Not a few residents of Ketu-speaking villages in Yewa North Local Government Area, Ogun State were brutalised by soldiers who escorted herdsmen to graze in the communities, prompting residents and monarchs to cry out to the military and state government for help, KUNLE AKINRINADE reports.
Seye Mulero panted like a rat that had just escaped the claws of a ravenous cat. He could hardly acknowledge the sympathy offered by the kinsmen that surrounded him, urging him to take heart and seek medical treatment in hospital as he pulled up his shirt to show his badly hurt body at Ubeku village in Yewa North Local Government Area, Ogun State.
“Sorry,” said some of the women repeatedly in Yoruba as Mulero pulled up his shirt to show the wounds from the flogging on his muscular body, urging him to go to the hospital for treatment.
Mulero, one of the young men in the rustic village, had drawn the ire of some soldiers by speaking truth to them. The soldiers, numbering 10, had escorted some herdsmen on a mission to intimidate the villagers after they resisted an attempt by the herders to graze their cattle in the community after alleged repeated attacks and killing of farmers who dared protest the destruction of their farms.
The herdsmen, who had departed the village after their continued presence was rejected by the villagers, had suddenly resurfaced at about 2 pm on December 19, 2020 with a handful of soldiers from the 35 Artillery Brigade, Alamala, Abeokuta.
The soldiers headed straight to the palace of the traditional ruler of the community, Chief Olaleye Adigun, calling out the villagers and warning them against preventing the evicted herdsmen from returning to the village. It was in the middle of this strange encounter that Mulero told the soldiers that the herders would not be allowed to remain in the community because of their brutal killing of residents and the destruction of their farmlands in recent times.
Mulero said: “Everyone was frightened by the action and utterances of the soldiers but I summoned courage to tell them how a Geography teacher Mr. Yomi Akinola and two students of Community High School, Ibeku, among others, were killed by the herdsmen while our women were raped and killed on their ways to the farm.”
Mulero’s blunt comments enraged the herdsmen who immediately asked the soldiers to deal with him. The military men allegedly responded by promptly seizing, kicking and flogging the young man mercilessly, leaving him serious injuries.
Recalling the ugly experience, Mulero said: “Before I knew it, the herdsmen had motioned to the soldiers who immediately pulled me out of the audience and flogged me mercilessly with a wire whip. It was as if I stole something valuable.
“As I speak, my body still aches because of the wounds, even after I had been treated in a hospital.
“Numerous other villagers were subjected to the brutal act as the soldiers escorted the herdsmen from one village to another all in a bid to intimidate us into allowing them to graze on our farms.”
Like Ubeku, like Asa, others
But Mulero and Ubeku village were not the only person and area that tasted the bile of the soldiers who escorted the herdsmen in a military patrol van from one village to another. Innocent indigenes of Iselu, Ibeku, Agbon-Ojodu, Asa and other villages were also harassed and assaulted by the soldiers at the instance of the herdsmen.
After leaving Ubeku, the herders and the complicit soldiers moved to neighbouring Asa, where they reenacted the Ubeku scenario, causing the hapless villagers to panic.
At Asa, the herders sighted Mulero’s brother, Gabriel Mulero, accusing him of being among the crowd that jeered them after his brother was beaten up. There and then, the soldiers seized the young man, giving him some deafening slaps and kicking him mercilessly before whisking him away to a neighbouring village, Agbon-Ojodu, where they dropped him off after elders of the community pleaded for his release.
At Agbon-Ojodu the hapless villagers would not utter a word, having heard how the soldiers harassed and assaulted the Muleros. But despite their foreboding silence, some of the residents received severe beatings from the soldiers for keeping mum.
Gabriel (Mulero) said: “I was returning from a party at Asa with one of our friends named Mathew Adaramaja when my elder brother told me on the phone that some soldiers had led herdsmen to our village and brutalised him.
“To avoid trouble, we stayed away from the scene and sat near some commercial motorcycle operators. Suddenly, one of the herdsmen named Ali led the soldiers to the spot where we were seated and accused us of being one of the people that were opposed to them.
“The soldiers descended on us with fan belts and flogged us severely. They tied our legs and pushed us into their patrol, van threatening to shoot us if we tried to jump down and run away. They said they were taking us to their barracks at Alamala. They accused us of preventing the herdsmen from grazing on our farms and vowed to teach us a lesson.
“However, when they got to Agbon-Ojodu village, elders of the community pleaded with them to free us. We were badly brutalised and we had to visit Ibeku Health Centre for treatment.”
