Taiwo-Hassan Adebayo, premiumtimes
Before Igangan, 177 kilometres from Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, was propelled to national attention in the past weeks, Taiwo Adeagbo, a local farmer-leader, had collected several photographs, depicting bloodied and savagely hacked human bodies. His collection also includes the photograph of a rape victim, lying sick with a machete cut.
The forceful removal of the Fulani population in the town by a group inspired by Sunday “Igboho” Adeyemo, a self-acclaimed Yoruba warlord, had catapulted Igangan into national prominence.
“This woman is 45-year-old and was seriously macheted on the left side of her face after she was gang-raped in the bush by Fulani herdsmen on July 4, 2019,” said Mr Adeagbo, the secretary of Ibarapa Farmers’ Association. He mentioned the victim’s name (withheld) and family compound, as he showed this reporter one photograph after another.
Some of the photographs are from 2013 – underscoring years-long simmering tensions the indigenous population of farmers had endured with the settled and migrant Fulani herders before rising recently to a level of open calls to arms against the herders in Yorubaland, ultimately threatening a civil war, as Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka warns.
Other cases in Igangan are more recent; like that of Fatai Aborode, a large-scale farmer, whose December 2020 murder – by persons whom his farm manager told PREMIUM TIMES he could identify as Fulani – became the focal point to justify the eviction of the head of the Fulani community, the Sarkin Fulani, Abdulkadir Salihu, and his kinsmen.
But misinformation may have contributed to Mr Salihu’s misfortune, PREMIUM TIMES found based on interviews with late Mr Aborode’s farm manager, Olanrewaju Bolanle, and multiple victims of kidnapping and their ransom bearers.
Then, in another photograph, Alani Olalere lies lifeless, blood-drenched. He was said to have been stabbed by a herder following a disagreement over the destruction of his farmland by cattle.
Destruction of farmlands by cattle – and herders – is barely avoidable in Nigeria’s outdated open grazing system commonly adopted by Fulani pastoralists. “Open grazing needs to end, herders must sedentarise, with defined property right … these are legitimate agitations driven by rigorous evidence of criminalities and destruction of the livelihoods of poor farmers,” said Seun Kolade, professor at UK’s De Montfort University, and convener of International Alliance Justice and Peace, IAJP, recently formed body in response to the troubles associated with pastoralism.
The spokesperson for the government of Oyo State, Wasiu Olatunbosun, said the Seyi Makinde administration had declared an end to open grazing but regretted: “implementation is where we are having problems. On papers, governors are the chief security officers. They give instructions to the security (police, SSS, civil defence state-level commands) but if such instructions are different from the directive from Abuja, they won’t carry out the instructions.”
In Igangan, and six other towns that form the Ibarapa zone in Oyo State, farmers have for long faced the horror of having their farms trampled upon and crops eaten by straying cattle. And many times, farmers say, herders wilfully hack away at branches of cashew or cocoa trees or wrench out roots of cassava for cattle to feed.
“They are only concerned about their cattle with no consideration for farmers,” said Olusola Afolabi, a farmer. “They act with impunity as nothing comes out when you go to the police, and for years our people are recording losses and abandoning farming because of destructions by herders.”
Resisting the herders, who are routinely armed with swords, could leave fatal consequences or serious injuries of the sort inflicted on Mr Afolabi, who had his left arm broken. He had tried to stop a herder, who was advancing towards the heaps of cassava tubers he had harvested.
In addition to reviewing photographs collected by Mr Adeagbo, PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter saw various recent victims, among them 26-year old Seun Isiah, who was attacked by people he called Fulani herders at Alasia Village, the day Mr Adeyemo first visited Igangan.
He had to pretend to have died from severe machete cuts before his attackers retreated. Visited at a local clinic, he was found to have lost his physical balance with twisted legs and disfigured head. A photograph of him taken just after the attack is gory, with what seems a broken skull revealing inner parts of his head.
Sarkin Fulani: His real sins
In a typically slumbering rural community, with governance far removed and the police rarely effective, there emerged the Sarkin Fulani of Igangan, Mr Salihu, at the centre of the frictions.
