After a long spell of portentous silence broken only by a few agitated whispers, the cultural establishment of the Yoruba nation would appear to be speaking up finally in a coherent voice on the perceived expansionist agenda by migrant killer herders, if the flurry of statements last weekend by the Ooni of Ife and the Aare Onakankafo (the native war generalissimo) is enough clue.
Without mincing words, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi declared a royal fatwa in Ile-Ife on the sneaky herders believed to have infiltrated the Yoruba forests in their thousands and, fairly on daily basis, are increasingly making life a total nightmare for subsistent farmers, sowing fear of rape in defenceless women and dispensing summary execution by AK47 to hapless commuters on key highways in the Yoruba heartland.
What lends Ojaja II’s stern message more pungency is that it was delivered to a visiting five-star royal father from the Arewaland, the Emir of Borgu, Alhaji Muhammed Dantoro. Discarding the forebearance expected of a royalty of not just his gravitas but also the co-chair of the National Council of Traditional Rulers, Oba Ogunwusi said: “We keep hammering on the Fulani herdsmen trying to take over everywhere, it is the bad ones that we want to kick out and enough is enough. We will kick them and do justice to the peace and peaceful coexistence in our country.”
Elsewhere in Lagos, the Aare, Gani Adams (doubling as the strongman of the dreaded Odua Peoples Congress), also spoke in similar veins to a high-powered delegation sent by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, to explore the possibility of collaborating with the vigilante organization to address the emergent security threat in the South-west.
Said Adams: “We have identified the dark spots across the South-west, and we are more than ready to fight the scourge head-on.”
The tough words by the Ooni and the Aare would seem to provide a perfect backdrop to two summits already scheduled this week in Ibadan to address the new challenge – one is brokered by the college of six Yoruba governors and the second by the Yoruba leaders of thought under the auspices of Dr. (Mrs) Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu, the daughter of sage Awo.
So, when ordinarily affable Ooni begins to talk with such severity and the OPC warrior also openly sharpening his sword, the omens should not be lost on the onlookers, however distant.
After centuries of peaceful coexistence secured through bloody inter-tribal wars and bitter liberation struggles, it is very doubtful if the descendants of Oduduwa would sit idly by in supposedly modern time and the age of enlightenment and allow their homeland be overrun that casually without a fight. Therefore, woe betide the undiscerning who might have been misconstruing the cautious gait of the lion as cowardice.
Perhaps, the Inspector General should, at this moment, be commended for taking a proactive step to engage OPC before the militants take liberty to resort to self-help. Whenever faced with even far less existential threats in the local communities over the years, easily excitable OPC militants have rarely ever showed any self-restraint in the deployment of often unconventional arsenal with ruthless efficiency. Much less when there now seems to be an outcry that the homeland is under siege.
As they say, when a father sanctions an ordinarily valiant son to fight, the latter rarely ever comes sneaking in, but instead smash their way into the battle arena.
Indeed, tempers would be inflamed beyond repairs were we to succumb to the temptation to gobble every tale told on the social media on kidnap-for-ransom, humiliating rape of women before their spouses or mindless and unprovoked mass murder by armed herders barging onto the highways from the forest and opening fire on any vehicle driving by.
Among the most viral of such is the rather chilling story of a US-based woman who had to settle for a difficult choice of being gangraped repeatedly in Ondo forest for days by the abductors or have either her nine-year-old daughter defiled or her husband violated by the homosexuals among the herd of beasts.
Then, the somewhat pathetic – even if apocryphal – audio of the desperate plea of an indigent cocoa farmer from apparent captivity asking a relation to go and borrow money on his behalf to pay off the abductor whose clipped Fulani-sounding accent could be heard in the background. Only to be reminded in muffled anger by the said relation that, “But you yourself know the situation you left us at home. You yourself know that two of your children are at home because you could not pay their school fees… Someone we approached to (lend) us money said the one you borrowed from him before had not even been paid.”
As the recording ends abruptly, the summary is that the N300,000 raised so far by the farmer’s family is still a far cry from the N15m demanded by the abductors.
But some of the tales are nonetheless compelling enough given that victims are quite identifiable and losses suffered easily quantifiable. Such testimonies always sound more like extracts from a Grade A horror movie.
Relations of a poor varsity lecturer at the University of Ife, Professor Ademola Aderele, had to raise N5m to save him from being slaughtered in May by those he vividly described as herders of Fulani stock.
On another day, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State himself had to depend on the superior firepower of his platoon of bodyguards to storm through an ambush on the Akure-Ilesa highway. Few days later, a traditional ruler in Ondo reportedly outgunned another band of kidnappers who waylaid him on yet another highway.
Much earlier, elder statesman, Chief Olu Falae, was not only beaten up and kidnapped for days, his farm was torched by another group of herders in Akure outskirts. Just as the “territorial integrity” of Professor Wole Soyinka’s literary redoubt in “Ijegba forest” in Ogun was similarly breached in another episode.
