By Dayo Johnson & Dapo Akinrefon
TONGUES have continued to wag over the continued onslaught of Fulani herdsmen in the South-West, Ondo State especially.
The continued rampaging of farmlands across Ondo State with reckless abandon, has left trails of sorrow, tears and blood.
The murderous herdsmen have destroyed farmlands, set ablaze cocoa and oil plantations, kidnapped, maimed, killed, and raped not only wives of farmers but their daughters.
As a result of this, fear has gripped farmers across the state while many have abandoned their farmlands because of the unending activities of the herdsmen.
Falae, five times unlucky
Former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Chief Oluyemisi Falae has been at the receiving end of the heartless herders five times within the last three years.
Unfortunately for the elder statesman, he has been five times unlucky.
But for providence, Chief Falae would have been killed by herdsmen who invaded his farm during his 75th birthday in 2016.
Prior to this, the suspected herdsmen had visited the farm sometime in 2015, but could not gain access to the land.
In 2016, Falae was abducted on his Ilado farm and was made to spend 96 hours with his captors whom he observed were teenagers and Fulani herdsmen.
Though his abductors collected N5m ransom before setting him free, but was unfortunate again as the herdsmen visited the farm twice that year.
Seven of his abductors were later apprehended and sentenced to life imprisonment by an Akure High Court.
Chief Falae had to travel to the United Kingdom for five weeks for medical attention after his release.
However, this did not prevent the herdsmen from frequently visiting the farm.
In one of their unwanted visits to the farm in 2016, one of his security guards, Ayodele lge was killed by the herdsmen who insisted on grazing on the farm. Ayodele’s resistance drew their ire.
Not only was he shot dead, the herdsmen mutilated his body taking away his heart.
lge was coordinator of the Oodua People’s Congress, OPC, for Akure North Council Area of the state.
Again, in 2017, six herdsmen struck, invading the farm with their cattle and reportedly destroyed N5million worth of corn field while grazing on the same farm.
The timely intervention of policemen, who were deployed by the state Police Command, prevented the loss of lives as they shot into the air to scare away the herdsmen and their cows that night.
Not long after, the herders invaded the farmland to graze.
Also, in December 2017, a 25- hectare of oil plantation owned by Falae was set ablaze by the herdsmen.
Personal Assistant to the former Finance Minister, Captain Moshood Raji (retd) said that aside the burning of the plantation, the herdsmen also uprooted two and a half hectares of palm trees.
Raji lamented that not sooner had the trees been replanted, than the herdsmen again returned and not only uprooted the palm trees but took them away.
The latest invasion was the setting ablaze of 125 hectares of palm trees and other crops on January 21, 2018.
Cause for concern
The invasion again by the herdsmen is a cause for concern, as many fear for the life of the elder statesman.
Reacting to the continuous attack on Chief Falae’s farm, kinsmen of the former SGF, the Akure community, condemned incessant attacks on his farmland.
Speaking through the Asiwaju of the town, Prof. Olu Agbi, the people expressed concern over the continued attack of his farm and killing of people in the farm and other neighbouring farms.
Prof. Agbi warned the herdsmen not to create an opportunity for a civil war because any further attack on Chief Olu Falae or his farm would be deemed as casus-belli.”
They therefore called on the security agencies to protect the life and property of Falae saying: “We are making this appeal not only because he is an Akure chief but to prevent tribal war as the Olu of Ilu Abo’s stature transcends Akure and Yoruba.”
Herdsmen have colonised my farm- Falae
Narrating his ordeal in the hands of herdsmen on an annual basis, Chief Falae said “my farm has been destroyed five times within three years and it is a deliberate means to probably kill me, run me out of business and away from the farmland which is not possible. He declared that he would resist every intimidation and harassed by the herdsmen to drive him from his farm of 32 years.
“What they did to my farm is not a question of cattle eating grass; it is a matter of people destroying other people’s means of livelihood consciously, maliciously and deliberately.
“They set the farm on fire overnight and did it one after the other. They burnt them, why? Cattle do not feed on palm trees; they just want to destroy my assets. This is an attack on my livelihood, on what I possess. It is continuous, they do it every year. For the agriculture people, this is an attack to our food production.
“I will try to contain myself because I am provoked. What happened last year was tremendous and we made claim of over N2 million that is still pending; we are not asking for compensation, what we are asking is for our farms to be left alone. The place that got burnt on Sunday will be up to 125 hectares.
“At first, they will come in the night to fetch water and we were tolerant because they did not touch or destroy anything but we did not allow them to stay here but later, it took a different turn all over Nigeria.
“They will come in the night, eat our maize and in three years, I’ve reported to the police over 10 times.
“Every year, they set fire to my farm and do you know why? There are two elements to their actions, first is economic, they burn this farm because the grass is already dry and cows don’t like that. So they burn the grass and in two weeks time, fresh grass will grow and their cattle will have fresh grass to eat.
In other words, they are already treating my farm as if it was their colony. They do this every year.
“But to burn palm trees amounts to act of malice and hatred and I believe they have malice against me and they hate me, that is why they will burn my palm trees, uproot the palm trees I planted and throw the seedlings away.
“That does not help the cattle in any way, I believe if they saw me in person, it is me they would have hurt.
“I condemn the action but what is more important is that I will take some actions and government should take steps to make sure they don’t do it again and if they don’t take steps to prevent it, it means that government supports what they are doing, they are not offended by what they are doing.
Meanwhile, no arrest has been made but the state Police Commissioner, Olugbenga Adeyanju said that the command is on top of the situation.
Adeyanju said he has already deployed adequate men to the farmland led by the Akure Area Commander.
He called for calm saying the fire story is not as big as being exaggerated on the social media, assuring that security men are on top of things.
He noted that the command has also commenced investigation to nab the culprits who set the farm on fire since nobody was caught on the scene.