Suspected herdsmen have continued to wreak havoc at Oja Odan and 28 other communities in Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State, where they recently killed a 70-year-old farmer and chopped off his son’s hand, reports KUNLE AKINRINADE .
It was just barely few days into the New Year at Agbon village, about 15 kilometres from Oja Odan town in Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State. January 10 broke without any ominous signs of evil lurking around Pa Sola Ilo and his son, Abidemi, when they set out at dawn for their farm at Oke Asa amid the blazing harmattan. They had prepared for work hoping to clear their farmland in readiness for the new planting season. But their outing turned tragic moments later when fiendish herdsmen appeared from the bush behind the farm and wasted no time in hacking the elderly Ilo to death, while Abidemi’s wrist was chopped off in what appeared like a scene from the movies.
Abidemi, who was rushed to the state General Hospital at Ilaro, Yewa South Local Government Area, where he is currently undergoing treatment for his ravaged left hand, said the herders swopped on him when he was checking on his oil palm plantation nearby, while his father stood at their main farm near the Jibi River, which flows into the popular Yewa River. Managing to lift up his mutilated hand, he said he ran as fast as he could but the herdsmen pursued him to the point where his late father was standing and hacked his 70-year-old father to death on the spot, while he managed to escape with blood dripping from his severed hand. He raised the alarm, which attracted sympathisers, while the herdsmen bolted.
‘’Planting season has just begun. So, my father and I thought that we should also go to our farm very early in order to clear our farmland. When we got to the farm, I decided to check on an oil palm plantation nearby, while my father stayed back in our main farm. Before I knew it, six stern-looking gangling herdsmen, armed to the teeth, invaded my farm and attacked me with machetes, cutting my wrist off. I crossed over River Jibi, which separates the oil palm plantation from our main farm and ran towards where my father was standing with my bloodied hand.
‘’On sighting my father, my assailants left me and turned their anger on my father, hacking the old man to death on the spot. I was rescued by sympathisers, who brought me to this hospital; it’s almost a hopeless situation as I cannot afford to defray my medical bill. I have been asked to do a scan but where is the money to do so? I am helpless.’’
Abidemi is not the only victim of the herders’ attack in recent times. Other villagers have tasted the violent bile of the nomads, who invaded the area in November, last year. The herdsmen also rained bullets on another youth in the area, identified simply as Akanni, who miraculously survived the attack. Akanni was said to be working on his farm when the herders attacked him and fired several shots at the boy when he ran for his dear life.
Sources said that there are other several victims,who are currently receiving treatment in the neighbouring communities in Benin Republic for gunshots and varying degrees of injury received during their encounters with the herdsmen.
The terror- herdsmen were said to have camped at Eggua, a neighbouring town, from where they moved with their thousands of cattle ravaging farmlands within the Ketu-Yewa communities, which share border with Republic of Benin.
Palpable fear has since taken over the area comprising about 29 communities, with residents deserting many of the communities for fear of falling victim to the marauding herders.
When The Nation visited the area, most of the villages, including Ateru, Moro, Ologun, Agbon, Igbota, Ogunba-Aiyetoro, Oke-Odo, Ibore, Gbokoto, Iselu, Ijale, Ohunbe, Igbeme, Owode-Ketu, Igan-Alade, Lashilo, Oja Odan, Ateru, Moro, Ologun,Iyana Meta, Igbooro, Egbeda and Kuse, were a ghost of themselves as they were virtually deserted. On Monday, there were renewed fears after sporadic gunshots by herdsmen sent panic in the communities, leaving many villagers to flee their homes for fear of being killed by these gang of herders.
School children affected
Activities of the herdsmen have also affected education in many of the affected villages as many parents are no longer comfortable with releasing their children to attend school. ‘’ We are no longer comfortable with allowing our children to walk to school since the herdsmen returned in November, last year. This is because some of their victims in recent past were pupils who were hacked while they were returning from school,’’ said Madam Abeni Olawale, an indigene of Agbon.
‘’I cannot open my eyes and allow some strangers to kill my children. School children here walk along the bush path to school and they could easily be ambushed and attacked by the heartless herdsmen on the way. It has happened before; a few years ago, some pupils were gruesomely killed by herders. Hence, I cannot expose my children to danger by allowing them to walk along the bush path to school”, said another woman identified simply as Wuraola.
According to a community leader, Adelakun Omolade, the herdsmen had flouted an agreement they had brokered last year by the Area Police Command at Aiyetoro, where they were warned not to graze their cattle on farmlands belonging to the villagers.
‘’They usually come here from November to April. When they arrived last year, there was a meeting convened by the Area Command of the Police at Aiyetoro, where the herdsmen were warned not to graze their cattle in farm lands around border communities in order to avoid clashing with indigenes.
‘’On Monday, we heard sporadic gunshots, which created panic in the communities and the villages have since been deserted. Only government can save us from the hands of the marauding herdsmen. The state government should put in place adequate security measures to tackle these violent herders in the interest of peace.”
Complicit minions of law
The police have been accused of taking sides in the herdsmen saga. Residents explained that in instances where the terror herdsmen were either intercepted or nabbed, the police usually shield them at the expense of the locals who are the victims.
