SPECIAL REPORT: Ogun residents panic as herdsmen from Benin Republic, other African countries take over forest reserve

By Abdulqudus Ogundapo

“I was ten-year-old when two herdsmen ganged raped me. I was helpless, my mother, father and brother were tied up with rope. It was a bad experience I never wish to share with anybody,” said, a rape victim who identified herself as Esther.

Esther told our reporter that she was sexually assaulted in the presence of her parent who were tied with a strong rope. The victim said, she was raped in her parent’s house at Idufe before they relocated to Imeko.

While narrating her experience, Esther wept bitterly.

“They left me bleeding at the middle of the night, but I was later treated with local herbs. I am better now. It is worrisome, I feel bad anytime this issue is being discussed. It is disturbing.

Deserted Houses at Iwoye Ketu. They were chased from their home by herders.

Like Esther, many residents of communities close to the Imeko forest reserve, in Imeko -Afon Local Government area of Ogun State, have some bitter tales to tell of their experience with herdsmen they alleged to be foreigners.

Residents who spoke to this reporter alleged that herdsmen from Benin-Republic, Burkinafo, Mali and Niger perpetrate crimes ranging from raping, killing to robbery in their communities.

The residents also indicted Fulani herdsmen who found their way to Imeko-Afon through a forest that links Ogun State with Saki, Igboora and other parts of Oyo State.

Iwoye, Iyana wasi, Idufe, Igbo nla, Junction, Jabata, Imeko, Lakosha, Ilara, Idofa, Obada, Olorunda and Oha are villages within the Imeko-Afon Local Government under threats  of herdsmen and are situated along the Imeko Forest Reserve.

 

Our correspondence reports that the state owned forest reserve has turned to a ‘no go area’ as herdsmen have allegedly turned the reserve to a dungeon.

This development is against the Forestry Law Cap.39, No.1, Laws of Ogun State, 1970 clearly states that, pasturing cattle or permitting cattle to trespass in the reserve is an offence.

Section 47 (b) of the Forestry law stated that ‘Any person who alters, removes, destroys or defaces any such marked place for forest produce or any boundary marked of a forest or of any land proposed to be included forest shall be liable to a fine of two hundred naira or imprisonment for two years or to both’.

Deserted Houses at Iwoye Ketu. They were chased from their home by herders.

The Imeko Forest Reserve
An elder in Imeko who does not want his name mentioned for security reasons told our reporter that Imeko Forest Reserve has 378 square miles and was divided into five parts.

It is the second largest Forest Reserve in Ogun State and shares boundary with Opara Forest Reserve, the largest reserve in Southern Nigeria.

The elder added that, a portion of the forest reserve known as men to be game reserve was established to be a game reserve but ceased to exist.

“From 1908 – 1930’s, wild animals such as elephants, buffalo, giraffe, hyenna among others existed at the forest reserve but presently they were no where to be found.

“In 1912 , Onimeko Durodolu and his chiefs constituted by colonial masters gazetted the forest reserve. In 1930, Onimeko Durosinmi Okunade Oyekan extended the Imeko Forest Reserve.

“In 1934, Odugbe Forest Reserve was released by Onimeko Okunade Oyekan and Baale Alaye of Iwoye”.

The elder listed names forest reserve as: Omododoshe Imeko I Forest Reserve, Abafon Imeko II Forest Reserve, Oha Imeko III Forest Reserve, Men to be game reserve and Imeko extension Forest Reserve located in Jabata area of Imeko-Afon Local Government area of Ogun State.

Journey to Imeko Forest Reserve
The route from Iwoye, Iyana Wasi, Idufe, Igbo Nla, Junction to Jabata is the major road that leads to the Imeko Forest Reserve. The Forest Reserve is situated within Jabata village.

On his way to the reserve, this reporter was accosted by some indigenous security personnel popularly known as So-Safe Corps in Iwoye-Ketu.

The indigenous security personnel warned the Journalist not to go beyond an area popularly called Agric, due to the insecurity posed by herdsmen along the reserve.

Agric is an area where a farm owned by Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB) in situated. The area is situated at the outskirt of Iwoye.

The Corps told this reporter that, herdsmen have taken over Jabata village including the forest reserve and they have stationed themselves in the forest. They hinted that, the herders are ready to attack anyone that comes their way.

