INVESTIGATION: Untold story of Ondo communities battling farmers-herders clash, losing homes and threatening survival

"We can’t go to our farm. They even came close to us in our own village. They killed the only petrol station helping us in this community. Feeding is now difficult for us.."

There have been various insecurity situations in the Northern region of Nigeria, but the invasion of Southwestern communities by armed herdsmen is leaving many jobless, homeless and hopeless. Communities in Ose Local Government Area of Ondo State are ravaged and surrounded by herdsmen who are launching attacks at different times. Our reporter, ADESOLA IKULAJOLU risked a trip to the herdsmen-infested communities- Okeluse, Molege and Arimogija to investigate and bring this report.

It was around 3pm one friday afternoon, this reporter began his journey to the three communities under attack by armed herdsmen.

In January 2022, three communities in Ose Local Government Area of Ondo State- Okeluse, Molege and Arimogija, were invaded by herdsmen who had surrounded the area launching a deadly attack on the residents. Houses were razed and residents were killed leaving many injured and homeless.

These communities are located in a thick bush where WITHIN NIGERIA travelled over one hour on motorbike to get to the community. It costs one thousand naira (N1,000) per person boarding a car, while motorbike is one thousand five hundred naira (N1,500) from Ifon. Ifon community is about 30 minutes drive away from Owo Local Government, the hometown of the current Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State.

For about thirty minutes of the ride towards the Okeluse community, there were no signs of humans neither were there oncoming vehicles nor houses- it made the journey scary- travelling in a silent- thick bush.

It was also obvious that no one travels that route alone because of the fear of being kidnapped. Only an old looking inscription-board placed by the roadside announces the entrance of the different communities.

Mrs. Oladunni Felicia was sitted in front of her friend’s shop in Okeluse community in Ose Local Government of Ondo State where her thoughts are filled with what to feed on for the day. She is yet to recover from the shock and loss of the recent herdsmen.

Iyaloja of Okeluse.

Mrs. Felicia is a farmer and head of the market women in Okeluse, she has been displaced from her farm by herdsmen who previously invaded the Okeluse community. She has not only lost her farm to the fear of herdsmen but also lost every means of her livelihood including her movements to market.
Like Mrs. Felicia, there are many others whose businesses have been put on hold due the recent unannounced attacks by the armed herdsmen.

“Since last year, we have not been at peace  in Okeluse. The suffering we go through in the hands of the herdsmen. They kidnap our people. It is now difficult to fetch water from the river and even to get food. They have also taken over our farmlands.”

“We can’t go to our farm. They even came close to us in our own village. They killed the only petrol station helping us in this community. Feeding is now difficult for us in Okeluse,” Mrs. Felicia lamented.

Three Communities, Three Different Attacks

On the night of January 6, 2022 herdsmen attacked Molege community. They killed three persons and razed houses because the people refused to allow them to graze on their farms. The herdsmen numbering over 50 invaded the community with AK-47.

According to the Coordinator of the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), Folorunso Olofe, in a report, revealed that the gunmen were always attacking with AK-47 and in the last attack in Molege community, the armed herdsmen killed the traditional ruler in that area. On the same day, within 15 minutes of launching the previous attack and killing residents, the armed herdsmen returned to set houses on fire.

About 72hrs after the herdsmen attacked Molege community, another attack was launched on the residents of Arimogija community. On that sad Monday 8th January, 2022, the herdsmen killed over five persons with many injured.

While many thought the attacks would end, the herdsmen struck again in another neighboring community, Okeluse where they killed three persons. It was just ten days after the previous attacks in Molege and Arimogija communities respectively.

While on the journey to these herdsmen infested communities, WITHIN NIGERIA discovered that the three communities are on the same route with less than thirty minutes drive away from each other. For anyone coming from the Ose Local Government secretariat, Arimogija is the first on the route, followed by Molege while Okeluse is at the far end- all surrounded by thick forest.

Mr. Aborowa Oladimeji had just closed the day’s business on the 20th of January, 2022, at his popular petrol station in Okeluse community- just at the entrance of the town. That night around 9pm, with two other staff of his petrol station. Mr Oladimeji also popularly called “Popular” was shot at close range. He died on the spot. They were attacked by fully armed herdsmen who came on three motorcycles that night.

“They killed the only petrol owner we have in Okeluse. They killed his workers too and now the community is in total fear. Nobody can challenge them because we don’t know whom they will kill next, nobody wants to die,” Mrs Felicia told WITHIN NIGERIA.

In a space of 10 days that the armed herdsmen launched on the three communities, about 10 residents had been killed including a paramount ruler in Molege while hundreds of people had been rendered homeless.

Farmers Can’t Go To Farm, Business Crippled

In Arimogija, armed herdsmen attacked farmers while on their farms. The herdsmen killed the community youth leader, Lucky Augustine after laying siege on the farmers and members of the vigilante who went to defend their lands.

These attacks have sent many farmers away from their farms.  This is the same situation in the three communities- no farmer can go to farm out of the fear of being attacked or kidnapped by armed herdsmen.

