Alapata of Igboho Land, Oba Joel Olalere Olawuwu
By Frank Meke
OYO west, is a land of milk and honey. Its pristine environment and forests ecosystems are a great source of empirical study of a rich biosphere space, that could stand Nigeria heads up in carbon financing and investment.
These areas also houses one of Nigeria’s oldest national parks, Old OYO National Park, a united Nation Educational and scientific cultural Organisation (unesco) site, particularly the ruins of oldest Yoruba empire, the OYO Empire.
Ever heard of sango, the Yoruba god of thunder? His abode is domiciled within these fringes, the mysticism and awesome historical narratives, still bestrides the struggles and visibilities of these areas and its people, centuries after.
Stories of the warrior Kings and ragents of its diverse cultural backgrounds, are still of strong historical importance and research. The people are great hunters, farmers and Fisher men.
Their women, are source of pride, at day break and dawn, providing for the family and nation. Indeed, this are largely made possible because of the fertile forests ecosystems, and rivers, and lakes which bestrides the vast landscapes.
In terms of geopolitical land mass, these areas comprising notably Igbeti, igboho and Sepeteri, down to kisi, Iseyin can birth a state architecture of their own. It is a wonderious and intriguing why these people are being held down from showcasing their uniqueness and divine abilities.
A story for another day, one must confess. The national interest to which we need highlight here, is the fact that this region due to its unique ecological values, is on the fringe of destruction by fulani cattle herders and their state entrenched untouchables and sponsors.
Our interest is to open up the belly of the ongoing massive ruin and wastage of the one Nigeria’s remaining green biospheres, strategic to national development agenda, particularly in agriculture.
I will be patient to tell you the story of how herds of Cows from across and within Nigerian borders, are deliberately deployed to destroy both the forests value chain, the people and their tradition.
If you stay away from here, I mean from Igbeti, igboho and Sepeteri, which harbours the enclaves of old OYO National Park, Stories of restiveness and strange attacks by fulani cattle herders, may sound to you as a movie flick.
But on ground in these places, which i visited, held town hall conversation and interacted with traditional rulers and youths leaders on the impact of climate change and forceful entry into the protected areas, the fear and possibly reality of another war, between the land owners and land grabbers cum destroyers, may not be too long in coming.
Reasons are not far fetched. There are palpable tension occasioned by deliberate and consistent invasion of the lands by cattle herders, bearing sophisticated guns and war mechanics.
Here Cows are targeted and deployed not as meat and protein for the people, but as a weapons and instruments of forests depletion, pollution and fauna resources elimination.
The fulani cattle herders , particularly from Nigerian bothers with Niger, Mali and up the sahal frontiers, have proven over time that only their Cows matters. They have Nigerian collaborators.
This is how they deploy their Cows as weapons. It is also important to know that the forests under protection by the federal government through the offices of National Park service, in particular by old OYO National Park, is the battle ground.
Randomly and strategically, the roguish and battle tested fulani cattle herders, will block major roads in igbeti and igboho, circle off oyo ile and Sepeteri with over ten thousand Cows, deployed on market days when farmers and also traders, far from iseyin and sometimes kwara , ibadan and lagos, heads out for business.
At each of their well mapped out routes, these bloody sucking herders, will forcefully collect tolls, kidnap and at will, maim innocent rural dwellers and their visitors who dare to challenge their atrocities.
Their Cows are also deliberated deployed to pollute the streams and rivers running the communities, making fisheries resources difficult to thrive. It is a common story line here that rivers here are poisoned by these mercenaries, leaving behind dead waters, not fit for any human purposes.
Within the lush and vast forests ecosystems, these dangerous Cow boys, hide to swing into killer bandits at night, robbing at random and freely, and the Park Rangers who dared challenge them to exist the forest covers, had cut off limbs and deep fatal stabbings to show for their righteous effontry.
These once progressive and peaceful communities now live in dare consequences of unmitigated destruction of their natural resources by these herders who seems to have unending support from invisible but powerful sponsors within government structures.
Surely, their Cows have also become currencies of corruption. These guys from the wilderness of hatred against nature, targets rouge security and political influencers, supplying Cows as gifts at will, buying off willing souls, just to have unhindered access to the forest gold mines, and where their members are arraigned before the courts, trust massive deployment of Cows and cash to either off set fines imposed by the courts or buy freedom.
It’s a hydra headed challenge and to which community leaders whom I spoke to during my visit, dread to imagine. The sing song here, and it’s loud and clear, is that war against these mercenary fulani cattle herders has began in earnest.