One of the Corps member who spoke on condition of anonymity told this Journalist that “From Iyana Wasi, Idufe, Junction to Jabata. All these villages have been hijacked by herdsmen.

“The Forest Reserve has been over throne, I won’t deceive you my son. The reserve has been hijacked by those herdsmen. They have killed many indigenes, machete many farmers to death. I will not tell you lies, we have recorded over forty death from January till date”.

This Journalist aborted his journey to Jabata when he sighted an herdsman struggling to drag his cattle in a bush around Agric area.

 

Jabata – Iwoye world
The situation of Iwoye is similar to that of Jabata village. Bad roads, unsecured environment, dilapidated houses, lack of electricity, substandard medical centers, all these seemed to have been neglected by the government and above all, they share the community with some dreaded herdsmen.

The Alaye of Alaja, Ooye of Iwoye, King Joel Aremu hinted that the herdsmen migrated from Mali, and Niger to graze cattle in the area.

The Monarch appealed to the state  Governor,  Dapo Abiodun to find a  quick solution to the ravaging herdsmen.

Oba Aremu  said “Our farmlands have been hijacked by the herdsmen. We have two species of herdsmen in Iwoye; some migrated from Mali and some from Niger. They graze cattle from their countries down to this place, though some of them are not armed but we have some of them that are armed and they are the ones that enter our communities to cause chaos. We don’t even have customs officers here to check and stop them.

“The herdsmen have dominated our land. Fom Iwoye to Imeko, to Obada , Olorunda , Ilara, Idofa , all these communities are really suffering in the hand of these herdsmen”.

Also, the Community Development Area Chairman of Iwoye-Ketu, Hammed Ismaila told our reporter that, herdsmen have killed over forty indgines of Iwoye-Ketu.

He claimed that, the community had called on the state government and security agencies for intervention but all their efforts were to no avail.

“From January till date, we have recorded  death of over 40 persons in  series of attacks  by herdsmen, Injured victims are uncountable. Some were machetted to death inside their farms while many others were attacked on their way home.

“We have cried to the government, we have appealed to them but all to no avail. We do not even have security personnel in our communities, so tell me what would happen to a community under the threat of herdsmen without security agencies. We need armed security personnel in Iwoye.”

Lakosha Valley
Lakosha is a village in the Imeko-Afon area, mostly dominated by farmers. There are three dams in Lakosha village.

One of the community development association leaders who pleaded anonymity told our reporter that, some herdsmen lived in the valley portion of Lakosha village.

“You will see them when you get to the valley. That is where they are living now. They are very dangerous and have killed many of our people.

Deserted house

“Most of them are not even Nigerians, some came from Benin-Republic, Burkinafo, Mali while some came from Oyo State”.

When this reporter visited Lakosha village, herdsmen were moving freely with armed equipment on their hands, some of the herdsmen were riding motorcycles around the village with sword tied to their motorcycles, abandoned huts with local kitchen and local chair built by the herdsmen were also sighted within the village.

On his way to the valley portion of Lakosha, this reporter met some farmers who warned that he should not go beyond the route that directly leads to the valley. The farmers told this reporter that the herdsmen have vowed to kill anybody who invades their dungeon.

 

Victims recount ordeal
Akinwande Micheal is a father of two children who manage his farming business with a corporative loan. His farm is situated within the Lakosha village in Imeko-Afon.

Paying back the loan made Michael joined the Oduduwa Investment Company Limited as a farmer.

His farm produce was destroyed when herdsmen grazed cattle on his farmland om September 20, 2020.

He said, “My farmland is made up of Tomatoes, pepper, corn and Cassava. All the goods worth about N350,000 when harvested.

“What pained me most was that I borrowed the money I used in running the farm business from a corporative and I’m yet to pay the loan back.In fact, that loan made me join farmers at Oduduwa here”.

Another victim, Ilori John claimed that, he lost farm products when herdsmen grazed cattle on his farmland.

John, a native of Idufe told our reporter that he and his family deserted their home in Idufe and relocated to Imeko after he lost his farm produce.

“I have gone through hell in the hands of those people you just mentioned. I always feel sad each time I remember that my family and I left Idufe, the village where I was born with tears.

“I have two plots of land where I cultivate cassava and pepper. Suddenly, everything went away within one day.

“After I’ve lost my means of survival, a friend told me to relocate to his family house in Imeko and here I am with my family”. John said.