Mr Salihu’s father migrated to Igangan some 50 years ago from Ilorin, north-central Nigeria, he told PREMIUM TIMES, and settled at Alagolo Village. In what underscores many years of negligence by successive governments of Oyo State, the land Mr Salihu currently occupied was originally the state’s and was reserved for crop farming. Years after their arrival in Igangan, Mr Salihu’s family took over the large expanse of land for settlement, the usual way many Nigerians, including Fulani herders, treat land as a common resource.
Residents say it was the same manner another Fulani, Iskilu Wakili, adopted in seizing community land in Ayete some 18 years ago. “We just heard a Bororo was occupying our land and I sent for him but he said land belongs to God,” said the Odomofin of Ayete, Saubana Oyewole, whose extended family owns the land Mr Wakili occupies.
Mr Wakili has since formed Gaa Wakili (Wakili settlement), taken more land as he diversified into farming. And since Mr Salihu was evicted from Igangan, Mr Wakili’s clan is said to have sacked a number of villages around Gaa Wakili. The affected villages include Kajola, Gbagabgere, Konko, and Dagbere, around his Gaa.
While the villagers are now displaced and taken refuge in the towns of Ayete and Idere, cut off from their means of livelihood, the Amotekun operatives deployed to Ibarapa by Governor Makinde have for several days refused to face Mr Wakili and his men in the bush. They remain at Ayete and a couple of them expressed fears about the quality of their arms compared to sophisticated ones Mr Wakili and his men had used to sack villages.
PREMIUM TIMES saw one of Mr Wakili’s victims – Olalekan Ololade – who sustained bullet wounds in the last week of January and is now recuperating with his displaced family at Ile Balogun, Idere.
The spokesperson for the police in Oyo State, Gbenga Fadeyi, told PREMIUM TIMES Saturday night that “inhabitants are back to their abode and normalcy restored to the area,” after “massive deployment”. But according to the secretary of the farmers association, Mr Adeagbo, the villagers remain displaced.
“Tell him he lied,” Mr Adeagbo said, challenging the police claim.
Mr Salihu said he had no comment on Mr Wakili.
Mr Salihu told PREMIUM TIMES that the federal government, during the Sani Abacha junta – “when President Buhari was the PTF chairman” – had converted the land to a grazing area and given it to him. Asked for formal papers, he said they had been burnt when his house was razed. However, some leading Igangan natives insist the land is owned by the state government and remains a reserved area for crop farming.
Before his forced removal from the community by a mob inspired Mr Adeyemo, he had become deeply established in the community as a rallying point for the Fulani population – and the one the Yoruba farmers usually lodged complaints to when hurt by herders.
Some natives say he was the de facto ruler of Igangan, with the town’s traditional ruler, Lasisi Adeoye, the Asigangan, weakened by old age and health challenges and, perhaps, limited economic means.
But to the farmers, especially the indigenous Yoruba population, Mr Salihu is seen as an unjust arbiter who largely helped the herders evade justice while leveraging his connections and influence.
In one case before the encounter in which his arm was broken, Mr Afolabi said he was referred to Mr Salihu by the police after he got an eyeful of savagery seeing tons of grains of maize, kept in barns, reduced to flames by suspected herders he had squabbled with over grazing access the previous day.
“At the time, a ton (of maize) was N140 thousand but nothing came out of my report to Sarki (Mr Salihu),” he said, adding that, “and when my arm was broken earlier and I reported to the police area command in Eruwa, Sarki intervened and told the police he had asked me to collect N145 thousand as compensation and insisted the culprit would not be presented.
“But I later used the vigilante to arrest the culprit in June 2019 and take him to the police. He was released to his principal, Buji Koga (a Bororo pastoralist connected to Mr Salihu) without my knowledge but they now said the boy had died.”
Ibarapa farmers accused Mr Salihu of allegedly capitalising on the misfortunes visited on them by herders as a tool for blackmailing and extorting the herders: where the farmers would either collect nothing or a small part.
“After Sarki’s intervention, we agreed to N200 thousand as compensation for my destroyed tomatoes,” said Sunday Aderounmu, a farmer. “The herdsman paid but Sarki only paid me N40 thousand. He then challenged me to go to (police) station).”
Similar allegations were made in separate interviews with farmers but Mr Salihu denied them all. He said, “they are envious of me and they think I was outshining their king because all matters were referred to me and they say that I wanted to turn Igangan to an emirate. All they accuse me of are lies.”
