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Police invite Ondo community leaders to Abuja over alleged threat to herdsman

…They should honour invitation – Ondo police


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THE Special Tactical Squad of the Nigerian Police Force Intelligence Bureau (Police FIB)  have invited five leaders of Ifon community in Ose Local Government Area of Ondo State to Abuja for questioning over alleged criminal conspiracy, mischief, threat to life and attempted kidnapping of a herder.

The leaders arrested include  Hon. Olaniyi Eni-Olotu; High chief Ekon;  Chief Olijewu; Hon. Saliu Omotosho and the chief hunter.

But the accused, through their solicitors, Olowolafe & Co,  are asking Adamu Mohammed, inspector-general of police (IGP), to quash the invitation.

The law firm argued that the matter for which its clients were invited in Abuja could be addressed by Ondo State Police Command.

It also wondered why that the police could not invite any suspect to Abuja over the killing of Israel Adeusi, monarch of the community, who was killed by gunmen while returning from a meeting of Council of Traditional Rulers in the state on November 26, 2020, but decided to focus on the community leaders on allegations of conspiracy, mischief, threat to life and attempted kidnapping.

The five chiefs had been initially accused of being involved in the killing of a cow belonging to the herder at Ifon Divisional Police Headquarters on January 6, 2021, before the allegation metamorphosed into the fresh charges.

In a letter dated 19th February, 2021, and addressed to the IGP, the firm said it had obtained the authorisation of its clients to challenge the invitation in court, should Adamu fail to stop it.

President Muhammadu Buhari and Rotimi Akerodolu, governor of Ondo State, were copied in the letter, seen by The ICIR.

Picture of a herder and his cattle used to illustrate the story. Source: Aljazeera

All the five leaders are to report in Abuja on 15th March , 2021 by 10am, according to the police.

The Abuja-based firm said there was a divisional police station in Ifon community (which had been handling the matter), and that if the police at that level felt the case was ‘too sophisticated for them,’ they could refer it to police headquarters in the state, and not Abuja.

The letter titled “RE: OLANIYI OLOTU & 4 OTHER COMMUNITY LEADER (INVITATION TO POLICE) chronicled the incidents leading to the summons.

According to the firm, a herdsman by name Abdullahi, had, on 6th January, 2021, reported that his cow was killed at the Ifon Police Station.

“It was in the course of police investigating this allegation of killing Abdullahi’s cow that our clients who are now being invited by the police were first invited by the police in connection with the death of Abdullahi’s cow. The community leaders invited then are: 1, Hon. Olaniyi Eni-Olotu; 2, High chief Ekon; 3, Chief Olijewu; 4, Hon. Saliu Omotosho; and 5, the chief hunter.#

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“These community leaders denied any involvement in the allegation that the man’s cow was killed and also told the police that the place where the allegation of cow’s killing was being made is not part of Ifon land and hence had nothing to do with them or the community they represent.”

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“It came as a surprise that on the 4th February, 2021, these same community leaders were again invited to the police station in Ifon on the same allegation of killing of Abdullahi’s cow, but on getting to the police station met two men in mufti who were introduced by the DPO as police officers from the office of the Deputy Inspector-General of Police (DIG), FIB Tactical command Squad, Force Headquarters, Abuja. The case of killing of cow initially reported against them had now been changed to criminal conspiracy, mischief, threat to life and attempted kidnapping. The community leaders were then served the letters of invitation of similar form, disclosing these serious allegations and mandating them to report in Abuja on the 15th March, 2021.”

The solicitors said since the killing of the monarch in the town, insecurity in the form of banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery had continued ‘unabated’ on the highway at Ifon and its environs.

While noting that the police had been able to arrest some suspects linked to the killing of the traditional ruler, the firm claimed that the community and its environs had been facing vengeful attacks over the arrest.

According to the lawyers, the fear of the accused that anyone who had any issue against the herdsmen would be taken to Abuja for torture and dehumanisation on the pretext of investigation was being established by the invitation.

The law firm said it was banking on ‘jurisdictional limitation’ in order to halt the summons.

While emphasising its clients’ support for efforts of security agencies to unravel the cause of criminalities in Ifon and its environs, the firm said its clients were living in fear because the authorities did not invite anyone linked to the killing of their monarch to Abuja, but wanted them to make themselves available over the accusations levelled against them, which, they claimed, had its origin from the death of a cow.

