Aare Kamorudeen Aremu Okikiola is the President General of Agbekoya Farmers Association. He ascended the throne 22 years ago through ‘Ifa’.
For those who may likely don’t know much about Agbekoya: it was founded around 1938 to defend and fight on behalf of farmers who felt cheated by the federal government when the government reduced the price of cocoa and increased the tax and also asked women to pay tax. This is one of the oldest activist groups in Nigeria.
Last week, a team of Agbekoya led by the President General, Aare Kamorudeen Okikiola visited City People Gbagada office, in Lagos where they opened up about the association and what it’s been up to in the last few years of herdsmen and farmers clash. Some of his answers are shocking and at the same time, informative. Read below!
For some of us who are relatively young: can you tell us more about Agbokoya as a Group?
Agbekoya group was founded in 1938. It was called then the group of farmers in Yorubaland. It was founded by then “Baale Agbe” called Emmanuel Ayorinde. He was the head of farmers then.
The person who popularizes the Agbekoya group was Tafa Adeoye, and he became President General of Agbekoya in 1967. During that time there was a misunderstanding between the federal government and the farmers. The government said women should pay tax and the tax on cocoa, cashew, coffee and other produce in Yoruba land should be increased. And they also reduced the price of cocoa but increased the tax. That was how the government started arresting farmers when they refused to obey their orders. During that time Nigeria hadn’t discovered fuel; farming was the only thing we had in Nigeria. And that was what Awolowo used to build the cocoa house. The roads then were built with the money from cocoa and it was stronger then than what we have now.
Agbekoya then had registered as Nigeria Unions of Farmers and Hunters. This was during the military era, around 1968. They said then that nothing would change. Then, Police had mark4 as weapons. They fought (Agbekoya and the Nigerian government). The fight started around Akanra, a town beside Ijebu-Igbo in Ogun State. The fight was felt everywhere then and that’s how people have been calling the group ‘Agbe’Koya’. The battlefield then was Ogbomoso. That’s why I always say the government should not allow this to degenerate to war because it won’t be easy to control. It was during that time the king of Ogbomoso was killed. Pa Awolowo was the grand patron then and he was summoned to resolve the crisis and he called the leaders of the group like Tafa, Baba Bogun’ be, Ayalu and many others to call it off but the leaders then said the government must announce that the price of cocoa is increased. It wasn’t just the Police that fought Agbekoya; the army too joined in the fight but the government knew that Yoruba people are powerful.
There is something about Yoruba. We mix religion and tradition. These two are different. In Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago they don’t joke with religion.
Can you tell us how and when you emerged the president of Agbekoya?
After Baba Tafa was President, we had Awopeju Bogunbe. Baba Awopeju became the President General of Agbekoya after Baba Tafa, 1974.
You know Tafa was imprisoned but later released. He was set up by a woman whom I can’t disclose what might have happened to her as we speak. Baba Bogunbe spent 115 years before he died and he handed over the power to me in 1998 (22 years ago).
Why did the Agbekoya deviate from its original course which was known to defend the farmers in Yoruba to what we now have?
Agbekoya is not an organisation of Touts. Nobody can control us; only the president and the Iwarefa council can, so Agbekoya is a farmers association.
Agbekoyas don’t like it when they are being cheated. Don’t try to cheat them and they won’t cheat you. Everybody is aware of what is going on in Nigeria between the farmers and the herdsmen. If they won’t frustrate farmers we won’t fight but you can see what’s going on now? The killings, raping and other atrocities by the Fulani. The tension is high now and we have been talking that this shouldn’t go out of control. We can’t fight now, the Iwafera says we should continue with the dialogue for now.
If Agbekoya is in the interest of farmers and the Fulani herdsmen have been killing the farmers for close to 3 years, what have you been doing to defend them against the Fulani because Agbekoya should be at the forefront?
Everybody in the group (Agbekoya) is working. Our national PRO is always on the pages of newspapers. The mistake Tafa (former president general, Agbekoya) made during his time, we didn’t want to do that. We are trying even more than what you think.
What have you been doing since the fight between the farmers and herdsmen started?
Four years ago, we went to Igangan because a case was reported in a police command. We went there to mediate and we called our people to order because we don’t want a situation where we won’t have a good rapport. We decided to report some cases and we settled out of court 4 years ago. The agreement was that they won’t tamper with our farmers and our farmers won’t kill their cows. We have been doing that constantly before now. We have been doing meetings here and there.
What have you been doing in terms of engagement with the government?
