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Flogged by soldiers on herdsmen’s orders

When villagers of Ibeku in Yewa North Local Government area of Ogun woke up on Saturday, December 19, they had no inkling of what was about to happen to them in the day.

 

They were going about their normal daily activities when herdsmen, escorted by soldiers from the 35 Artillery Brigade, Alamala, Abeokuta stormed their village around noon, requesting an audience with them.

 

The Fulani herders and soldiers, numbering 10 entered Ibeku in a Nigerian Army pickup vehicle and a private car. Their unusual visitors went to the house of the Baale (village head) and instructed him to gather his people for a meeting. Soon, a crowd of villagers began to surface at the venue of the meeting, unknown to them that they were about to be attacked.

 

They were attacked not only by their long sworn enemies – Fulani herdsmen, but by the people constitutionally empowered to protect them from danger.

 

The visitors, at first appeared to be agents of peace who have come to broker peace between the villagers and the herdsmen, but they turned out to be their assailants. 41-year-old Gabriel Mulero was one their victims.

 

He was unlucky as he was punished for speaking out, for challenging the authority of the soldiers. Mulero in response, objected the soldiers’ request, insisting that farmers and herdsmen can not cohabit peacefully in the village following past attacks from the herdsmen on the villagers.

 

He told the soldiers that, there had been persistent attacks from herdsmen in the village, adding that the herdsmen were fond of destroying their farm produce, burning their farms, attacking the villagers, killing, maiming and raping their wives.

For these reasons, Mulero and other villagers vehemently told the herdsmen that they would not allow them graze on their land. Mulero drew the attention of the soldiers to the inherent challenges of allowing the herders in their communities based on the sad previous experiences in the community. And for his boldness, Mulero got the beaten of his life time.

 

The herdsmen who were led by one Ali immediately ordered the soldiers to beat him blue black. Before he could realise what was happening, thunderous slaps began to rain on him. He was seriously battered with wire whips. Mulero got more than what he bargained for and for his boldness he got boots, for his bravery, he got wire whips.

 

As the soldiers pounced on him, discharging blows after blows on him, the hapless villagers looked on in fear, no one could come to Mulero’s rescue.

 

With the incident still fresh in his memory, Mulero told New Telegraph, “I didn’t do anything wrong except that I defended our land and my people. “My response got the herdsmen provoked and their leader, one Ali ordered them to deal with me. Immediately, the soldiers went on rampage, beating me for objecting their request”.

 

According to him, that was not the first time the herdsmen would come to their village with security agents to harass and victimise them. In the past, whenever there was a clash between the herdsmen and the villagers, Mulero said, “the herdsmen usually come back with men of the disbanded Special Anti- Robbery Squad (SARS) to beat and arrest the villagers. He said, this had been going for several years without the government or the police authority checking them.

 

“The herdsmen usually destroy our farm produce, sometimes, they burn down our farms, attack us and rape our women.

 

“The herdsmen came to our village on Sat- SSG, Ahmed Ibrahim Matane addressing protesters at the Chanchaga bridge, urday, December 19 with some soldiers and informed us that they were bringing their cattle to graze on our land.

 

“The soldiers told us that we must accept the herdsmen and not start any trouble with them. “But, I told them that we do not want Fulani herdsmen in our village. I explained to them that herdsmen with their cattle and farmers cannot live together without fighting.

 

“The leader of the herdsmen who is called Ali then ordered the soldiers to beat me. “The soldiers told us that we didn’t have the right to say we don’t want herdsmen in our village,” Mulero said.

 

Like Ibeku, the soldiers also stormed five other villages, leaving behind, a trail of pain, blood, agony and fear. They went to Mooro, Agbon, Asa, Igbo-Oro and Iselu villages where they also brutally meted out unwarranted assault against the villagers who dared to confront them.

 

The incident led to palpable fear among the villagers who could not challenge them for fear of being beaten or arrested. In Asa village, the soldiers and herdsmen also met with the villagers as they had earlier done at Ibeku. But, the people refused to respond after the soldiers’ address, having heard what transpired at Ibeku.

 

However, one of the Fulani herders sighted some of people in the audience and picked on them as those that purportedly shouted on them at Ibeku while brutalizing their victim and asked the soldiers to also deal with them.

 

Besides Gabriel Mulero, two others: Seye Mulero and Mathew Adaramaja were beaten to stupor by the soldiers. Seye Mulero who is the brother of Gabriel Mulero was attacked in Asa village where the soldiers attempted to whisk him away, but for the intervention of the villagers.

 

The victims later reported the incident to the police at Oja-Odan police station, where they met the absence of the Divisional Police Officer (DPO). `”The police told us that they would meet with leaders of the herdsmen and invite Ali for questioning, but since then, we have not heard anything from the police.

 

“We spent about N150,000 to treat ourselves in the hospital and since the day of the incident, the herdsmen have not been back in our village”, Mulero said.

