Majority of Yoruba want restructuring, not secession – Agbekoya President, Okikiola - AMEBO ONLINE NEWSPAPER

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Majority of Yoruba want restructuring, not secession – Agbekoya President, Okikiola

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President General, Agbekoya Farmers Association of Nigeria, Chief Kamorudeen Okikiola

President General, Agbekoya Farmers Association of Nigeria, Chief Kamorudeen Okikiola, speaks to TOBI AWORINDE about the worsening menace of killer herdsmen in the South-West and how it is taking a toll on the region’s potential for food production and sufficiency
What is your view about the pervading cloud of insecurity in the country?

In Nigeria today, everybody knows that there are a lot of problems with regard to what these herdsmen and bandits are doing. Everybody knows that security in Nigeria is not tight, especially for the farmers because it’s every day these bandits kill farmers and the government has not found a solution till today. The Agbekoya Farmers Association is not happy with what is going on. We are doing everything we can to defend ourselves because we can’t continue to watch what these herdsmen and bandits are doing. The raping and kidnapping incidents are one too many. I think the government should find a solution to these. If they have no solution, they should let us know; so that we, the people, can find the solution by ourselves because these have been going on for five years now, and there hasn’t been any solution. The government is not doing well.

The South-West governors have floated a regional security outfit called Amotekun. How will you rate Amotekun’s performance in tackling insecurity in the region?

Amotekun is a ‘baby.’ The idea that we gave the government before they established it was to have a special squad. Now, Amotekun in Osun State has passed that stage; it has a special squad. There are some boys in Agbekoya and the Oodua People’s Congress that can be used in the special squad. They can face kidnappers, armed robbers, (killer) Fulani herdsmen and other criminal elements. Amotekun in Ondo State is also trying its best, but it needs that special squad. In Ibadan, Oyo State, you will see Amotekun controlling traffic on Iwo Road. What does Amotekun have to do with traffic control? That is not why Amotekun was established. Amotekun is for going inside the forests to tackle the problem of herdsmen’s kidnapping, raping, robbery, and so on. Amotekun is a ‘baby;’ it hasn’t done much. I can’t give it a pass mark. They have a lot of work to do.

Are you saying that Amotekun personnel in Oyo are being deployed for traffic control?

If you go to Iwo Road, you will see them controlling traffic. Amotekun in Oyo State is not serious. They need to go into the forests, instead of arresting small boys on the road. What are the police for? Amotekun was created to go into the forests to tackle kidnappings, killing and rape. Herdsmen are the major kidnappers in Nigeria. They are responsible for about 80 per cent of kidnappings, while other tribes account for 20 per cent. That was what we advised the government to create Amotekun to deal with. Amotekun was created to fight crimes in the forests and villages, not to control traffic on the roads. Does the state not have people to control traffic? The day I saw them (Amotekun personnel controlling traffic), I felt sorry for Amotekun. So, Amotekun has a long way to go.

Nigeria’s unemployment rate has soared to a record 33.3 per cent. The Federal Government has called on jobless youths to embrace farming. But many youths don’t have background in farming. How realistic do you think government’s call is?

We have not even got to the peak (of unemployment). Before 2023, as much as 75 per cent won’t have a job. The reason is that every day in Nigeria, people are crying, ‘War!’ There is so much insecurity. You say they should train the youths to be farmers, but can they go into the bush when they know that herdsmen will kidnap and kill them? I’m a serious farmer, but I can’t tell my son to go into the forest and become a farmer because it’s too risky for him. Every day, farm workers are being kidnapped, and the kidnappers ask the farm owners to pay ransoms. Insecurity is worsening the problem of unemployment in the country and the rate of unemployment is bound to increase due to insecurity.

During the (late Chief Obafemi) Awolowo era, there was a policy that everyone, irrespective of what they were, should have a farm . But now, if you go to the farm, herdsmen will either kill or kidnap you. The herdsmen are the owners of the whole country now. It wasn’t like that during Awolowo’s time.

The situation must be really serious if you, as Agbekoya president, say you can’t allow your child to go into farming.

My first son is a serious farmer. But you won’t believe what pursued him from the farm. There was a day he and three others went to the farm and saw some cows grazing but there was no herdsman around. Unknown to them, the herdsmen were lying in ambush. On seeing my son and the others, they (the herdsmen) jumped out and pounced on them. It was only my son who was lucky to escape; the three others were kidnapped. The kidnappers began to ask for a ransom. I mobilised Agbekoya security and we started a search. The police got involved and they found two of the victims alive while one had been killed. So, how can those young boys go through this kind of ordeal and then be enthusiastic about going to the farm? Later, I asked my son, ‘When are you going to return to your farm?’ He said to me, ‘I will tell some people to harvest the crop for me. I’m not going to farm again.’ That is the situation in which we have found ourselves. Everybody is under attack.

Baba Olu Falae is a serious farmer. Prof. Wole Soyinka also lives in the village because he likes that lifestyle. But these people would have kidnapped them if they have their way. Kidnapping and banditry in the land is so much that it is now dangerous to advise any youth to become a farmer. From our experience, when you see cows with no herdsman around, please, drive away fast, because they (herdsmen) would be lying in ambush. They have knives and different other weapons. They are known to live in the forest and the farmers also work in the forest; so, going to the farm is very dangerous, for now.

