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Bandits Republic: Apprehension as ransom-demanding Fulani gangsters’ siege grows in S’West

Ayodele Olalere

That the South-west of Nigeria is increasingly under threat by Fulani terrorists and kidnappers is not an understatement. From Ondo to Oyo, Osun and Ogun states, occurrences since the beginning of this year have indicated the region is increasingly at the mercy of bandits who have extended their criminal activities from the northern parts of the country to the once peaceful South-west.

Residents of communities in the South-west are beginning to feel more intense heat. Farmers, residents and commuters now live in fear of being kidnapped by Fulani raiders.

Like the situation in the North, kidnapping for ransom and killings in South-west are becoming normal.

Kidnappers lurk around highways, most especially those with fewer vehicular movements and pounce on helpless travellers, taking them deep into the bushes and then demanding ransom. In several cases, victims are killed when the ransom is not paid and in some other cases where ransoms are paid, the hapless victims are still murdered.

The bandits have been unleashing terror in the South-west Ondo and Oyo states in the last few years but they appear in recent weeks to have struck gold in Ogun State.

An intending couple was kidnapped at Rounda on the outskirts of Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital in November. The victims were held in the bush for a week and only released after the families and friends had coughed out the N5 million ransom demanded by the abductors.

While in captivity, the abductors warned the families of the duo to involve the police and risk losing them.

The N5 million ransom was delivered to the kidnappers in a forest off the Abeokuta-Igbo-Ora Road by a relative of one of the victims who was made to trek deep into the forest for three hours.

The Rounda incident was an indication that cells of the Fulani bandits had developed around the Ogun State capital.

Worshippers who went for a church event in Wasinmi community near Abeokuta on November 23 had the solemnity of their gathering desecrated when armed men stormed the prayer ground and raided the worshippers, collecting cash, phones and other valuables.

Some of the pastors and worshippers were attacked with machetes while two middle-aged women and wife of a top pastor were taken away by the armed men.

The attackers, identified as Fulani men, came about 1:00 am and fired gunshots sporadically into the air before storming the chalets and robbed the occupants before taking away the women.

“I was in the auditorium of the church. The armed Fulani men came around 1:00 am. They attacked me. They divided themselves. Four of them were in the hall. Another four went into the rooms and raided the women. They used cutlass on me. I was bleeding. They did not stop. I was asked to lead them to the rooms and knock the doors of pastors,” Pastor Sanyaolu who was a victim recounted the incident.

Although three of the Fulani men were later arrested and handed over to the police, the women were reportedly kept in the bush all through the nights by other members of the gang.

The abductors later called relatives of the victims demanding N2 million ransom before they could release their captives.

In another incident on October 31, two farmers, Oriade Wasiu and Rasheed Abimbola and one farmworker were also abducted by bandits in Ogun State and kept for four days until the abductors collected N3.5 million ransom before setting them free.

“We were on the farm on Saturday, October 31, 2020; we are three who bought the land for the farm. Two of us were on our farms because the farms are in a cluster. My elder brother and I were on the farm, but my friend was not there. As I was attempting to open the gate, I saw two of the bandits with guns. They had hoods covering their faces with only their eyeballs visible.

“They first told us that they were hired to kill us, but if we could provide N100 million, they would spare us. The following day, they reduced it to N50m. They spoke in Pidgin English. They beat us before and after they allowed us to speak with our relatives on the phone.

“They beat us every day till Tuesday evening when they released us. They kidnapped three of us. My elder brother,  I and one of my friend’s workers. He tried to escape, but he was caught in the bush.”

“They collected N3.5 million. Our families tried to rescue us, but the kidnappers did not stay up to 10 minutes at a spot before they took us to another place. All the efforts of the police proved abortive. My friend provided some money and our family members contributed.

“The kidnappers were nine. They are between the ages of 20 and 30. They were very active and were not tired at all. We could not withstand what we went through,” one of the victims lamented.

The bandits again struck early December. First, they had stormed a ranch near Awowo community, less than 20 minutes drive to Abeokuta. They missed the farm owner who decided to recruit a local hunter to accompany him on his next visit to the ranch.

While at the ranch, the bandits struck and the local hunter said with the capacity of guns in possession of the unwanted visitors, he felt it would be suicidal to reach for his dane gun.

The driver of the ranch owner slumped out of fear and died on sighting the bandits who injured and then kidnapped his boss and the hunter. The two were taken into the bush where they held until the payment of millions of naira ransom.