Whatever that could be described as peace around here, is that of the grave yard. The beating war drums is an everyday affair, all the communities on red alert against a common foe who has no room as prisoners quarters, nor willing for any truce and exchange of war prisoners. Their trade mark is to leave behind sorrow and blood whenever they are hindered from grazing their Cows or stopped from aiding illegal loggers.
From the communities Intel sources, over twenty thousand Cows are moved in and out of the forests of Igbeti, igboho and Sepeteri at will by the rampaging fulani cattle herders.
Nearby and too far away is kiama and new Bussa in Kwara state, places where their signature of blood and tears, leaves fearful scars hard to believe. Kainji National Park has been destroyed, its luxury multi million naira Oli holiday camp destroyed, its pristine woods harvested, and its shrubs grazed limitlessly.
Park Rangers who dared confront their nefarious activities were gunned down, many kidnapped and yet to be seen. The deployment of Nigerian Army troops to reclaim the green biosphere, is met with stubborn resistance.
These guys are not just cow boys, there are also land grabbers, terrorists against the Nigerian state and her efforts to secure and preserve earth resources.
Having devastated the forests of Kainji, no doubt the rich fertile forests of Oyo West, and its protected nature resources, are high up on the invasion plan.
Oba Joel Olalere , the Alapata of igboho, chief Adediran Ayodele, the siriki of Igbeti land and chief Ganiyu Olaniyan , the Ragent and ogoro of sepeteri land, spoke separately with me on the menace the fulani cattle herders, empowered by Maiyetti Allah leadership to over run their ancestral lands and to which they swore to defend with their blood.
Oba Joel Olalere, the Alapata of igboho captured the mood of the people in an unmistakable bitter narrative. ” our open door and hospitality has been taken for granted by the fulani cattle herders who insists we must hand over our ancestral inheritance or die. But for the fact that we gave our lands for Conservation which has become our albatross, there is no way these land grabbers and destroyers can drive us out of our lands”.
Vexed beyond measures by the effontry of the notorious herders who also rob and miam at will, oba Joel Olalere insist that government must come to flush these nature criminals out of igboho land or the people maybe forced to do the needful.
” we gave our lands up for the peace and progress of Nigeria but these criminals have turned our young persons to orphans. They rape our women at will, destroy our farm yields, poison our rivers and even kill Park Rangers who are mandated to protect the forest ecosystem and honestly but for the patriotic Park officers and our local vigilantees, we would have lost everything.
In same vain, the Siriki of Igbeti land, chief Adediran Ayodele warned that except government is sincere in getting these exploiters of natural and forests resources out of the entire oyo west, peace will continue to elude the area.
” our youths have no jobs and since they want to stay busy by farming and trading in order to keep their eyes away from the protected areas, our only gain is the systematic killing of ourbwomen and young ones by these criminal elements and each time, we cry to government, we are assured only of sweet words and no action”.
“Is it a crime to give our lands for conservation? Is it right to allow strangers with their Cows destroy our environment and communities? Is wrong to work together with government to protect our forests and yet abandoned by same government when it comes to job openings for youths and women? We farm and the fulani cattle herders, destory our farms and when we speak up, some roguish security officers, will turn our case upside-down and against us ” the Siriki of Igbeti land fumed in anger and disappointment.
In sepeteri which houses the Akoto visitors range, similar cry against the fulani cattle herders rings bell. The Ragent of Sepeteri land, chief Ganiyu Olaniyan bemoaned the absence of any federal government intervention as compensation to the vast land given out by the community for conservation.
He said ” we contribute and spends our little resources to help protect these forest enclaves from the fulani invaders and nobody comes here to help us. Though we appreciate and commend officers and men of the national park service but they don’t have enough resources to attend to our developmental needs. Jobs for our children are not forthcoming, and the little we get from our farms, are deliberately destroyed by fulani Cows. Government must do something quick before these areas implodes. We cannot allow strangers to kill us because of our cultural and natural resources inheritance”.
We must tell concerned authorities at both federal and state levels to brace for serious intervention before developmental dislocations which may lead to war breaks out in these places, and; may impede and hinder the growth of green biosphere space in this part of the country. No doubt, Nigerian biosphere spaces have never been so challenged by these forces against nature. Sadly it’s becoming a pattern that must attract a focal security and funding interest.
Government needs an empowered Rangers Corp, fully kitted, armed, well funded and inspired to save and protect our earth resources.