Ayede Ogbese is one of the communities in Ondo State where Fulani herdsmen are wreaking havoc. In this interview with PETER DADA, Chief Oladimeji Abitogun, the Odopetu of Ayede Ogbese in Akure North LGA, speaks about the spate of insecurity in the state and Nigeria as a whole
Q. In recent times, the kidnappings that have occurred along Akure-Owo Expressway between Ayede Ogbese and Uso communities are alarming. As a traditional chief, why do you think this is happening in your domain?
A. The fact of the matter is that at a point between Ogbese River; which is our patrimony and very important to the people of Ayede-Ogbese; between that point and the community of Uso, you would understand that there are linguistic, geographical and cultural affinities between the people of Ayede-Ogbese and Uso. That area known as Oke-Odo, Kajola in Uso is where you find these activities of Fulani militias who are armed to the teeth and ready to kill. They come to the highway, a major highway linking South-West with the northern part of the country and the South-South as well as the eastern part of Nigeria. So, they use that strategic location to stage their dastardly, often murderous kidnappings. Until recent, we didn’t even know that some of them had taken refuge in our community.
So, the description that our community has become a place of refuge to these people may not be totally correct. Political correctness and the constitution of this county would say all of us can live together, but you’ll find the Fulani from their historical antecedents often display this tendency to invade different tribes of Nigeria, if need be, take over the leadership, kill and ultimately install themselves as a kind of caliphate and seize the instrument of governance. The most visible will be the case of Ilorin. Even as I’m talking to you, in Southern Kaduna, these people have sacked indigenes and installed themselves as overlords in more than 147 towns and villages. That is not going to happen here.
Q. You said what they were trying to do is not going to happen here. What are those things they are trying to do?
A. I’m not just the 3rd ranking chief in Ayede-Ogbese kingdom; professionally, I’m a journalist. Words matter to us. Beyond that, I have a degree in English, Literary and Curriculum Studies. What they are trying to do is so clear to everybody. We know that from the intelligence available to the leadership of our kingdom. These people will come, pretend they have a genuine agenda of integrating with people in the community and they are harmless. But if I start to count on the tips of my fingers, you’ll understand that even when they say they are coming for simple things like basic health facilities, you’ll see under their clothes dagger and swords sheathed. For what purpose? Sometimes, we get so proactive. We begin to collect those swords from them. You can’t be bringing things like that into medical facilities.
Sometimes they enter markets with swords under their clothes. Of course, we have a very big cosmopolitan market in our community. The market is patronized from the entire West African sub-region, and then somebody comes into that market carrying a sword. To do what? That is the one that is so visible. The one we also know is that under the animals they rear, they wrap AK-47 . You would think it’s their personal wears and foodstuff .
We are aware from what some of the freed hostages told us that when they collect ransoms, they don’t even know the denomination. That means they are illiterate. Some of them do not even speak the Nigerian variant of Fulfude, which is the language of the Fulani people. If you want to start a conversation with them in simple English, they don’t even understand because they speak French. They believe in the unity of the Fulani nation across wherever they exist in Africa. So, they think they’re coming here to give consolidation to interests that are not clear, to struggles that are not known to anybody and to individuals not completely loyal to the Nigerian nation.
Q. In your submission, you believe they are not Nigerians. How did you say they were consolidating an interest in Nigeria?
A. It’s not difficult to know. For example, the people and government of Ondo State took a fundamental position; something that is backed by the constitution; that these people cannot continue to illegally occupy Government Forest Reserves. The herders themselves did not speak. A voice echoed from the seat of power in Abuja. Isn’t that enough indication that they think you’re hurting one of their own out there? Peace loving Nigerians actually voted whoever is leading this country today. These people they are defending; I’m sure they never even voted. While the rest of us were on the queues exercising our franchise as free citizens of Nigeria, remember that these people were plotting how to kill the majority of us, how to prevent us from exercising our voting rights. And then, we defied all of these to put the government in power. Only for certain operatives of government to start using the instruments of state to defend lawlessness.
Q. Few days ago, there was a meeting where everybody agreed with what Governor Akeredolu has done by giving that 4-point order. Even representatives of MACBAN supported it. Do you see sincerity in their purported support?
A. Honestly, I don’t. Preliminary comments made by the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti, was almost going to scape-goat the media, saying the intent and purpose of what Governor Akeredolu said was misconstrued in the media. Which media? You don’t know that when you take on the media as a major institution like that anywhere in the world, you’re really trying to bring the nation itself down? Honestly, people tend to see governance and democracy as events. Governor Fayemi is in a position to know better. He was a practising journalist at a time as well as an agitator and pro-democracy activist. I give that to him.
