National Publicity Secretary of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, in this interview with GBENRO ADEOYE, expresses surprise that the Federal Government and the police that have failed to arrest suspected Fulani herdsmen killing people across the country were able to quickly parade only Yoruba people as suspects following the clash between Yoruba and Hausa communities in Ile-Ife, Osun State
From your own position, what would you say led to that crisis in Ile-Ife, Osun State, where some people were said to have been killed?
Anybody that knows Yoruba people very well will know that we are very hospitable and accommodating. A Yoruba man is the only person that will vacate his bedroom for a visitor while he goes to sleep elsewhere. That shows you how hospitable we are. We are accommodating; we don’t engage in fights as first resort, we only fight when we don’t have a choice. We would rather take the option of resolving a matter through mediation when that option is available. That has made those who don’t understand us to think that we are cowards and that they can trample on us like grass. For the Ile-Ife crisis, it was caused as a result of a dispute between a Yoruba woman and a Hausa woman. The former said the Hausa woman always littered her shop and then took her up on the matter. In the process, the Hausa woman’s husband slapped the Yoruba woman and she slapped him back. The Yoruba woman was beaten and of course, she told her husband what happened and he went to find out why his wife was assaulted. A fracas occurred. That happened on March 7, 2017. Then the Ife traditional authorities went to report the matter to the police and asked them to look into the matter and settle it. I think the police did not respond as they should. The following morning, the Hausa/Fulani people in Ile-Ife went out on a revenge mission. The first Yoruba boy that was killed by the Hausa people was put in a wheelbarrow. The next casualty in the crisis was also a Yoruba boy, who was hit by a stray bullet from the police Special Anti-Robbery Squad division. Their vehicle was marked 109. But the one that provoked the outrage was the killing of the third Yoruba boy. He was a vulcaniser and his head was said to have been severed and put on a pole which was paraded round the town. That was what incensed the Yoruba people and a free for all started between the two groups. In the process, the death of the 46 people that the police said were killed occurred. At this stage, we cannot determine the identities of the 46 people as many of them were burnt beyond recognition. No DNA has been conducted and until that is done, nobody can say that the Hausa community had a higher casualty figure or not. But for the first three deaths that led to the crisis, two were caused by the Hausa/Fulani people and one was caused by the police. And the Yoruba were never the aggressors in this fight; the Hausa/Fulani were the aggressors.
You and some others have said that a Yoruba vulcaniser was beheaded and the severed head was paraded on a pole. How come this is different from the account of the police that said the problem started after one Kuburat Eluwole slapped a Hausa man during an argument? Which do we believe?
Well, the account given by the police is exactly the account of the Hausa/Fulani in this conflict. And it is understandable. The leadership of the Nigeria Police today is Hausa/Fulani. And this is what we have been saying that this government cannot concentrate all the appointments of the Nigerian security team in one section of the country. We have the Inspector General of Police from the North, the Director-General of the Department of State Services from the North, Minister of interior from the North, and so on. This is the danger we pointed out when all these appointments were being made. When a security challenge arises and all the decisions are taken by people from only one section of the country, this is the kind of situation we are going to have. The police report is edited. They stated that there was a fight between a woman and a woman, a man slapped a woman and so on, but they edited the facts that it was the Hausa/Fulani community that started the killings in Ile-Ife. It was the reaction of the Yoruba people that the police now jumped at and described as what led to the crisis. We have the photograph of the young man that was killed and put in a wheelbarrow and we are waiting for the photograph of the man whose head was severed because we understand that somebody took the photographs. And we are going to meet with their families. So the Hausa/Fulani people are the aggressors in this matter; their actions precipitated it and as I said, Yoruba people will not be the first to get violent but they will defend themselves when they can take it no more. That was exactly what happened in Ile-Ife.
You have criticised the parading of the suspects in Abuja. Why is that? Some people will ask, ‘does it matter where they are paraded?’
You have taken people you accused of committing crimes in Ile-Ife to Abuja. It is against the law. There was a case of Arthur Nwankwo that was decided by the court. He was accused of an offence in his district and was taken to another district for trial and the court nullified the charges that you cannot take him from one senatorial district to another, let alone taking people from Ile-Ife to Abuja. So you cannot say that an offence was committed in Ile-Ife and then take the suspects to Abuja for investigation, let alone trial. And what has happened in this case is that they must have constituted a panel mainly made up of Hausa/Fulani police officers who don’t even know the terrain where the offences were allegedly committed. And because they don’t know the terrain, they don’t even know that in a place like Ile-Ife, there is hardly any house where you won’t find cutlasses since many of them are farmers. Or that nearly in every house, you will find axes because they are used to cut firewood that is needed to cook. The wrong structure of Nigeria that we have been campaigning against is what has been exposed in this crisis. We are challenging it (taking the suspects to Abuja) and we are challenging the flimsy allegations by which they are holding our people. We are challenging the fact that the case was taken to Abuja and more importantly, they cannot say that there was a conflict between two communities and then arraign people from only one community and say that is justice. That is ethnic injustice being perpetrated against Yoruba people by a police force that is headed and controlled by Hausa/Fulani.
