Herdsmen go about with guns destroying our farms, says Ekiti Community

Herdsmen go about with guns destroying our farms, our people are starving – Ogunbiyi, Ekiti community regent


The Regent of Oke Ako in Ekiti State, Princess Tinuade Ogunbiyi, tells ABIODUN NEJO that farmers in the agrarian community can no longer go to their farms while many people, for security reasons, are leaving for other communities following the destructive activities of Fulani herdsmen in the area

Can you recall when the Fulani herdsmen got to Oke Ako?

 They had been around in our forests since. I got to know them even when my father was alive. But then, they were friendly, until like over 10 years ago when they started causing problems.

What kind of problems?

They destroy our farms with their animals. At the same time, they do not allow our people, who are predominantly farmers, continue their farming activities on the farms. There was a time they came to town, attacked our people and killed two persons. These are some of the problems that they cause. They consistently destroy farms products.

But why are they attracted to the community?

It is mainly the dams. We have five dams constructed by Oodua Investment in the Chief Obafemi Awolowo days. During the dry season, when there is no water around for their cows, it would be only in Oke Ako that they can get water, so they will come for the water. They come from far and near to get water here. They come from even Kogi State to get water for their cattle.

Do they stay back whenever they come like that?

Some will stay, some will stay for few days and go back. But they will still come back. There is always influx of herders with their cattle from different places to take water and graze. Whenever they come like that, we pay dearly for it with our farm products which their cattle destroy. In the process of passing, their cows ravage our crops.

As the regent, what efforts have you made to resolve the problem?

We have made a lot of efforts. There was a time the government invited us to Ado Ekiti, the state capital, during the first term of Governor Kayode Fayemi. They invited some people from the North as well maybe they could have dialogue and see the way we could be living together in harmony without any crisis. We tried to know them so that they would register so that we would not continue to deal with faceless people. We tried our best so that we could be friends, but the more we tried, the more they cause problems.

What are the problems and how are the activities of the herdsmen affecting Oke Ako and neighbouring towns?

Their activities are affecting us socially, physically and economically. Our farmers no longer have farm produce as it used to be. Before, our people produced agric products in large quantities. They were harvesting yam in bulk, but now, we no longer have enough to eat, there is no yam to sell again. When our people cultivate their lands and plant there, the herders would take their cattle there to destroy them. Because of this, people are leaving the community, Ebira farmers as well are leaving to look for where they can get farmland to do their own activities in peace. Again, they threaten the lives of people. When they come to town, you will see them with guns and machetes. The purpose of the guns and machetes is to instill fears in the people’s minds and to threaten them. There were instances when they attacked our people.

How are women in the community coping?

The women have not been able to go to the farms again. If a woman has to go to farm, she has to hire someone to go with her. They had even attempted to rape some of our women, but we thank God that we have not recorded cases of rape here. It is in view of this that the women don’t go to the farms again.

How do you feel whenever you get the hint that Fulani herders were planning to attack your community?

Such alerts are rampant and we are disturbed, we live in fear. Our people cannot sleep with two eyes closed. Whenever we get the hint that herdsmen are coming to attack us, we resort to the security and we always place the local hunters on the alert. However, the community is confronted with the challenge of fund for security. It is difficult to raise funds to finance the security and local hunters. At times, we don’t get anything or enough when we attempt to raise funds from the people.

How do you cope in such circumstances?

We are just managing ourselves. Because of that, the security and hunters have not been functioning well. We have not been paying our local hunters well, we don’t have enough to maintain them.

Recently, Ekiti State Government took the measure to register herders and farmers with a view to knowing them. How has that affected your area?

The herdsmen here did not come out for registration. They don’t want it because they have hidden agenda. They don’t want to register, they don’t want to be known. That effort has not been fruitful.

Why were you unsettled over the coming of additional herders to settle in your community on Saturday?

We know what we have been facing in the hands of Fulani herdersmen, so we have to prevent any addition. Our prayer is for those around to leave, so we have to be worried. That night, we heard that there were three trucks conveying herders into our land. When we got the message, we drew the attention of the local hunters. On getting there, they were over 60 Fulani herders who had been offloaded from the vehicles with their food and other things. That was how we alerted other neighbouring communities. We then drew the attention of some of the leaders of Fulani. I insisted that those trucks that brought them there should move them and their belongings out of the community and indeed the area immediately. It was then I heard that the Onirele of Irele, the traditional ruler of the neighbouring community, said they should come so that he would address the matter. I instructed Oke Ako chiefs to ensure they were returned to where they came from. I learnt they said they brought a letter from a top police officer which served as a pass for them. They said the letter stated that they were going to a town in the Ikole Local Government Area of Ekiti State. The name of the town does not even exist here. They also had another letter from one of our indigenes who asked them to come to Oke Ako forest, claiming there is land for them to settle. When we invited the person involved, he took responsibility. He said that he collected money from them and asked them to come. I then reiterated that there was no land and that he should ask them to return from where they came from.

What is the sanction for the insider?

He was arrested alongside one other collaborator and taken to Ado Ekiti. In conclusion, the two persons that collected an undisclosed amount of money from the herdsmen were asked make a refund and as well ask them to leave.

With all these done, why did women in your community still protest?

Nobody wants Fulani herdsmen to continue to stay here to constitute problems, hence the women protested. They protests was as well extended against the two persons from here that collected money from the herdsmen. There is this aspect of our tradition whereby if somebody does something that is not good, they will pluck leaves and put it in front of the person’s house. So that Saturday, the women protested and put leaves in front of the houses of the two individuals that collected money from the herdsmen.

What is the implication?

It is a taboo. It can cause evil for that person.

Have the two men apologised to the community?

I have not seen them, but I have sent to them to ensure that the people that they brought leave.

The implication is that some insiders are collaborating with the Fulani herders – what advice do you have for your people?

My advice to them is that they should not take laws into their hands again. They should not take any step that will be inimical to people’s lives. If they want to accept any stranger, they should let me and the council of chiefs know so that we can give them advice and let them know what should be done.

Does that mean the two Oke Ako men did not know or they are less concerned about the destruction of your people’s farm produce and the threat to their lives that you complained of?

They know and they understand. But I want to believe that they were deceived by the way the Fulani presented themselves to them. The Fulani were said to have told the two natives that if they stayed here, they would assist the community to stop all those coming to destroy their farm crops. I think they were deceived by that.

How is Oke Ako Market faring now?

The market is a victim of the activities of the herders. The menace of the Fulani herders has not been allowing people to get what they can sell in the market. It is only when we get bountiful harvest that the market can be buoyant. For now, the herders’ herds graze our crops. When there was food production, people from different states were coming to buy in the market. But for now, our people don’t get enough to eat, much more sell. So, the market has been idle even throughout last year.

What is the general feeling of your people?

We are not happy. We are feeling bad and angry.

So, what do you think government should do to secure Oke Ako and neighbouring communities?

During the time the government visited here, they deployed army here, but recently, the military men left, with what happened on Saturday, we are appealing to government to order them to return. We also want a standby joint security force comprising army, police, civil defence, Amotekun and local hunters here. We want them to be here on standby so that the herders will know there is security presence and that will serve as a check on their destructive activities. Again, the absence of police in this area is worrisome. Some of the strangers living with us here are leaving because of insecurity. Those of us that remain do not have a place to go. This is our community, that is why we are still here. People who have option, people who have other places to go have left. It has affected us enormously.

Copyright PUNCH.

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