How We Embarked On Deadly Trip Through Forests To Escape Killer Herders – Ogun Villagers In Benin Republic Refugee Camps

March 13, 2021
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 Ogun villagers

In this mindblowing piece by The PUNCH, Ogun villagers talk about their horrific ordeal in the hands of dangerous, murderous herders.

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I  forgot that I was pregnant when I ran from danger. I ran from Asa village in Ogun State at night when Fulani herdsmen invaded our village and started killing people. The following day, I was rushed from Eegelu where I slept to this hospital (Sante De Sante) in the Republic of Benin and was later delivered of a baby there by the nurses on duty,” Olufunke Kangbe said to Saturday PUNCH in the hospital located at Igana in the West African country.

The 25-year-old mother was cuddling her baby when our correspondent visited her at the public hospital.

Just recovering from childbirth, she managed to add briefly, “I was taken to the hospital when I felt labour pain. I was first taken to Agbele in the country when herdsmen invaded villages in Yewaland. There were many that ran away. We could not sleep in our homes and had to move to Eegelu. They burnt our house. We had no home again when we fled to the country.’’

She urged the Ogun State government to provide them shelter and security for them to return home.

Kangbe is one of the five pregnant women who fled Ogun State to the Republic of Benin with other villagers due to the menace of killer herdsmen

Ogun State, like other parts of the South-West,  has been in the grip of killer herdsmen for some time. Many villages in Yewa-North in the Imeko-Afon Local Government Area of the state have been under herders’ attacks. The killer herders have largely been accused of raping, killing, abducting and destroying farmlands with their cattle. The affected communities in Yewaland are   Oha, Ibeku, Isiku, Moro, Asa, Eggua, Agbon-Ojodu, Igbooro, Eselu and Okoso. Yewaland is under Ogun-West senatorial district which has five local government areas and shares a border with the Republic of Benin.

The residents fled from their homes to the Republic of Benin when they could no longer endure the incessant attacks by criminal herders.

The suffering of helpless villagers

Sixty-one-year-old Madelene Akindele who now seeks refuge in Eegelu refugee camp in the country said she trekked from Agbon to Eegelu with some others when they could no longer bear the attacks by killer herders.

Akindele said, “We trekked from Agbon to Eegelu through bush paths. Some took motorcycles but many of us went on foot and it took us two days while some spent four days. The people received us warmly.  Some of us are from Agbon and there are also some from Asa, Kodera, Ibeku Moro and Iselu. I sold bean cakes and roasted corn in Asa. Herdsmen killed four people and burnt houses in the area. We, therefore, felt that as the attacks continued, it was better for us to seek protection somewhere else.

“I have not started working or doing anything in this country. I only depend on people. I don’t know when I will return home but once there is peace, I will consider it. The government should ensure peace in the villages. We don’t want to go home and rush back to this place because of insecurity. My husband was in Agbon. He was taken to Oja-Odan. My children are in Agbon and we talk often. We arrived in the Republic of Benin together but they had returned home.”

Also, two other women, Funmilola Olabisi and Ewunmi Jeremiah, who left Asa village for Benin Republic, were camped in Igana. They told Saturday PUNCH that they escaped death in their villages by a whisker and ran to the neighbouring country at night.

Olufunmilayo stated, “They shot indiscriminately in the communities and torched houses. They killed people and we had to run away. We walked to this country (Republic of Benin). We are hungry here but afraid of death back home. We want to return home but the Ogun State government should make our villages peaceful.’’

Jeremiah said it would be easy for them to return home if the Ogun state and the federal governments did everything within their power to ensure adequate security in Yewaland. 

She stated, “We are in Igana in the Republic of Benin. I was a farmer back home. We had started planting for the new season when the attacks started. We are fed up and want to return home but we need security in our villages. It wasn’t easy getting to the country because we trekked and some took motorcycles.’’

Children’s passionate pleas

Children were also in the Igana refugee camp where some of the Ogun villagers were temporarily staying in the West African country. One of them is 12-year-old Monday Olabisi.

Monday said, “I am from Asa.  I was in primary four at a private school there when the attacks started. We want the government to do everything possible to ensure we return home and continue schooling. We were 30 in our group that trekked from Nigeria to the Republic of Benin at night. We took bush paths. When we went to the country, we looked for a place to stay and met some people there who also came from villages in Yewaland.”

Also, six-year-old brother of Monday, Joseph Olabisi, said he attended the same school with him. In his young voice, he begged the government to find a solution to the problems in the villages. He said, “I want to return to school.’’

To a seven-year-old girl, Tope Abiose, her desire was also to return home to continue her studies.

The men and young males were said to have gone out to look for work to do to cater to the needs of their families when our correspondent visited the place.

Arduous trip to border country

The journey to the Republic of Benin from Abeokuta, the state capital, to Oja-Odan down to Asa village was a nightmare. The deplorable state of the roads made the journey to the West African country harrowing.

