INVESTIGATION… How herdsmen crisis coxmpounds woes of already deprived Ogun communities
Earlier in January, the Nigerian media space was awash with reports of violence between herders and farmers across the country. Lukman Abolade visited some of the communities in Ogun state lacking proper basic infrastructure, their neglect worsened by violence between the Yoruba residents and the herders. With Contribution from Ojurongbe Sodiq.
Distraught and devastated, Ebenezer Akako, a chieftain of Eselu community in Ogun state, stood in front of his burnt house counting his losses; he had not only lost his house, he had previously lost his only son to herders/farmers crisis.
His son, Taye Akako was killed by suspected herders in 2011. Taye’s life was cut short after he was attacked on his way from school; the only son to his father was slaughtered while his remains were left to decompose beside the bushy part of the road. The then 12-year-old Taye’s young body was discovered many days after his death.
“My only son was killed about ten years ago by the same Fulani herdsmen; he was in secondary school when he was killed while returning from school,” Ebenezer said.
Now, Ebenezer’s house has also been razed down by same suspected herders. He sits and wonders what more he would lose to attacks by the herders.
His home has just been turned into clusters of bricks after some men he suspected to be Fulani herders burnt down several buildings in the community.
The pictorial memories of his late son alongside other important credentials are gone.
Initially, after his house was burnt down, Ebenezer fled the community to a neighbouring village in Benin Republic where he sought shelter.
Narrating the attack on the community, Akako said the herders stormed the community bearing guns and machetes.
“It was around 7pm in the evening, we were sitting outside my house, we started hearing gunshots, and we all ran for our dear lives.
“We hid inside the house, but when the gunshot became unbearable, we ran out for our dear lives. The man that was burnt with the building was an old man who could not run very well, so he decided to hide inside my room, ” he told this reporter.
A decade-long crisis wiping out communities
For over two decades, residents in Yewa North local government have been trapped between conflicts with herders and lack of social amenities.
Violence in the agrarian communities of Yewa North has been recurring for many years in Ibeku, Agbon Ojodu, Koole, Eselu, Kodeera, Asaa, Okosho, Moro, Isike, Seeke-Aje, Igbo-Ire, Oguba, Ayedun, Adeshina communities and others.
Many already languishing in the infrastructurally poor Ogun communities became exposed to the brutal violence of conflict.
The residents told this reporter that the Fulani herders had been responsible for raping their wives and daughters, assaulting young men, vandalising properties and killing innocent persons.
Findings by this reporter revealed that the herdsmen and farmers crisis began over trespass on farmlands by the herders which led to destruction of crops and deprived farmers of productivity.
Many residents of the affected communities deserted their homes when the invasion and killings by Fulani herdsmen did not abate.
While some of the residents have left Nigeria for Benin Republic, others have sought shelter at a far distance with a promise never to return to the village where lives are wasted and properties lost to herders crisis.
Tales of herdsmen attack: The invasion, arson, relics of attacks
Following a recent violence that escalated in some of the affected communities, residents narrated their experience.
The communities were quite like a graveyard with little or no activities taking place. All commercial outlets had been closed.
Some of the major markets had become deserted, no activities, no display of goods by traders; shops were locked; tables used for display of wares were turned upside down.
Not only were markets deserted, the few people that did not leave the communities looked abandoned, unfed and unkempt.
Narrating his ordeal, Abidemi Ilo, a 35-year-old man and resident of Agbon Ojodu village, told this reporter that he was attacked by the herders alongside his father.
Abidemi said he was lucky because he lost three of his fingers to the attack, but his father was not, he could not run as fast as him; he was hacked to death by the herders. But Abidemi is now a deformed man after the attack.
“Fulani herdsmen used cutlass to chop off three of my fingers and turned me to a deformed personality. On this fateful day, we (himself and his dad) went to the river, we were coming home when we were attacked by the herdsmen.
“I did not know that they were at my back, they used a stick to hit me at first. I carried the person that hit me with a stick, but they were plenty, they were about eight that attacked us,” Abidemi said.
