Mr. Anthony Owolabi, President of Ile-Ogbo Unity Forum, the umbrella body of the unions in Ile-Ogbo, headquarters of Ayedire Local Government Area of Osun State, speaks in this interview by SAM NWAOKO on the security situation in the community and why they are against a proposal by the Oluwo of Iwo that the Fulani are welcome in Iwo. Excerpts:
You recently disagreed with the Oluwo of Iwo on his invitation to the Fulani, that 10 million Fulani could relocate to Iwoland. Why did raise your voice against this? Why are you worried?
It is important for us to do that because when a child happens not to have lived in the time of an event, that child would hear about it through tales. If you are not a witness to a particular incident, you would definitely read about it. Ile Ogbo, according to history, came to being before Iwo and it was a bigger town. There was this tribal/religious internecine war orchestrated by Iwo people around 1820. This war shifted our people from their original base which is called Ahoro, where we now have a recent development, the Lanre Sports Academy now coming up. That is where our people were but it was called Ahoro (empty village) because of this war. Iwo people brought in Fulanis to fight on their side, telling the Fulani mercenaries that they were going to fight a religious war, a jihad. That time has come and gone. This time round, we know what is going on. We have seen all that is going on and we have seen the activities of the Oluwo and what he is doing. They are in public domain… all his activities are being seen by people all over. Even his own people are not in support of what he is doing. Even youths in that area organised protests recently. So, we have to take steps and rise to the occasion before this trouble comes. We must not allow what happened in 1820 to happen again because these same Fulani were the people they used. The Oluwo is calling the Fulani again that 10 million of them should come. We are wondering where the land is? Considering where we have boundary with Iwo, it’s clear that Iwo doesn’t have the land. So, if he is bringing Fulani, definitely, we should suspect that he has an ulterior motive, maybe to spring a 21st century attack on Ile-Ogbo again and we won’t allow that. So, that is why we have to raise our voice. We agreed at a town hall meeting in Ile-Ogbo to rise against it and let the world know what the Oluwo is doing.
What do you envisage, and how do you intend to prosecute this mission?
Speaking up is part of prosecuting the mission. We have brought our case to the media. In addition, we are making efforts to ensure that we protect our own territory against invasion. Mind you, we are at home with the peaceful ones. We are at home with the peaceful Fulani and there are some of them that have fully integrated into our community and way of life. I am about 52 years old now and we grew up to meet the Fulani in Ile Ogbo, and they are still there. We have inter-married – they have married our children and our children have married their own children. We know some of them are very peaceful. But there are those violent and aggressive ones, they call them Bororo or something. We have had experience with them about 10-15 years ago. We had to drive them away. They were attacking people, raping women going to the farms, and were also robbing people at Gbongan – Oke Osun Road. We were able to send them packing then. With this one now that they are being invited on a large scale, especially as is being spearheaded by a king, that is a serious issue that must not be swept under the carpet.
That is why we are making efforts and we are working with other towns and villages that we have common boundary with and their monarchs – Oluponna, Kuta, Telemu, Ashamu, Ogbaagba – all of them that we have common boundary with, we are working in concert with them and their Obas to make sure that all hands are on deck. If we protect only our own territory, our own peaceful area will be vulnerable. So, we have to work in sync to make sure that this threat does not become something out of hand.
After these measures, in what way do you think your stance would protect life and property especially when it’s considered that business opportunities could be blocked?
We have been enjoying security in our area. We have internal surveillance and what we are doing is to sustain it. We must be proactive, we shouldn’t wait until the problem comes. When we have challenges, we make sure it doesn’t snowball into something else. We re only taking it serious because the Oluwo has carried his campaign to Sokoto. And you know what that means. He has gone to Ilorin and some other emirate towns. So, no one should underplay that kind of person’s moves. When somebody is beating the drums of war and he is also getting support he can go to any length. We are therefore seeking the support of our people both male and female, young and old to be at alert. The same kind of fire does not burn a child twice.