Sorrow, tears, blood from attacks by soldiers
About 29 villages in the area had been attacked in recent times by terror herdsmen who were said to have camped at Eggua, a neighbouring town, from where they moved with their hordes of cattle, ravaging farmlands within the Ketu-Yewa communities, which share borders with the Republic of Benin.
The villages include 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.
The armed herdsmen, who usually lead their flock in search of pasture because of the rich vegetation in the Ketu-speaking villages, have also been fingered in the destruction of cash crops belonging to natives, attacks, killing and raping of women who are mostly natives of the communities.
On January 10, 2020, herdsmen reportedly hacked 70-year-old, Pa Sola Ilo to death, and chopped off his son, Abidemi’s hand in broad daylight at Agbon village. Worried by the incident, villagers from the 29 communities staged a rally in protest and declared the herders persona non grata.
One person was reportedly killed on Tuesday May 5, 2020 when suspected herdsmen abducted a policewoman and injured two others in separate attacks in Ayetoro area of Yewa North Local Government.
The herdsmen who had laid siege to the road were said to have shot dead the driver of a commercial bus commuting from Abeokuta to Ayetoro, while the unidentified female police officer attached to the Police Area Command in Ayetoro was abducted and the car she drove was abandoned at the roadside.
The herders also allegedly stabbed one Segun Ileyemi at Olorunda village several times while trying to rob him of his belongings, and he had to be rushed to Ayetoro General Hospital for treatment.
The lawmaker representing Yewa North and Imeko-Afon Federal Constituency, Hon. Olaifa Jimoh, had condemned the spate of attacks, urging security agencies to save the villagers’ lives.
Jimoh said: “It is no longer news that the dastardly act of the Fulani herdsmen in my constituency is legendary as records are available at various offices of security agencies. But for how long will this continue?
“The herdsmen mostly lay siege to the roads as they wait for my constituents, to either rob them of their belongings or kidnap them outright.”
With the assistance of the local vigilance group and operatives of the state police command, suspected herdsmen involved in the killing of one Olabisi Afolabi and attacks on some women at Moro and Eegelu villages in December were apprehended.
One AK47 rifle, pieces of 0.8mm live ammunition, 26 live catridges and two machetes were recovered from the suspects-Mohammed Bello (40), Muhammed Momoh (30) and Yisau Umoru (18).
Although, the suspects were paraded at the state police command in Eleweran, Abeokuta by the then Commissioner of Police, Ahmed Illyasu, their prosecution never saw the light of day.
Residents, monarchs protest, write military authorities
Palpable fear has since taken over the area with residents deserting many of the communities for fear of falling victim to the marauding herders, who are being backed by military escorts.
Panicky villagers told The Nation of their plans to leave their communities for fear of reprisals by herdsmen who have been emboldened by the support from soldiers to forcibly storm their villages and further destroy their crops and attack them.
Oluwafemi Adeyemo, an indigene of Asa, said the incident was an insult to the villagers who ordinarily deserve adequate protection from the military.
Adeyemo said: The intention of the herdsmen is to exterminate us and take over our villages, but we resisted them because they have killed many people around here and ravaged our farms for too long.
“It is thus an insult for soldiers to lead them to our villages in an attempt to coerce us into allowing them to live in our midst and further perpetrate their evil.”
Rafiu Alade, a native of Ibeku said the action of the soldiers was a violation of the rights of the indigenes.
He urged the state government and military authorities to call the soldiers to order to prevent the indigenes from resorting to self-help in order to protect themselves from herdsmen.
“How can soldiers back herdsmen to invade our community? Yet, the soldiers flogged and beat up those singled out by herdsmen as opposing their stay in the communities. That amounts to a violation of people’s fundamental human rights and a nod for perennial lawlessness displayed by the herdsmen in our villages.
“It is high time the state government and military authorities called these soldiers and herdsmen to order. Otherwise, the villagers could resort to self-help to protect themselves against the hoodlums.”
Worried by the development, monarchs of the affected communities petitioned the Nigeria Army over alleged connivance of its men with herdsmen to assault and harass villagers.
The monarchs are the Oniggua of Iggualand, Oba Micheal Adeleye Dosumu; the Eselu of Iseluland, Oba Akintunde Ebenezer Akinyemi; and the Alademeso of Igan Alade, Oba Gabriel Olukunle Olalowo.
The petition titled ‘matter of urgency’ dated January 7, 2021 signed by their lawyer, Mr. Olaoluwa Folalu, was addressed to the Brigade Commander of 35 Artillery Brigade, Alamala, Abeokuta.
