Herdsmen Killings Have Political, Economic Undertone – (Gani Adams) Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland
Iba Gani Adams, the Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland, in this interview with select journalists in Lagos, spoke on the continued killings by suspected herdsmen across the country, their nefarious activities in the South-West region and why a Security Summit to discuss the way forward is very imperative. TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI brings the excerpts:
It has been a few months since your installation. What has it been like?
I ascended the throne about four months ago. Well, it is so challenging to be in a position that reflects the entire Yoruba. As Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland, I have been making consultations on what we can do to move our dear region, our dear race forward because Aare Onakakanfo is not a government position, but an institution that is purely traditional and definitely it is a revered position that one has to be very careful, even in words and appearance.
I have got more than 40 proposals from different organisations in the Yorubaland on different sectors. Some even brought what can be an economic advantage to Yorubabland and what can assist and serve as complementary to the security of Yorubaland. Some of their proposals are aimed at fostering unity, but all these things require resources.
We are studying the political situation of the country and then if you don’t forget after I was installed, the Fulani herdsmen became more rampant in the South-West. So, I had to issue a statement regarding that, calling the president’s attention to it and the situation came down drastically. But for about few weeks now, we have had some incidents, especially when some herdsmen waylaid people on the way, killing them and I have had some calls from key stakeholders. I told them the issue of security is a sensitive one and that if it is not properly coordinated, there will be trouble.
You are the Aare. Why would there be trouble?
You are calling me as Aare Onakakanfo, but I cannot be involved in any community security without the involvement and support of the government of that state. It has to be highly coordinated so that you don’t run yourself into trouble. Every community is with its own culture and mode of operations. They also have their security modus operandi. I cannot stay in Lagos and just dictate the way it should go. It is only when I have their cooperation and they need my attention on the basis of supporting them. I suggested that I will write letters to all the governors and chairmen of Council of Obas in each state and some stakeholders for a South-West security summit, which will fashion out the ways of solving the problem of intruders in our communities. Just two days ago, there was a clash between a herdsman and a farmer in my country home. Thank God that we have the resolute Fulani people in that axis and with the support of traditional rulers and security agencies, the tension was doused. As of the time I was being installed, there were these challenges of having some political directions which the Yoruba have lost to become a progressive region and the challenges of protecting life and property through the complementary effort of the security agencies. There were also the challenges of even identity, of promoting our cultures. I realised we have already moved far away from our cultures, which encompass how God created us. On the economy, the situation of South-West is too bad. We are known as agricultural region through the Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s government from 1954-1959. But now, the South-West has the least share when talking about regional agricultural development in the country. So, I think something has to be done.
Another thing is that of the secret cult issue which is gaining more ground in the South-West among the youth. So, it has gone beyond what is happening on the campuses. Most of the artisans and young children on the streets, between 14 and 18years, are part of these cult groups. I think it is a serious threat. And because some of our politicians use them for their political activities, some of them do not even want to take some drastic actions. And the issues of negative ritual, unnecessary killing of people in different areas and removing some of their vital organs for rituals are becoming common in Yorubaland. These things are serious challenges that we have to intellectually approach so that we can have a safe and proud environment.
You said immediately after you were installed, the Fulani herdsmen’s attacks was on the increase and later subsided, until recently. What did you do?
I will not project all my strategies in the public. But the one I can tell you now is what should be for the media. I had to issue a statement which the media realised was very important and hence the maximum cooperation from them in giving it a wider coverage. But a lot of things were being done underneath. The way we fought our cause is beyond publicity, but at the end of the day, we will re-orientate people and create awareness in the public.
Some Fulani herdsmen have been living with us in the South-West for a very long time without rancour until recently when some of them took to killlings. What do you think is responsible for such?
We are reading meaning to it on two angles- political and economic. We are thinking that these are not the normal Fulani herdsmen. They are militants, disguising as Fulani herdsmen. The Fulani herdsmen that we know couldn’t have the opportunity to carry AK47; the highest gun you see from the Fulani in the bush is double barrel and locally-made guns. They can have swords and knives with them, but these Fulani herdsmen move with AK47 riffles, and the way they operate goes beyond being ordinary herdsmen. They operate AK47 like a person that was trained in the military. So definitely, we were thinking it has a political undertone.
The second aspect is that we believe it has economic dimension to the extent that they could have resolved by saying ‘let us frustrate their farming system.’ This is because, these attacks are coming now that the government and stakeholders are talking about agriculture. There is a lot private initiative in the Yorubaland now. People with resources are now trying to go into agriculture, livestock, crop farming and others even to the extent that they approach the government to give them farm settlements and pay for the land. They are planning to go back to re-building our agricultural system in the region and they may have the impression that if South-West builds their agricultural potential, there will be problem, their position will be threatened as we have done the analysis.
Lagos State alone is consuming about 15,000 cows daily. We are not talking of goats, sheep and rams that we consume in different spots in Lagos and calculated that if Lagos alone can consume 15,000 rams, then five states in the South-West will consume at least 10,000. The remaining South-West states, Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti, Osun and Ondo will consume at least 10,000. So, the total calculation on cow alone came to N5 billion daily in the entire South-West. So, the issue of rams and other livestock is about N2billion to N2.5billion, making a total of N7billion to N7.5billion daily. We are not talking of pepper, perishable goods that are brought from the North. So the calculation of our consumption of products coming from the North, agriculturally as we have done is almost N10 billion per day in the entire South-West. So they know the money they are making by bringing the products to the entire South-West as our people had become more lazy, agric-wise in the region.
