THERE is a climate of fear and terror in the South-West as errant Fulani herdsmen have laid a siege to the entire region, kidnapping and killing people for sport on the highways. Already, people are becoming paranoid and it has become a veritable risk to travel on the highways to attend events and visit loved ones in the hinterlands. Though the frequency of attacks has increased dangerously on the Ibadan-Akure highway lately, especially on the Ilesa/Ibadan stretch, other highways in the region are by no means safe from the atrocities regularly perpetrated by the Fulani marauders. It has been tales of horror everywhere. The kidnappers simply come out of the bush, block the highways, shoot sporadically to kill or scare motorists and force them to stop, abduct some travellers and take them into the bush where they abuse them physically and sexually, extort ransoms from their relatives and kill victims whose contacts do not pay or are not quick in paying the ransoms demanded. Few days ago, a civil servant working in the Atakumosa Local Council Area of Osun State, Ademiju Adenipekun, was gruesomely murdered by herdsmen on the Ife-Ibadan highway in a ferocious robbery attack where some people were also seriously wounded.
In May, Yinka Adegbehingbe, a Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, was kidnapped on the Ibadan-Ife highway while he was on his way to Ile-Ife from Lagos in company with his wife. His captors apparently let the wife go so that she could facilitate the raising of the ransom which they ultimately collected before releasing the surgeon. Also, David Olajide, the traditional ruler of Osi community in Akure North Local Government Area of Ondo State, narrowly escaped being kidnapped by herdsmen a few days ago. His botched kidnap occurred just two days after a mother and her step-son were kidnapped in the same community. There were several other incidents, including the one that involved two Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) officials; Musibau Adetunbi, an Ibadan-based legal practitioner, as well as the governor of Ondo State, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), whose security detail had to ward off an attack on his convoy. Many other attacks have even gone unreported. It is really saddening that the stories of the horrendous activities of wayward herdsmen that hitherto sounded like fairy tales actually reflect the reality on the ground in the South-West.
Significantly, Adegbehingbe’s narrative, just like those of the victims of herdsmen before him, clearly identified the criminals to be Fulani who reportedly have many camps or cells across the forests in the South-West. Perhaps the most unsettling part of this sordid state affairs is the effrontery with which the criminals carry out their dastardly acts. They are reportedly brazen and carry on with an air of impunity which, of course, should now be understood against the backdrop of the fact that no significant arrest has been made, let alone punishment being meted out to any of them. A Divisional Police Officer reportedly said during an informal interaction: “Each time we arrest the herdsmen, we receive directives not only to release them but to release their guns to them.”
Most patriotic Nigerians can only wish that the account of the police officer is not totally correct but the reality on the ground, especially in the South-West, seems to lend credence to the apparent frustration of the police officer. The situation is dire and the felons seem to enjoy state power. It is a fundamentally dangerous dimension to acts of criminality when criminals appear to have official support or are being officially shielded from the law. This narrative is hazardous to the health of the country but unfortunately, some seemingly verifiable pieces of evidence tend to point in the direction of its veracity.
In the circumstance, it has become increasingly difficult to condemn the action of various groups who have sent petitions to the United Nations accusing the government of condoning genocide. And it does not help the government’s case that even elder statesmen known for their pro-Nigeria stance, such as Lieutenant-General Theophilus Danjuma (retd), a former Chief of Army Staff and Minister of Defence, and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, erstwhile president of the country, are accusing the government of a Fulanisation and /or Islamisation agenda. It is fast becoming unequivocal that the threat of ethnic strife in the country is real and it will be deluding, and dangerously so, to continue to discount this veritable risk in official circles.
It will be nice if the government can come clean on the allegation of complicity in the atrocious acts of the Fulani herdsmen. This should come not by way of rebuttal or platitudes or even rehashed promises, but by way of sincere and carefully executed strategic actions to swiftly rein in the menace of the aberrant Fulani herdsmen. The situation is already out of hand. For instance, in the South-West, the stage is almost set for the use of self-help as a means of warding off the criminals, the people having been let down by the security agencies, and there is no fire-sure guarantee that law-abiding and innocent herdsmen will not be affected in the process, even if inadvertently. This is one reason why governments at all levels need to seize the initiative and mobilise the security agencies, traditional rulers and the local vigilance groups in the affected areas to confront the criminals frontally and flush them out of the forests.
The government should play, and must be seen to be playing, genuine and important roles in finding a lasting solution to this daunting challenge of the invasion of the South-West by Fulani marauders without regard to primordial sentiments and/or politics. Perhaps the good thing is that it has now become clear that whoever doubts the propriety of the institution of state police may not mean well for the unity of this country.