As state governors in the South West region are grappling to put an end to the incessant farmers/ herders clashes, vanguard spoke with the Chairman of the Ondo State Agricultural Commodities Association (OSACA), Gbenga Obawoya. OSACA is the umbrella body for agricultural commodities farmers in the state. He spoke on the activities of the herders and the havoc they have done to their farms as well as its implications. He also laments the fruitless dialogue with Miyetti Allah leadership and the role monarchs play in the crisis.
How will you describe the activities of herders across the state within the last one year
I will describe the situation in the last one year as people under siege. It was similar to how the city of Samaria was under siege in those days as recorded in the bible where everything became expensive and scarce, and people were killing and eating their children. We have really had it very bad in the last one year. Apart from crops being eaten up by cattle, even seed yams that are supposed to be planted were eaten by cattle and the herdsmen also helped themselves with our plantains and yams.
They harvest, boil and roast our yams right there on our farms. Our women have been raped, our men kidnapped and killed. We are afraid to go to the farm. That’s the truth. Even areas which we thought were relatively safe before, that were not considered as hot spots have now become places we now dread. For some of us that reside in the town and have our farms far away, we have small homesteads over there where we spend the night when we need to be in the farm, but a good number of us are afraid now to spend the night in the farm. Definitely, you know as a result of this, productivity will drop and harvest will also drop. Some of these herdsmen set our farms on fire, either deliberately or inadvertently. Some of them may be hunting wild animals or may be careless while smoking and sometimes, out of deliberate wickedness.
Some times, the herdsmen also harvest honey from beehives that bee keepers keep in the bush. So, we have really been under siege. I don’t know a better word to describe the situation. We’ve been crying out to government asking them to take a hard line on the situation.
The governor of Ondo State has shown flashes of trying to confront the problem headlong. Probably, you know because of political expediency, I think he may have exercised some caution, but we need a lot more to be done.
When the pronouncement was made few weeks ago, we came out to identify with Governor Akeredolu that farmers in the state appreciated what he had done, but there and then, we also made it clear that this type of pronouncement had been made a little while ago and there was no enforcement. It seems as if it even became worse.
This time, we want enforcement to be done and it should be backed up with legislation because for four years now, we’ve been holding summit as farmers where we’ve been calling on security agencies to stem the tide of these attacks before the situation gets out of hand. And over the years, security agents have told us in confidence, sometimes in open fora that there is no law that can be used to enforce what we were asking for.
We’re glad, to learn four or five days ago that the Ondo State government is sponsoring a bill in the House of Assembly. Farmers, under OSACA, had earlier presented a bill to the eighth House of Assembly which we were asked to represent to the current Assembly. We will be glad if we can have laws that security agents can enforce, and laws that can also give farmers and the general public confidence to be able to resist these people because what we hear at police stations is that in ECOWAS, there is free movement of people and goods and that nobody can say they cannot move to wherever they want to move to. If we have laws in place that ban open grazing, then that will solve the problem. So, we’re seriously looking forward to it. We’ve really had it very very bad in the past one year.
How many farmers have so far been affected and the estimate of losses from these attacks.
There’s hardly any farmer in Ondo State who has not been affected one way or the other. We have all had our encounters but not in the same proportion.
The farmers who have suffered losses can not be less than 1,500. Hardly can you find any farmer who has not been affected, some are even serial victims. One of us has been a victim for not less than 12 times in the past two years.
We are talking of hecters of maize, beans and his imported oil palm seedlings he got from France which were all destroyed. Speaking on the total amount lost by farmers in the state in the last one year, it will be nothing less than a billion naira.
If the situation persists in the country what is likely going to be the implication on your output?
There will be famine and then violence which will be followed by war. I can assure you that there will be war soon if nothing is done. It’s not a threat, it’s a natural thing because it’s already moving to that stage. When you frustrate a man serially and he does not have anything he’s living for, then we should expect the unimaginable to be done by such a man. And people are getting to that level gradually because they are already frustrated.
How many of your members have been abducted or killed.
I know two farmers who had been kidnapped by herdsmen. One was kidnapped with 18 others along Akure-Uso highway and another one was kidnapped on his farm in Ipe-Akoko axis of the state.
A ransom of N126,000 was paid to secure his release. Even the kidnapping is just the soft aspect of what is really going on. The worst aspect of it is killing. Late last year, we discovered some dead bodies in Ogbese axis, where a farmer was tied and thrown into the river. At times, in the farms we would see many dead bodies particularly of people from Benue State. I must be honest, the killing is just too much than the kidnappings that are being reported.
Could it be that some were killed because their family members didn’t want to pay ransom?
We cannot specifically say why they are killing their victims but in my own personal opinion, I think the herdsmen just wanted to grab their land, they need land and they do not like to be challenged while destroying people’s farms. They’re ready to behead you if you try to talk to them. They’re just too violent. They’re not just the type that can stay around us. Honestly, to say we’re besieged is an understatement, the southwest is currently being colonized. We, the Yoruba are inside a coffin, a nailed coffin but yet to be lowered into the grave.
There’s a particular case about a farmer from Ogbese, whose wife was raped and two days after she took ill. She died few days later. It happened in January this year, it’s not hearsay. The other day, a DSS operative in charge of agriculture said we should give her the details of what happened but we told her that we were tired of filing reports. Even people are tired of reporting these things, they are in despair.
That’s why I said there will be war very soon if we are not careful. Already, I think about a week or so ago, people have been coming together, physically pushing Fulani herdsmen and their cows out of their territory with arms. And once these people resist or there’s some violence, it’ll escalate.
Has your association met with the Miyetti Allah group on the incessant clashes?