These comprehensive measures make it look like the motivation is the war of 1820. What happened then in 1820 and how is it relevant now?
Is it not? There is no love lost situation between us and Iwo because there has been this unhealthy competition. Ile Ogbo now, not then would be considered to be a smaller town, but it used to be a bigger place. According to history, it was the day the people were celebrating a traditional festival, they were caught unawares. They were in a festive mood when they came with the Fulani. It was also not because Iwo people were more than us, but it was because they came with Fulani mercenaries. So that is why they were able to do what they did. We have learnt from that and we are ever ready to protect our territory, and to see that that doesn’t happen again. In recent times, we’ve had skirmishes but we call in the security agencies. Meanwhile, all these that are happening and the measures we are putting in place are with the knowledge of the security agencies. They are aware. We are law-abiding people. We get the security people involved’ the police, the DSS, the Civil Defence Corps and so on.
Going by the the things you’re hearing across the country about deadly clashes between herdsmen and farmers and related violence, would you say you are satisfied how the government has handled the clashes?
I am far from being satisfied. We are largely an agrarian people, the mainstay of our economy is agriculture. I don’t know how you want to look at it, but farming has season or period: time to plant, it germinates, grows and then there would be time for harvest. The time ranges from three months to one year and you know how labour-intensive farming could be even with mechanized farming. You take loans and use all your energy to farm and when you are projecting and looking at how to reinvest in your farm and pay back loans through harvest, some people will now come with cows and eat up your crops and harvest. Some even collapse on the occasion, because of how much they have lost in terms of man hours and money. Not only that, to add salt upon injury, when people meet them there destroying their farm and challenge them, they attack them and in some cases kill them in the process. This is against all known laws, both natural and otherwise, that somebody should labour and another person will come and destroy it and you dare not talk. And up till now, not a sizable number of those has been apprehended or brought to court. If there is anyone that manages to get compensated, it is usually by the efforts of the local people when they now insist, provided there is no intervention from the top for the police to release them because that is what the people have been experiencing. Two weeks ago, a big farm in our hometown was attacked during the night. Young people have been returning to invest in agriculture but with attacks such as that, they would be discouraged and they would cease to come home to farm.
So, we are not satisfied with the way the federal government has been handling it, and the states too. Some of our states have not really taken a position either because of a second term or political affiliation. They cannot really come out plainly to take a stand. However, some have been taking halfhearted steps to announce a ban on open grazing but we still see people rearing cows without control. This is bad. This is going to affect food production this coming season and it’s in addition to all our economic indices that are nosediving. People have not been able to plant because of the fear of being attacked and when they don’t plant, there will be nothing to harvest.
You’re far from being satisfied but we still need the government, the police and the other security agencies. How much of them have you been carrying along in your steps to ensuring a safe Ile Ogbo town for all law-abiding citizens?
We have informed the police, the Civil Defence and we are working with them. We have also been meeting with the state government officials on certain things as they affect open grazing and related issues.
What is your advice for the resident Fulani in your area?
We are at home with those of them who are peaceful. We are a peace-loving people and Osun is the state of the virtuous, we are hospitable and we are accommodating. But we won’t tolerate people who would come around and destroy our peace. So, those who are peaceful have nothing to fear. We have had meetings with them and we advise them to go about their legitimate businesses observing security protocol to make sure that people’s farms are not attacked. We have also asked them to notify the community if they see any sign of infiltration by the other violent Fulani. We have warned that if we find out by ourselves, we may take action and they might not like it. They too have promised because those violent Fulani are also a threat to them because they rustle their cows and steal from them. So, they don’t really mix with them. They too don’t want them to destroy their peace and freedom they have been enjoying in the land. So, they are working with us.
Sir, what is Ile-Ogbo Unity Forum all about and how many affiliate unions come under the forum?
Ile-Ogbo Unity Forum is an organisation that came into being about 50 years ago and it was founded by our fathers to work for the unity, growth and development of the town. It was also formed to fight for the interest of the town. When you are working for the economic development and well being of the town, you must also be concerned or interested in its security and protection.
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