he was ordered by the IGP directly to come because of the importance government attached to Sheikh Gumi’s peace efforts.
“Sheikh Gumi preached to them the message of Islam and the need to always be patient. He said he shares their concerns and that for the first time he learned a lot about the predicaments, the frustrations of the Fulanis… Sheikh Gumi pleaded with them to give him the benefit of doubt by immediately ceasing all hostilities including kidnapping, promising them that he will personally see President Muhammadu Buhari on the issue…
Kudos to the good sheik!
Now, who is going to clear the forests of Ondo of bandits if not the governor ?
The Yoruba Council of Elders and the Afenifere groups of the Southwest support Governor Akeredolu’s order while the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) described it as provocative, unhelpful and unconstitutional. Another group which called itself the Fulani Nationalist Movement, (FUNAM) threatened armed resistance if Fulanis were ejected from the forests in the Southwest, insisting that nobody brought land from heaven. The statement was signed by one Baadu Salisu Ahmadu who warned that, “I Baadu Salisu Ahmadu, given my new responsibility, will with other faithful never fail the Fulani Nation in it’s Allah chosen destiny”
Away from ethnic posturing and hate baiting, it is clear that Governor Akeredolu has a duty to live up to his oath of office as the chief security officer of Ondo State by instituting measures to protect the residents of his state. Instead of stoking ethnic embers, those who still feel like inhabiting the forests of Ondo State should go to court to secure an order to that effect. They are however reminded of Hon.Justice Adewale Thompson’s Judgment of 17th April 1969, against Open Cattle Grazing – Suit No. AB/26/66, at Abeokuta Division of the High Court.
To allow Ondo State or the entire southwest to become another cauldron of insecurity in a country facing serious challenges on many other fronts, is to subscribe to the retrogressive notion of propagating insecurity — the more the messier! And that is totally undesirable.