We have met the Oyo State government and the representatives of all the farmers in Oyo State. Before now, we have written a petition to the Oyo State Government, the DSS, The Commissioner of Police, AIG, even before Sunday Igboho and Aare Gani Adams came on board. During the time of Ajimobi and even to the Makinde Government. They called us into a meeting then and we also went to Osun and Ondo where there’s the issue of herdsmen.
We have Agbekoya Farmers Association and Agbekoya Society. I’m the president of the two. The Society part are warriors and fighters. We have more than 1800 militants but we call them warriors. Without my authorisation and Iwarefa, they can’t fight. But the Iwarefa council has authorised they should be doing underground jobs which I can disclose here. We have gone round the south-west for meeting because of herdsmen.
What I have noticed is that during this Buhari government they have government support. Agbekoya has been trailing Wakili before OPC went to arrest him. We went there at Ayete and we saw the Kabiesi of Ayete. We met two chiefs and we were told Wakili was an old man who possesses dangerous weapons and the Kabiesi of the town told us that he shouldn’t release Wakili to anyone. So, they (my boys) came back to have a meeting with me. It was later we heard Wakili traveled to Cotonou and we went back to Ayete to arrest him and a Chief of the town told us to arrest him and he also told us some of his boys have run away. Let me tell you something. We Agbekoyas don’t expose ourselves. You can only see our PRO on the pages of the newspaper.
I went to Abuja. There have been secret meetings between FG and the herdsmen. Although I can’t speak and I don’t understand Fulani but I have someone who interprets them whenever they speak in the Fulani language. “They would say don’t mind those Yoruba people, we must fight them later”. And I will also reply them in Yoruba that, I’m well prepared for you; you can try me here and see what will happen and I know some of them understand Yoruba as well. But we won’t allow people know our plan and what we are up to. All we do would be done underground. Because you can never hear Fulani say we would fight this or that place tomorrow. No! You can’t hear that from them. Fulani fights underground and that’s how we want to engage them. We are fully ready for them.
The Fulani want to destroy our farm produce so that we won’t have food again. Take a look back to the time when they said they blocked food from coming to the south. These people can’t live without us. The problem we have is our government in the south-west. When the budget 60 billion for Agriculture, they would divert the money into another thing. Agbekoya, aside from fighting to defend farmers in Yorubaland, we are also farmers. We have various farms. We have about 5 thousand hectares of land given to us during the Amosun government in Ogun State. We went to Nexim Bank but to get money from Nexim Bank you must have a Hausa in your executive before you can get a loan. I say this because I don’t care about them again. We wrote an application to Nexim Bank that we have 5 thousand hectares of land, we attached the needed documents, collateral that is worth twice the money we want as a loan. The property for collateral is in Victoria Island in Lagos. It was given to us by a woman who is part of the executive. You can’t believe that the Hausa who didn’t have anything to present were given money. When we came back home I called my people that I noticed that Hausa (Fulani) are planning something against Yoruba. And what they were planning our government don’t know unless our governors can save us in Yorubaland. If they continue to say we are one Nigeria, it’s a lie. They too know that.
Our farmers are struggling through their sweat to produce the little we have but they (Fulani) do not even want us to produce at all. They want to make sure that their tomatoes, cassava and other produce are produced by them. They want to make sure we can’t produce all these so they can be the food basket of the nation. They want to make sure they have power in terms of food and that the Fulani destroy our farms produce in the south.
Who are those people that makeup Iwarefa? Secondly, There’s been a working relationship between the herdsmen and farmers over time. At what point did things get sour?
Iwarefa is the most powerful authority in Agbekoya. They can decide. The President General has limited power. They (Iwarefa) can say let the PRO issue statements and before the PRO can say anything he must speak to the National Secretary of Agbekoya. Iwarefa consists of six powerful members.
The Fulani used to have a good relationship with Yoruba before, but about 6 years ago, things suddenly changed. They would just, intentionally destroy Yoruba farms and they would say they did it and nothing would happen. And you know Yoruba are gentle people; they would go to the police station to report it but the Fulani would offer (bribe)a cow to police. And that’s how some farmers report to us. When policemen ask Fulani why they had to destroy our farm and kill, they usually say the truth that, yes they destroy farms and kill. And when they ask why they kill, they would reply that they thought Yoruba would kill them first. But if they didn’t see anyone they would run. We have been doing underground works about this kidnap. This morning I got a call from our guy called Egbeji from Osun. We have been doing a lot.