The petition reads in part: “Specifically around 2.00 p.m. of the same day, the Fulani herders and suspected soldiers entered Ibeku in a Nigerian Army pick-up vehicle and a private car wherein they proceeded to the house of the Baale (the traditional Head of the Ibeku community).
“The Baale was asked to gather his subjects and people from nearby villages, which he did. The suspected soldiers told the people that the purpose of their visit was to inform them that the Fulani herders would be coming into their communities to graze cows.
“Thus, the soldiers would ensure that there was no breakdown of law and order. After their address, they asked if anyone had question or comment to make in reaction to the information.
“Expectedly, One Mr. Seye Mulero responded by calling the attention of the soldiers to the inherent challenges of allowing the herders in their communities based on the sad previous experiences in the community.
“The said Seye Mulero further cited past killings, maiming and destruction of farms to buttress his point. Sadly, at this point, the soldiers seized him and mercilessly beat him up.
“In the same manner, the Fulani herders in company of the suspected soldiers left Ibeku for Asa, the adjoining village to address the Baale of Asa and his subjects as they had earlier done at Ibeku. Shockingly to the soldiers, after their address, the people refused to respond, having heard what transpired at Ibeku. “However, one of the Fulani herders sighted some people in the audience and picked on them as those that purportedly shouted on them at Ibeku while brutalising their victim (Seye Mulero). The herders asked the soldiers to also deal with them.
“On hearing this, the people took to their heels. However, one Gabriel Mulero, was not so lucky enough as the soldiers grabbed him and ruthlessly assaulted him.
“He was whisked away in their pick-up vehicle to Agbon-Ojodu, another adjoining village, where they compelled the Baale to assemble his subjects for a forceful briefing. It was at Agbon Ojodu that the said Gabriel Mulero was dropped off from the Army pick-up following pleadings by some community leaders.
“Kindly be informed sir that the alleged issue of procuring soldiers by herders to escort them to forcefully graze on the people’s farm, the attendant molestation of the innocent people by the alleged soldiers and the destruction of farms are known to the Police.
“On 3rd January 2021, the State Commissioner of Police (CP), Ogun Command brokered a meeting over the matter at the Police Divisional Headquarters, Eggua.
“During the meeting, some of the herders confirmed that they brought the soldiers that escorted them while grazing their herds on the people’s lands; a development that the CP himself strongly condemned.”
It will be recalled that the immediate past administration of Governor Ibikunle Amosun had initiated a committee in a bid to resolve incessant herders-farmers clashes.
“The committee had comprised community and traditional leaders as well as the leadership of herdsmen in the state, but the modalities recommended by the committee, which included the registration and monitoring of herdsmen by community and traditional authorities, were never implemented throughout the tenure of Governor Amosun.
When The Nation contacted the Public Relations Officer of 35 Artillery Brigade, Major Osoba, he said that he would contact his ‘boss’ to revert to our correspondent on the matter.
“I will tell my boss about your enquiry and he would contact you and give you explanation,” he said.
He, however, had not done so at press time.
Also, the spokesman of Ogun State Police Command, Mr. Abimbola Oyeyemi, said he was in a meeting when our correspondent called him on his mobile phone. He too had not reverted as promised at press time.
Speaking with our correspondent Oba Akinyemi urged the state government to intervene and resolve the matter once and for all.
He said the soldiers had usurped the role of the police in the matter.
“Soldiers have no business escorting herders to graze on our farms; what they did is tantamount to usurping the police, who are statutorily mandated to maintain law and order.
“The state government should wade into this matter and ensure that justice is served as indigenes will not give up their farms and cash crops to be destroyed by herders.”
Oba Akinyemi noted that the herders were trying use the confrontation they had in Benin Republic to launch mindless attacks on his people, using soldiers.
He said: “The armed herdsmen were recently repelled in Oguba-Ayetoro, a Yoruba-speaking community in Benin Republic which shares boundary with my kingdom. They went into the village to graze, not knowing they were already in another country and the gendarmes (police) repelled them.
“Grazing is outlawed in the francophone country and authorities of Benin Republic had communicated this policy to their Nigerian counterparts, hence, the police there confronted the herders.
“Now, they are passing off the village for a Nigerian territory and using it to foment trouble everywhere.
“The state government should also empower and involve the local council areas in initiatives aimed at bringing peace and maintaining law and order in our communities to avoid clashes, as indigenes are tired of being terrorised by herders.”