 

He called on the state government, the state police e command and the army authority to investigate and prosecute anyone found culpable of the attack. “We want the appropriate authority to investigate the incident. We want the government to come to our aid, we are living in constant fear that the herdsmen may come back and attack us.

 

“We are appealing to the government of Ogun state to urgently step into the matter to prevent future reoccurrence”. Over the years, the people of border communities in Yewa North Local government area have been having issues with Fulani herdsmen. There are tales of herdsmen destroying their farms, killing and maiming the people, raping their wives and children and there appear to be no end in sight to the problems.

 

Following the incident, traditional rulers have petitioned the Nigerian Army for their alleged connivance of its officers with herdsmen to harass villagers.

 

The monarchs: the Oniggua of Iggualand, Oba Micheal Dosumu, the Eselu of Iseluland, Oba Akintunde Akinyemi and the Alademeso of Igan Alade, Oba Gabriel Olalowo in the petition addressed to the Brigade Commander, 35 Artillery Brigade, Nigerian Army, Alamala, Abeokuta, demanded immediate investigation of the incident.

 

Speaking to New Telegraph, the Eselu of Iseluland, Oba Akintunde Akinyemi lamented that, persistent herdsmen attacks on their villages had forced their children from school. The monarch said, it was regrettable and unfortunate that, one month after the incident, the state government, the police and the army authority had refused to do anything about it.

 

“This was not the first time herdsmen will be invading our communities, but the approach of the last invasion was different because they have been coming and we have been having issues with them. The police have been coming to broker peace between our people and the herdsmen.

 

“But, the last invasion, the approach was different because they came with soldiers and when they got to Ibeku, the first village they visited. They ordered villagers to come around, asking them that the Fulanis want to rear their cattle there and nobody should say anything.

 

“But, one of them raised an objection, saying Fulanis are always attacking them, destroying their farms and raping their wives. “Immediately he finished speaking, the soldiers pounced on him and beat him mercilessly”.

 

The monarch expressed the fear that if the incident was not investigated and the assailants prosecuted, the villagers may be forced to take their fate into their own hands and this he said may a major crisis.

 

Oba Akintunde lamented neglect of their communities by the government, saying “Our schools are all dilapidated, unconducive learning environment, our roads are bad, we have no access to portable drinking water and our youths are jobless.

 

“We cannot continue to keep quite and die in silence. Any time there are issues in the rural areas, everybody keeps quite as if there are no human beings living here, as if we are not part of the state.

 

“It doesn’t even look as if the government is concern about us. Let the government come and see the border areas, the little the government can do is to come to the borders areas and develop the areas. “My fear is that if issues like this are not well managed, they may lead to more serious crisis.

 

Even from the Northeast, you will now discover that minor issues like this have escalated into major crisis. “Boko Haram started like this. Don’t forget that this is a border area to the Republic of Benin and there are a lot of illicit businesses in the border areas, aside from the fact that the government has neglected our people, there is no development, no schools and on top of it, our people are being harassed and attacked by herdsmen.

 

“Any time the herdsmen are coming into our community on yearly basis, the pupils don’t go to school in the affected areas.

 

That is the truth, because it is better for them to stay at home than to lose their lives going to schools. “We have a border commission in Nigeria and in spite of the budgets and funds yearly realised to the commission, no single project, no single borehole in the whole of border areas.

 

“The little resources the farmers are putting together just to cultivate their farms, Fulani herdsmen will still come and destroy their farm produce with their cattle. “And the children are at home because their parents cannot afford to send them to school, unfortunately these children will grow up and become smugglers.

 

And government is saying they want to eradicate smuggling when they didn’t even develop the areas. “It is a very serious issue.

 

If look at Ogun state today, the number of out of school children is enormous and getting higher day by  day. The children are not in school. It is a very serious problem that we should concern about as a parent.

 

“If a farmer is at home, the little things he has on his farm which he is relying on to send his children to school are being destroyed by the Fulani herdsmen and at the end of the day we have been shouting since, but nobody is saying anything.

But when there is an attack, everybody will start talking, saying we are supporting our people to attack the herdsmen”, the monarch lamented. When contacted, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) of the command, DSP Abimbola Oyeyemi said the Commissioner of Police, Edward Awolowo Ajogun had visited the villagers to pacify them.

 

He disclosed that the CP held a reconciliation meeting with representatives of the villages, the Fulani herdsmen and the community leaders to peacefully resolve the issue.

 

According to him, the herdsmen brought in the soldiers for their own protection from other Fulani herdsmen who had been terrorising them and stealing their cattle.

His words, “the Commissioner of Police, CP Edward Ajogun personally visited the villages and held a meeting with the villagers and the herdsmen to resolve the issue amicably.

 

“From our investigations, we found out that the herdsmen came with the soldiers to inform the villagers about foreign Fulani herdsmen who rustled cattle from them in the past. “We didn’t know what transpired between them, but the issue has been resolved,” Oyeyemi said

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