It is not every time that you see members of the Hunters Association come out in the open to engage the public. They are usually very reserved people who keep to themselves and focus on the business of hunting and safeguarding their territories. Hunters, by the nature of their job, would rather they stick to hunting in the thick bushes where their talents are best recognised and stay away from issues that are, at best, the responsibilities of the government.
But things are different now. The times are fast changing. These days, hunters no longer stick to hunting for game in the thick forests alone, they support the Police to fight crime. They join forces with the security agencies and engage criminals in shoot outs, especially when such criminals try to make good their escape through the thick bushes, which is the exclusive preserve of the hunters. Countless times, they have assisted the Nigerian Police to apprehend armed robbers, kidnappers, bandits who had proven to be tough nuts to crack for the Police. And of course, the Police take credit for the exploits of the hunters.
But the hunters do not have a problem with the Police taking credit for their exploits, all they’re asking for is recognition and support from the Ogun State government.
Last week, the Hunters Association, led by Chief Isaiah Oguntayo Ogunyinka, Chairman, South-West Hunters Asso., accompanied by Mr. Festus Olusiji Ogundairo, Chairman, Hunters Asso. Odeda LG, Chief Tunde Oyeleye, Treasurer, Hunters Asso, Odeda LG, Mr. Oriyomi Popoola, Secretary, Hunters Ass. Odeda LG and Mr. Yombo Oloyede, Member, stormed City People Office to express their displeasure at the non-recognition they have received from the government thus far. They have also stated their demands in terms of support from the government. The gentlemen spoke to City People Deputy MD, FRANCIS OWOJORI, and Senior Editor, WALE LAWAL (08037209290). Enjoy excerpts of the interview.
Tell us a bit about the Hunters Association, sir.
It started about 30 years ago. It actually started when there were armed robbery problems on Ibadan road. Some hoodlums would block the road and rob Christians on their way to church. Often times, the robbers would’ve disappeared before the Police arrive. Our leader then called on us to see what could be done to stop the menace. The DPO at Odeda then was one Mr. Pedro. He pleaded with the hunters to help hunt for the robbers who always ran inside the bush after their operations. We swung into action and caught about six of these robbers. Till now as we speak, we still hold our meetings every fifteen days at that police station which we started about 30 years ago. So, ever since, we have been complementing the efforts of the Police. In the whole of Ogun State, we the hunters at Odeda local government work under one umbrella. We now have about sixty-something units. And we have been doing our best to ensure that the crime rate in Odeda local government has gone down drastically.
How has the experience been like and what are the challenges you have had to face so far as an association?
You know, as a leader, and the chairman, it’s not been easy. But I thank God because I have fantastic people working with me. I am surrounded by reliable allies. Once we sit down and agree on issues together and we make decisions, that’s the direction everyone goes. And that’s why we have been able to make a lot of achievements. Even the CP at Eleweran will tell you about us. As per challenges, we do have our own challenges and we also recognize that there will be some few bad eggs amongst us and we have our own ways of fishing out the bad ones.
I would like you to shed some light on this, sir. Is it possible for one to learn hunting or you can only become a hunter if the family you come from, or lineage, are hunters?
Yes, it is possible to learn hunting, but a large percent of hunters are those who were born into the family of hunters. They make about seventy to eighty –five percent of the hunters that we have.
You said moments ago, sir, that you were the ones who apprehended some hoodlums that were terrorizing the people sometime ago, but the police took credit for it without mentioning the hunters association. How co-operative have the police been with your association?
Well, it’s normal for the police to take credit. We work together as a team. For instance, if in the process of us trying to catch the robbers and we had to shoot one of them dead, we won’t come out openly to claim that we killed the robber. The Law does not permit us to kill robbers, but the police will take responsibility for it. Ours is simply to complement the efforts of the police. But we can apprehend the robbers and hand them over to the police.
How do you get funding for your operations? I am aware that your association moves round various parts of the country, stay in hotels, feed, fuel vehicles or take public transport, how do you source for funds?
That is the area we want the government to come to our aid. We don’t get funding from anywhere, its members who make voluntary donations to keep the association going.
But what then are your benefits from all these?