But a community group, Igangan Development Advocates, insists Mr Salihu made “woes upon Igangan” thrive. “We are not only denouncing the criminal activities (of) Sarki Salihu, we also seek justice for years of crimes,” the group’s convener, Oladiran Oladokun, said.
Rampant kidnappings aggravated tensions
While the Yoruba and the Fulani have endured a long time of endless farmer-herder conflicts, tension aggravated as kidnappings became rampant recently. The criminal trend spread to all states in southwestern Nigeria – and indeed other parts of of the country.
So, when in January Mr Adeyemo went to Igangan and issued Mr Salihu and his kinsmen a seven-day ultimatum to leave, he gained massive support so much so that he became an instant hero of the Yoruba. Even when he tore apart foremost Yoruba monarch, Enitan Ogunwusi, the Ooni of Ile-Ife – but later apologised – and fired blistering remarks at Mr Makinde, with a threat to unleash violence on the two leaders, who have expressed opposing views, he remained popular, and millions of naira have even raised to support his mission.
“You may not approve of his method, but Sunday Igboho (Mr Adeyemo) is not the problem, neither is he the instigator,” said Mr Kolade, the IAJP convener. He expresses similar sentiments as others, who say Mr Adeyemo is filling a vacuum created by government failure to provide security and give justice to victims.
“We should not ignore debilitating leprosy while focusing all attention on eczema…many like Dr Fatai Aborode have been kidnapped and murdered without consequences,” he added.
Lukman Jimoh, a former councillor and car dealer, was kidnapped in the early hours of February 28, 2020, the first time such incident would happen in Igangan. Mr Jimoh said his abductors were Fulani and they spoke Fulfulde, which he basically understands following years of relationship with Fulani.
“They dragged me through the bush and made me walk for several hours before they took me to their leader at 3 AM at Oke Kaun, near Ijio in Iwajowa Local Government,” Mr Jimoh said. “They allowed me to contact my people on the third day and they demanded N1,500,000 but my friends were only able to raise a million naira, which they collected at Ibudo Saki, also in Iwajowa, where they also released me.”
He said the abductors were seeking information about others in the town perceived to be rich. And eight days after his return, another resident, Wasiu Wahab, a cattle breeder, was kidnapped and held at the same area, Ibudo Saki, where Mr Jimoh was released. He was released the following day after a ransom of N2 million was paid.
Then, late night on March 26, Olusegun Olosunde, a petroleum marketer, was abducted at his station. “It is a day I will never forget. I was exiting mosque when about nine persons appeared and started shooting before they made me walk through the bush. I spent six days with them.”
Mr Olosunde did not say his abductors were Fulani because his eyes were covered but Nurudeen Adeoti, who negotiated with them by phone said they were Fulani from their language. Mr Olosunde’s abductors collected four million naira, four times higher than what was paid to secure the release of Mr Jimoh, the first victim in Igangan.
It was Mr Adeoti that took ransom to secure the release of Monsuru Aderoju, a prince, abducted in January.
“Those that collected money from me and counted the money in my presence were Fulani,” he said.
Between February 2020 and January 2021, when Mr Jimoh and Mr Aderoju were respectively kidnapped, at least eight others also became victims, including two brothers, Shefiu and Saidu Asikolaye, who paid N5 million and N7 million respectively.
Not Just Igangan
Outside Igangan, abductions for ransom and murders have also occurred in other parts of Ibarapa, barely checked. In one prominent case, Sherifat Adisa, a businesswoman, was shot dead in the bush opposite her petrol station at Idere on January 2. The gunmen had attacked the station as she was exiting that evening, her manager, Temitope Onifade, a witness, said. As she tried to run back, she was shot in the leg and then dragged away. But apparently, as she could not walk due to the bullet wound she had just sustained, she was shot dead in the bush just opposite the station.
But the tragedy did not end there. Two children, 11-year-old Omowumi Babarinde and 10-year-old Qadrat Toriola were also shot dead beside the station. Omowumi’s mother, Alaba Babarinde, who was minding the two children that night, told PREMIUM TIMES that she was making a call to her older son to pick them up after a visit to a place behind the petrol station when she heard gunshots and tried to run with the children. She said the men she saw before she ran were Fulani.
She also fell, hit by bullets, and only regained consciousness at the hospital, her husband, Idowu Babarinde, told PREMIUM TIMES. Mr Babarinde is a farmer and agro commodity supplier but has now been cut off from his farm at Dagbere, near Gaa Wakili, due to ongoing activities of the Wakili clan.