Mrs. Felicia told WITHIN NIGERIA that she has been finding it difficult to feed since the different attacks took place and her businesses are crippled.

“I can’t even feed myself. I beg before I can eat a day meal; anyone that gives me #10, #20 I will collect it and gather it together for me to feed for the day. We can’t go to our farms. My source of livelihood has been invaded by the herdsmen and now their route for kidnapping.

“The suffering inflicted on us by the Herdsmen is too much. It is as if we are not part of Nigeria. Nobody can go to fetch water or go to the market.”

An elder in Okeluse, Chief Benjamin Ojo lamented the effect of the attacks, stating that the herdsmen have destroyed their farms and no one can freely go tIkulajolu

Shops closed in Arimogija community. Credit: Adesola Ikulajolu

“They have taken over all the land for farming in the community. Presently, no farmer can go to the farm again, even the crops in the farm have been destroyed by the herdsmen. We are begging the government to come to our aid, especially in terms of security. The farmers now have no opportunity to go to their farms to cultivate or even harvest.”

Farming is a major occupation in Okeluse, Molege and Arimogija. They plant Plantain, cocoa, cassava and different fruits out of which both men and women cultivate.

Many businesses have been crippled in the communities due to the activities of the herdsmen. When this reporter visited the community, men and women were seen sitting in their numbers when many of them could have gone about their daily businesses.

Banji Adelowo whose major source of livelihood is farming and hunting can no longer go to farm nor can he enter the bush to hunt for animals. His plaintain farm has been destroyed by herdsmen and he dares not challenge them talkless of entering into the farm.

“They will just enter people’s farms and destroy them without a reason. They will take their cows to the farm, they will eat our crops and there is nothing we can do,” Mr Banji lamented to WITHIN NIGERIA.

Mr Dele Ajibola who is a driver narrated how the fear of the herdsmen is making his business difficult. Although, on the day this reporter met him, he was driving his rugged-looking Nissan. He said he uses the car to pack loads for farmers and during harvest he would have enough customers. Since farms are being destroyed and people are being kidnapped, his business has crippled.

“I can’t go to work again, I am always scared because they can kill me or kidnap me. The farmers that used to patronise me no longer go to farm. They used to kidnap along this Arimogija road and everyone is scared,” Mr Dele said.

Like Mrs Felicia whose means of livelihood has been threatened, many other residents of Okeluse, Molege and Arimogija are forced to sit at home.

Another driver who spoke to WITHIN NIGERIA narrated how a local mechanic was kidnapped by the herdsmen and a ransom of 20 Million was demanded. Mr. Ike Uchendu who said the kidnapped man, one Mr. Adebayo cannot afford such an amount and his colleagues began contributing for his release.

Mr. Ike is conversant with the Owo-Ifon-Okeluse road where he has witnessed several incidents and spoken to different victims who had narrated their ordeals to him in his commercial vehicle while commuting.

“I went to Molege, they kidnapped a particular car and took everyone in the car- they left the car. Police came from Akure, they said they can’t enter the bush. They towed the car away to Akure. That is why anywhere I get to by evening, I will sleep there.”

“They kidnapped Mr. Adebayo, a panel beater along seba road, they (kidnappers) are demanding almost 20 Million. Where will he get such, we were rallying round and it was the artisans that contributed some money.”

Poor network service is another problem the people had to deal with in the three communities, hence, making it difficult to call for security reinforcement at any time.

Residents Fleeing Their Homes

The trauma left behind by these recent attacks are unbearable for the residents of the three communities. Many had fled their homes in search of a safe haven while still battling with survival.

When WITHIN NIGERIA visited Molege community, there was no sight of humans in the place visited- it was close to the area where houses were burnt. The motorcycle rider who drove the reporter loudly warned that our stay must not be beyond three minutes because the herdsmen are always hiding around the bushes to kidnap.

This corroborates what Mr. Dele had earlier said that people get missing every week along that route while farmers are kidnapped on their farm and sometimes killed without the people being aware.

“They still kidnapped this week, at least one person goes missing either the people know or not. They kidnapped some people and demanded for ransome, the family informed the Army and when the army came to face them, they killed one soldier because they shot him in the chest. The bike that went to deliver the ransom was seized by the herdsmen. People are running away from this place because of fear,” Mr. Dele narrated.

Chief Benjamin in Okeluse said since the herdsmen now focus attacks on the people by kidnapping and killing farmers, many of them are leaving the community.

Chief Akogun Jacob, a  retired Police Superintendent said the communities are only trying to survive since the herdsmen attacks became more pronounced.

Farmers-Herders Conflict, Inadequate Police Officers

Cows grazing round the forest between Molege and Okeluse. Credit: Adesola Ikulajolu

Conflict between farmers and herders is one of the most potent threats to security in Nigeria, killing more people. Research also showed that about 1,300 people died in the first half of 2018 due to the incessant clash.

Report according to Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED), revealed that more than 8,343 persons have been killed in the farmers-herders conflict since 2005.