He noted that he lost his fingers when he tried to stop a machete aimed at his head by his attackers before he took to his heels.
According to Abidemi, the most painful part of the attack was his inability to save his father; it was either he left him behind or waited to die alongside his father because they were outnumbered by the attackers.
“One of them tried to cut my head, I used my hand to block it, that was how my three fingers were chopped off. Looking at their numbers, I became afraid. I had to take to my heels and run past my dad, I told him to run as well, but because of his age, he couldn’t run like I did, so he was killed while I ran for my life,” he added.
After the attack, Ilo said he spent over a year at the Ilaro general hospital before he was able to stand on his feet. Two years after, he is still visibly in pains as he had to be supported to take off his clothes while trying to show this reporter a part of his shoulder that was condemned during the attack.
Like Abidemi, Olaotan Adelana has also been left partially disabled after his encounter with suspected herdsmen while working on his farm.
Adelana narrated that on February 20, 2018, some herdsmen came to his farm to beg for water to drink and returned twice later to make the same request but when he refused, they turned violent.
Adelana said, “There is a river close to our farm but it is a bit deep. The water is not drinkable and we often fetch water from home to the farm. It was the water that we gave them to drink.
“They took water the first, second time and returned with cows the third time. They chased us away. I wasn’t even aware at first of what was happening until I fell down after a machete landed on me. It was those around that helped me.
“We don’t want killer herdsmen on our lands again. We don’t want them again in Yewaland. We don’t want them in Ogun State. We don’t want them in Ketuland or Agbon-Ojudu again. They have killed many people in the communities,” Adelana said.
Ashabi Fashola, another resident of the community, never suffered a direct attack, but lost her brother, Ajana in 2014.
Ashabi said her brother’s wife had just given birth to triplets and that the week in August was the naming ceremony.
Several well-wishers had gathered in his compound, the food and music were ready and the pastor who would name the children had also arrived.
Unfortunately, Ashabi said his brother was told that some Fulani herders had invaded his farm and his crops had been destroyed.
He stated that his brother excused himself to quickly go to the farm and question the herders that destroyed his crops but he never came back and never saw his children named.
It was a sad day for the Fasholas, Ashabi said, their joys of new born children turned sorrowful due to the death of their bread winner.
“He was told that some Fulani destroyed his crops at the farm; it was when he got to the farm that he was killed by the herders. He has three children and he was killed at the naming ceremony of one of his children. He just told us that he wants to quickly go to the farm to sort the issue with herdsmen, but it was his corpse that was brought home,” Ashabi told this reporter..
Ajani’s wife declined comment about that incident when this reporter visited her house.
Almost all of the residents in these communities have lost family members or friends to the attacks by the Fulani herders.
From Gabriel Kudoro, a resident of Ibeku village who suffered several body injuries and has become partially disabled after an attack, to Adelana, a resident of Asaa whose hand has been partially cut off, many of the residents have tales to tell about their direct or indirect violent encounter with herders in that part of the state.
Deep inside the unclean well of infrastructure deficit
The residents of these communities not only suffer loss from Fulani herdsmen attack, there is also a huge infrastructural deficit. They do not have access to basic amenities.
This reporter observed that the communities lack access to good water supply; the communities rely on streams, but due to lack of rainfall in the year, getting good water has become a heinous task for them.
During a visit to where the Asaa community gets water, the reporter saw a muddy dug pit with a bowl inside of it.
There was no borehole in Asaa, Ibeku, Eselu communities and residents are left to look for unsafe alternatives to get water resorting to drinking unclean water.
Matthew Akande, the Asaa community head said efforts by some organizations to erect a borehole in the community has been futile.
“There is no water in this community, we go a far distance to get good water and not even everybody has the money to buy it. Because of water scarcity, this will make it five days that I have taken my bath.
“We want the government to give us good water; some people came and promised that they would do water, we did not see them. We have told them the borehole is not good in this land because there are rocks here,” Akande said.
Not only do these communities suffer from lack of clean water, they do not also have access to electricity.
