For Modupe Oyetoso, July 10 will forever remain a sad day for her because that was the day she lost her fiancée (names withheld) to armed kidnappers alleged to be Fulani herdsmen.
Ms Oyetoso and her fiance were returning from their farm at Igbo-dudu in Lanlate around 5 p.m. on the fateful day when the four armed men accosted them, killing her fiancé in the process while she was whisked away.
She spent two days in her abductors’ den. She only secured her release after an undisclosed sum of money was paid by her family to the kidnappers as ransom.
The harrowing experience explains why Ms Oyetoso told PREMIUM TIMES that “I’m not sure I want to grant any interview again because each time I do, I remember the sad incident, it was a horrible experience and I remain devastated.”
Lanlate is one of the seven towns in Ibarapa area of Oyo State. Others are Igangan, Eruwa, Aiyete, Tapa, Idere, and Igbo-Ora. The major activity in these communities is agriculture with many outsiders having acres of land for farming.
Despite being a graduate of Computer Science from The Polytechnic, Ibadan, Ms Oyetoso took to farming, saying that is where her passion lies.
She started with little capital about six years ago and grew to own Smart Farm Nigeria attending to all forms of farming business.
She later introduced her late fiancé to farming but two months after showing interest, he was attacked and killed by the armed men.
On sighting the kidnappers, she said her lover manoeuvred their car in order to escape from the kidnappers but could not escape. Soon, she heard a gunshot that hit her fiancé at the back of his head.
While trying to save him, the car, which was still in motion, hit a tree. By the time the vehicle screeched to a halt, the kidnappers approached her and whisked her away. Ms Oyetoso said the ”bad guys” tied her hands with a rope and forced her into the forest.
She said while one of them was using the rope to pull her, another was beating her when she slowed down, saying that when she even slumped in the rain, they continued beating and pulling her.
Upon getting into the forest where they considered safe for them, the kidnappers asked Ms Oyetoso to call her parents to brief them of her travails.
Held in forest for 2 days
Ms Oyetoso said she was exposed to rain and cold while in the forest for two days. She said that the kidnappers criticised her late fiancé for trying to escape when he saw them because what they wanted was just money.
While she was disturbed and ignorant about the situation of her lover, one of the assailants told her to accept all that happened as fate.
On her first night in the forest, she said her abductors called her family to demand N50 million for her release. While they spoke with her in Yoruba, they were speaking Fulani to themselves, she recounted.
When she asked if her lover was going to survive the gunshot, one of the assailants reportedly responded, saying “he would be rescued by passersby.”
By the next morning, they called her parents again.
Not pleased with the “no money” excuse from her father, the assailants shot at her direction threatening to kill and sell her body parts. Amidst this, her father kept pleading that it was a Saturday and that he had no money at home. She again spent the night with them until her parents were able to raise an undisclosed amount of million as ransom.
On the day of her release, her father called at 9 p.m. that he had gotten to Eruwa, a nearby town where he was directed to bring the ransom.
After a careful check and assurance that the old man was not with the police, the assailants “told him to drop the money somewhere and after picking the cash, they called the guy asked to look after me to bring me. It took me about 15 minutes to get to my dad from the forest,” she said.
It was after she got home that she confirmed that her fiancé could not survive the gunshot. “They killed his dream,” she said, weeping.
Ms Oyetoso became downcast.
“My mum was distraught,” she said “and even though I didn’t see his tears, I know my dad was crying inside. It is one of the worst experiences a parent could face”.
More tales of sorrow
Ms Oyetoso is not the only farmer with a tale of sorrow in Lanlate. A PREMIUM TIMES visit to the community showed that there are many others who are yet to recover from their kidnap experiences. In fact, investigations revealed that some farmers have already abandoned their farms following attacks from suspected herdsmen.
Few days after Ms Oyetoso’s horrible experience, a cocoa distributor in the community was also abducted.
Fatai Ogunniyi has been a cocoa dealer in the town since the 80s. He, however, witnessed an unforgettable experience of his life on July 19 when he was kidnapped by persons he said were Fulani herdsmen.
He told PREMIUM TIMES that he was whisked away while returning from Iseyin with his wife. The kidnappers robbed his wife of over N300,000 when they accosted them but left for the forest with only him.
“They took me into the forest, beat me and forced me to drink mud water in the rain. They were six in numbers and were speaking Fulani. It was my wife that ran to the main town to inform the public about my predicament”.
He told PREMIUM TIMES that he trekked alongside the assailants from the point of his abduction till the following morning. “After I summoned courage to ask them about my offence, they told me they were only looking for survival too.”
Mr Ogunniyi said the assailants later in the night asked him to call his family demanding the sum of N10 million as ransom. “When I told them I don’t have enough money, one of them slapped me and wondered if a poor man could be driving the type of my car.”
He said when he could no longer endure the beating, he agreed to call home but by then, they already reduced their demand to N9 million.
He told our correspondent that one of his abductors got annoyed and pointed a gun at him following the refusal of his family to yield to their demand. After much pleading and beating, the kidnappers agreed that they would release Mr Ogunniyi if his family would produce at least N1 million a day after he was kidnapped. He explained that the more a victim stays with kidnappers, the higher the ransom.
“When my friend was coming the next day to pay the N1 million ransom, four of the six assailants went to block him while the other two stayed with me. They asked him to help them buy food (rice) on his way which he obliged. When he got to the forest where they asked him to bring the money, he was asked to taste from the food to be sure he had not poisoned the meal”. He told our correspondent that he trekked for over 40 minutes after he was freed before he saw a small village where he was directed back home to meet his traumatised family.