The Ogun State government had debunked reports that there were villagers from the state in a refugee camp in the Republic of Benin. In fact, the governor, Dapo Abiodun, threatened to deal with anyone reporting what he termed ‘fake news.’ He hinted that the ministry of justice would soon begin a process to enact a law to criminalise fake news in the state.

To escape travelling inadequacies, our correspondent decided to access the country through the Yewa-North route; thus Asa-Agbele-Eegelu-Igana road became the better choice.

Coincidentally, the Emergency and First Aid Team comprising the team leader, Oluwole Aboyade, who is the state branch secretary of the Nigerian Red Cross Society; Disaster Management Coordinator, Fasiranti Bayo; Head, Information and Communication Technology, Adewole Oduwole and Divisional Secretary, Odeda, Adedayo Ayegbokiki, were also on a journey to the country on the same day.

At Asa village, the take-off point to the Republic of Benin, Adele Asa and Bobatolu Eseluland, Chief Matthew Olukoku, spoke albeit briefly with our correspondent.

He noted that some villagers were indeed at the Republic of Benin staying at Eegelu and Igana having fled Yewaland away from herdsmen attacks.

A motorcycle took this correspondent to the Republic of Benin, precisely Eegelu, where most of the villagers were seeking refuge. There is a similarity between the culture of the people there and the Nigerian visitors. Except for occasional French, the common language of the people is Yoruba.

The first place visited was the palace of the traditional ruler in the area, the Ologunba of Ogunbaland, the Papa III, Oba Abdulwahab Ogoudji. The monarch who speaks both French and Yoruba received our correspondent warmly. He confirmed that there were many Ogun indigenes seeking refuge in the place.

He said, “The people came to our area at night. We were confused when they arrived in the area. Over 200 people slept in the palace. We lodged some in the school. We called the attention of the government to the situation through the chairman and they came. Some humanitarian organisations also came to their rescue. Some of them came with one pair of clothes and our people gave them clothes and food.

“They stayed with us for over two weeks. We later got overwhelmed. Some of them decided to go to the farm while others watched over them against any attacks. Those who came with motorcycles went to Ogun State this morning (Sunday) else you would have seen them. There is no Yoruba in this country who does not have roots in Ile-Ife.’’

The traditional ruler who spoke in Yoruba described the development as an emergency situation.

He said, “Some of our people went to Asa and inspected the place. They did a video and submitted it to an international organisation.’’

The monarch said, “Help us talk to the government of Ogun State which we share a border with to spur the chairmen of the local governments and the councillors to work and help the people. We want the government to take care of their people.”

Facts about the refugee situation

Two of the nurses at the hospital where the pregnant Ogun refugees were delivered of their babies, Adoun Catherine and Idji Modoukpe, told Saturday PUNCH that they took delivery of the babies, adding that one of the women was referred to a tertiary hospital in Ipobe.

Catherine and Modoukpe who spoke in Yoruba said many of the villagers came with medical complaints which they promptly treated within their capacity.

Catherine said, “I am a senior nurse (Infirmiere) at Sante De Sante Igana.  We delivered some pregnant women of their babies at the hospital and referred the ones beyond our knowledge to Ipobe for surgery. Four pregnant women were delivered of their babies at the hospital.’’

Her colleague, Modoukpe, said the pregnant women came from Agbon, Ibeku and others, adding that they had returned to Eegelu except one.

Besides, officials of the West African country who spoke with our correspondent said some people came from Nigeria to seek refuge in the country. Two young men, Moses Owolabi and Emmanuel Osabuyi, noted that they spent four days and nights to register the refugees from Ogun State.

Owolabi said, “I was part of those that registered the refugees. Our minister came and instructed us to make a list of the people. My partner and I did it. We registered over 5,000 people. We used four days to complete the registration; both day and night. We later sent the list to the office in Ipobe upon completion and from there, it was taken to Cotonou.’’

He noted that a government official who came initially thought he could handle the relief package for the villagers but was surprised seeing the number.

Owolabi added, “Most of them slept on the floor and on roadside spaces when they escaped from attackers and sought refuge here. In fact, we that are indigenes of Eegelu could not sleep in our rooms that day and had to vacate them for the visitors. We served as security guards for them in the night so that they could sleep well.

“Some of them usually go to Ogun State and return to sleep here at night. Many of them are in Owode and Igana. They are afraid to sleep in their homes in Ogun State. Some of them have also moved to parts of the state. We have their mobile phones and still communicate with them.’’

On his part, Osabuyi said the visitors arrived in Eegelu on February 14, 2021, at 6 pm. He said, “We started seeing people moving into this place that day. We were initially surprised when we saw the number of refugees. They said Fulani herdsmen set their houses ablaze. They are from Iseke-Aje, Ibeku, Isiku and other places. Some of our people in the Republic of Benin married Ogun indigenes and some from the state married our people too.’’

He further said the visitors comprised 2,163 men and 2,314 women.