In many parts of these communities, there are erected poles with electricity cables on them, one would have thought the communities have electricity but that was not the case according to the residents.
Findings revealed that the poles, wires and mini transformers erected in almost every part of Asaa, Ibeku, Agbon-Ojodu, and Mooro were more of a display than a project meant to have impact on the lives of the people.
Even though many of the residents connected wire from the poles to their homes, still, there was no electricity in their homes.
While touring the communities, it was observed that the mini transformers were already rusting, while some of it had been surrounded with bushes.
Findings revealed that the project which was reportedly an initiative of the former governor of the state, Gbenga Daniel, was abandoned after the change of government in the state.
The residents claimed that nothing has been done in ensuring they get electricity since 2011 that the government commenced the project.
They rely on generators and claim the community has never enjoyed electricity since its long years of existence.
Speaking on the condition of these communities, the Youth leader of the Asaa community, Peter Ogunshi said it is high time the government paid attention to their many travails.
“I am not happy with it because many people both in the community and its environs have run away from the community, our community has become deserted.
“We want the government to find a solution to it because there is no security, no light, no water. There is really nothing for us, we have lost so much to conflicts and neglect.
“We can’t sleep with our two eyes closed, we can’t go to the farm.
“We have lost a lot of things, our farm produce have been destroyed, many people have been turned to orphan; they have turned many to widowers and turned many homeless.
“Since we have been voting for the government, there is no light, there is no water. If you go around, you will see electric poles and wires, but, since 2011 that it has been erected, there is no electricity”, Ogunshi said.
A monarch in one of the communities, Eselu of Eseluland, Akintunde Akinyemi, said both the state and the federal governments had failed the people in the task of securing lives and property.
Akinyemi said failure of the ruling class made a Yoruba activist, Sunday Adeyemo, popularly known as Sunday Igboho, move in a bid to rescue his people from killer herdsmen.
“What is happening now is a sign that both the state and federal governments have failed. People are trying to defend their territory. If our right has been protected, Igboho will not be the one chasing killer herdsmen away from the South-West. It is the responsibility of the police,’Akinyemi said.
The monarch said it was wrong that despite an injunction restraining herdsmen from bringing cows into the council area, they still engaged in it without care.
On the petition to the government on developments in the area, the monarch said that nothing had been done.
He stated, “That is why I said the situation now is a sign of a failed government. When there have been reports in the media, petitions, radio and TV discussions, up till now, the government has not said a word about the matter. Nothing not even a meeting.”
Students desert schools, stay home over fear of being attacked
Not only have residents deserted their homes, the fear of being attacked by the killer herdsmen has forced many parents to stop their children from going to school.
When this reporter visited Egbado North Local Government School, Asaa, the students had deserted classes, while some had been completely deserted, some were left with only a few students.
In these communities, this reporter found out that there were only two schools in the five communities. The schools were in poor conditions with some of the buildings dilapidated.
Only two classrooms were functioning to accommodate the few pupils coming to the school.
Also in the school, there were only two teachers taking classes in the whole of the school. Efforts to speak with the school authority proved abortive.
Adewusi, the Asaa Village head said the number of students attending the school had reduced drastically from 400 to about 100.
Adewusi claimed panic and fear had made parents withdraw their children from school. He also complained that many teachers had abandoned the school because of the several attacks.
“Our school has spoiled, you can also visit the place, all our women have run to Benin Republic. With what is happening here, the people think if they go to school, the Fulani can attack them with guns.
“We have over 400 pupils at the public schools in our community, go and count them if they are up to 100. There is no teacher as well, if not for the grace that two of the teachers there were from Agbon, all the teachers have run away; they are not ready to come to this community,” Adewusi said.
The situation was the same at Community High School, Ibeku, the second school in five communities, where the students refused to come to school due to fear of attacks.
The youth leader of the community, Peter Ogunshi said the students were just returning to school after a long period of deserting it.
