Since 2016, I have been calling for a lasting solution to the problem being faced by farmers and residents of several communities across Nigeria in the hands of armed bandits disguising as herdsmen to enjoy the hospitality of innocent communities.
The reign of terror continues to spread across different regions of Nigeria with little or no resistance and has now pushed the Yoruba nation to a point of wanting to fight back and reclaim their lands. We cannot pretend like we did not see this coming.
The constitution of Nigeria bestows on every Nigerian, the right to freedom of movement and to reside in any part of the country they so desire, but that same constitution also recognizes the illegality of invading or encroaching on the property of other citizens.
When rearing of cattle crosses the moral and legal lines and becomes malicious damage, kidnapping for ransom, rape, armed banditry, killing and stealing, it must no longer be acceptable. We should not use legal terms and deliberate ambiguities to colour the situation for selfish political reasons. Trespass is not an expression of a constitutional right because criminality is criminality.
The past few days may have put a lot of focus on the resistance by sons and daughters of Yoruba land whose years of crying in silence have been ignored.
Regardless of ethnicity and religion, the atrocities of herdsmen in the Oke Ogun and Ibarapa region of Oyo state, as well as in Ondo state are happening in several other states of the federation including the northern parts.
There are countless tales of terror being unleashed on innocent citizens travelling along the Abuja to Kaduna road by these criminal elements. It has become a kidnapping den. From Benue to Nassarawa, Kaduna, Zamfara and other states, it is the same story of invasion and bloodshed.
As a Yoruba man, while representing my people in the legislative arm of government and at different levels, we have made several calls for the security architecture in Nigeria to be overhauled but the government continues to pay lip service to this dire need. Here we are in 2021, still talking about herdsmen invasion of farmlands.
I am deeply concerned for my people in Oyo state and it saddens me that we missed several opportunities to protect them when they cried for help. The people of Ibarapa have been crying for help for over six months before these issues escalated.
I must call on the Governor of Oyo State, Engr. Seyi Makinde to be proactive and rise to the occasion. This is the time he needs to, more than ever, be closer to our people and speak with them. Our people from Oke Ogun to Ibarapa are hurting deeply right now and they need to be reassured that they have a leader who feels their pain.
The government of Oyo state needs to be reminded that it is easier and cheaper to prevent problems from rearing their ugly heads than it is to find solutions to problems when they have occurred.
The peace of this nation depends on the way governments at the local, state and federal levels handle this very sensitive situation. We must immediately commence the process of reviewing the conditions for the accommodation of herdsmen in their host communities.
If a farmer in Oyo state cannot migrate from his village to another village in Zamfara to start farming on any land he chooses under the guise of a constitutional right, then it is unacceptable for any herder to do same with his cattle outside the lands they own.
Our lands and forests belong to our people and their families. These locals should retain the rights to refuse or give anyone the approval to use their lands for farming or grazing either by purchase or lease.
We must begin to encourage a new system whereby herders are allowed to purchase lands for their grazing activities and to serve as their settlement so that they can have an identity, have an address, and become traceable.
Governments and traditional rulers can equally exercise their constitutional authority to give them lands to occupy to practice their trade, where they will be bound by the laws of the land and can be held responsible for whatever happens within and around their settlement.
The truth is that you cannot protect or manage a community you cannot account for and knowing that not all herdsmen are evil, the situation where they are allowed to practice nomadic grazing without a trace is an invitation to infiltration by the same criminal elements who have been unleashing terror on the innocent hosts.
Our dear brothers and sisters in Oyo state, I feel your pain but please, let us allow peace to reign so that violence will not destroy our land. Let us cooperate with the government in resolving this crisis we have on our hands. I want you to know that an injury to one is an injury to all and regardless of our geographical locations, we are with you during this trying time.
For the Yoruba leaders and politicians who only see this as a political tool to gain popularity or discredit their opponents, those who have reduced the lives of our people to just assets to negotiate for the next election, if we allow Yoruba land to burn, there will be no one to lead and history will remember your evil deeds.
It is my prayer that Nigeria remains united and more importantly, peaceful. However, we cannot desire peace if no one is willing to work for it. All stakeholders need to come together in the spirit of fairness, without any form of bias and address this matter with long-lasting solutions.
We are running out of time!
Senator Rilwan Adesoji Akanbi
Okanlomo of Ibadan land and 8th Assembly Senator, Oyo South Senatorial District