 

Herdsmen gang raped me, collected N60,000 from me , says mother of three children
Another rape victim, who simply identified herself as Mrs Biodun is a mother of three children who was also raped by herdsmen.

She told our reporter that, herdsmen gang raped her while she was returning home from the market. She claimed that , they also forcefully collected N60,000 from her.

“On that day, I was returning home from the market before they attacked me at the bush path.

“They were three in number. They were grazing cattle on a farm while I was going on my own. Suddenly one of them held me from the back and pull me to the floor.

“They did not stop at that, they also forcefully collected the money I earned at the market on that day. The total money with me on that day is N60,000.

“The incident happened on July 13, 2019. I was returning from the market, I sell at pedepo market in Iwoye before they attacked me. Yes, I reported to the security but nothing was done till this moment”.

Seven herdsmen macheted my twin brother to death – Taiwo
Taiwo Odunayo told our reporter that his twin brother, Kehinde was macheted to death by seven herdsmen.

He added that , his deceased twin brother was machete to death in their farm situated within Jabata village.

Odunayo claimed that he was in the farm with his deceased twin brother when herdsmen were grazing cattle on their farm.

“Kehinde and I were on the farm in Jabata together before they arrived with their cattle. As they were grazing our farm, Kehinde was annoyed and as such he left where we were standing to challenge them. The next thing they did was that, they attacked him with machete.

“Yes, I saw them. They were seven armed herdsmen. Initially, I told him not to go but he refused, we never knew that would be our last discussion.

“Since then, I have been running for my life because I have been warned,  that was why i did not want to speak with you”

Another machete victim, who identified himself as Biodun claimed that he escaped sudden death when herdsmen attacked him on his farm.

He said “On August 15, 2020, group of herdsmen attacked me on my farm in Idufe. My tomatoes just started germinating , so I went to uproot the weeds. I was busy uprooting weeds at the tomatoes farm when they arrived.

“I did not understand what they were telling me, I was even pleading to them but one of them went angry, he just brought out machete from one sack and hit the machete on my hand.

“I reported to the Baale, but nothing was done. Those people are very wicked. Till today, I used to thank God that they did not kill me, I have heard series of cases like that, some of my colleagues were even their victims and they are dead today”.

Kara Market
It was a rowdy session. Herdsmen were moving their cattle to the point of sale. On this day, herdsmen turned to cattle sellers. Wednesday, October 7, 2020 was a market day in Iwoye.

At the Kara Market, this reporter disguised to have come to purchase a cow. In the process of transaction with one of the herdsmen, our reporter requested that he should give him phone number, the herdsman said he doesn’t have Nigeria number on his phone.

When asked which country number he has on his phone, the herdsman said he uses Benin – Republic phone number.

As the transaction goes deeper, this Journalist requested for the foreign number but he declined saying he did not know his number.

An attempt by this reporter to dial the herder’s number on his phone was rebuffed. The herdsman collected his phone saying he did not trust him. This journalist left on the excuse that he wants to withdraw some money.

We are not aware that herdsmen have sacked forest villages – Ogun Govt.
Despite the resident’s claims to have called on the government for assistance, Ogun State Government said, no official report was submitted to the government as regards herdsmen sacking villages that leads to the forest reserve.

The State Government stated that, herdsmen have been living in harmony with residents of forest communities.

The Special adviser to Governor Dapo Abiodun on Public Communications, Remmy Hazzan told our reporter that, “This is Ogun State , every villages have traditional head who report hierarchy to other traditional ruler and I know that quite number of herdsmen are around that axis and they have been living in harmony with their host communities, but the things that degenerated into the level where the strangers will now sack those who are the real indigenes , that’s calls for concerns. I am not aware of that .

“I am aware that there have been instances where they were clashes between farmers and nomadic herdsmen, those who are not resident with them, there are those who are residents among the communities there, there are those who come and go , who cause some of these occasional clashes. Even while I was in the House of Assembly, this was an occurrence that even the parliament had to intervene in , so this dimension that you’re mentioning , I am not aware of it. However, the fact that it is mention this way means that as a state we need to do something but nothing of such that I am aware of has been reported officially”.

Meanwhile, several attempts to get a reaction from the state ministry of forestry failed as the commissioner did not respond to calls and message sent to his line.

“Support for this report was provided by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ)’ through funding support from Ford Foundation.”

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