“I was involved in the compilation. It took us four days. We recorded 2,163 men and 2,314 women,’’ he added.

It was learnt that Agbele, Eegelu and Ipobe comprise five districts which are Ahoyeye, Ipobe, Isaba, Towe and Igana. It’s controlled by one head. The village head is called Delequ’e. There is a district head who is a councillor who controls each district.

The councillor of Igana, Ashogu Takpenou Henry, said on the day the visitors arrived, it was learnt that they came from Asa, Ibeku and Okoso.

He said, “Some came with loads on their heads and were weeping. When we asked them what happened, they said they were attacked by Fulani herdsmen. They said there was chaos in their homeland. We were shocked because we didn’t know the next thing to do. We reported to the police in the Republic of Benin. We couldn’t take them beyond the border.

“Over 5, 000 people came. They could not stay in Agbele, so some went to Eegelu and others to Ilemo. Those who have family members in the places went to stay with them. Those without relations were camped in a building near the councillor’s house. Those camped there were about 1,000. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to lodge some of them because there was no space for them.’’

He added that the following morning, he and some policemen toured the route leading to Nigeria.

Henry noted, “We went round the town in Asa and saw some buildings that were burnt. We saw the remains of a man that was burnt after he was killed. The government of the Republic of Benin instructed us to compile the names of the refugees and we organised some youths to do that. We asked them to get us the list of the people that stayed in Igana, Eegelu and Agbele, and altogether we have over 5,000 people.”

On how they were feeding them initially, the councillor said he wrote a letter to the local government chairman who visited the area with the council executives.

He added, “When he saw them, he felt sorry for them and gave us money. We used the money to buy bags of rice and cooked for them. When the food finished, I wrote to organisations and individuals to seek financial help for the refugees. Some organisations sent us money and others gave us foodstuffs.’’

He, however, said the figure had reduced because some of them returned to other areas in Ogun State, while others decided to remain in the Republic of Benin until peace returns to their villages.

He said, “We still have about two thousand people alongside their children.’’

Our correspondent obtained an official document from one of the officials which confirmed that over 5, 000 people came from Ogun State to seek refuge in the country.

The document written in French was translated into English. The document titled, “Pobè Republic of Benin: Refuge for nearly 5,000 displaced people from Nigeria,” read “Mayor Simon Dinan mobilises relief structures for refugees.

“With serenity, commitment, determination and full of love for his people, Mayor Simon Adébayo Dinan works for a stronger and more prosperous Pobè. No rest for authority.  Simon Adébayo Dinan enjoys it with dedication. It was this Thursday, February 18, 2021, in the Igana district, a locality stormed by these refugees. The mayor was there with a delegation from the National Agency for Civil Protection under the supervision of the Ministry of the Interior and Public Security.

“This descent follows a series of correspondence that the mayor Simon Adébayo Dinan sent expressly to the prefecture of Pobè, the National Agency for Civil Protection, the Beninese Agency for Integrated Management of Border Spaces, the World Food Programme, the UNICEF, Care Benin-Togo, the Republican Police, the departmental directorates of health and social affairs etc.

“Indeed, 4,477 people including 2,163 men and 2,314 women have taken refuge in the municipality of Pobè for a week. In total, 688 households are affected by this massive displacement of Nigerian citizens in the inter-community clashes between the Peulhs and the Nago in the border area.

“Already on Monday, February 15, 2021, the mayor accompanied by his second deputy, the secretary general of the town hall, the head of the human development department and the representative of the head of the centre for social promotion of Pobè made a field trip to soak up the situation. It’s an opportunity for him to also express compassion and support of the population and the municipal council of Pobè for the refugees in the district of Igana.

“On Thursday again, he led a delegation from the national civil protection agency to the scene. In its intervention, the authority reassured the refugees, “We have learned with sadness and a broken heart what happened. It is an unfortunate situation. As an authority, we have an obligation to come to your aid because you are going through a very difficult time. Houses, granaries of corn and other property went up in smoke.

“I have already called on the Pobè social promotion centre so that the most urgent social measures can be taken to support you. We will do what is necessary to ensure that the state structures and NGOs intervening in situations of this nature come to our support. “

The Mayor of Pobe added, “Rest assured, you are our brothers and sisters, you are our parents, you are our friends. So your safety will be assured. This is why the Republican police are already mobilised for you. I seized and led towards you this afternoon a delegation of the national agency of civil protection which is important assistance of the government of Benin.’’

It noted that members of the delegation didn’t fail to salute the mayor’s promptness in handling the situation before reassuring the refugees of the urgent measures taken to offer them better living conditions, adding that in the meantime, the mayor continued to mobilise the relief structures.

Meanwhile, a statistics chart of the figure of the refugees obtained by Saturday PUNCH from one of the officials in the Republic of Benin indicated that 106 pregnant and 293 breastfeeding women were part of the refugees in the country.

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Source: The PUNCH

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