But individuals of Fulani extraction have also been victims of abductions, especially in other Ibarapa towns. “In 2019 alone, seven of our young men were abducted for ransom,” said the Sarkin Fulani of Igboora, Idris Abubakar, who enjoys goodwill among the Yoruba population in the town. “It is not only the Yoruba that are affected.” A previous report by PREMIUM TIMES shows how the Fulani have also been victims of abductions.
The Fulani remain in Igboora and were not indiscriminately asked to leave although kaara, the cattle market there, like those in other Ibarapa towns, has been shut.
Mr Abubakar sought unity against crimes, saying, “we will be helping the government with intelligence once we see suspicious movements and activities.”
Yoruba Also Involved
A rarely known dimension to the criminalities in Igangan area is the role played by individuals of Yoruba extraction. On-the-ground reporting in Igangan, in addition to disclosures by security sources, showed two individuals, a pair of twins, Taiwo and Kehinde Adeowo, had been notorious for series of alleged crimes, including kidnapping, cattle rustling, and robbery.
In multiple separate interviews, Yoruba residents accused the Adeowo twins of various crimes but alleged they “were working for Sarki to rustle the cattle of foreign Bororo” who were seasonally exploring Nigerian pasture.
“They rebelled after they confronted him (Sarki) and accused him of not giving them due compensation,” said Mr Adeagbo, echoing various others. “It was Sarki that helped the police to arrest the two of them.”
PREMIUM TIMES confirmed the twins are in police custody in Ibadan, having been arrested since last year. But the spokesperson for the Oyo State Command of the Nigeria Police, Gbenga Fadeyi, declined comment on their case.
Mr Salihu said his assistance to the police in arresting the twins was one of the reasons the Yoruba population in Igangan were displeased with him, adding “they (the Yoruba) are angry because we are exposing the Yoruba involved in kidnappings.”
Faced with the allegation that the twins used to be his “boys” and had helped him carry out criminal assignments, he denied any illegal dealing with them but admitted to being previously close to them. He also said the twins used to seek his help when they committed crimes.
“They used to be close to Sarki because their late father was a butcher and all butchers were close to Sarki,” Mr Salihu’s son, Mohammed, told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr Salihu also said: “I had no illegal dealing with them but they had previously asked me to help intervene on their behalf when they committed crimes.”
The state’s information commissioner, Mr Olatunbosun, said, “we are against crimes whether by Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa-Fulani.”
Some claims made by Mr Adeyemo and amplified by many others as the anti-Fulani agitations intensified are contradicted in substantial parts by our findings.
In one instance, Mr Adeyemo claimed the Sarki, Mr Salihu, was involved in negotiating ransoms and interceding between victims’ families and the abductors. He particularly said the Asigangan’s child was kidnapped and the monarch paid ransom through Mr Salihu to secure the release of the prince.
Multiple victims of abductions told PREMIUM TIMES the Sarki was in no way involved in ransom negotiations. Also, the said prince turned out to be Mr Aderoju, the last person to be kidnapped in Igangan to date. The Igangan monarch, Mr Adeoye, told PREMIUM TIMES that Mr Aderoju is not his direct son and that the ransom to secure him was not routed through the Sarki Fulani.
In addition, Mr Adeoti, who took the ransom to the abductors at a place called Idi Apa to secure Mr Aderoju’s release, said the Sarki played no role in the negotiation or release.
Mr Adeoti said Mr Salihu’s oppressive tendencies and involvement in helping herders, who hurt farmers stave off justice, made people suspect he was behind the abductions, which, in fact, were mostly carried out by the Fulani.
In addition, a wife and a child of a monarch, Baba-Iso of Igbole in Igboora, another Ibarapa town, were said to have been abducted. Then, all the Ibarapa monarchs purportedly gathered to beg the Sarki for the release of the abducted royals. After purportedly giving the Sarki two million naira, the royals were freed by their abductors.
But two of the monarchs, who met to support their colleague in raising fund to secure the release of abducted royals told PREMIUM TIMES they had no meeting with the Sarki and he did not provide any help.
“Sarki was not involved in any way,” said the Oluaso of Igboora, Jamiu Badmus, of the efforts to free the royals. “We paid the Fulani kidnappers two million naira and I contributed.” This was also confirmed by the Asigangan, Mr Adeoye.
