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Following the arrest of 75-year-old Isikilu Wakili, an alleged notorious kidnap kingpin in Ayete/Kajola community of the Ibarapa North Local Government Area of Oyo State by men of the Oodua Peoples Congress, the residents insist that never again will Wakili be allowed to return. In this interview with PUNCH Corespondent WALE OYEWALE, a youth leader in the community, Ganiyu Omirinde, talks about the ordeals of many years cohabitating with cattle herders
We learnt that you led a team that took a letter to Isikilu Wakili in Kajola weeks before he was arrested by the OPC. Can you confirm this and tell us what the letter is all about?
Yes, I was part of the team that went to Wakili’s camp. The letter was to initiate peace between the rampaging herders and our community. We went as a team that day because of eventualities. The family and the entire community listed me among those who would bear the message, because I know the herders just as much as they know me. We went to their camp to hand them a letter on the fateful day, but they attacked us. That was eight days after Chief Sunday Adeyemo, aka Igboho, went to Igangan following which the Seriki Fulani of Igangan, Fatai Abdulkdri, was sent packing from the community.
We went straight to their camp to hand over the letter to Abu, Wakili’s son. On getting there, we brought out the letter to hand it over to Abu. We were told that he was not around. They gave us an idea of where we could find him, so we traced him to the place. On getting to the place, we didn’t see Abu, so we returned to his place where we first asked after him. We left the letter for him there.
On getting to where we parked the seven motorcycles, which conveyed us, we discovered that the Fulani boys had vandalised them. They swooped on us and started shelling us with pump action guns. We parked seven motorbikes somewhere under the cashew tree, about half a kilometre to Wakili’s camp. They destroyed the tyres and broke the speedometer and other parts.
How did you escape and how did you evacuate the bikes to town from the jungle?
Gunshots were fired at us but we were saved by metaphysical powers. We took to our heels and headed in different directions; some of our people ran to Kajola. We later decided to go and take the bikes from where we left them despite the danger involved. I risked going to our people in the Kajola community. We ferried the damaged motorbikes with a truck.
What necessitated the letter that you took to Abu?
The herdsmen had constituted nuisance to us. They vandalise our farms; they attack and inflict pains our men and rape our women. They beat many with sticks, clubbed many others, while they cut many more with machetes. They destroy property and vandalise farms, and at the end of it all, security agents will release the herders to go free without paying any compensation and without prosecution. They incapacitated us and turned us away from the farm. We became subservient to them and they now turn round to be the ones selling food to us. We have no option but to buy yam, maize and millet from them as they barred us from cultivating our land. We now have nothing.
For us to eat, we go to cafeterias because we don’t have foodstuffs any longer. Ayete was a food basket before. Today in Ayete, you cannot eat N200 worth of amala and get satisfied because it is so expensive. All this is because we have been barred from our farms. We have to drink more water when eating. As we speak, a mini-truck load of cassava tubers is now N300,000, whereas it was N270,000. The problem is that it is very hard to come by.
What effort did the community make to live and relate mutually with the Fulani community?
I told you that when we took the letter to them, we were attacked with guns and clubs. We escaped just narrowly. They are armed with sophisticated weapons and they are very hostile. After our visit, they became more ruthless. They attack and injure our men just as they rape our women. There is no justice anywhere. We can only take the victims to hospitals. Many of the victims of rape are hospitalised for between two and three weeks. Many people sustained permanent injuries. They report incidences of rape and other forms of attack to me. I am usually involved in mediation during crises in Ayete and environs.
What exactly do you want now?
We are appealing to Governor Seyi Makinde to let the Fulani move to their base out of our community. They have their own towns and villages; let them go back so that we have our peace back. We are being pushed too far. When we get to the elastic limit, we will resist the assault. It is the government that we are afraid of and not the Fulani. If we have our way, Fulani herders will have no place in our community anymore. As they terrorise us if we give them equal reaction, will they be able to graze their cattle?
We want an atmosphere of peace where we can live our normal life. We give absolute regards to our governor and that’s why we maintain peace despite all odds. We are conscious of the law, because the law has a long hand that can catch up with anybody. We maintain calm despite the horrible experience because we don’t want to be seen as enemies of the state.
When did this situation start?