Last week, son of the immediate past health minister, Professor Isaac Adewole, only regained freedom three days after being kidnapped from his farm in Ibadan.
Seasoned journalist and publisher of The Cable, Simon Kolawole, added to the unending tale of woes last weekend with a pathetic story of how a friend of his had his cashew farm mindlessly destroyed in Kwara. The vandals were not content with having their cattle ravage the land and savage the crops, they, in an extraordinary act of wickedness, proceeded to set the entire three acres of farm on fire.
Against this backcloth, I think the good news from the interaction of the Ooni and the visiting Borgu emir is the expression of a shared belief by both parties that the menace of killer herders now constitutes not just a threat to Yorubaland but also the entire nation, hence a commitment to join a collective search for solution. For, truth be told, the entire Arewaland is no less besieged by the same killer gangs, with even a traditional chief in President Muhammadu Buhari’s hometown in Katsina already clocking more than forty days in captivity after being seized from his home.
Left to OPC, it is doubtful if the combined forces of these evil herders can survive a day or two of pitched battle across the Yoruba forest. But when things get too hot for them to bear, the natural option left for these bandits would be to slip into states like Edo, Kogi and Kwara whose borders are contiguous with the South-West. What this simply underscores is the need for a holistic approach to solving the issue.
In Edo State, for instance, the same killer herders have long been giving natives hell. So, it is hoped that Governor Godwin Obaseki would take more than a passing interest in the two crucial conversations in Ibadan this week on regional security with a view to drawing appropriate lessons to fortify his own borders and ensuring that his efforts to foster a new agro-allied economy in Edo is not entirely derailed by the subversive herders scaring folks off their farms.
To truly confront the monster confronting our collective humanity at a global level, there is, therefore, an urgent need for honesty in really identifying and establishing the true identities of these beasts, and shun the temptation to easily politicize the matter.
But truth be told, those inclined to jump into quick conclusions can hardly be faulted to an extent. Such reading is undoubtedly partly fueled by some unforced errors on the part of government. A classic example is the indiscretion of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) in making a policy statement that a radio station is to be established for the nomadic Fulani and going a ridiculous distance further to explain that its programming will be devoted exclusively to their education and enlightenment. The law only designates NBC as a regulator, not a champion of any interest. Laudable as such idea might appear, the initiative is better left for Miyetti Allah, the umbrella advocacy group for Fulani herders.
That said, let us now cast sentiments apart and consider some variables dispassionately. If nothing at all, one common thread can easily be established from the testimonies of victims. Which is the fact that the killer herders are mostly non-citizens of Nigeria, though of the Fulani stock who traditionally straddle Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger Republic and Chad in West Africa. Only that could perhaps explain the psychopathetic malice on display when destroying people’s farms, the unspeakable beastiality without provocation and the manical savagery with which they butcher victims who never even put up any resistance.
From extensive study and observations, I am, therefore, one of those sold on two probable triggers.
One, with the intensification of the shelling and dispersal of Boko Haram insurgents in the blighted North-east, there is a possible ambition by them to regroup in more fertile land in South-west.
Added to such exodus down south is, of course, the migration of the Fulani pastoralists from ancestral mountaneous Futa Jallon in Guinea. Pushed either by climate change that means parched earth for their famished herd or simply inspire by adventure.
Along their journey without destination, it is quite cheap to acquire lethal weapons from now largely ungoverned jungle of Libya and parts of Mali at some point, and thereafter fall into a romance with the Jihadist doctrine of affiliates of terror franchises like Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
Now, being wandering citizens of no nation, it is only natural that they covet greener pastures belonging to others. To access Nigerian territories, they require nothing more than mere invocation of kinship spirit of their cousins here. Thereafter, they continue their nefarious expedition down south in search of people’s land to call their own.
Bearing this in mind, I think the challenge now is to reappraise the integrity of our national borders and find out if those tasked with the critical duty of securing our gates are truly patriotic enough to the Nigerian nation to realize the high treason in aiding and abetting the infiltration of our land by these rogue Fulani elements from the Diaspora.
Indeed, the argument supporting the “Fulanization” agenda is only seductive to the point that it can be proven that only one section of the country is being plundered and raped. With the entire North-west also increasingly becoming ungovernable on account of kidnap and banditry by those also identified as Fulani, commonsense dictates that we look beyond such easy conjecture.
So, now that there is a consensus that evil herders constitute a common existential threat to the nation ultimately, there is no justification henceforth whatsoever for the national security establishment not to respond to these vermins with, in fact, a hand heavier and more decisive than what is often applied against IPOB, Niger Delta militants and other elements questioning Nigeria’s sovereignty. For, what is now clearly at stake is our continued survival as a nation.