Besides, the law firm said it did not know what the police would gain in inviting its clients to Abuja when the matter could be handled by police in Ondo State where the alleged offences were committed.

“It is in the light of the foregoing that we share the genuine apprehension of our clients that this invitation extended to their community leaders are in bad faith and for the sole purpose of abusing their fundamental rights,” the lawyers said.

They explained that while they were not questioning the power of the police to invite the accused, they were concerned with the difficulty that would be encountered by the accused in producing witnesses to accusations brought against them.

Invitation letter to leaders of Ifon community by the police in Abuja

The law firm noted that if it did not get a response from the police chief within seven days, it would assume that the IGP had agreed with the invitation and would then proceed to court to challenge its legality.

The ICIR also obtained one of the invitation letters by the Force Intelligence Bureau.

The letters, which were addressed to the invitees individually, have the same content.

One of the letters, addressed to Olaniyi Olotu, has a reference number CR:3000/FIB/STI/FHQ/ABJ/TA/VOL 5   1259. It was dated February 2, 2021.

Part of its content reads: “INVITATION TO POLICE: The office is investigating a case of criminal conspiracy, mischief, threat to life and attempted kidnapping that your name featured.

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  1. You are kindly requested to interview the undersigned officer on 15/3/2021 by 1000hrs for facts findings through DSP. Ibrahim Agu with phone number 08037864191.

The letter was signed by Kolo Yusuf, a deputy commissioner of police at the FIB.

Meanwhile, Ondo State police command has advised the accused to present themselves to the police authorities in Abuja.

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Tee-Leo Ikoro, an assistant superintendent of police and spokesperson of the state command, told our reporter on the telephone: “Someone called my attention to that last night. What I do know is that according to the person, there is a petition against the people of Ifon over certain things like threat to life and things like that. I told him that the best they can do if there is a petition against them is to go answer the petition. To us in Ondo State Police Command, no petition was given to us. We are not looking into that. But, if it came from the headquarters, what they need to do is summon the courage, go for it. It is a petition, it is not a conviction. I do not know why they are thinking it that way. Anyone can petition anyone. Then, people get to look into it and proffer solution.

“No one knew where the petition came from, only them could tell where it is coming from. But for us in Ondo State Police Command, if it is given to us, we will look into it and ensure that justice is done. If it is the Force Headquarters, there is nothing to worry about. I think they should go. If they ask my opinion, that is what I will say. Go for it, there is nothing to worry about.”

Frank Mba, force public relations officer, did not respond to telephone calls by our reporter over the matter. He did not also reply a text message sent to him in that regard.

Bello Garba, Ondo State chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) refused to speak with The ICIR when contacted on the phone.

After exchanging pleasantries with our reporter, Garba said:”You know, I dey headquarters. Na headquarters I dey for Abuja.” When interrupted that he should give his group’s position on the matter, he added: “Na Ondo state; I get headquarters for Abuja,” meaning “you know I’m at our headquarters office in Abuja. I have office at the headquarters (of MACBAN) in Abuja. ”He ended the call abruptly and rejected all calls put across to him thereafter. He did not also respond to a text message seeking to get his opinion on the matter.

Our reporter yet made more frantic efforts to seek his view a day later, but he did not pick the calls put across to him.

Nigeria has been embroiled in farmers/herders conflict – a situation that is threatening the nation’s fabrics.

The conflict has worsened insecurity facing the nation, and has compelled some states and regions in the country to ban open grazing of cattle.

Samuel Ortom, Benue State governor, was the first to sign a bill seeking to ban open grazing into law in the country. He signed the bill on May 22, 2020. But rather than mitigate herders/farmers clashes in the state, it worsened it, shortly after the bill was signed into law.

MACBAN President, Muhammadu Kirowa. Source: Punch

Over 70 people were killed in a New Year day attack in Logo Local Government Area of the state in 2018. The attack was reportedly suspected to have been carried out by herdsmen. Checks showed that Benue and Taraba states have witnessed the worst herders/farmers conflicts in the nation.