Herdsmen attacks and invasion in Ondo State was not pronounced until 2015 when armed men abducted a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief  Olu Falae in his farm. The state is now more porous to herdsmen attacks.

While Okeluse is a border town between Ondo State and Edo State, there is only one police officer in the community. This does not only pose a threat to the security of life and properties of the people, it gives room for uninterrupted invasion of criminals into the community.

The responsibility of the Nigeria Police Force is to prevent crime, apprehend offenders and protect life and properties of citizens. This responsibility is not evident in the three herdsmen infested communities in Ose Local Government Area of Ondo State- Arimogija, Molege and Okeluse.

“ Okeluse is exposed to lots of dangers, we are having only just one policeman. This community is a border town between Ondo State and Edo where we are supposed to have a police mobile checkpoint that will have about 8-10 policemen but ours is different, we have only one police man at Okeluse here,” Chief Benjamin lamented.

Corroborating what Chief Benjamin said, Mr. Ike added that “the community needs enough security if they really want to face those herdsmen.”

Violation Of Global Standard

The presence of one police officer in the Okeluse community is a violation of the Police to Population  ratio by the United Nations (UN). The UN standard for police to population is one police officer for four hundred and fifty citizens (1:450).

With a staff strength of about three hundred and seventy-one thousand, eight hundred (371,800) police officers in Nigeria and a population estimate of over two hundred million (202,176,065)’ the police to population ratio is- one police officer to five hundred and forty citizen (1:540) in Nigeria.

This violation of standard is largely affecting communities like Molege, Arimogija and Molege with no police stations nor sufficient police officers to carry out primary security duties. Security experts have faulted the violation of this global standard.

Despite the alarming rate of robberies, kidnappings, insurgencies, farmers-herders clash and other criminal activities in Nigeria, the Police Service Commission (PSC) according to a report published by The Guardian stated that as of 2018, more than 150,000 policemen were attached to VIPs and unauthorized persons in the country. The implication is that for every police officer attached to VIPs, about 450 citizens are denied access to police security in the country.

Government’s Efforts

The residents of the three communities have since the attacks continued to call on the government for help. Ondo State Governor, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu visited the scene of the attack in Molege where he promised that the perpetrators will be brought to book.

Despite the Ondo State government signing the anti-grazing law, herdsmen had continued to move freely within the State, grazing on farmlands, destroying crops and attacking farmers.

In another statement, the Ondo State Commissioner of Police, Mr Oyeyemi Oyediran, through the Public Relations Officer, Mrs Funmilayo Odunlami, said  all those involved in the act will be prosecuted and Special Squads will be deployed to the area.

A part of the statement reads: “The CP has vowed to arrest and prosecute all those involved in the evil act accordingly and immediately deployed men of the Special Squads and PMF personnel to the community to ensure the protection of lives and property in the area.”

Youth Secretary of Arimogija, Mr Nweke Izuchukwu Jude, attributed the various attacks around the community to the absence of security operatives. No police checkpoint, no adequate officers; the people are left to find their own protection while the State is also opposed to self-defense.

It is over two months now since the attack, but no sight of security checkpoints being moved or created in these three communities. Although a resident confirmed that the Amotekun operatives live within the community, it is obvious that it is not enough.

The Ondo State Police is yet to keep to its promise of deploying Special Squads to the affected areas. The residents are pleading for more government’s efforts to help protect the communities.

“We beg the government to come to our aid and. Government should help us financially, in security and otherwise,” Chief Benjamin pleaded to the government on behalf of his people.

Mrs. Felicia also begged the government to come to their rescue and save the communities from slavery and suffering.

.. “Security On Ground, Many Kidnappers Arrested”- Amotekun Commander, Police

WITHIN NIGERIA spoke to the Commander of Amotekun Corps in Ondo State, Tunji Adeleye where he explained that his men and other military personnel are on ground to guard the communities and farmers are back to their farms.

“Old News. Farmers are back. Amotekun and the military have been on the ground since 3 weeks ago. Many kidnappers were arrested,” Commander Adeleye told  WITHIN NIGERIA.

The Public Relations Officer of Ondo State, Mrs Funmilayo Odunlami when contacted said officers have been permanently stationed in the three communities.

” Our men have been there permanently to ensure the safety of lives and properties. We have our men on standby.”

The police PRO further told WITHIN NIGERIA that “There is an outpost around Okeluse. Our men from the Special Squad have been there”

While both Amotekun Security corps and the Ondo State police claimed that there is adequate security in Okeluse, Molege and Arimogija, residents told WITHIN NIGERIA that their safety and means of livelihood is still being threatened by the armed herdsmen- this was confirmed through our visit to the affected areas. Farmers can’t go to farm, women can’t go to market and the communities still live in fear.

In an attempt to be security conscious and protect themselves, some residents are becoming hostile to strangers who visit the communities. Some who spoke to WITHIN NIGERIA demanded that their identity be kept anonymous, hence we gave them a different name in this report



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