By Ademola Adedoyin
Dear Mr Governor,
I will like to start this letter by stating the obvious: we are in unusual and disturbing times. Our nation is going through a most challenging circumstance perhaps never experienced since the end of the civil war in 1970. Some will even argue that the current tension in the land is probably more precarious than that which led to the outbreak of the civil war in 1967.
Today, our country is under siege, not by external aggressors, but by local merchants of violence, bandits, herders from within and outside Nigeria, who have now found kidnapping more lucrative and rewarding than tending to cattle, and nihilists with no moral scruples who have taken over our forests, raping, killing and generally enthroning anarchy.
In all of this, Mr Governor, our State can be said to be a bit lucky as cases of banditry, kidnapping for ransom, raping and other violent crimes are few and far between. Although they do happen, but certainly not at a scale that would have brought Kwara State to national notoriety as a state under siege.
On the scale of violent crimes in the country, Kwara could still retain its sobriquet of “State of Harmony” at the end of the tally.
This scenario, Mr Governor, I’m afraid, is about to change unless you rise swiftly to the occasion and act decisively to avert the impending calamity in our beloved State.
In specific term, Mr Governor, I will want to zero in on Kwara South Senatorial Zone, specifically Irepodun/Ifelodun Local Government Areas.
What are the issues? As you are already aware, Mr Governor, in the wake of the revolt by the indigenes of Ibarapaland, led by the Yoruba activist, Sunday Igboho, against the marauding Fulani herders who turned the forests in Igangan and other towns in the area into a den of unconscionable violent crimes, many criminal herders were smoked out of their comfort zones and had to seek hibernation elsewhere.
The reality today is that most of these kidnappers and rapists who were displaced from Ibarapaland have found a new home in portions of land between Ilala and Buari in Irepodun Local Government Area of the State.
Although the overwhelming majority of our people rejected the idea of having to play host to such people with disturbing security baggage and questionable backgrounds, the traditional institutions in the two communities had entered into a pact with the displaced Fulani herders in spite of the security challenges they pose, to the discomfort and consternation of their people.
In any case, the matter became a fait accompli following the Federal Government’s position on the matter. The displaced herders have now assumed the status of refugees, with all the rights and privilges as enshrined in the United Nations Convention. In the circumstannce, they now enjoy government patronage, receive relief materials and are generally being looked after.
So today, the Kwara South Senatorial Zone, specifically, Irepodun Local Government, is home to the displaced Fulani herders who were sent packing from Ibarapaland because of series of atrocious crimes and the pains they inflicted on innocent souls in that part of Oyo State.
And that is not all, Mr Governor. In recent weeks, more displaced Bororos of indeterminate nationalities have continued to troop to Kwara State and are settling down with us.
Apparently taking a cue from the Federal Government, the body language and pronouncements of your administration tend to encourage the influx of these alleged herders into our state.
In a press statement from the office of the Secretary to the Kwara State Government, Professor Saba Mamman Jibril a few weeks ago, Kwarans were cautioned against what it described as “xenophobic statements and violence”.
“Our state”, according to the statement”, “is known for peace, harmony, and hospitality to one another and all sojourners among us. Whatever the challenges at this time, we will not accept xenophobic violence or hate speeches that might ignite it”.
The statement went further: “The Government, which has been working with various stakeholders to carefully handle the influx of displaced Fulani herders into the state, is concerned at and accordingly rejects a purported quit notice issued to vulnerable persons who are scampering for refuge in parts of the state. We caution against belligerency of any kind. Kwara is historically renowned to be a peaceful multiethnic state and traditional home of Yorubas, Fulanis, Nupes, Barubas, Bokobarus, Hausas and many others who have lived harmoniously since time immemorial…
“We feel strongly that what the country requires at this time is its people solemnly coming together to heal old wounds and to live together as brothers. Fanning the ember of disunity and violence is dangerous.
“The Government urges everyone to live in and work for peace. Everything is being done at the state and federal levels to resolve security issues. The government therefore needs everyone to avoid anything that could heighten tension or spark off violence”.
The problem with this press release and the mind set that informed it is that, in our bid to be seen as being our brothers keepers, and perhaps to also ensure that we are politically correct, we have failed or neglected to critically study and appreciate the profile and the intention of those who are warming up to us as our brothers.
The concerns raised by the communities that are now compelled to play host to the displaced herders are not unfounded, Mr Governor. The reality, which we must all accept, is that these settlers constitute a serious threat to our safety and well-being. No matter how much we want to be politically correct and tried not to be seen as being at odds with the powerful centre, this is the realty, Mr Governor: we have a major security crisis on our hand with this development.
Indeed, this cold reality stared us in the face in a rude and shocking manner when in the night of penultimate Sunday some yet-to-be apprehended criminals took over the major corridor between Ajasse-Ipo and Okeya-Ipo Road, precisely at a spot between Buari and Okeya-Ipo, blocked the road with logs of wood and were set to commence the nefarious business of depriving people of their lives, limbs and livelihood. The alarm raised by a driver of an oncoming vehicle from Igbaja end, who was fortunate to sight the deadly spot before getting too close, and the timely intervention of the members of the local vigilance group saved the day. The marauders disappeared to their hideaways.
Before the influx of these ‘brothers’, that corridor was so safe and secure that you could drive through it at any time.
Mr Governor, the contention out there is that what happened that Sunday midnight was a dress rehearsal of what to expect in the months ahead unless you rise up to the occasion and act decisively.
It is in this context, and to forestall a situation where our peaceful communities and our forests will become kidnappers’ haven, that we are pleading with you to rework the security structure of the state, particularly the areas that are now being made to host these displaced herders, in such a way that this development is factored into the calculations.
First, Mr Governor, we request for additional reinforcement of Police in Ajasse-Ipo, Okeya-Ipo/ Igbaja axis. We ask that the Police should henceforth embark on a 24-hour patrol along this corridor, extending also to Oro, Omu-Aran, Osi up to our border with Ekiti State.
Second, Mr Governor, our vigilance groups in Kwara South are well organised, disciplined and result-oriented. What they lack however is the logistics. Mr Governor, we plead that you provide these local security outfits with what they require to function more effectively and efficiently. To nip the creeping insecurity threatening the peace of our communities in the bud will require your government providing the needed facilities, equipment and mobility to these vigilance groups.
Third is the empowerment of the local governments. Mr Governor, you will agree that the situation as at today is that local government councils only exist in names in the state. I urge you to empower the local councils as the third arm of government and the closest to the grassroots. A functional and properly funded local government will be in the best position to secure their communities as they understand the terrains and they will be in position to gather credible intelligence that will help to prevent crimes.
Finally, Mr Governor, you will be securing your State and working in the interest of the electorate and the entire populace if you can discourage further influx of displaced herders into the state for now. A situation where displaced herders are storming communities and taking over their land and creating tension, panick and anxiety is certainly not the definition of being one’s brothers keeper.
In any case, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, of which you are a member, has eventually decided in favour of ranching, going forward. Such states as Kano and Bauchi, among others that are putting ranches in place have invited the displaced herders over. Since your Excellencies have all agreed that open grazing will no longer be encouraged, we owe it a duty to encourage the displaced herders to proceed to where they will access facilities to tend their cattle and live in peace.
I will want to leave it at this for now, praying and hoping that God Almighty, who has chosen you to lead Kwara State at this point in our history, will grant you everything you require to keep our state safe, secure and peaceful as it has always been.
Ademola Adedoyin, an Awards winning Journalist and Communication Specialist, wrote in from Lagos