The incident reportedly sparked tension and violence in Awowo as youths in the community killed several cows belonging to  Fulani herders who had been living in the area for years as well as those of itinerant herders passing through the community.

For several days, policemen were deployed in the community to restore peace.

Many residents in Awowo and adjoining villages abandoned their homes in fear of reprisal attacks.

As tension pervaded the area, the bandits were unperturbed. They still found their way into nearby Akinale community where they burgled a restaurant located on the Lago-Abeokuta Highway and carted away food items.

They also attacked a drinking parlour near Awowo after the policemen had been withdrawn from the scene. One of the bandits was reportedly arrested and taken to the Ogun State Police Command headquarters at Eleweran, Abeokuta.

Not a few farmers and residents in the areas believe the menace of the Fulani bandits is over. Some of the villagers who fled their homes are now returning but still apprehensive they could be kidnapped.

Local hunters and vigilantes combed the bushes for several nights in an attempt to apprehend the criminals.

The Nigerian Xpress gathered that the traditional rulers in the communities had begun to take measures to secure their people.

The Wasinmi-Akinale-Awowo incidents were not happenstance. The Fulani gangsters’ threat is fast becoming a trend.

Earlier in the year, one person was reportedly killed and a female police officer abducted while two other persons were injured in separate attacks in the state by suspected bandits. Another passenger in a commercial vehicle was also attacked on the way from Abeokuta to Ayetoro with the driver shot dead on the spot.

The federal lawmaker representing Egbado North/Imeko Afon Federal Constituency in Ogun State, Olaifa Jimoh Aremu earlier in the year lamented the spate of attacks by the Fulani bandits.

“I am sad to formally bring to the public notice of an unacceptable renewed onslaught of Fulani bandits on my constituents of Egbado North/Imeko Afon Federal Constituency in Ogun State. While my people like others globally are grappling with the troubling effects of COVID – 19 pandemic, no fewer than three cases of attacks were recorded on the Abeokuta – Olorunda – Aiyetoro/Imeko Road in the last four days, all in the hand of these tormenting Fulani bandits.

Oyo State is not faring better. In Igangan, a town in Oyo State, a farmer who is also a politician was attacked and shot in his farm two weeks ago and valuables stolen from him. He was rushed to a hospital in Igbo-Ora where he was pronounced dead.

In September 2020, the Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, Iba Gani Adams, had raised the alarm over reported cases of Fulani terrorists who had taken over Kishi, the headquarters of Irepodun Local Government Area of Oyo State.

According to the Aare Ona Kakanfo, the influx of Fulani bandits into Oyo communities, regarded as the food baskets of the state, and other South-west states, posed a great danger to the security of the region as the bandits had started kidnapping residents for ransom.

“The records are there. The recent intelligence report from Kishi is too frightening because terrorists have taken over the area with the number of victims growing by the day. We need to react to these senseless killings because of the timing and exigencies. I have sent the report to the Oyo State governor, Engineer Seyi Makinde.

”The Aare-in-Council had earlier raised the alarm on the infiltration of killer herdsmen and terrorists in the region. Over 500 power bikes and assorted arms belonging to the terrorists have been physically sighted along the abandoned Lusada route moving towards Sokoto from Igbo Ora in Oyo State,” Adams said.

Supporting the report of the influx of Fulani bandits into Oyo State, the traditional ruler of Kishi, Oba Moshood Oyekola Lawal, Arowoduye II said the bandits were causing havoc in the locality.

“They are bandits. Truly, they came. They are like the bandits in Zamfara State. We are up to the task. We’ve repelled them. The dwellers are now at peace. However, we still need government support. We are ready to defend ourselves,” the monarch said.

The menace of Fulani bandits in South-west began in Ondo State. The former presidential candidate of the Alliance for Democracy in 1999, Chief Olu Falae was kidnapped in his farm in Ondo in 2015 by some Fulani bandits. Recently, the elder statesman raised the alarm over invasion of his farm for the second time by Fulani herdsmen in Ondo State. He said Fulani herdsmen should not be allowed to kidnap him again for the second time as they did in September 2015.

According to Falae, Fulani herdsmen came into his maize farm twice to eat up and trample large sections of the farm. He said he reported the incidents to Alhaji Bello, Chairman Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association for Ondo State, but that nothing had happened.