Aside from the aforementioned cases, many more cases have been recorded in Lanlate, the farmers told PREMIUM TIMES. When our correspondent visited the palace of the town’s monarch, he met a top chief, Adegbayi Adesokan – the Asipa of Lanlate , who lamented the security challenges in the community. He said even the monarch and his chiefs were not safe.
“We are witnessing what has not been in the place long before now in Lanlate. Fulani are now going to farm to kill, destroy farms and commit many other atrocities. We believe that the only solution is to strengthen police and even equip our own Amotekun. We are not safe.”
He also pleaded that farmers should not vacate the town. “We urge farmers not to leave their farms. I understand many have run away but we can’t run. The monarch and chiefs are not also safe. We hope to get authorities efforts soon,” he pleaded.
We are also victims – Myetti Allah
When PREMIUM TIMES visited the chairman of Myetti Allah cattle breeders association, Muhammed Bello, in Ibarapa, he said that the ‘bad Fulani herdsmen’ are responsible for insecurity in the community.
He explained that every tribe has good and bad individuals among them while pleading that the menace of insecurity in the area should not be traced to only a tribe.
Mr Bello narrated how one of the top Fulani traders living in Lanlate, Alhaji Anji, was recently kidnapped by fellow Fulanis on his farm. He explained that Mr Anji was kidnapped twice for defaulting on the agreement he had with the kidnappers when he was first abducted.
“We all want a peaceful environment. One of us, Alhaji Anji was kidnapped twice. The kidnappers asked for N3 million but he was able to raise half of it with the promise that if released, he would work hard to get their balance. After he was freed, the kidnappers were calling him with different lines, he went to report at police station thinking he had regained freedom. But to everybody surprise, Anji was kidnapped again and was beaten mercilessly by the same set of people until he paid the balance. So, this is to tell you that even Fulanis are also affected.”
He told PREMIUM TIMES that the Myetti Allah in Lalante is collaborating with other farmers to call on security operatives and the government for protection of lives and property.
“The truth is that all of us are not safe whether Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa or Fulani. We call on the police and government to help us. We are all in this together because I have been here for the past 20 years”.
Insecurity and way forward
Many of the farmers who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES disclosed that police officers in Lanlate are not enough to combat the ”bad guys,” alleging that, in some cases, the officers compromise. Many a time, there are little or no reports about the criminal activities happening in these rural communities. Residents, who craved anonymity for security reasons, told our correspondent that whenever they report the atrocities of herdsmen to the police, money changes hands between the criminals and the police.
A farmer in the community, who did not want her name in print, told PREMIUM TIMES that the challenges facing the farmers are enormous. She disclosed that she was on the farm the day the incident of Ms Oyetoso happened, saying perhaps she could have been the victim if she had gone home with her car. She noted that the kidnappers often target cars to determine their prey.
“We don’t have enough security here and that’s the major reason for many of our problems. When these herdsmen destroy your farm, you will pray to get them to pay damages. Police can only do little. So, the community security is porous and large scale farmers are the target of the kidnappers”, she said. “The only solution is that the government should strengthen local vigilantes and make sure Amotekun start working in Oyo State. These people will comb the forest better than the police”.
This newspaper also visited Lanlate Police Division for fact findings.
The Divisional Police Officer (DPO), Musiliu Sogbade, admitted that farmers in the community were facing security challenges. He, however, told our correspondent that he was not authorised to speak to the press. He directed PREMIUM TIMES to the spokesperson of the Oyo State Police Command, Olugbenga Fadeyi.
Earlier, Mr Fadeyi confirmed the arrest of two of the four assailants who kidnapped Ms Oyetoso while the other two are still at large. The police spokesperson, however, did not respond to this newspaper’s enquiries on other cases and allegations of sabotage against the force.
The state’s commissioner for agriculture, Muyiwa Ojekunle, did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ enquiries but Wale Olatunbosun, the information commissioner, explained the government’s efforts towards curbing insecurity in the state.
“The government is making adequate efforts to tackle insecurity. Governor Makinde bought 100 vehicles for security operatives basically to tackle the challenges. Kidnapping is not just in Oyo and that was why the six southwest states initiated Amotekun. We will make sure that all those that will be recruited for the community policing would be from the local areas and already familiar with the terrain. We have approved funds for their kits and other things needed.”
He told PREMIUM TIMES that the Amotekun corps would be recruited in the next few months and that they would start to work fully in various communities in the state. The commissioner, therefore, urged “residents to be optimistic and support the government of the day.”
Food security in danger…
Experts told PREMIUM TIMES that with the way farmers are abandoning their farms, food security is already in danger and may hinder the efforts of governments in this regard.
Before oil became the major source of the country’s revenue, Nigeria used to be one of the most promising agricultural nations in the world but all that has changed now. This newspaper has published a series of reports on how many farming communities are left to rot.
A World Bank Senior agricultural economist, Adetunji Oredipe, on September 6, 2019, said Nigeria’s neglect of the agricultural sector costs the country about $10 billion annually.
Speaking with this newspaper, an agricultural economist, Kingsley Ndimele, said “to achieve the Nigeria of our dream, the government must as a matter of urgency look at the security challenges farmers are facing including all Nigerians. In as much as stopping importation of farm produce is correct, authorities must ensure that farmers are encouraged to feed the nation. No country develops without agric sector.”