Afenifere and some other groups have described the actions of the police and the parading of 20 Yoruba people as suspects as appearing to show a bias towards Hausa/Fulani in this crisis. You seem to be so sure of that.
Oh! It does not appear so; it is the situation. I have it on record that even journalists who covered the press conference by the police public relations officer were asking him, ‘you said that two communities fought, why is it that it is only people of one community that you are parading?’ There is a gentleman among the suspects; what was his offence? His offence was that they found a cut on his body. He is a Yoruba man. Did the man cut himself or was he cut by a fellow Yoruba man? Where is the Hausa man that inflicted the injury on him? You said you found spaghetti with one person as if spaghetti is specially packaged for Hausa people. So any Yoruba man found with spaghetti must have taken it from the house of a Hausa man. You said you found axes in somebody’s house. There is no house you go to in the rural area in Yorubaland that you won’t find such things. They use axe to get woods to cook. They said somebody was found with cutlass. In an agrarian community, there is hardly any house where you won’t find cutlasses. We are largely an agrarian community. They said somebody was found in the room of another person they wanted to arrest. So because you found someone in another person’s room, it automatically means that he has committed a crime. So really, the police have shown that they are overseeing an ethnically biased investigation in this matter and that is why we are challenging this.
That is why we have been calling for state police because with state police, they will investigate what really happened.
Since this government came to power, President Muhammadu Buhari has been accused of being biased in his handling of issues involving Hausa/Fulani people. Do you agree that he is biased or you think people are being unfair to him?
There is a whole lot of truth to it. When there was crisis in Ketu/Mile 12 area in Lagos last year and the Hausa/Fulani people there went on the rampage, killing scores of Yoruba people, did you see the police report? Where are the arrests that were made? Where was Rabiu Kwankwaso (former Kano State Governor who visited Ile-Ife because of the crisis)? Where was Abdulrahman Dambazzau (Minister of Interior, who also visited the clash scene in Ile-Ife)? Where were all these people? Which arrests were made and how many people were paraded? When many Yoruba people were killed by Fulani people in Yewa and the Yewa people left Abeokuta to protest at the Governor’s Office in Abeokuta sometime last year, how many people were arrested? None! When Fulani herdsmen went to Southern Kaduna to kill almost 900 people, where were the police? Where were Dambazzau and all of them? Even the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, said he gave money to the killers. In the South-South, for all the communities that have been ravaged by Hausa/Fulani herdsmen, where is the Federal Government’s presence? Even when the crisis in Southern Kaduna was serious, Femi Adesina (Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to President Buhari) said the President did not have to speak on every issue. So why is it now that the Federal Government has suddenly become active and is arresting people on flimsy excuses? In Oyo State, two weeks ago, we heard of a fracas between some herdsmen and a community and when the community people went to the police station to report, the police said they would call the two groups together and intervene. And the people asked, ‘what kind of meeting is that? There are three groups here, the police, the herdsmen and us. The police are armed, Fulani herdsmen are armed but we are not armed’. The only two groups of people that are allowed to carry arms in Nigeria today are the law enforcement agencies and Fulani herdsmen. Fulani herdsmen can carry arms- AK-47s and do anything they like with weapons. Since all the killings have been going on in this country and thousands of people have been killed, tell me one Fulani herdsman that has been put on trial in the last two years. Where? So we believe that they are using the instruments of Nigeria state to carry out ethnic revenge, we insist that the Hausa/Fulani people were the aggressors in Ile-Ife and until DNA tests are conducted on the deceased, we cannot even say that one side suffered more casualties than the other. Let us even agree that even if in the course of the fight, the host community killed more people from the other side, the first people that were killed in the crisis were Ife indigenes, where are their killers? Why are you not arresting them? Our people have a list of Hausa/Fulani people distributing guns and killing people in Ife. Why are the police not putting them on trial? Only seven Hausa/Fulani people were arrested and they have all been freed. Not one is being put on trial and you say this is a country. What kind of country is that?
Since Afenifere and other pan-Yoruba groups have been criticising this government for being sectional, why have they not been engaging the leadership on these matters you have raised?
Not just on the pages of newspapers but having meetings physically to discuss these issues threatening the country as you said.
