Police summoned us to Abuja over cows’ death, but failed to probe our oba’s murder –President, Ifon Development Union

Chief Olufemi Awani is a community leader and President, Ifon Development Union in Ondo State. In this interview with PETER DADA, the retired permanent secretary speaks about the recent killing of the town’s monarch by bandits and the invitation of some leaders of the community by Force Headquarters over the alleged killing of cows in the area, among others

Ifon people have been cohabiting with other ethnic groups, particularly the Fulani, for a very long time. So, why has everything gone awry?

The issue is not that per se, but there was a complaint in January. One Fulani man known as Abdullahi went to the police station to say his cows were killed in the bush and he accused some of our community leaders and the chief hunter of being responsible for the killing of the cows. But the people denied the allegation. Even where he claimed that the cows were killed is not on Ifon land and we told him specifically to point at anyone who killed his cow. Since the case had no basis, the DPO didn’t say anything and the matter went away like that.

But in February, the same set of people, who were alleged to have killed the cows, were invited again to the police station. So, on getting there, they introduced two men in mufti to them. They said they were policemen from the office of the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, FIB, Special Tactical Squad, Abuja. They said that they have come for peace. They said one Usman, who we never knew, petitioned Abuja about the killing of cows. They said our people should come to Abuja to tell their own side of the story. They now brought out a letter.

The letter read: ‘A case of criminal conspiracy, mischief, threat to life and attempted kidnapping that your name featured. You are kindly requested to interview the undersigned officer on 15/03/2021 by 10:00 hours for fact finding through DSP Ibrahim Agu’. They insisted that they should go that day. We now told them that we were in mourning because our Oba died; that they just couldn’t take people away like that without causing tension in this place. They now said okay, they would come back on March 15.

By the time we now got wind of this, we were all apprehensive that the letter did not say anything about the killing of cows. So, how do you just invite people to Abuja when there was never any confrontation with anybody? There was no dispute that resulted in threat to kidnap; they never met the complainant. We later suspected that maybe some powers wanted to influence the issue.

If something happens in Ifon, there is an Area Command in Owo; there’s Commissioner of Police in Akure; there is an AIG in this zone, but they bypassed all these and decided to go all the way to Abuja; then we suspected maybe it’s not even true or it may be a ploy to incarcerate us so as to silence us on the issue of herdsmen disturbing us, because the herdsmen are kidnapping and robbing people on the Ifon/Owo Road, which is a problem for us. There is still the problem of herders still chasing people from their farms. So, this is the genesis of the whole thing.

Nobody is saying the police should not do their work, but in a situation where our Kabiyesi was killed on the road by armed men, we didn’t tag anybody. We didn’t say any Hausa or Fulani man should not complain. But if he complained in Ifon and there was nothing to be done and he now went to Abuja and you are now inviting us to Abuja, it is unfair. The police are doing this when we have not resolved the problem of who killed our Kabiyesi. There is no investigation that we know of. As of today, nobody has been apprehended. We didn’t say anybody should not complain. We didn’t say they should not investigate. If they can do this, then they should help us tackle our own problem, which is the insecurity issue.

In January, some herdsmen were apprehended, the police said that they saw clothes of some kidnapped victims with them. They arrested some of them but I don’t know if they are the real perpetrators. But they’re suspects anyway. Those ones, I’m told, are still in police custody and they’re herdsmen. So, we’re thinking this is part of the plans of their ‘big’ people to frustrate anything to get justice in this part of the country; otherwise, how do you ask people to come to Abuja from Ifon? How’ll they carry their witnesses? What will they do to go to the police headquarters?

Where are the invited chiefs now?

They are in Ifon. There are young people among them and they’re leaders too. There is also a high chief among them.

Have you informed the Ondo State Government about the invitation from Abuja?

We have written the governor and he has acknowledged it. We wrote the Commissioner of Police. Then we asked a lawyer to inform the IG in Abuja about our fears and inferences.

What step has the state government taken on the issue?

Nothing yet other than advising us that in the event that we have to go to Abuja, we should get lawyers to advice and guide those people invited. Ours is to intimate the government. We don’t know what goes on underneath. Nobody will say the police should not do their job, but the way this thing has come about is such that we are apprehensive. There is more to it because the letter did not say anything about the killing of cows, which is the only complaint we know of, otherwise we never had any problem with any Fulani in our place. Though at times we have had problems of animals overrunning farmlands. When we drive them from one side, they will go to another farm, but we never had any direct problem with the herders. Some of the herders are even resident here.

Will the community allow the chiefs to go to Abuja and will lawyers represent them?

We are believing that with all our cries, if there are issues to be cleared, they should be cleared before March 15; may be some measures will be taken but if eventually they say we must go to Abuja, we are not preventing the police from doing their work; the chiefs will go there; nobody is saying they should not go, because they will say another thing that we are obstructing the course of justice. We know our rights as Nigerians; we can challenge the process. There are many options, but I don’t want to start speculating; let us wait till that time first. We have said we don’t believe this should be the right step to be taken, but if the police say it is right and that by all means the chiefs have to be there, it is okay.

