Fulani herdsmen: Farmers amass arms to combat killings
Angry farmers, youths, and some local hunters in many communities in the country said they have decided to acquire weapons against unprovoked attacks by Fulani herdsmen.They also vowed to stop what they described as the mindless killings and destruction of their farmlands by rampaging Fulani herdsmen.
They said they decided to resort to self-help because they had lost confidence in the security agencies' ability to protect them against attacks.According to them, they will no longer sit down and watch the herdsmen attack them and destroy the sources of their livelihood.
Fulani herders have recently killed hundreds in Benue, Plateau, Adamawa and Enugu states, among others, with many of the suspected killers not arrested for prosecution, despite the repeated promises by the government, especially the police, to stop the nefarious activities of the killer herders and bring them to justice.
The alleged failure by the government to contain the cruel activities of the herders, Saturday PUNCH learnt, prompted the angry farmers and the youths to begin to amass arms and other weapons such as machetes, and axes in preparation against sudden attacks.
A farmer in Osun State, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told one of our correspondents that they were prepared to 'do battle with the herdsmen in case they extend their rampage to our state.'
A member of a vigilance group in the state, who simply gave his appellation as 'D Keller,' told one of our correspondents that 'nobody has the monopoly of violence.'
Asked where they got their weapons from, he simply said, 'First ask the Fulani herdsmen to tell you where they got their own from before you ask me to tell you the source of our weapons.'
The Coordinator, Oodua People's Congress in Osun State, Mr. Oyeyinka Awoyemi, said the problem posed by herdsmen had got to a level where it should be urgently addressed by the government.
Awoyemi said members of the OPC would no longer watch Fulani herdsmen destroy property and kill Yoruba people in their domains.
He said, 'We cannot continue to keep quiet in the face of these mindless attacks. We will never allow them to drive us out of our land. We have given them general warnings and anywhere Fulani herdsmen kill a Yoruba man, deity will fight there. I will not say more than that.
'Can any Yoruba kill Fulani in their domain? We will not allow that to happen again. The Yoruba will fight for themselves.'
In Oyo State, Saturday PUNCH learnt that farmers in Otu, Igbojaye, Komu, Alapamefa, Okaka, Saki, Iseyin and others in Oke-Ogun area of the state face constant threat by the Fulani herdsmen. Some of the farmers said the herdsmen grazed on their farms, raped women and girls, as well as stole their harvest.
The story is the same in Lagun, Iyana-Offa, Atagba, Lapata and surrounding villages in Lagelu Local Government Area where about 40 herdsmen were said to have invaded three weeks ago, injured a guard and stole foodstuffs and N500, 000 cash.
Based on the attacks, some farmers in the troubled areas have decided to protect themselves against the molestations. Some of them told one of our correspondents that since the police seemed incapable of containing the frequent invasion, they were left with no other option but to confront the herdsmen.
One of the hunters in Komu, who did not give his name, said blacksmiths had been be contacted to assist in producing more guns to confront the herdsmen if they invaded their farmlands again.
He said, 'We are ready to fight if we are pushed to doing so because we are not cowards. The Oluode (head of the hunters) will not hesitate to give members the go-ahead to attack any herdsman that grazes on farms and threaten to attack farmers.
'We will no longer tolerate their violent activities if the police or the government is not doing enough to stop it.'
Asked who would fund the production of the guns, the hunter said, 'I will not reveal where the funding will come from, but we are all involved in this and no contribution is too small.'
Farmers in Ondo State said they were ready to defend themselves should the Federal Government fail to contain the incessant criminal activities of the Fulani herdsmen against them.
Some of the farmers who spoke with one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity said they were battle-ready for the herdsmen but they were waiting for President Muhammadu Buhari to act first as he had ordered the security agencies to deal with the armed herdsmen.
A member of the vigilance group in Akure North Local Government Area, who identified himself as Saheed, said members of the group were ready to pay the herdsmen in their own coin, should they invade the state like they did before.
He said, 'I will not reveal how we are going to deal with them, but we are vigilant and we won't expose our tactics.'
Youths in Ekiti State have also formed an alliance against likely attack by herders.
The Ekiti State Chairman, National Youth Council of Nigeria, Mr. Adedamola Gbenga, said the council met with other youth associations during the week and resolved to form a force to repel any attack by the herdsmen in the state.
Gbenga said, 'We are also meeting with our chapters across the 16 local government areas on the need to stop this evil against humanity and for them to be their brothers' keeper.'
A source in the state, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the fear of being arrested, said, 'The Fulani herders should know that no one has the monopoly of violence.
'If they are quick to kill farmers and destroy their farms, we will tell them they cannot do that in Ekiti State. They will find their match if they attack our people because they are not the only ones who have access to AK47 and other dangerous weapons.'
Farmers in Enugu State are also set to match the marauding herdsmen force with force if they tried anything funny.
In Uratta, Owerri North Local Government Area of Imo State, the Public Relations Officer of Ugwumba Age Grade, Mr. Kingsley Asonye, said, 'For fear of unknown, we are gathering weapon with which to repel any attack by herdsmen.'
The Uzonwanne Farmers Association in Ohaji/Egbema Local Government Area of the state said the group had been vigilant owing to the recent attack by herdsmen in Enugu.
The association's chairman, Mr. Iherdure Echi, said the group had been gathering machetes and other weapons to repel likely attack.
He said, 'It is unfortunate that victims in Enugu State were struck in the wee hours. It is sequel to that we are ever vigilant. We have also been taking a close watch on the herdsmen.'