Then, on the murder of Mr Aborode, a PhD holder and large scale farmer, Mr Adeyemo said the deceased was leaving the Sarki’s home, where he had gone to complain about the destruction of his farm by herders, when he was seized, tied to a tree, and brutally murdered by herders.
Mr Aborode was indeed brutally murdered
and his remains were left bloodied but he was not returning from the Sarki’s house, his farm manager, Mr Bolanle, said. Mr Bolanle and the deceased were returning from the farm at Apodun – not on the same route as the Sarki’s Alagolo residence – where their motorcycle was stopped by gunmen.
“They were Fulani; though they used masks, I know from our conversations. They were four and it was around 5:30 p.m. and they started shooting heavily before one of them took me away into the bush, while another one dragged doctor (Mr Aborode) away too,” said the farm manager. “Before that, they said they did not want money but wanted to kill him.”
The manager said he was released in the bush and that he followed another route to the town to call people for help. Mr Aborode died on the way to the General Hospital in Igboora.
The farm manager said his principal had no problem with the Sarki or the herdsmen before his assassination and that he had just recently purchased bags of salt for the wives of the herders as a philanthropic gesture. He added that his principal had also recently asked Fulani herders from various settlements to freely fed their cows with his stunted maize.
This was corroborated by Mr Aborode’s father, who, however, endorsed Mr Adeyemo’s intervention against the Fulani herders, citing years of hurting farmers by herdsmen.
Mr Adeyemo could not be reached to comment for this report. Repeated calls and messages were not answered and replied. A lawyer who represents him also did not comment.
Mr Aborode’s cousin, Majekodunmi Aborode, a former commissioner in Oyo State, told a virtual gathering monitored by PREMIUM TIMES that the deceased was involved in a court case over the destruction of his farm with the Sarki, Mr Salihu.
The farm manager said he did not know of any court case between his late principal and the Sarki or even any conflict involving both. Mr Majekodunmi rescinded his earlier decision to grant this paper an interview. When he was messaged via WhatsApp, specifically asking him to reiterate his court case claim, he did not comment.
“I don’t want to comment on the issue any longer,” Mr Majekodunmi said via WhatsApp.
People expressed concerns as the police appear not to have taken any action on Mr Aborode’s case, like most others. The deceased’s farm manager, Mr Bolanle, said he had not been invited for any investigation, nor has anybody been arrested despite reporting to the local police station. But police spokesperson, Mr Fadeyi, said the state CID is charged with the responsibility of investigating such case discreetly.”
Indiscriminate Violence: ‘Igboho must not run loose’
Since Mr Adeyemo led residents to sack Mr Salihu from Igangan, residents said incidents of kidnapping and clashes between herders and farmers have stopped. But Mr Adeyemo’s intervention has not stopped Mr Wakili from sacking villages in Ayete.
Mr Adeyemo has been to Ogun State and has vowed actions in other south-western states to further a mission that is indiscriminately targeting herders and labelling them criminals amid rapidly growing anti-Fulani sentiments in the south.
“In calling for indiscriminate violence on the Fulani in the region, he has muddled the message, detracting from a more substantive and pressing matter of criminal terrorism that has ravaged Yorubaland,” said Mr Kolade. “We need leaders from across Yorubaland to take control of this messaging away from the call for indiscriminate violence, that undermines the legitimacy and urgency of the actual struggle”.
Mr Kolade said “legitimate agitations” can be made to end open grazing, ranching of cattle and have them register as other businesses do. “All these will set the stage for flushing out criminals occupying and using forests as hideouts for their campaign of terror.”
“This is different from indiscriminate violence in the country where we have Yoruba in different parts of the north. Igboho must not be allowed to run loose with incendiary and ill-considered declarations,” the professor said.
Mr Olatunbosun, Oyo’s information commissioner, said the government is opposed to “the idea of sending people away,” apparently referring to Mr. Adeyemo’s declarations.
For Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, in an interview with BBC, Mr. Adeyemo, “has responded to the situation in the way he knew how. Somebody reaches an explosion point and he says I cannot take this any longer and he takes unilateral action. The action may be excessive, what matters is that somebody has responded to an unacceptable situation. Any error he makes is for the rest of us to correct by calling him.”