Does Agbekoya have private security arrangements to protect farmers?

Right now, our instruction to farmers is: ‘When you are going to your farm, go in groups of three, four or five, and be ready to fight, in case any herdsman comes out to attack you.’ And that is why you hear that the Yoruba are fighting back because you can’t call any security agent. (We have told our people), ‘If they want to kill you, kill them.’

Recently, there was a weeklong strike by northern foodstuffs and cattle traders who demanded some compensation from the Federal Government for some grievances. How did that affect the southern farmers?
. Our governors here are not serious and the Federal Government is not ready to help southern farmers either.

For a long time, Nigeria has been saying, ‘We are one.’ But we are not one. If the government says there is some money it wants to give to one million farmers, only about 100,000 or 150,000 southern farmers will benefit.

They (northern foodstuffs traders) went on that strike because they knew they have the advantage of food supply but they didn’t know we could manage (in the South). At the time, some of our produce were harvested and taken to the market, though prices of things were a bit high. Later when the northerners saw that their goods were wasting away, they started coming down South. Then they demanded over N400bn (compensation) from the government (for their losses); how could they make such a demand after killing southern farmers and committing a lot of atrocities? I know they dropped the idea after we told the government that ‘If you give herdsmen over N400bn, we, farmers, will also demand the same amount, otherwise there will be no rest for either of us.’  Their over N400bn demand was like an attempt to extort money from the government

But we have devised a plan, since the Nigerian government can’t help us, to start seeking help from foreigners. The challenge is that the foreigners are afraid; they say they don’t want to pump money into Nigeria because of insecurity and that anything can happen at any time.

My appeal to the governors of the South-West is for them to do something urgently about the insecurity in the region. In the time of Awolowo, the South-West was number one in farming and Awolowo used proceeds from farming to build Cocoa House and a lot of other things.  Our governors should take the blame for the decline in farming in the South-West. Our land is much more fertile than the land in the North. The northern farmers use fertilizer but with just a little fertilizer, our produce develops much more than theirs.

God has blessed us with good land in the South-West. And that is why when we plant only one grain of corn, it will yield enough to eat. We thank God for that, but I appeal to South-West governors to pay attention to farming and assist farmers.
In the North, despite pervasive insecurity, they are pumping money into farming and they are doing their best. Ofada rice is costlier than any other rice around. It is from Ogun State. But where is Ofada rice today? It is only produced in small quantities today. Ofada rice can be produced in large quantities if the governors will help farmers.

The Federal Government is moving ahead with the National Livestock Transformation Programme while several states, including Ekiti and Ondo, have expressed interest in the grazing reserves. Do you see this as a progressive approach to ending the crisis between farmers and herdsmen?

They should not approve it. If any state approves it, the problem will continue. If you give herdsmen one acre of land, they will take over 20 acres of land. Nigeria is not the only country where cows are reared. Cows are reared in so many other countries but they don’t do open grazing because they know it clashes with crop farming. Any governor that supports open grazing in the South-West is inviting problems. We don’t want open grazing and they should not give land to any herdsman.

If you go to Ijebu Ode, you will see Yoruba people who rear cows and these cows don’t go out for open grazing. They (Yoruba cattle farmers) give them the grass on their farm. Go to Ogun, Ondo, Osun states and lots of other places, the Yoruba have cows; they don’t operate like the Fulani, yet their cows are well-fed. I don’t want any South-West governor to buy that idea and no Federal Government can force them to do it.

There are some who allege that the herdsmen enjoy the backing of the President because he is also Fulani. Do you hold this view as well?

Yes, it’s true. I’m telling you it is true because, how can somebody know that this tribe is giving Nigerians trouble and the government will continue to look away? During (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo’s administration, when some Yoruba people were saying, ‘He’s our man,’ he told them, ‘If you do anything wrong, I will let the government deal with you.’ So, Buhari is not supposed to take nonsense. I’m not saying Buhari is not doing well, but in terms of security, he is honestly not doing well. When security is below standard, there will be no rest of mind and businesses will collapse. Every day, there are kidnappings. Buhari needs to fight insecurity at all costs. If the government doesn’t address the issue, the people will fight back. We can’t just fold our arms and say, ‘They are from the President’s tribe.’ That is why I told the farmers: ‘If they fight you, fight them back.’ That is the Nigerian system now because if you call the police, they will not do anything.

With insecurity, there won’t be much (farm) work anymore. Later, you’ll see that food will be scarce because farmers are being chased out of the farms. We can’t continue to risk our lives. The government is not doing well.

What is your position on the call for restructuring and how do you think it will affect the 2023 general elections?

We want restructuring, which will make Yorubaland great. The Yoruba don’t depend on anybody because God has given us in abundance everything we need in Yorubaland. Back in the time of Awolowo, we didn’t beg people from the North to bring tomatoes or any other thing. If we can restructure the country so that everybody can eat from their own pot, it will make Nigeria great. I have always supported the call for the restructuring of the country because it will save Nigeria from collapse. We, the Yoruba, don’t want any trouble, but if anybody brings trouble to us, we are ready to fight the person.

Restructuring can change Nigeria. In fact, it can solve the problem of unemployment because the different regions will know how to address their challenges. If we can go back to the structure that was in place during the time of the late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, it would be better for everyone. We have a lot of things – seaports, crude oil, farm lands, and more. Lagos State gener

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