He added that the Fulani herdsmen attacked his citrus farm harvesting oranges, stealing and destroying what they could not carry away. He said although the police on security duty on the farm were sent to drive the herdsmen away, they had been coming back every night to attack his workers in the camp, breaking their doors and carting away their belongings.

Apart from Falae, other notable personalities had also fallen victim. In November, gunmen shot dead a foremost traditional ruler in Ondo State, Oba Israel Adeusi. The deceased Oba Adeusi was the Olufon of Ifon. He ascended the throne 23 years ago.

The king was killed while returning from Akure when his official car was attacked by gunmen about 4.00 pm along Elegbeka Road.

As if that was not enough, the same day, the wife of Olugbenga Ale, Chief of Staff to Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, was abducted by gunmen. She was kidnapped with her driver and one other person along Ondo-Akure Expressway at the Owena area of Idanre Local Government Area.

It took the intervention of Amotekun, the security outfits established by state governors in the region, and local hunters to rescue the victims two days later.

The daughter of the leader of the Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, Mrs Funke Olakunrin, was brutally murdered by suspected Fulani bandits in Ondo State in 2019.

 She was shot dead when her car was attacked near Ore Junction during a return trip from Akure, Ondo State to Lagos.

In March 2020, a member of Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), Sola Oguntade, was also reportedly attacked by suspected Fulani bandits in Araromi area of Oba-Ile in Akure North area of Ondo State. The victim, who was a commercial motorcyclist was attacked at Owode/Araromi axis along Airport Road while working with his motorcycle.

He was reportedly flagged down by two Fulani men opposite the Police Area Command office, and in the process of requesting for their fares after taking the passengers to Osi junction, three others came out from the bush and attacked him.  He was shot at severally but when the bullets did not affect him, the attackers hit him with planks and went away with his proceeds for the day.

In April, residents of Arimogija community in the Ose Local Government Area of Ondo State began fleeing the community following the fear of attacks by suspected bandits.

According to the residents, three persons were killed on their farms by the Fulani criminals.

“The Fulani herdsmen have killed three people in the community in one week. They killed a rice farmer, Jacob Odushe and his son, Adura this week. They killed another boy, Victor Ejeh. The boy’s corpse was found in the bush a week after he was declared missing. The cuts on his body showed that he was killed by the bandits.

“We appeal to the state government to come to our aid. We need a serious presence of security agencies in our community. We don’t want to take the law into our hands,” one of the residents in the community lamented.

To curb the menace of the bandits, governors of the South-west recently established a local security outfit, Amotekun, in their respective states. Apart from Lagos State, that is yet to establish the outfit, other states have inaugurated theirs. The mandate was to complement the police’s efforts in securing lives and property.

Though there have been relative successes by the Amotekun such as the arrest of some suspects involved in the killing of Olufon of Ifon in Ondo, many are still not convinced about the ability of the security outfit to combat the bandits.

People are becoming worried as banditry is spreading in the South-west region. Though traditional rulers have been holding meetings, one of which was the recent South-west security meeting held at the State House, Ikeja, Lagos, which had in attendance all traditional rulers from the region, yet more is still expected to be done to ensure the bandits do not turn the region into a war zone.

Reacting, a legal practitioner, Mr. Akeem Aponmade, said the increase in banditry in the region should be a source of worry to all stakeholders. He called on the government in all the six states in the region to ensure adequate security is provided.

“It is a worrisome development. As a nation, we cannot continue like this. The South-west region has been known to be very peaceful but the invasion by the Fulani bandits is an indication the region is under siege. Many of the places attacked are rural areas that are food baskets of their various states.  The danger is if these bandits are not checked, we might have a food crisis in the region as farmers are afraid to go to their farms.  Governments in the region must support the Amotekun and provide adequate tools for them to be able to combat these bandits otherwise we might not be able to control the situation once it gets out of hand.

The situation is also a reflection of the entire security situation in the country. Nigerians in every part of the country are not safe anymore. People are even afraid to visit their villages. This reinforced the call for regional police for effective security,” he said.

Mr. Komolafe Richard, another legal practitioner called on the Federal Government to ensure adequate security in the country.

“Government, especially those in the Southwest must rise to the occasion before it gets out of hand. We cannot continue to fold our hands and allow the region overrun by bandits. The region must be protected at all cost to avoid the same situation as is happening in the North,” he stressed.