•President General, AGBEKOYA Farmers Association Opens Up
Aare Kamorudeen Okikiola is the President General of the Agbekoya Farmers Association. A few days ago paid a courtesy visit to City People Media House at Gbagada in Lagos. He was interviewed by Senior Editors on the current crisis between the Farmers and Herdsmen. He spoke at length about what needs to be done to arrest the situation we have found ourselves in. He also spoke about the atrocities in the ongoing crisis: how Yoruba farmers are been marginalised and treated as foreigners. The most shocking revelation is how farmers are battling to go to the farm and be able to produce to cater to the need of its people in the South-West. Below are excerpts.
Why do you think the herdsmen are battling the farmers?
After the whole fight, one day I got a call from Abuja and the person identified himself as the director of DSS and said to me that nothing should happen to the Fulani there and I said you can’t do anything.
What is going on underground is much. We can’t tell you everything. We are not just fighting for Yoruba but we are fighting for us to be the no1 that we used to be. They don’t want us to have food in the southwest and if the federal government gives Fulani money, they must also give Yoruba.
I don’t care anymore, nothing they can do for me. I don’t go out with boys but nobody can dare me.
There was a day we went to Osogbo. We went to a police station to rescue one Iyalode. She was kidnapped. The police themselves called us that they needed our help that they couldn’t enter the deep bush the woman was kept. I told one of my boys to lead his men there. It was Fulani that kidnapped the woman, but the Yoruba King of that community asked them to kidnap the woman. This is to tell you what we go through.
What is the purpose of your visit today to our media house, City People Magazine and what do you want to tell Nigerians through this medium?
I want to assure the farmers in the Yorubaland that they should not fight anybody but they can fight those who want to destroy their farms.
We want the state government in Yorubaland to help the farmers. They should not leave them like this. In the north, the farmers there are enjoying. The farmers here aren’t enjoying government. If you call any government in the southwest for assistance, they won’t help. They will only speak grammar to confuse you. All the south-west governors should come together to help farmers. They should not seek farm consultants whenever they want to farm and at the end of the day, these consultants would still come to us for partnership.
How can the people who had been victimised and cheated reach you for help?
Earlier we said we have some cases at the police stations. Some of these people are not left alone. We have been doing a lot for people who have been victimised. We have a lot of cases in the court today we finance with the association fund. We have secured a lot of farmers.
In the last few years have you had cause to engage government in the south-west. Which governor or government has so far shown interest to help?
They only engage us where there is an election. It is only the Ogun State who has so far helped and that was during the Amosun administration. They have done well by giving us 15 hectares of land with an approved C of O.
We have OPC, Amotekun, and other groups like yours. How do you harmonise your activity? How do you get funds for your movement?
I told you earlier that, Agbekoya is a farmers association. We have more than 3 million registered farmers under Agbekoya. They also registered with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture too. We have been trying to help ourselves with what we have. Government doesn’t give us money. Imagine, the Nexim bank will tell us to go to the bank of Industry (Yoruba Bank). They have spoilt Nigeria.
OPC is a baby to Agbekoya. The reason why I said that is because Agbekoya has been in existed before OPC. Agbekoya is a registered association. OPC is not a registered association. Agbekoya has a motive. Japanese embassy gave Agbekoya 48 million naira to establish cassava produce in Ekiti State, through Afe Babalola who is one of our patrons. Tinubu is our life patron.
Amotekun is our initiative. It is a baby that has not grown up; they just started crawling. Amotekun has a long way to go. In Osun, every Amotekun you see is Agbekoya. They are using our boys to operate.
When they wanted to float Amotekun, we gave them some reports that we have some warriors (Osha) in Amotekun. These are powerful guys. You can take one group of these boys and name them The Special Squad of Amotekun. Not the Amotekun controlling traffic. Because in Ibadan, that what they are doing.
What is your relationship with traditional leaders?
We have good relationships with them. Ooni, Alaafin are our fathers. We also have a meeting with them and if there’s a problem, they always call us to meetings.
You said Tinubu is one of your patrons. What kind of relationship you have with him? Do you frequently have meetings together knowing well that he has the ambition to become president in 2023?
Baba Awolowo was the first patron of Agbekoya. Tinubu is like Baba Awolowo. He can’t stop Agbekoya in its quest to free Yoruba from bondage. We are not politicians. Tinubu knows we can’t be used. You won’t believe that it was Ifa that chose our Life Patron which is Tinubu. Ifa chose Afe Babalola as grand patron, while Life Patron goes to Tinubu. Baba Afelola can give us an order, Tinubu can’t.
What we have at hands is beyond Farmers, your focus should go beyond farmers. It should be for all Yoruba!
What is going in Nigeria now is between herdsmen and farmers, and if look around, farmers are so much. 99 per cent of Yoruba are farmers. Whenever you mention Yoruba, you will mention farmers.
It’s so sad we have got to the point where we have to depend on the north to get the basic food that we all need. How did we get to this point?
This plan by the north has started for over 15 years ago. There was a time; during the time of Obasanjo. Obasanjo ‘killed’ the farmers here. He was given loans to the Northerners while the farmers in the southern part are struggling. Tactically, they now invited Fulani to come and kill us (farmers). Because if you can’t go to work, you can produce and there’s no soft loan to back up. The government is not even helping at all.
Even if the Obasanjo government made a mistake, should we now continue in that direction? Our governors should be doing better. The day they promised me fertilizers. They sent me a message that the government would be giving me fertilisers. I saw a bag of fertilizer on my phone, so I called the Commissioner of Agriculture. And I told him, generally everybody collects one bag per head but he was going to give me 10 bags. I told him not to send it to me. The fertilizer price was 5, 500 naira then and those people will collect billions of naira. Why can’t they (government) help farmers? You don’t need to give farmers money, just give them what they can plant. Another problem we have now is that when you now plant a crop like cassava and the cows destroy it. Do you know what it takes to grow a farm of 5 hectares? But we thank God in this part of the country, we don’t need much fertiliser because of our land. Here, one bag of fertiliser can do one hectare of land but in the north, without fertilizer, they can’t do anything. And if there are 100 ships in the country today, 90 to 95 will go to the north and give the rest to Yoruba and Igbo.
How do you manage the farmers in the north? Do you think they are frustrating your effort here in the south?
During the time of Adesina, he was the best. He was the best Minister for Agriculture. Very soon now we would do a farmers conference. And we are the only farmers association that does that in Nigeria. Adesina met with us then and he told us he was going to help us. He said his father was a farmer and Agbekoya. He had a good plan for Nigeria and he helped us. He wanted to develop our cassava and some of our produce here. But he couldn’t do it because of those people.
During Adesina, we have started producing a lot with cassava-like bread and the rest, and immediately the north realised this and the Buhari government came on board we couldn’t see cassava flour again. They destroyed everything. They made sure they destroy it. The government are fighting underground but we won’t give up.
When we wanted to do cassava chips, they came from Holland. The Nigerian government called those guys in Holland to come to the north and those people came back and informed us they called them from Nexim Bank. And that is how the government are frustrating the farmers here.
We didn’t say Fulani is not allowed here but we can’t allow Fulani who destroys, rape and kill our people.
You have been President of Agbekoya for 22 years, what would you say has been your greatest achievement?
I have a lot and I have mentioned some of them earlier. We have done a lot in security.
What would you say is the lasting solution to the issue of herdsmen?
I commend the Ondo State Governor, Akeredolu for saying open grazing should be abolished. Because these cows destroy the farm, they would run. If there’s no open grazing in the south, the herdsmen and farmers’ crisis will reduce. The Fulani are stubborn; they won’t hear unless you apply force.