Even before it came to this, four or five years ago, I don’t know the number of meetings we had held with Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, the government and security agencies. Even the Chairman of Miyetti Allah in the state seems overwhelmed because he said that many of the herders perpetrating these atrocities were now known to them, that they cannot account for them.
And really, most of these people are foreigners who came in because the President told them they are our brothers, there’s free movement across the borders and they came in. They’re so bold and brazen, they’ll ask you what do you want their cows to eat if you try to stop them from entering your farm as if it’s our headache. We’ve tried, we’ve interacted with Miyetti Allah in Ondo State but they appeared overwhelmed. Many times when we held meetings, they would promise to do something, but we’ve realized that they were just buying time for tension to go down.
With the advent of Amotekun, has the situation improved?
There has been a ray of hope because I think the coming of Amotekun gave the people some hope. Amotekun actually offered hope. Amotekun has been working hard, we must be fair. It was unlike before when you would apprehend a herdsman and his cow, you’ll transport the herdsman and the cows to the police station at your own cost and with just a phone call, the herdsmen would be released and your money would be gone and all your efforts in vain. But with Amotekun, once you can catch a cow or a herder, until they pay fat compensation they will not be released. If you can’t catch the herder, but once you can apprehend the cows, the owners will come forward and you will get some compensation. It’s not like before where a farmer would be given just N10,000. We’ve heard of compensation between N500,000 to N1 million. Amotekun would even help to pursue offenders into the bush.
Not many people are courageous enough to chase a herdsman into the bush. When you put a distress call across and they get it and they have personnel on the ground, they would come and go after them. Amotekun has actually offered a lot of help, but they need to increase the number of their personnel and they need to be armed if they are going to be more effective So far, the Amotekun Commander in Ondo State has really tried.
Aside the efforts of Amotekun, what about other security agencies?
Well, the Civil Defence Corps has an arm called Agro-Rangers. Before Amotekun came, they have been offering little help. So, civil defence, yes. But police, no. DSS is just for information gathering, that is all they do. DSS only used us to gather security reports, they’re not helping us in any way. Even any time we agitated and threatened that we would take action against the herders, the Director of DSS would summon us and would appeal to us that they don’t want war.
They would tell us we shouldn’t protect ourselves, but they could not ask the herders to stop destroying our farms. It’s as if they’re tying our hands backwards for us to be slapped without defending ourselves or to retaliate
As for soldiers, we don’t have much contact with them even though we’ve had many accusations that soldiers were backing the herders because we heard that top officers in the barracks own many of these cows.
What do you think is the way out of the farmers/ herders clashes
The solution is that the President should make a pronouncement that all open grazing should cease for now. Possibly, all itinerant herders should return to their base.
Those who are based in other places apart from the north should settle in one place as other farmers settle, acquire land for their personal farms and not create colonies. The acquired land must be fenced possibly electronically. The electronic fence will prevent the animals from straying from the area.
That is what government must do. I’m sorry to say that the Federal Government knows that will solve this problem, but they’re not willing to go the whole hug. They’re now giving condition that if we want peace, they must be given land and provide facilities there. For your private business? Is that being done for pig or poultry farmers and other categories of farmers? Are herders special class of farmers? Aren’t they raising animals the way other people are raising animals? Why must their animals feed for free when others pay through their noses to feed their own animals?
There’s this belief that those who own these cattle are people in authority hence they look the other way when there’s crisis
It’s possible. Individuals do own some cows. I’ve also discovered that one of the strategies of these herders is that when they get to a foreign place, they would approach the symbol of authority which in most cases is the monarch and in paying obeisance to him, they would bring a gift of one or two cows.
And they would tell the king not to worry that the animals would be reared for him at their own cost. The monarch now has cows with the herders and when they’re confronted, they would say but the monarch’s cow is here. The monarch’s cow is a Greek gift of one or two cows to protect 5,000 cows. So, it’s part of the strategy that is used. It’s a trap that has been used for many of our people in authority especially our traditional rulers to do whatever they are doing in that community. But our people that we know are actually into cattle business have been with us over the years. Their cattle and their herders do not give us these problems. They’ve been coexisting with us for long. They don’t destroy people’s farms. They’re even in the neighbourhood, people know the owners. If the cows destroy anything the owner will be challenged immediately and the man is not going to bring out a gun or dagger to attack anyone. I can report him to the landlord association and to the police station as well as the Oba because he is not a faceless person. So we haven’t been having those problems with our people.
What then will be your advice to our monarchs across the state
They shouldn’t fall into that trap again. They should say ‘no, thank you’ to the offer of herders who want to give them gifts of cows or they want to rear cows for them. They should be kind enough at this time of high tension not to give out land to these people for now because we’re at war. Whether it’s declared or not, we’re at war already.
There’s a lot of hatred, bitterness because if you don’t mean well for us, you want to kill us, destroy our economy and you want to harm to us, you’ve made yourself our enemy, even though we don’t want to be your enemy, so we’re at war. In the time of war, you suspend natural laws. They shouldn’t sell and release land at this time. And they shouldn’t accept gifts of cows and so on.
And to the general public, we renew our call as a body that people should do without beef and all cow related meat including hide and skin for now, in protest against what is being done because people are actually eating blood stained cows. Most cows are being raised on the blood and the sweat of some innocent persons. In the southwest, we are promoting indigenous cattle rearing.
We want to go back to our traditional local breeds and we want our people to raise cows in the proper way, properly ranched in their own farm. Universities are doing it, some individuals are doing it, we want it to become popular. Individuals can own three, four, five cows, you don’t have to have 2000.
Is there no traditional way to drive back the cows from destroying the farms?
There are many ways but it is not for the pages of the newspapers.