We don’t want to pre-empt anything; we will wait till March 15; I don’t know if there will be some settlement before then. We can’t say the police should not do their work, but we don’t want them to do what will make us start suspecting foul play.

Who is it Abdullahi, the complainant, who wrote the petition?

We have not seen the copy of the petition, but what the policemen from Abuja said verbally was that one Usman wrote the petition; we don’t know him, but we know Abdullahi that is in the bush in Ifon. We don’t know if they are relatives or not. But we know Usman is not the same thing as Abdullahi.

Before now, has Abdullahi had clashes with the indigenes of Ifon?

Not at all; the issue is that these criminal herdsmen will come in the night and destroy our farms and then run away. That has been the complaints we have been having from our villages. These areas where they alleged that the cows were killed are not our areas. So, I am not aware that Abdullahi had issues with our people prior to this time.

But now, how is the relationship between your people and the Fulani in the area?

It has been a peaceful thing even though we do have some complaints of cows straying into people’s farms. In fact, we have agreements that if cows destroy your farms, you can come and complain and we have been settling it amicably, but in recent times there is tension all over the place. The herders always move around; if they are driven away from a place, they will move to another place. The herdsmen causing problems are not pastoralists.

How do you settle the clashes between farmers and herdsmen regarding the destruction of farmlands?

We have different camps; we have one at Elegbeka and we have Baales there and some other villages; they know themselves, the Fulani live with them, they know the ones residing with them. The problem we are having is those who were chased out of Edo State; they are the ones causing problems; you know they are always moving and they live in tents. They are all over the land. Some people said some of them are not Nigerians, but that is not my business; we know those people who are residents and we know those of them who take cows around as Fulani herdsmen.

But those Fulani, who are resident in your community, should know those who move about and check them?

I don’t know about that but what I know is that the resident Fulani too complain about the activities of the ones moving around.

Do you believe in their complaints?

It is not me they complain to and I can’t be speaking for them. I know this issue is a national one, but he who feels it knows it. So, it is not that we have particular tension in that area, but the way the police are going about it is what has brought this apprehension. If it is Akure that we are invited to, I will say it is within the same jurisdiction, but something happened in Ifon and it is not something that is really serious and you are bringing an invitation from Abuja. People are speculating that if you are incarcerated in Abuja, it may take long before you can get out. That has been the fear of the people.

Residents of the community seem to have kept quiet on the killing of their monarch, what is the problem?

The issue is how is the rule of law operating in Nigeria? The problem is the security agencies. Somebody has been murdered; it is for the security agents to investigate and bring the criminals to justice. That is not for the community to do the police work. That is why we are saying the efforts the police are putting to invite our chiefs to Abuja on cow matters should have been used to investigate the killer of our monarch. We don’t know if they are doing anything about the killing.

But are you monitoring the investigative process?

Why should we be monitoring them? If they arrest criminals, I think they parade them. Do we need to go and ask if they are doing it? We will wait for them, but we are not passive about it; we are pained; the community is still mourning. We have a vacuum in the community; the Kabiyesi is no more; out of the 12 kingmakers, only one is remaining; that is part of the problem we are facing.

Are you suspecting foul play somewhere about the investigation into the killing of the monarch?

I don’t want to speculate. Speculation won’t help us. It is the duty of the security agencies to investigate the matter; they have interrogated the driver and an aide of the monarch, who were in the same vehicle with him that day. I am not a security expert, but I think immediately after the king was killed, the whole forest should have been combed and some of the killers might have been arrested. We can’t be going there to ask them how far. If they have anything, they should let us know. They hold security meetings every day. We have met with the governor that we want the killers of our king to be fished out. It is a security issue; it is not for us to be going after the security agents. If they have anything for us, they should let us know.

Following the killing of the monarch, there was apprehension that there might be reprisal against herders. What is the community doing to calm everyone down and allow the rule of law?

You can go to Ifon, there is no issue or anything like that there. The only tension in the community is that we’ve not been able to settle the regency thing. We have to get a regent, that’s pending. Eventually, we have to select an Oba. The high chiefs are not on the ground, they are old men and some are dead. For insecurity, we’ve tried from day one when the governor came to calm people down. He came to our place that very night that Kabiyesi was killed and he appealed to us. And we have been trying to keep our people in check.

As a community leader, what do you think the government can do about the spate of insecurity in the country?

That is a Nigerian question. Insecurity is all over the place; recently, we read that some students were kidnapped. Kidnapping has become a lucrative venture. The government should look into the root cause of this crime and address it. We have the military in the country; we can’t tell them what to do, it is their job. Insecurity is everywhere in the country; land travelling is no more safe, people now fly. It is the primary responsibility of the government to protect the lives and properties of the people.


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