You see, the primary responsibility of any government is to guarantee the security of lives and property. Look at what Hausa/Fulani herdsmen have been doing all over this country for the last two years and all we hear from this government is ‘oh, they are from Chad, they are from Niger, they are not Fulani, when you see criminals, call them criminals, why don’t you say Yoruba thieves?’ There is always one defence or another to put up for these criminals among them. When Chief Olu Falae was kidnapped and they (the perpetrators) were nabbed, the Federal Government said people should stop blackmailing Fulani. And it has got to a point now where we have to resolve this matter once and for all. If they don’t want Yoruba in this country, they should tell. Go to the United Nations, the countries that are more populated than Yoruba nation are not up to 40. So we can be a nation on our own if this kind of things will continue. We cannot continue to suffer to say we belong to Nigeria; to hell with it.
What do you think is the lasting solution to the kind of clash in Ile-Ife between Yoruba and Hausa/Fulani people?
The Federal Government should stop this ethnic nonsense that is going on. We are not against trying those who have committed an offence, but take people who have committed offence from both sides of the community and don’t use trumped-up charges. After that, we have said it before that there will be no lasting peace in this country until it is restructured. The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo had predicted everything that is happening in this country today since 1967 in his book, ‘Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution’. Check page 54. He made it clear that any attempt to run Nigeria on a unitary constitution would lead to unproductivity, disenchantment, conflicts and that administrative machinery of the government would grind to a halt. All what happened in Ile-Ife clearly revealed the systemic failure and the crisis in the country. Because two women were fighting should not lead to all these. We have reached a point in Nigeria today, with the tension among the people, where a fight between two fowls belonging to a Hausa man and a Yoruba or Igbo man can lead to worst things than what we saw in Ile-Ife. The Hausa fowl owner will take sides and the Igbo fowl owner will take sides. That is where we are today. Anything can start a crisis. The government should not just see it as something trivial. We have reached that point that once we allow any spark, we will not be able to control it and because we have run the country based on injustice and a wrong structure for several years; this is where we are today. It is all the fallout of the fact that we have refused to build a nation, a proper country. All they have been doing is command and control, social injustice. It has built up and reached a boiling point; so we must restructure this country to allow every section of the country to live their lives. Before the police took the suspects to Abuja, was the Governor of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola, informed? After all, he is the Chief Security Officer of the state.
Was he not aware?
I don’t think he was aware. Is that federalism? And you say you want the country to prosper. That kind of country cannot prosper until you do the right thing. We must restructure. How can there be a crisis in Ile-Ife and you will say it is the Federal Government that will handle it? All the conflicts we see today are from the wrong structure that we operate.
Since Afenifere and some other groups like yours in other regions believe so much in restructuring, why haven’t you all come together and sought audience with the President and the leadership of the Senate to discuss why it needs to be done?
We have been engaging over the years and I remember that in 2000, former President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo called a meeting of all leaders of ethnic groups in Nigeria. Senator Abraham Adesanya led Afenifere/Yoruba delegation to that meeting. And he (Obasanjo) said what should we do about this country? The South-West, South-East, South-South and North-Central delegations spoke in one voice to say we had to restructure this country. North-West (representative) got up and said they didn’t know that what they were coming to discuss, and that they would go back home and come back. They have not come back till today. At the 2005 conference, it was discussed. At the 2014 Confab, we agreed on resolutions but this new government came in and said the report should be in the archives. What do you want us to do? And we are the ones that have been saying let us talk. The Niger Delta Avengers came, and now the government is dialoguing with them. They are talking with Boko Haram. And when you are dealing with a wider layer of the society and it is only the people who carry arms that you listen to and not the people who talk, you are creating a serious problem for yourself and the country.
Afenifere is putting together a legal team to defend the suspects arrested in connection with the Ile-Ife crisis, who are still in police custody. Don’t you think by choosing to defend them, you stand the risk of being labelled as supporting criminality?
Yes, we have put them together. What kind of human beings will think like that? Under the Nigerian law, an accused person is presumed innocent until found guilty. Parading them in the first place is part of the wickedness, harassment and undue deployment of federal might to harass, to subjugate and intimidate our people. Even somebody who has not committed any offence, if you take him from Ile-Ife, drive him to Abuja and parade him before the press, will he not say he did what he did not do? Now if people are accusing us of defending our people who on the face value, you can see that they were arrested on trumped-up charges, what of those who are in charge of security in Nigeria who have refused to arrest the Fulani people who have been killing Nigerians all over the country? Now, a Yoruba person was found with spaghetti and they want to put him on trial, so we should allow it and not defend his rights? Assuming they had said they found guns with these people, it would have been different. But they said they found spaghetti, cutlass, axe in people’s houses. They found somebody in the room of someone they wanted to arrest. Is that an offence? What are these people turning the country into? We cannot accept this. And it is clear that Yoruba have been the most vociferous, calling on the Federal Government to ensure it puts a stop to all the killings going on all over the country all along. We value human lives. We are not a group that human lives don’t mean anything to. There is a certain group in this country which throws the body of the dead away. They throw the body away; that is the end. We value human lives in Yorubaland, so much that we still remember people who died 50 years ago. You will see ‘In loving memory of our father who died 50 years ago’. So the people causing the crisis, you cannot see them remembering somebody who died a year ago.