But for the past two or three years, our private businessmen are trying to revamp our agriculture. The private initiative is becoming stronger. And, perhaps, because they have the intelligence report that the South-West is growing its agricultural sector, they could have said ‘let’s frustrate their efforts through using cow to eat their crops and destroy their farms.’ So that is our thinking because ordinarily the same Fulani move their cows within and around the farms. So why is [the killing] happening since two years ago? So, we believe that it is a deliberate way to provoke our farmers so that the level of agricultural products they are selling to the South-West is not reduced.
I got the information about consumption rate of Lagos State from the Vice Chairman of Livestock Association in Nigeria. Some of the fruits are coming from the Middle Belt. The guinea fowls are coming from the Middle Belt. It is only chicken that our people produce in large quantities. So in the total analysis, South- West consume about N10 billion worth of the products brought from the North.
Initially when this happened, how did you receive it?
We saw it even beyond this unfortunate development and I think the level we are is for us to unite Nigeria by building the spirit of unity. But because of that action, even the mindset of those who believe in unity are being affected. So definitely, there is no reasonable Yoruba person that will be pleased with what has happened. A lot of lives were lost. There is a farmer in Ijebu Ode called Bistrod, who has been nursing some timbers and doing farming since 1972. Do you know they went to that farm and put fire in the woods and destroy them? So it is a purely a deliberate act. We have the case of Afolayan, a retired Navy Admiral in Offa axis of Kwara State, who was given the same treatment. There was a farmer in Ibadan who was affected too. A lot of skirmishes in different communities and the report is becoming overwhelming.
But then our governors should see reason because they have been asking for votes now. Only Fayose has taken concrete decision by signing the anti-grazing law.
Which some people are also condemning…
You can’t condemn it because these people gave you the mandate. They voted for you to defend their lives and properties. The first responsibility of any government is to protect the lives and properties of the citizenry, every other thing follows after security. If you have lost grip of security, you can’t get it back again. The economy will not flow. The investors will be scared; people will not come out to think of what they will do because of fear for their lives. That was why I supported those who asked the Defence Minister to withdraw his comment on anti-grazing law. Our government in other South-West states should take that decision because we suspected the Fulani herdsmen wanted to frustrate him (Fayose), because he is the only one that has done so. If other governors had taken that decision, I think we won’t have this problem anymore.
Looking at the arguments that people have put forward, that this thing is happening because our president happens to be a Fulani, are you also of the belief that Federal Government is backing the herdsmen?
Well, I won’t contradict that because psychologically after the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the tempo (killings) rose. When the former President Goodluck Jonathan was there, issue like this was not being heard and was not rampant. Even the crisis in the Middle-Belt did not attain this present stage. Even if the president did not support them, they are banking on the fact that the president would not be brutal against them and that is the reason they are doing all this madness.
There are different levels that the president can use to suppress them and stop these killings. We even got information from a higher authority that if they want to operate in one area like Ekiti, they will withdraw the soldiers from the checkpoints. Such happened in Ekiti State that after the operation, the soldiers returned to their normal checkpoints two days after the incident. It is highly suspicious. We believe that even though the president is not involved, certain elements coordinate the herdsmen’s activities. No serious government will allow its citizens to be killed like that without stopping it. Another thing is the angle of the DSS. There is no way any serious thing will happen in the state that the SSS will not know about it. Within one week, SSS will fish them out. Nigerian agencies are so good with that.
Is that still happening?
Yes. That is one of the reasons I believe those people who said the body language of Mr President gives them the support. And a lot of calls have been made that the president should declare them terrorists. But how many of them have been arrested and prosecuted? In Yorubaland alone, which has the minimal casualty after South-East and South-South, a total of between 50 and 60 people have been lost in different communities and no single Fulani man has been arrested apart from those that were involved in kidnapping of Chief Olu Falae. And I learnt that they have appealed a court judgment against them. The Appeal Court could rule otherwise.
What happened in Akure is even minimal to what had happened in Oke-Ogun. I got information about happenings in Igboho and Igbeti. They have overrun the farmlands in Igboho and Igbeti. That place has been seriously affected.
What do you think the government can do?
The only thing is that we should have South-West security summit. All the governors are preparing to campaign for votes now, but I don’t know what they want to use to campaign. You want to campaign when your people are not secured? Most of them have capitalised on the resources they will give to those who are hungry. We watch the European news. If two people are killed, it will be featured as international news. But if more than 150 people are killed in Nigeria, you will not see it on CNN and even on our local TV stations. But do we know the person that will be the next victim? Until Boko Haram killed a Lieutenant, that’s when you will hear the Nigerian Army issue a statement, but there will be limited exposure if the rank and file officers in the Army are killed. Such never happens in advanced countries. You have the spirit of human beings in robots. So when human lives are being lost and the government did not pay priority to it, it is a very serious issue.
One of the reasons the former president lost the election was due to insecurity. Definitely, the situation that is happening is highly worrisome. All are at the direction of Aare because Aare has the experience of security. Gone are the days that OPC was becoming more about security. Most of our members ran themselves into trouble because they couldn’t follow normal protocols. One of the reasons you don’t see us having problems with the police now is because we follow protocols now. If you want to get OPC as a security in any street encounter now, we have to inform the DPO and the head of government in that area. The Oba of the community must know about it too. That is why you see that OPC still operates, but there is no negative news about it. So, you don’t just call me and say, Aare, what do you want to do on this issue? It is not like that. OPC is an organised structure. This is because in the process a lot of lives can be lost if you are not coordinated on the basis of authority and you will be held for murder. They won’t call those who want to kill your people murderer. Rather, it will be turned against you and nobody is ready to risk his integrity anymore.