We have been contending with the horrible experience for close to 20 years, but it is getting unbearable now. The herdsmen destroy our cassava plantation. It is so sad that they go as far as cutting our cashew trees. They vandalise the cocoa plantation too. They steal bags of cocoa and rice, and they break into shops, including medicine stores. They burn farms down.
How are the people managing going by the scenario you have painted?
The situation is very dicey for most people, because they cultivated their farmlands with loans and now the people are under the burden of huge debts. One of my kinsmen cultivated 70 acres of farmland. He harvested some of the cassava but the herders besieged his farm and attacked him. He narrowly escaped being killed. Barely three years ago, a policeman was sent down to one of the farms that was vandalised for investigation, but he was killed by the herders on the farm. The rest is history; they tied the police officer, popularly called Pastor, and slaughtered him.
You alleged that you were shot at when you and others took a letter to Abu Isikilu; did you or any other member of the team sustain bullet injuries?
Bullet will not get to me. It will deflect from me. I can’t sustain bullet injuries; it’s just that I have since been feeling pain in my skin and I have yet to recover from that ever since.
Perhaps their animals vandalise your farms because you plant crops close to where their camps are located. Is this so?
Personally, I have a farm near the town and far away from their camp. Sadly, they came and vandalised the farm. But one thing that I am sure of is that this is a year of retribution. Everybody, be it the leaders and the led, shall get rewards for their deeds. We are all going to get rewards of our conduct, be it Fulani, Hausa, Ibo or Yoruba, including those in positions of authority. Nobody shall escape the judgment of God. We are all in a serious dilemma, including the governor and the common men. Only God has the ultimate solution.
I have two acres of land far from the town elsewhere. I stopped going there recently when my wife took ill. They have vandalised it. They also uprooted eight trees of cashew there. The cows will lock their horns to the branch of the cashew tree and shake off the cashew, thereby destroying the harvest. The same thing happened last year. I called their attention to it but they were adamant. It will be better for them to leave our midst peacefully than live in an atmosphere of chaos or violence. Sadly, they are stone-hearted and determined to foment trouble.
Apart from reporting to the police, what further peace initiative did you make?
We turned to the court. Wakili told his lawyer that he didn’t want to quit our land. Three years ago, the judge asked us to give him another place to settle. The Ayete community took Wakili to Lajebo for him to settle down. He said it was alright and that he would go back to explain to his elder brother, but he didn’t move.
Did you sell land to him at any time or the other?
He never bought land from us. We didn’t sell land to him. We only acted at that time in accordance with what the judge at the High Court in Igbo Ora said; otherwise, we would have asked him to go back to his place. He has practically taken over our farmlands at Kajola and Dagbere.
When you reminded him that you never sold land to him, what was his reaction?
He would say land belongs to God and not to any man. Then, we asked him that while land belongs to God, is Wakili and his cohorts God’s lieutenant to claim the land being inhabited by other people? We are the people whom God put in charge of the land in this part of the world and we are answerable to God only regarding the land that we inhabit not to the herders.
What will happen when he returns after being released by the police?
We don’t want him back on our land. When released, he should look for elsewhere to settle down; we can no longer welcome Wakili in Ayete/Kajola communities. His cattle now roam about plundering our farmlands. We don’t have anyone to fight our cause or give us justice. The court has failed us.
Is there a police station in Ayete and do you ever lodge complaints there?
There is a police station but it is the complainant who takes the blame and gets locked up here in cases between the natives and the herders. The police take bribes to upturn cases. After locking a complainant up, they will then take N50,000 for bail. That is why we no longer lodge complaints at the station.
As a community, what is your consensus on the issue at hand?
Our consensus as a people is that Governor Seyi Makinde should rise to the occasion about our ordeal with Wakili and other herders in the Ibarapa zone. Ise, Abu and Wakili are nightmares to us in this axis. The government should please let the herders relocate from our community. If we had resisted them since they got to our midst, things wouldn’t have degenerated to this level.
What has the situation been since Sunday when Wakili was arrested by the OPC? Can we say that peace has returned to Ayete and adjoining communities?
We can say we have relative peace because his cronies are still on the farm plundering our crops. You heard when some people called us on the telephone some minutes ago to say that herders had set some farms on fire. The situation at Baba Pupa to Oke-Arinsa and Dagbere, Afuje to Kajola is tense as we speak. Those are no go areas. Now, the government doesn’t want the situation to escalate.