A report published by PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday has revealed how soldiers worsened herdsmen-farmers crisis in Ogun State.
Adeyanju Adegbenro, a palace chief in Eggua who spoke with the newspaper said the crisis between herders and farmers in the state started more than 10 years ago but was escalated in 2020 by “the growing culture of impunity on the part of the herders.”
According to him, about 50 persons have died from violent attacks in the Ketu-Yewa area of Ogun state in 2021 alone. He said people have been kidnapped under ‘dreadful circumstances’.
“You can notice the extent of the damage from the silence enveloping us. The few of us left in the community are talking in hushed voices out of fear. More than 70 per cent of residents have fled. This is an ancient community that is fast turning into a ghost town,”
Mr Esho, a commercial motorcyclist was murdered alongside another man on 14th of February, Mr Esho was survived with an 18 years old wife and two kids.
The police spokesperson in the state said as at February 13, about 13 deaths had been reported.
Herders usually arrive in Eggua in Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun state in September or October till April when the rain stops.
But when they arrive, it marks the beginning of tension “as they herd their cattle to graze on farmlands,”
A chief in Imeko said attempts to stop the herders was met with violent attacks by the herders, and sometimes by “soldiers on the order of these moneybags herders.”
The chief said in 2018, Busari Adetona, a brother to the immediate past traditional ruler “was slaughtered for stoning cows that invaded his farm.”
He said soldiers allegedly ‘mobilised’ by the herders frustrated the community’s efforts to get the suspect in the murder brought to justice.
“Earlier in 2016, a farmer here in Imeko had the whole 27 hectares of his farm completely eaten up by cattle. But after five heads of cattle were found dead on the farm, soldiers invaded our community and beat hapless farmers mercilessly. The farmers were later taken away in military vans for two days before they were released,” he said
The soldiers were said to be from the 35 Artillery Brigade, Alamala, Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital.
“He said he owned the cattle being managed by a young herder. The farmers were already crying until our Kabiyesi, Oba Benjamin Alabi, told him that the whole community would rather die than pay him a kobo.”
The community had tried to resolve the crisis by inviting representatives of the farmers, herders and some other groups but the community claimed the herders always went against conditions jointly signed.
“When we heard this, we called the resident Fulanis in Eggua to advise their visiting brothers not to go to some of these villages, including Asa, Ubeku, Agbon-Ode, Iselu, until all the issues were addressed. But they were recalcitrant,” Mr Adegbenro said.
On December 19, 2020, soldiers from the same 35 Artillery Brigade accompanied some herders to some villages, including Ubeku and Asa, and reportedly harassed the villagers. A villager who does not want to be named for fear of being attacked alleged that the soldiers were led to the communities by a son of the Seriki Fulani in Eggua town, Mohammed Adamu.
Some traditional rulers in Yewa North LGA addressed a petition to the commander of the brigade, accusing its men of violating the rights of the villagers. The petitioners include the Oniggua of Iggualand, Micheal Dosumu; the Eselu of Iseluland, Akintunde Akinyemi; and the Alademeso of Igan Alade, Gabriel Olalowo.
The petition, which is titled “Matter of Urgency” and dated January 7, urged the military authorities to “identify, investigate and prosecute the suspected soldiers” for their “connivance and involvement in the attacks on the villagers.”
Another set of soldiers however returned to the affected villages to threaten them to withdraw the petition.
The spokesperson for the brigade, Haruna Tagwai, in a telephone interview with our reporter, confirmed the receipt of the petition. He also did not deny the follow-up intimidation.
“Yes we received the petition and I can confirm to you that investigation is ongoing,” Mr Tagwai, a captain, said.
The villagers said the harassment, killings and abduction of villagers had heightened, and that many could no longer go to their farms.
“We continued to live in fear as inter-community movements became increasingly difficult. Our schools were shut for many weeks because the cattle were competing for space in the schools. Things degenerated to the level that we had to go to the police to get clearance before we could go to our farms,” Mr Popoola said.
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