Also, a community leader in Mgbidi, Oru West Local Government Area of the state, Chief John Adionye, confirmed to one of our correspondents that residents had formed a vigilance group to take a close watch at the community
He said, 'Should there be any attack on my community or neighbouring villages, vigilance men will raise the alarm for the public to know. Once we suspect any negative action, we won't be taken unaware.'
The International President, Esu Nlap Oro (Oro youth group), Mr. Joseph Okon, said the group would hold its monthly congress today to discuss the matter.
'The destruction done to farmlands and humanity by these herdsmen raises serious concerns,' he said.
Asked if his group could curtail the activities of the herdsmen who go in groups with AK 47 rifles, Okon said he would speak on that after the congress.
A source, however, confirmed to Saturday PUNCH that there were enough arms in the hands of youths in Akwa Ibom to repel the 'prowlers.'
There are also indications that the Igbo may revive the dreaded Bakassi Boys as a standby militia to contain future attacks.
A decision reached at the concerned Imeobi meeting of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo in Enugu pointed to the fact that the Igbo were prepared to defend themselves.
Part of the communique read 'These itinerant herdsmen have indeed drawn a line on the sand and their actions and audacity will no long be discountenanced. At least our people should be able to offer reasonable defence in event of any improptu attack.'
Many communities in Yewa South, Yewa North and Imeko Afon local government areas of Ogun State have had bitter experiences from herdsmen, in spite of the mechanism put in place by the state government to prevent the recurring violence.
The communities, which are in the border areas, include Oja Odan, Agbon Ojodu, Eggua, Ijoun, Eyin Oshun and Japara, among others.
The Council of Obas of Ijebu-Igbo in Ijebu North Local Government Area at a meeting raised the alarm over the alleged destruction of farmlands and the raping of women by Fulani herdsmen in the area.
Chief Adebayo Adedayo, who represented the Japara people, said if the activities of herders were not checked, it could lead to war.
He said, 'If we are not careful here in Ijebu Igbo, all our farms may be wiped out. All our farms in Eyin Oshun are now being destroyed by cattle. The cattle destroy the farms and the herders too rape women. In Japara, I have over 10 acres of farmland; the herdsmen destroyed it. If care is not taken, the herdsmen may cause war.'
The Public Relations Officer, Vigilante Service of Ogun State, Mr. Soji Ganzallo, said the vigilance group had arrested some herdsmen in the past and handed them over to the police.
The Secretary to the Ogun State Government, Taiwo Adeoluwa, said the government had created a process through which herdsmen residing in any part of the state would be identified.
He said, 'I am the chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Standing Committee on issue of Fulani herdsmen and the farmers in the different communities in Ogun State.
'When this government came in 2011, every week, there were reported clashes in the media, but the governor took a proactive step by setting up an Inter-Ministerial Committee to handle herders and farmers issue.'
Also, An environmentalist, Mr. Alagoa Morris, has also asked the people of Bayelsa State not to fold their arms in case of likely attack by the Fulani herdsmen.
'Self-defence is the first principle of survival,' he said, adding, 'The people are beginning to lose confidence in the security agencies. That is why I am advising my people that they should be prepared to defend themselves because self-defence is allowed in law.'
On how the people should defend themselves, he asked, 'Is it not by machetes and guns they (herdsmen) are using to kill people? So, our own people should have guns too.'
But the pan- Yoruba socio-cultural group, the Afenifere, urged that the issue of self-defence should not be promoted because stakeholders were already meeting over the incessant attacks by the herders.
The Secretary-General of the group, Chief Sehinde Arogbofa, said, 'Since some measures are being taken to resolve the matter, I think the issue of self-defence may be counter-productive for now. So, we should wait until the outcome of all these measures. But I will advise our people to be vigilant.'
But the leaders of Fulani herdsmen defended the activities of the herders.
Speaking in an interview with Saturday PUNCH, the Chairman, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association in Plateau State, Alhaji Mohammed Nuru Abdullahi, explained why the pastoralists always move about with sophisticated weapons. He said, 'Fulani herdsmen do not have any security backup because they are in the rural areas where the security operatives may not be able to access. Now cattle rustling and killing of Fulani have become a lucrative business. Therefore, Fulani herdsmen will do everything possible to protect their lives and property since government has failed to do so. The Fulani use the AK47 for defence since the government has failed to protect them.'
Also, a prominent Fulani and National President, Arewa United Consultative Forum, Alhaji Ado Dansudu, said that Fulani herdsmen needed to carry arms to protect themselves.
He said, 'The people are saying that Fulani herdsmen are going about with sophisticated weapons. Are you saying that they should not defend themselves? The government cannot protect them because they are always in the bush and security agents cannot be following them with helicopters, so they need to protect themselves.'
All attempts to speak with the Force Public Relations Officer, Mrs. Bisi Kolawole, were unsuccessful as she did not answer any of the calls made to her telephone line or respond to a text message sent to the same line. An unidentified man, who later answered her telephone, said she was in a meeting and promised to call back. He, however, never did.
However, the Nasarawa State Commissioner of Police, Lawal Shehu, in an interview with Saturday PUNCH, spoke on the moves his command was making to check the proliferation of arms in the state.
He said, 'Well, the matter of getting rifles by Fulani or any other group or individuals or even members of a community, is a national issue.
'We have experienced a lot of crisis here and there and in all these, we have seen a lot of arms with the people. The only problem is how they come about it. That is why we are putting our heads together with other agencies.
'A lot of things have been done by the police. We have what is called intelligence policing. We have our men in plain clothes who go about searching for information and alerting us.'