By Femi Ogbonnikan
THE harrowing memory of the sustained attacks on inhabitants of Ketu-speaking communities in both Yewa North and Imeko-Afon Local Government Areas in Ogun State, can’t easily be erased.
As a sad reminder, the attacks which occured between February and April 2021, took a terrific toll on human lives and also led to the destruction of scores of homes and other belongings. This was a manifestation of the brutality unleashed by the invading criminal herders on the natives for resisting cattle grazing on their farmlands.
However, September 30, 2021, marked another milestone in a search by the Ogun State government for a lasting truce to the perennial clashes between farmers and herdsmen, following the assent into law of an “Anti-Open Grazing Bill” by the governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun. Ogun State House of Assembly passed the bill on July 8, 2021.
Several gory incidents had occurred in the past before the current administration came on board. They were either handled with kid gloves or swept under the carpet, without an end in sight to abate the frequent clashes.
But in compliance with the deadline for all the 17 southern states to enact laws banning open grazing of cattle in the region, Ogun State joined the league of states that have placed a blanket ban on open grazing.
By and large, the swift assent to the bill by Governor Abiodun was commendable and marked a turning point in calming frayed nerves. It also brought about relative peace and tranquility in areas that are usually at the receiving end of the bestiality. The development, to a large extent, has elicited excitement and accolades from all and sundry.
The law empowers the state government to regulate animal grazing and also provide for the establishment of cattle ranching in the state. In the administration’s magnanimity, cattle rearers have been given six months of grace to comply with provisions of the law on illegal occupation of unapproved public and private lands with their livestock, following which it becomes illegal activities.
Following the outbreak of hostilities between farmers and herders in two local governments (Yewa North and Imeko-Afon) that share common borders with the Republic of Benin, indigenes of these two councils (Eggua, Iselu, Orile-Igbooro, Ijaka, Agbon-Ojodu, Igan-Alade, Asa, Ohunbe, Ibaayun, Ibeku, Oja-Odan, among others in Yewa North LGA and Iwoye-Ketu, Okeagbede-Moriwi, Imeko and others in Imeko-Afon LGA) would never forget in a hurry the scathing attacks on their communities by criminal herders in the first week of February 2021.
In the ensuing melee, no fewer than 15 persons lost their lives while scores of others were maimed. Not spared were buildings, motor vehicles, motorcycles and other valuables that were either vandalised or torched by the assailants. Odeda, Mowe, Obada-Oko, Ewekoro, Obafemi-Owode among other parts of the state have also borne the brunt of the herdsmen’s attacks.
More often than not, majority of these criminal herders are emigrants from either Mali or, Burkina-Faso, Senegal or, Niger or, Chad who neither speak English Language or any of the Nigerian local dialects, but enter the country through the Ketu-speaking communities (Yewa North and Imeko-Afon LGAs).
Their height, blonde hair and colour, by no mistake, speak volumes of their non-Nigerian Fulanis’ identity. On account of the porous nature of the country’s borders, the herders who usually bear sophisticated weapons, such as General Purpose Machine Guns, GPMGs; AK-47 rifles and English-made pistols, cash in on the illegal routes along the borders to move into the country.
Emboldened by the firearms on them, they enjoyed unfettered freedom to graze their cattle on farmlands belonging to the natives and fought with whoever challenged thems. Several gory tales of kidnapping, armed robbery, rape, among others, with attendant killings and maiming are their trades. Farmers can no longer go to their farmlands, while children and women also cannot go to streams to fetch water.
Disturbed by the ugly development, the governor shared pains of the victims and promised adequate security of lives and property as well as compensation for victims of the wanton attacks. While denouncing the violence, he noted that the state had been a haven to people from other ethnic nationalities who had come to stoke the embers of violence and sow seeds of discord among the citizens of the state.
Not limited to that, it was appreciated that the governor, conscious of the spiralling effects of the clashes, set up a peace committee headed by a former House of Representatives member, Hon. Kayode Oladele, to look into the immediate and remote causes of the crises and as well, come up with solutions to prevent future reoccurrence.
The setting up of a Special Joint Security Task Force, comprising soldiers, police, civil defence corps and local hunters, by the state government and its subsequent deployment in the affected communities promptly staved off renewed attacks.
Besides, the governor, in the pursuit of representative, inclusive, responsive and responsible governance, has left no one in doubt in his demonstration of unwavering commitment to nip the frequent clashes in the bud. He has expressed his belief in the engagement of stakeholders to find lasting solutions to the farmers/herders clashes.
His well-organised and elaborate event tagged, “Ogun State Government Stakeholders’ Parley on Farmers/Herders Conflict”, held at Oba’s Complex, Governor’s Office, Okemosan, Abeokuta, on Tuesday, February 16, 2021, was a clear testimony of the resolve and commitment of the administration in placing premium on human lives.
Beyond protecting the people and their means of livelihood, as well as the advancement of the criminal herders in the state, the anti-open grazing bill is expected to prevent the reoccurrence of the menace in the nearest future.
Ogbonnikan, a social commentator, wrote from Abeokuta, Ogun state capital.