Oba Williams Akinyemiju is the Olugusin of Igusin town in the Akure North Local Government Area of Ondo State. In this interview, the traditional ruler speaks about the recent attack on the communities under his domain by some suspected Fulani herdsmen.
Few days ago, there was a reported case of some Fulani herdsmen attack on your community. What is your reaction?
They started the attack on my people three years ago and we have made a lot of complaints and spent money but all to no avail. All our efforts on our farmlands are not yielding fruits because of these protracted attacks. Our yam plantations are being destroyed by cattle reared by Fulani and they will even take some tubers of yam and cocoyam away from our farms. We reported to the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps. They came down to this place; arrested two of their leaders, one of them is Adamu, probably their spokesman. The NSCDC asked us to do estimate farmlands destroyed by the Fulani with a view to ensuring that they paid for what their cattle destroyed, though some of us did nothing was paid to us and we gave up. That was three years ago.
Last year, there was a similar occurrence and we went back to the NSCDC and even carried along the police in the matter, still it was the same story. We believed it is because they are connected with the authorities at the top and we do not have a say.
When these Fulani are arrested, you will just discover that they will release them without prosecuting them. I could remember that some time ago, I seized a calf from the herdsmen for destroying my farm and it was kept in my palace but I later took it to the SIB (at the state police headquarters) and the first statement that came out of the mouth of the then Assistant Commissioner of Police was that I should thank God that the calf did not die in my custody. It was in my presence that the police called the head of the herdsmen and the calf was handed over to him.
When we waited but nothing happened again, we had to leave until another trouble ensued few days ago. I was just in my home when I noticed that there was a crowd of people outside my palace. They were over 200, who were chased away by these herdsmen. There were children of ages four to five years and pregnant women among them. It was around 11pm and I later asked them to sleep here.
The following day, I had to go to Apedu village and I met people standing in groups and we had to decide to meet in Araromi village because it falls in the middle of all the villages. There we decided on the next move and I went to Deji in Akure because the late Deji, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, was the one who installed me. I remember he warned me that I should not get myself involved in cases of theft but that I should report any matter that I couldn’t handle to the Deji’s palace.
So, when I met the Deji, he asked us to go back, promising that the police would follow us and we left for Araromi and not too long we saw up to four different teams of policemen in Araromi. The Chairman of the Akure North Local Government came and the SA to the Governor on Security Matters, Alhaji Jimoh Dojumo, also came and we explained to them everything that happened and they said that they would help us resolved the matter.
What we want is that we are not saying that they should not rear their cattle but they should leave our farms. We are hungry despite that we have food crops in the farms; the Fulani do not allow us to reap them. I have to use my money to buy yams since the Fulani won’t allow us to reap anything. So, the SA with the police went and checked the areas where the cows were. They saw them in three to four areas.
Three days later, the SA to the governor on Security Matters asked us to come back and we met him again. The SA promised us that the government would help us by deploying security agents to disperse the attackers and he asked us to go back to our towns. But in the midnight of yesterday again, I received a call that the Fulani had started disturbing them again and I had to call the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Chief Olugbenga Ale and others that could be of help. We, the heads of the communities, agreed to meet so that our people can chase the Fulani away from where they may be hiding now.
But the Commissioner of Police said the attack was a false alarm, that there was no evidence of trouble in your area when his men got there. What is your take on this?
Ah! They troubled us a lot. The commissioner should not have said that. That is the one of the problems we have, this is unfortunate. If the commissioner said so, he was just lying. You journalists, were you not taken to those houses torched by the herdsmen? What of those (the villagers) that ran to my palace for their dear lives in the dead of the night? They were more than 200 people. What of those that were bruised in the course of escaping to the bush or those that have fracture and other injuries? These people are there for seeing. Should we wait till corpses are laid down before we raise alarm?
I can say it in the presence of the commissioner of police. We can’t wait till our people die. Well, I don’t know what can happen if we continue like this. I wish to even see the state governor and tell him the whole thing because we will not wait until my people are killed by the herdsmen. There is no one that will lose his or her relative that will be happy. From there, if we start defending ourselves, is that not war? Maybe that is what they want because I’m seeing it that way since the police are saying they cannot see anything now. They started destroying houses including household items inside the houses of the people.
It is only a mad person that will destroy his own house together with his belongings and start running for fake safety and shouting for help in the night. Apedu to this my palace is like four to five miles away and somebody ran with his children from there to this place and the police are saying they cannot see anything. Do they want to see dead persons before reacting?
When these Fulani herdsmen initially arrived to settle down around here, were you aware?
I was not aware
Who gave them the land they built their camps on?
I do not know who allowed them to be living and grazing there. When the question came up in Araromi and it became controversial, the person that was mentioned denied knowledge about it, saying that he too met the Fulani there. The person had to mention another person’s name but the person he mentioned is late now. For me, it appeared that they just met the place unoccupied and they settled down there for their grazing activities.
What is your plan to defend your people if the herdsmen come back to attack your people again?
Well, it is you, the media that can save us and that is why we are begging you to help us publicise the matter and let those in position of authority be aware of our plight.
What do you want now?
I know that power is with the government if the government is ready to help us, we’ll be fine. They can send soldiers, and with our support, these people will be chased away or forced to live with us in peace.
If we retaliate what the Fulani herdsmen are doing to us, it is you, the media, that will blame us again, that we have taken the laws into our own hands. They have guns and we have guns, they have cutlasses and we too have cutlasses but if trouble happens, it is we that you will hold responsible and you will not consider the bad deeds they have done to us. This should not be so.
Do you have vigilante groups here?
Do you plan to have now with the current development?
What we do here in the area of security is setting up various five-man groups on rotational basis to man our towns during cocoa harvesting period and since the season is over now, there is no such group again.
Can you tell us the historical background of this town and when you become the ruler of this community?
I was installed on January 25, 1999. My grandfather, Olamiju, founded this town. Our family lineage is known for hunting and masquerades. It was hunting expedition that brought my grandfather to this land. Deji of Akure pronounced that this place belongs to him and asked him to come here and be living here.
After this place was founded, visitors started coming here and I could still remember one of the visitors in this community. His name was Adebiyi. He was like a grandson to my grandfather. That is the first visitor accommodated by my grandfather then. They were together here, farming and doing all things together until many people later joined them. They specialised in yam farming and later added cocoa farming to.
How many communities are in your domain?
There are eight communities under Igunsin. They are, Adejubu, Apedu, Olotin 1, Olotin 2, Adewole 1, Adewole 2, Sajowa 1 and Sajowa 2. – Culled from Punch.