By Rotimi Ojomoyela
Secretary-General of Yoruba Council of Elders, YCE, Dr. Kunle Olajide, in this interview, speaks on the deal between Ondo State government, Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF, and Miyetti Allah on the ultimatum to herdsmen to vacate Ondo Forest Reserves, describing it as a political solution to a more serious problem.
He says the outcome of the meeting may not end herdsmen attacks in Yorubaland.
Are you satisfied with the deal between Ondo State government, Nigeria Governors Forum and Miyetti Allah on the ultimatum to herdsmen?
I am not satisfied with it at all because as far as I am concerned, the meeting was not balanced. Our governors who are Yoruba were in the minority at the meeting. They were not representing us. They were representing the conveners, Nigeria Governors Forum. We the complainants were not invited. I would have expected them to invite and consult with Pa Fasoranti. He would have nominated a few Yoruba leaders across the board to be part of the meeting.
In fact, watching the meeting on television, you will think it was taking place at the Emir of Kano’s palace. The herdsmen and chieftains of their organisation, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, were by far much more than the Yoruba people there. We the victims and complainers were not invited to come and state our case.
It was like a one-sided parley and that is why I am not surprised at the communiqué that came out of the meeting. It was very tacky, a characteristic of government platitude where they keep saying “we will do this as from now, we will do that.” It is lacking in substance and lacking in concrete plans of action. For me, I wasn’t satisfied with it at all and in any case.
If I may add, those who claimed to be leaders of the herders at the meeting, those in well-ironed Babaringa , I don’t think they even know or have contact with herders in the forest. I mean, the herders in Efon-Alaaye, were not even aware of any meeting going on in Akure at all. The MACBAN association was fairly put together, to supposedly protect the interest of Fulani cattle rearers. They are just there to make money on behalf of the herdsmen who are in the forests, who do not know their right from left. For me, it is not a solution.
The solution, in my own opinion, is that a law has to be enacted by our state House of Assembly to ensure that anybody who wants to engage in cattle business should embrace ranching. It has been done here in Western Religion during the time of Papa Awolowo. Whether you are a Yoruba man or Fulani or whoever, you must embrace ranching. You must apply for land from government or relevant families and ranch your animals. In the 21st century, they shouldn’t be disturbing farmers, destroying farmlands and beating people in the forests. I think that should be the first step.
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The second step is to adequately fund our Amotekun. It should be equipped and given communication gadgets. Personnel should be licensed to carry dane guns. They can comb our forests to ensure that no criminal is in our forests, destroying our investments. There are a few steps that should have been taken but for the Akure meeting.
To some, the resolution seems like a political solution that has not addressed the underlying issues in herdsmen attacks in the Southwest?
Yes, the Akure meeting didn’t achieve solutions. It was merely a political solution perhaps to placate the tension in the community. Unfortunately, it has not addressed the underlying issues. We must put up concrete plans of action, engage our state Houses of Assembly to pass laws that will ban open grazing, and not necessarily ban grazing alone. There is no way you can permit open grazing even in the day time without damaging people’s farms. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough security men to prevent this from happening. Open grazing should be outlawed. After that, they should be given six or nine months to wind up after which they should apply for the fund to establish cattle ranches.
The speed with which the Presidency initiated the peace parley after it had earlier berated Ondo State Governor is quite strange. What do you make of that?
In fact, my appeal is that Mr. President should come out to reassure Nigerians that he is still committed to unity, peace, equity, fairness and justice. Statements emanating from his aids are frustrating, arrogant, and dictatorial.
Ondo State governor was elected by his people. Garba Shehu was appointed. There is a difference between the two and Ondo State is not a vassal of the federal government. Yoruba people are not conquered people. We are not vassals. If our elected governor gives an ultimatum, it is absolutely irresponsible for an aide of the Presidency to start uttering such offensive language. It is insulting to our governor and insulting to those of us who elected him into office.
Let me seize this opportunity to call on Mr. President to address Nigerians and reassure us because the statement of his aides has polarized this country along ethnoreligious lines. And he needs to let us know his posture to ensure we don’t misconstrue him as endorsing the reckless utterances of his aides.
The herdsmen crisis in Ondo State is coming at a time a similar thing is happening in Oyo State. What sort of coincidence is this?
Not only Oyo State, but it is also happening everywhere. It is happening in Ekiti, Oyo, Ogun, Osun, and Ondo states. No state is spared. It is not only the ones in Oke – Ogun, Gbongan, and others that appear destructive.
Do you think the solution to the danger constituted by herdsmen in Yorubaland ends with the quit order in Oyo and Ondo?
No. That is why I mentioned the necessary steps to be taken. The case in Oyo for example is wrong. I mean there will be total anarchy if anybody can just wake up, without any authority, no backing, no mandate, and issue a quit order to another person. If it is allowed to stand, tomorrow somebody could wake up in Ibadan and say all Ekiti in Ibadan should vacate in two weeks. It will create anarchy. However, when government abdicates its duties and allows people to be so intimidated, this is what happens. That was why I suggested and advised Oyo State governor to invite Igboho for a private parley.
Anybody who loses a relation, for him it is 100 percent loss. But when we say only one or two people were killed, the family of the deceased has recorded more than 100 percent loss. The dead may be their breadwinner in the family. People are justifiably angry. I am angry at the way our people are being killed.
A professor in the Federal University of Agriculture, Akure , FUTA ,was murdered a few weeks ago. These are assets to any community anywhere in the world and you keep sacrificing them on the highways. People are justifiably angry but we must not encourage citizens to take the law into their hands.
Lately, Amotekun has been apprehending criminals including herdsmen in the region. How can the outfit be strengthened for better performance?
I am happy because it appears as if our state governors in the South-West have yielded to my call. Each time I see a state governor giving equipment to the Nigeria Police Force, I literally almost go mad because the Nigeria Police is supposed to be funded by the federal government. They take orders only from the Inspector-General of Police, IGP. The money as far as I am concerned should be used to employ our unemployed youths, buy motorcycles, communication equipment, and guns for Amotekun personnel. Let them protect our borders and ensure security even within the town. Instead of spending on Amotekun, they should equip Amotekun.
In this country, we have the highest numbers of unemployed university and polytechnic graduates. They are all in the Southwest because, in terms of education, no state equals what we have.
Now that Amotekun has been founded and legalised, let them employ our youths for maximum security in the region.
Some traditional rulers in Yorubaland have been accused of providing the breeding ground for herdsmen crisis in the region. What is your take on this?
Existing laws will take care of that because I know that the Land Use Act gives power to the state governors over land. The state owns all the lands and they have the right to even acquire your land or your property and pay compensation. It is not the duty of traditional rulers to be giving lands. Yes, they may have lands but they have to apply to the state government for a Certificate of Occupancy. The state legislatures should enact laws stopping traditional rulers from giving lands to foreigners. They should be stopped from empowering even foreigners to set up monarchical governments in our land. We have Seriki of this, Seriki of that, almost competing with our Obas, kings, and that doesn’t happen anywhere in Nigeria.
In what ways are Yoruba elders involved in the effort to make Yorubaland safe again?
Just as we are doing now, going through you, the media to reach out to the people. That was why I criticised the Akure meeting. It appears as if our governors did not even realise we exist. They ought to have invited us. We are contributing and we are ready to contribute but in terms of energy. Ageing process is taking its toll on us, and we expect the young generation to take over the baton and continue the struggle.