“Since this crisis started, our children don’t go to school; there are a few ones among them that go because of panic and fear. Many parents don’t want to allow their children to go to school because nobody knows when they will attack again.
“The primary school in this community, we have just two teachers there, if you get to secondary schools, they can’t be more than five. Government should come to our aid,” Ogunshi said.
We also suffer from attacks —Fulani Herdsmen
Efforts to speak with the Head of Fulani herdsmen in Ogun state, popularly called Seriki Fulani, did not yield any result as he refused to speak with this reporter about the ongoing crisis.
However, in recent interviews, he had claimed that Fulani herders also suffered losses from attacks on their livestocks by farmers, and many herdsmen had been killed.
The Seriki Fulani of Igua in Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State, Adamu Ibrahim, claimed that more than 100 Fulani herdsmen were killed in the area within the last five years.
In a report, the Seriki Fulani claimed communities like Asa, Agbon Ojodu and others along the Oja-Odan axis had killed many cows and herders during the period.
While speaking in an interview, he said the Fulani herders had lost count of how many cows were killed within the last five years, stating that over 100 herders were killed for no just reason.
“If you continue beating somebody every day, one day the person will try to beat you back. That is a Yoruba proverb and it is what is manifesting in Yewa North at the moment,” Seriki Fulani said.
He stated that the Fulanis had been reporting to the police commissioner in Abeokuta but nothing had changed.
He also said he used to have records of these casualties, but everything was burnt recently during an attack on Fulanis.
However, Ibrahim denied knowing the fulani who attacked residents of Ogun communities. Although he admitted they were Fulani, he insisted they were not herders.
“We don’t know those who are killing and kidnapping people. They are not our people. They are Fulani from Nigeria, but not those who are our members.
“We have been in this area for 40 years and we love peace to reign. We want an end to these crises. Let us live like brothers and sisters,” he appealed.
Government security in affected areas a charade
Although the Governor of Ogun State, Dapo Abiodun, had set up a committee to visit the affected places, findings, however, reveal the government’s plan has been ineffective.
While the government in the media claimed to have handed 10 patrol Vans and 20 Motorcycles to the special task force, a visit to the area showed that the task force was not in the affected communities, but 15 kilometers away from the areas.
When this reporter was on his way to Agbon-Ojodu, Mooro and Asaa, two of the newly donated patrol vans were sighted at a petrol station in Oja-Odan which is about 15 kilometers away from the affected communities.
Despite spending hours in the affected communities, this reporter did not come across a single security personnel. The residents also lamented that there was no one securing them despite claims by the government.
Civil society reacts to attacks on Ogun communities
Oluwole Aboyade, the Executive Branch Secretary of the Nigeria Red Cross Society, Ogun state branch, condemned the attacks on the community.
Aboyade, while speaking on the mandate of the society, said Nigerian Red Cross Society was a humanitarian society that looked after the needs of the masses.
He said the society was prompted to visit Yewaland where the Fulani herdsmen wreaked havoc with a view to contributing its humanitarian assistance.
He described what he saw as “a very serious disaster, a serious one of the highest order and the living condition of those living there”.
While narrating his experience during a visit to the communities, Aboyade said he wondered if the residents were Nigerians due to their living conditions.
“Initially, when we got there we were even thinking, are these people Nigerians? That was the first thing that came to my mind and I asked myself; are these people from Ogun State?
“The kind of welfare that is expected to be seen in that place does not exist.
“We fetch little of the water and what we see is like bringing out mud, when we asked them how they drink this water, they said they usually put alum in it before they drink it.
“ I now wonder if a normal human being will take this kind of water and would not leave the earth in the next few minutes,” Aboyade narrated.
He said a swift response is needed in order to mitigate the conflict, and offer solutions to some of the suffering of these communities.
“I think what should be done is to have government swiftly swing into immediate action to see how you can remedy these people, how you can save their lives, how you can be able to show to them that they are part of the system in Ogun state,” Aboyade said.
This investigation was undertaken with support from the Ripples Centre for Data and Investigative Journalism (RCDIJ) Africa Fund.