The ban has been followed with similar decision by the six states in the South-West and five states in the South-East regions. The two regions separately took the decision in February 2021, following increasing tension occasioned by herders/farmer/communal crises in some parts of the nation.

Herders and farmers have both recorded losses in the conflicts. In a report in 2018, MACBAN claimed it lost 52 herdsmen and 4,000 cows to criminals in Benue and Nasarawa states within 40 days.

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The ICIR reported in July 2020 that between  2010 and 2015, Nigeria lost 6,500 citizens while 62,000 others were displaced from their homelands in 850 recorded violent clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the Middle Belt region of the country.

In February 2020, MACBAN alleged, through Gidado Siddiki, its South-East chairman, that the group lost four of its members, while over 138 cows belonging to them were missing in  clashes between herdsmen and farmers in Anaku and Ifite-Ogwari communities in Ayemelu Local Government Area of Anambra State.

MACBAN had also on June 26, 2018, described the killing of scores of people in Riyom, Barkin Ladi and Jos South local government areas of Plateau State as retaliatory attack over the killing of 300 cows belonging to its members. Police confirmed 86  dead from the attack.

A human rights non-governmental advocacy group, Amnesty International, had, in 2018, published a report blaming the Nigerian government on the crises. The report said nearly 4,000 lives were lost within three years over farmers/herders feuds in Nigeria.

In the report titled: ‘Harvest of Death: Three Years of Bloody Clashes Between Farmers and Herders,’ Amnesty International found that 57 percent of the 3,641 recorded deaths occurred in 2018.

“Security forces were often positioned close to the attacks, which lasted hours and sometimes days, yet were slow to act. In some cases, security forces had prior warning of an imminent raid but did nothing to stop or prevent the killings, looting and burning of homes,” the group stated.

Hostilities arising from herders/farmers crises in Nigeria have not only pitched the citizens of different ethnic groups against one another, it has also set incumbent governors against each other.

Rotimi Akeredolu, Ondo state governor. Source: Arisetv

Bala Mohammed, Bauchi State governor and Rotimi Akerodolu have engaged in verbal duels over the past few days. Responding to media reports claiming Mohammed supported herdsmen’s brandishing of AK-47, Akeredolu retorted that his counterpart was unfit for public office.

Also on Saturday February 19, 2021, media reports said Mohammed claimed herders did not need Akeredolu’s permission to live in Ondo forests, but Akeredolu reportedly replied he would not ‘engage warmongers.’ The disagreement arose after Akeredolu ordered unregistered herders out of the state forests within seven days on January 18, 2021.

The governor’s pronouncement received knocks from the presidency, MACBAN and mainly notable people and organisations from northern part of the country.

But Abdullahi Ganduje, Kano State governor, has maintained his position that the North’s landmass is big enough for herders to rear their cattle. He advocated for law to ban movement of herders from North to the South.

Clashes among the farmers and herders brought Sunday Adeyemo, a self-styled freedom fighter, otherwise known as Sunday Igboho, to limelight recently in the South-West.

He swore to evict herdsmen of Fulani extraction from Igangan community in Ibarapa North Local Government Area of Oyo State on January 22, 2021.

Homes and property of the settlers were set ablaze after he left the community, and one person was reportedly killed during the attack.

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On Monday February 1, 2021, the activist also stormed some parts of Ogun State, with a view to flushing out killer herders.

Since the death of Funke Olakunrin, daughter of the leader of Afenifere, Yoruba socio-cultural group, tempers have continued to rise against herders’ activities in the region.

Late Olakunrin was approaching Ore Junction area of Ondo State from Akure when she was killed by gunmen on July 12, 2019.

The Nigerian police apprehended her killers in early 2020. They were: Lawal Mazaje, Adamu Adamu, Mohammed Shehu Usman and Auwal Abubakar.

Killing of Ifon monarch, a first-class traditional ruler in the state over a year later, appears to have further fuelled the fears of unhealthy farmer/herder relationship in the state, and by extension, the South-West.

The Nigerian Governors Forum agreed on ranching earlier this month, but governors in the North are asking for more time to implement it.

Results of the 2011 National Agricultural Sample Survey released in June 2016 showed that Nigeria had an estimated 19.5 million cattle, 72.5 million goats, 41.3 million sheep, 28,000 camels, among others.

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