From the look of things and with what Miyetti Allah said, the position of Governor Akeredolu is unassailable. The bad eggs should be fished out and their members in the forests should get government permission. What they are not telling the world which we now know is that the Bororo, the cattle Fulanis, do not even interact.
They don’t have respect for the liberated Fulanis. So, for all we care, everything that transpired at the meeting, the Fulani ethnic militia operate by an agenda that is uttered and directed and anchored by the devil. The other people, decent as they are, may not be able to speak to the minds, agenda and actions of the violent Fulani.
And guess what, since the expiration of the 7 days ultimatum given by the government of Ondo State, what have they been doing in the forests? Yes, they are leaving the forest reserves, but on their paths, they’re leaving on their trail blood, destruction, sorrow, tears. Coming out in a huge exodus and destroying everything they see on the way. They are not just using AK-47.
Q. As a traditional chief who is close to the people, what do you think can be done to flush the criminal herders out of your domain?
A. Honestly, I’ve a confession, if you ask me about what can be done, I look at the solution that was applied in a place like Ijare Community (where lightning killed 36 cows) No matter how crazy a Fulani ethnic militia is today, he will not venture into Ijare. Secondly, I look at Sunday Igboho , maybe it’s a matter of boldness and courage but it takes the extraordinary for somebody to disarm a Fulani militia firing AK-47. That kind of boldness in Sunday Igboho is something that has to be replicated.
Q. You are commending Igboho for the steps he took, but some people are crucifying him for doing that. What is your take?
A. Who are the ones saying that? I’ve not heard that. On the contrary, people are misinterpreting the initial silence of a section of the leadership of the South-West. For example, they said Iba Gani Adams did not speak so early as the Aare Ona Kakanfo but as a traditional generalisimo, he said he was studying the situation and looking at the intelligence behind it all. And fundamentally, he has no disagreement with Sunday Igboho.
Q. You said you are close to some victims of herdsmen attacks in your axis and some of them narrated that their abductors took them to the bush and they were hearing people talking, but people of the community are owners of the land, can’t the obas do something against all trespassers?
A.My brother, do you know one thing, do not let us deceive ourselves. What the indigenous individuals who have run this nation in succession after the exit of British colonialists, what they have done is to pursue extreme radical agenda against the traditional royalty in this country. They’ve emasculated our traditional institutions.
Q. From the revelations of victims, they said these bandits have links with some people in the town who act as spies?
A. That may not be completely false. There must be people who tell them that their targets have big pockets.
Q. Can’t the community investigate and take necessary action?
A. Communities do investigate but we don’t have power to arrest. So, what do we do? We provide reasonable intelligence to the police or NSCDC command and again you are at their mercy. Let me give you this narrative, it will interest you, the late Alayede of Ayede-Ogbese, Oba Isaac Oluyele decided to install someone as the Seriki Hausawa. While that ceremony was on, Chief Olu Falae, a prominent Nigerian politician was in attendance to honour that occasion. A loser in the contest, one individual called Mustapha who happened to be a so- called organizer and youth leader in the Hausa community for the ruling APC, decided to bring almajiris. They invaded the palace ground where the ceremony was going on. They started pulling down canopies, throwing chairs. So, in the wisdom of Alayede-in-Council, a decision was reached that, that kind of impunity could not be allowed.
Going back to the issues of the freed victims, I will cite for example, Olatubosun Johnson, son of Aro of Uso. His father is 3rd in royal hierarchy of Uso land. When he was kidnapped, they took him for two days; just because he was blindfolded, they were taking him around the same locality, beating and torturing him. When eventually they released the hood on his face, he was able to recognised one community in the locality. That’s was how he knew he was around Ayede-Ogbese.
Look at the case of Boniface, an employee of Petroleum Training Institute, Effurun, Delta State who was kidnapped on Sunday and released Thursday. He was taken around the same spot Olatubosun Johnson was kidnapped and he was released around Bolohunduro and Eleyowo. What are they doing all this kind of stupid stuff for.
Q. What do you think can be done about this issue?
A.Somebody must be held accountable for the broken chain; the link that is broken in the hierarchy of command, whether in the military or police. Whoever is weakening that strong link that must be effective in terms of law enforcement, whoever is sending that wrong signal that these people enjoy the protection of the Presidency or in the police command, that person must be identified.