‘’These herdsmen have become emboldened because they usually get support or protection from the police. For example, there was a time one of the hunters, who was hired to protect a property belonging to an ex-senior military personnel, seized a rifle from some herdsmen and handed over the gun to the police when Police Commissioner Ahmed Iliyasu was in charge of the state police command. On their return a few months ago, these herdsmen went straight to the house of the hunter who has since left the community. They instead connived with the police and arrested one of the leaders of the hunters and detained him and subsequently charged him to court.
‘’They would take their cattle to our river and pollute the water, while our people suffer the consequences of the pollution through outbreak of deadly diseases, which have led to the death of a number of residents, yet, the police would not apprehend them, while government officials would waste no time in arresting or sanctioning owners of stray animals in the communities.’’
Distraught farmers protest
On January 29, hundreds of farmers from Oja Odan and 28 other villages trooped out to protest the incessant attacks by suspected herdsmen, who they accused of destroying their farms, killing their members and raping their daughters and women.
The aggrieved farmers took their protest march to the palace of their monarch, the Eselu of Iseluland, Oba Akintunde Akinyemi, over the killing of Pa Ilo and his son, Abidemi, whose hand was chopped off by herdsmen who invaded their farm..
He said having been chased out of theRepublic of Benin, they surged into their villages and practically took over the locals’ farms and forests.
According to him, the stream that supplies water for drinking and domestic purposes have been muddied, polluted and soiled with the faeces of their cattle, which go their for water daily. He lamented that their women, daughters and sisters also suffer dehumanisation, abuse and humiliation in the hands of herdsmen.
The Nation sighted some cattle inside the stream in the community, while some herders were standing by to watch over the animals as they muddied the the water during the week.
The monarch lamented that the herders returned to the community in their large numbers after the Benin Republic soldiers reportedly resisted them and chased them away from their country.
Speaking with our reporter, Oba Akinyemi lamented the incessant attacks on his people by suspected herdsmen, urging the state government and the police to be proactive in protecting indigenes from being subjected to further attacks by herdsmen.
“This has been one problem we have tried in vain to resolve this matter because the herdsmen are not willing to embrace peace, law and order. The problem is compounded by the fact that the herdsmen mainly come from the Benin Republic and Niger. They invaded our territory after they were dislodged by security forces in Republic of Benin.
“They have destroyed farm lands and the economic crops belonging to our farmers; they even raped our women and daughters incessantly. The matter is worsened by the inefficiency of the police in this area. For example, the divisional police headquarters at Oja Odan has no patrol vehicle to respond to distress calls from the dispersed villages and this is very sad. The implication of this is that whenever there is need to address alarms raised by the villagers, the police would not be there on time, leaving people at the mercy of these herdsmen who usually terrorise them.
‘’Herdsmen are constantly attacking our people in their farms. The young man (Abidemi) whose father was killed and also had his hand chopped off by these herdsmen is still battling for his life in the hospital as we speak. To this end, I want to urge the state government to save us from these people from being subjected to further attacks.”
We’re already addressing the problem-Police
However, the Ogun State Police Command said it had put in place a new arrangement to prevent further attacks by suspected herdsmen in the Yewa area of the state.
Police spokesman, Abimbola Oyeyemi, told The Nation on Friday that a committee had been set up in the communities to address the problem and check errant herdsmen in the area.
He said the committee was set up following a parley brokered by the Commissioner for Police, CP Mr Kenneth Ebrimson, last Tuesday during his assessment tour of Yewa South and Yewa North Local Government Areas.
‘’The herdsmen are the ones that usually come from Niger and Chad Republics to cause problems and attack villagers. However, the CP (Ebrimson) has visited the areas affected and set up a committee to address the issue. Meetings were simultaneously held at the palace of Olu of Ilaro in Yewa South council area where CP Ebrimson addressed Obas in the area, while he also held a meeting with herdsmen and their Yoruba hosts at the Ilaro Police Area Command.
The same day, he also held similar meetings with Obas in the Ketu-Yewa speaking area of Yewa North council area at the palace of the Alaye of Aiyetoro, and met with the leaders of herdsmen and Yoruba communities at the Aiyetoro Police Area Command.
‘’The arrangement now is that transiting herdsmen would now have to first report to the leadership of the local herdsmen in the communities for proper documentation so that in the event that they exhibit indiscretions, it will be easy to apprehend or sanction them.’’
Oyeyemi,denied the alleged complicity of the police in the incessant attacks on farmers in the community, noting that the police have a mandate to serve everyone in the society irrespective of their race or colours.
‘’Police have to maintain law and order without fear or favour. If a farmer accuses herders of destroying their farms, we are duty bound to apprehend such herdsmen. Likewise, in the event that farmers are also accused of poisoning cattle belonging to herders, we also have a duty to investigate the matter and make arrest if the need arises; hence, we are an impartial law enforcement agency.
‘’Inadequate patrol vehicles are not enough to dismiss us as being inefficient. The state government has gradually begun the distribution of new patrol vehicles to police formations in the state. We have taken delivery of about 27 patrol vans from the new ones they just purchased and more of the vehicles would still be given to us, so we can give them to divisions with faulty patrol vehicles,’’ he added.