By MUyiwa Adetiba
I have strong ties to Osun State. These ties mean I should visit at least once a fortnight. But my aversion for local travel generally and road travel particularly, had led to what can best be described as a dereliction of some duties. In the course of my travels to that part of the world, I have had flat tyres along Ife–Ilesha road a couple of times, engine problems a couple of times, been accosted by policemen many times and taken to their station once. But ‘the ties that bind’ are too strong for these to be used as tenable excuses not to visit. Besides, not once during those challenges did I consider my life to be in serious danger. Then suddenly, I am told that a route I have used all my adult life at different hours of the day— or night—has now become too dangerous to ply. Or if you must ply, it has to be within specific hours. And the herdsmen I have been seeing all my life around the route, and regarded as benign, are now to be feared and regarded as dangerous to my well-being. This is now, not only a tenable reason not to fulfil my obligations to that area, it is a serious cause for concern.
Last Sunday found me in the Surulere home of an Ijesha man whose ‘past life’ was lived in the corporate world. Now in his 80s, he has virtually retired to Ilesha to assume a traditional family title. But his corporate and social ties mean he has to be in Lagos virtually every week, sometimes twice a week. I voiced my concern about the alleged danger on the road and his cryptic reply was ‘I am still alive am I not? He tried to allay my fears, but didn’t dismiss them either. He admitted that the highways may have become more dangerous but that the reports of incessant kidnaps were largely exaggerated. He then told me of a recent incident when he had a flat tyre on a wheel that had never been turned before. The bolts had stiffened. As darkness was approaching and rain was threatening so was fear creeping in. For once, he considered aborting the onward journey home to spend the night nearby. But he took courage and soldiered on. He got home. The message to me is that the fears he had which he never had before, were borne largely from the stories of the dangers on the road after five. As to the herdsmen on the route, he shrugged and said ‘they have always been there. Maybe what has happened is that some of their camps might have been infiltrated by criminals.
Two days earlier, I had met a primary school classmate at an event in Ikeja. We reminisced on old times and touched on some of our mates who had passed on. He had gone on to attend the famous Ilesha Grammar School—what Aregbesola is reported to have done to that once revered school is a story for another day—and so was more abreast with the fate of many of our age mates. He goes to Ilesha often and is even thinking of setting up a multi-million naira business there. Again, I voiced my concern on the dangers on the road. He didn’t dismiss the dangers as unfounded but simply stated that commercial buses still ply the route. As to the camps of the herdsmen, he reminded me that they had always been there.And the rife rumour that Ibodi, a large community on the outskirt of Ilesha, had been completely taken over by Fulani herdsmen was untrue. But an Ife prince didn’t find the camps of these herdsmen to be as harmless as my friend had tried to paint it. At a gathering of veteran journalists last week, the vexed issue of general security in the country was discussed with particular reference to Osun state. He revealed that the local vigilantes in Ife recently identified three large camps where arms were found, and forcefully disbanded them. He regretted that they were not disarmed.
What my three chance discussions in just over a week seem to indicate is that although there might be heightened criminal activities around Osun State, the state is not under siege. At least no way near what is being portrayed. None also subscribed to the Islamisation or Fulanisation theory being woven by some people. A theory that gets its credibility from the profile of many of the criminals and the seeming tardiness of the state security apparatus run largely by Muslims with Fulani origins.My belief, and it is only a belief, is that the camps of herdsmen as we had known them, have changed. Many may have been infiltrated and enlarged by criminals who themselves might have been hardened by their life experiences. These camps, out of fear of persecution or need to be protected or simply a twisted sense of ‘spirit de corps,’ have become complicit by harbouring criminals. As to the proliferation of guns, nobody has given me a convincing reason except to say they come from Libya and the Sahel region and that there is a cartel which specialises in gun running. How a poor herdsman who can barely feed can afford an AK47 no matter how low the price is still has to be explained to me.
This whole thing can be minimised if our intelligence can find the sponsors of the guns and have the will to apprehend them no matter who they are. Asking licensed and therefore legally owned guns to be surrendered should not be the first step in mopping up guns. It should be after the people terrorising the country have been apprehended and disarmed and the threat to life reduced. Until then, people have a right to defend themselves, legally if they can. Government should also, as a matter of urgency, domicile the business of cattle rearing. I have said it elsewhere before; nothing says southerners cannot breed and own cattle.
Meanwhile, Miyetti Allah, the umbrella body for herdsmen, has a role to play in rebuilding the fast eroding trust between the herdsmen and the various communities they settle into. It should know, if it is alive to its responsibilities, that some of the camps have been infiltrated by criminals. It should do some serious house cleansing and help in removing criminals from the camps of the innocent.Otherwise, these communities will resort to self-help and the chaff along with the wheat will be swept out of the barn. That could escalate tension and threaten reciprocity. More worrisome is that the ties that bind the country, already thin and frayed in some places, will then be even under more stress.