Fresh facts emerged on Saturday that herdsmen have converted Ondo Government forest reserve located in Odigbo Local Government Area into a militia camp.
This indication buttressed the widespread claim that killers of Mrs Funke Olakunrin, 58-year-old daughter of leader of pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, Mr Reuben Fasoranti, were herdsmen who sneaked out of the reserve to rain bullets on the vehicle she was travelling in.
Olakunrin was killed on Friday as the gunmen ambushed vehicles on the highway and abducted some commuters. Her maid reportedly sustained some gunshot injuries during the attack.
Killers of Fasoranti’s daughter have their base in the forest, say villagers
A former senator who represented Ondo South Senatorial District at the Senate, Mr Boluwaji Kunlere, said hoodlums had been operating around where Olakunrin was killed for a long time.
He said this in an interview with one of our correspondents in Lagos on Saturday.
Kunlere said, “I beefed up security in the area when I was in the Senate. I gave 13 Hilux vans to the police divisions in Ondo South Senatorial District and gave motorcycles to Department of State Services for surveillance.
“I think the police do not have the manpower to ensure adequate security in the area. The expressway (Benin-Ore-Sagamu Expressway) is where the major problem is. The spot (Kajola) where they killed Baba Fasoranti’s daughter falls between Odigbo and Okitipupa Local Government territory.
“The people living close to the area said Fulani herdsmen had taken over that area and there was a time a bishop was abducted and the police rescued him in that area. Herdsmen are all over the forest. We see them between Omotosho and Igbotako. They graze their cows on the road and strike and they run back to the bush.
“They have been operating there for long but the attack on Baba Fasoranti’s daughter was given a wide publicity because of the man’s influence. The downtrodden have been suffering there for long. There was a time that they exchanged gunfire with the police between Omotosho and Ore in the afternoon and they ran away when they discovered that the police would overpower them.
“When they attacked Mr Olu Falae’s farm then, the police said it was bush burning because of the fear of Abuja. They want to attribute this killing to armed robbers but the locals are saying the killers are herdsmen.”
Some residents of Kajola town in the Odigbo council area who spoke with our correspondent insisted that some Fulani herdsmen terrorising the area were residing in the forest in the area.
One of the residents identified only as Mr Ola said the herdsmen behaved as if they were above the law, adding that it was not the first time they would perpetrate the act in the area.
He said, “They destroy our farms at will. Their cows always eat up many of our farm produce. We have reported several times to the police but no action was taken. We heard gunshots yesterday (Friday) and it is a common thing in the area. We call on the government to provide adequate security to protect our lives and property.’’
Also, a farmer in Kajola village who gave his name only as Mr Aliu, also said bandits had invaded forests surrounding the village.
He said there had been many criminal activities going on in the forest and nobody stopped them.
Aliu said, “The herdsmen that struck on the expressway yesterday (Friday) stay in the forest around the area. That is not their first time and that is how they operate. We have reported to security agents but nothing has been done about it. We are helpless. Government should come to our aid.”
Another resident who spoke on condition of anonymity also reiterated that the reserve in Odigbo council area had been inhabited for long by herdsmen.
He said though the reserve belonged to the government, community members now use the place for farming.
The resident, who is a prominent member of National Association of Odigbo Local Government Students, said herdsmen rampage started in the area at the same time it became rampant in the country.
He said, “Villagers are aware of the activities of herdsmen in the area. There was a time herdsmen cut the wrist of a farmer who confronted them when they took their cows for grazing on his farm.
“DPO of Ore Police Station intervened in the matter and spoke with members of the community. The vigilantes have had to confront them many times. The vigilantes later constructed a shed in the community and take turns to ensure security in the area. This is a development that is known to people in the community.’’
It’s a lie, herdsmen are not in reserve – State govt, Ondo CP
However, Ondo State Government has denied that some killer herdsmen had taken over its forest reserves.
Commissioner for Information, Mr Donald Ojogo, said the government had invested much on security in the state.
He added that though intelligence report could not be revealed to the public, government investment on security had been yielding good result.
He said, “It’s not a thing of excitement for the government to divulge to the public measures being put in place to tackle this menace. There are no killer herdsmen residing in our forest reserves.
“As you know, insecurity is almost a nationwide issue that requires everything to curb it. On our part in Ondo State, a lot of investments have been made in this regard. All the same, such are not for the public. It will, therefore, be unfair for anyone to conclude that nothing has been done to checkmate the menace. As you are aware, we have our limitations, but those limitations will not be allowed to discourage us from doing what is appropriate at all times.”
Also speaking, the state Commissioner of Police Undie Adie, said he was not aware of gunmen in the state.
He urged residents to provide useful tips on the gunmen and their activities, promising to act on them immediately.
Adie said, “The person with that information should make it available to me right away. We appreciate useful information from anywhere it comes, once it is credible, we would act on it.”
On her part, the Chairman Caretaker Committee of Odigbo council, Mrs Margaret Akinsuroju, said she was new in the local government but ready to assist security agents in their efforts to make the local government free of bandits.
She said, “I am just two weeks in the council. I am not aware of bandits taking over our forest reserve but as I speak to you, security agents are working tirelessly to flush criminals out of the area. I will like traditional rulers and the people to support them by giving them useful information that will lead to the arrest of the bandits.”