The reason why we don’t rush into a fight that will lead to loss of lives in Yorubaland is because we value human lives. We know what life means, we cherish it. Before a child starts talking, we have already put him or her in school. So you want us to just ask the child to go and die in a fight. We don’t do that.
And because we value human lives, we invest in our children. A child that is just two years old in Yorubaland, the parents will not be able to tell you how much they have invested in him or her. So we cannot just say children should go and die just anyhow because we know what we have invested in them. We don’t give birth to children and ask them to go on the streets and be begging. We invest in our children and we will not risk their lives unnecessarily. Yoruba people were provoked to the extreme by what happened in Ile-Ife.
Afenifere has demanded the release of the suspects, whom you have described as having been arrested on trumped-up charges, among others. What will Afenifere and other Yoruba groups do if nothing changes?
We are going to court now; that is our first challenge. Yoruba people will fight legally within the laws. But if they insist that they want to continue with this one-sided trial, this ethnic injustice, we pray and we are warning that they don’t push Yoruba people to the tip again. They started against Awolowo in 1962 and it was in 1965 that Yoruba people reacted and the country has not forgotten it till today. That was the end of the First Republic and it was what eventually led to the civil war. In 1983, when they tested the might of our people in Ondo State and tried to rig an election, when people fought back, it was massive and serious. In 1993, when a Yoruba son won a free and fair election and it was annulled, we fought for five years and at the end of that fight, they had to cede the two presidential candidates to Yorubaland. And that the military has not come back to power in Nigeria since then is not on account that we have good governance. In fact, we have had more reasons for the military to take over government than we used to have, but it is on account of that encounter with the Yoruba nation –when they touched a Yoruba son and we fought for five years because the military was humiliated in that encounter. So they should not build another consensus for the Yoruba people to fight back because there was no time that we had to fight back that the landmarks were not left behind. We want the country to progress and move forward. We want Nigeria to work but it will not be at the expense of our blood or the rights of our people. We will not take it.
Some people have described groups like Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Arewa Consultative Forum as divisive and adding to the problem than solving it as you all fight for your ethnic groups rather than being nationalistic. How would you react to that?
Some people like to deceive themselves. Nigeria is not a nation; it is a country of nations. And every nation will look out for its own interests. And for those who believe in such a lie, why are those in charge of the country now looking after the interests of their ethnic group if truly we are all one and not different? Why are police not putting Hausa people on trial? It is all a fallacy. Nigeria is a multi-ethnic society, so you can never erase ethnicity from Nigeria. It is like a bowl of salad. There are all kinds of ingredients that you find in a salad bowl; you see lettuce, tomato and so on. You can see all of them and identify each of the ingredients but it is their combination that will give you salad. So we must sit together to determine how we will live together. On what terms are we going to live together? On what conditions are we going to live together? Let us agree. But to describe some issues as ‘no-go areas’ is wrong. We are in a war, we are in conflict. The number of people that die in this country every day from ethnic conflicts are more than the number of people other countries lose in wars. And you want us to continue to pretend that all is well. Nigeria is not working and it can never work except we restructure it and make it a proper country. There is no consensus. And when we say restructuring, we are not speaking big grammar, we are saying, let us have a model of governance that will allow every constituent of Nigeria to live according to their civilisation and in happiness and we decide who we want to put at the centre to coordinate. What the centre should do is coordinate but what we have in Nigeria is a controlling centre. And that is why you can wake up in the morning and take people from Ile-Ife to parade them in Abuja. That is control. A coordinating centre cannot do that. It is Osun State that should be doing what Abuja is doing and they have done no investigation. They only arrested people on trumped-up charges and brought out ridiculous allegations on which they want to try our people and until we restructure this country, we will not know peace.
Is it true that some prominent people in Afenifere and the South-West are already trying to set up a political party for the region?
Well, the politicians are doing their own thing and they are free to do what they like but what we are talking about now is about the Yoruba nation and the need for us to be respected within Nigeria and for us to be allowed to live our lives and control our lives and not to be bound as we are at the moment. That is what we are talking about now. It is when you have a country that you can play politics within it.
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