No benefits, it’s just the passion. Nobody is benefitting anything from the association. All that we have is our passion for hunting and passion to contribute our little quota to the society by reducing the rate of crime. The only money I received was when we arrested somebody at Ogere, somebody who had been killing people at Ogere and the police could not get him for close to a week. The CP now ordered the DPO under Odeda to move into Ogere. They got there on Monday and started doing all they could to arrest the man but their efforts proved futile. They said they were shooting at the man but the bullets could not harm him. That was when they now invited us to come and assist them. It was when we got there they told us that bullets were not affecting the man. We knew this was no ordinary person, so we now returned to Abeokuta and the second day, we returned there and God gave us victory. We entered into the bush, went after him and we got him.
What about the state and local governments, what have they done to support you?
To be honest with you, they have done nothing. The present local government chairman does not even recognize the association. They look down on hunters. They see us as uneducated people, like we are not human beings. They believe that once you’re not a graduate, your head is empty. When they want to appoint people that will be in charge of security of the towns and local governments, they will appoint people who are sitting down inside their air-conditioned offices, how would such people know what’s going on in the bush where the criminals run into once they commit a crime?
What is your working relationship with the Amotekun outfit?
No, there is no working relationship between us. When Amotekun was introduced, we went to see the governor of the state in Abeokuta, but we couldn’t see him. Someone told us to meet with the chief security officer of the state, one retired AIG Abimbola or something like that. He was the one who spoke with us. Later, there was a meeting with the CSO, and we were called upon and they asked us to register our names. Some of the elders were not happy that they were not giving us the recognition we deserved but we said they should let us go there first. We now found out that the governor has said that every other security outfit that wishes to support the government will be under the Safety Corps established by the government. We felt disrespected. Why should we go bow down before our younger ones? The hunters are the real security organ of the community. Hunters are the first settlers of any community. The state government allows their boys to carry arms openly but hunters are not, otherwise we could be arrested.
Meanwhile, we are the ones that can go inside the thick bushes, not these young men. We are the ones that will go inside the bushes to arrest criminals, just like we did some criminals who kidnapped two police officers at Ogunmakin. They were demanding 30 million naira from the police. We were the ones who went inside the bush to apprehend those guys. We got there and even found a white man there with them who was also kidnapped. They made the place comfortable for themselves. They had generators, they watched the television and listened to news. There were two big vehicles inside the bush. We sent our dogs into the bush and we got six of the guys apprehended and handed over to the police. Even the police couldn’t go with us into the bush. Our own gain was that we were shown on television that we helped the police apprehend the kidnappers. We are also hoping we can see Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinunu. We understand that he doesn’t realize there are hunters here in Lagos. Though the Lagos hunters pick up their ID cards in Ogun State because hunters association was not registered in Lagos. So, we really wish to see him. They are planning to put the Lagos neighbourhood watch officers into Amotekun, they will just waste the lives of these young men because they were not taught how to handle guns. In Ondo State, four of the Amotekun boys have been kidnapped by Fulani herdsmen, and their whereabouts are still unknown as we speak. They said they will train the boys on how to handle guns but can it ever be like something you were born into and have been used to from childhood? That’s why Amotekun is yet to be recognised in Ogun State. In Oyo State, the governor has done well. He has recognized hunters in the state. You will find hunters carrying guns in Oyo state.
How does the hunters association prevent politicians from using the group for their own political gains and sending them after their perceived political enemies from other parties?
Yes, you’re right. The politicians come to us asking us to join their campaign train. And the first thing we tell them is to write a letter formally inviting us because anything can happen. We are not supposed to openly support any particular politician as an association, we are supposed to work with every one of them that approaches us. I have warned my people to ensure that if any politician comes to you, make sure they write a letter of invitation. We are not a political association.
What efforts have you made, sir, to get the governor of Ogun state to recognize your efforts in the state because you are doing a whole lot which you’re not given credit for?
On our way to your office this morning, I was telling my colleagues that come the 17th of October when we will meet in Abeokuta, I am going to suggest we carry placards and go to the governor’s office and insist we want to speak to him. He has to recognize us and our contributions to the state. I was irritated yesterday when I saw young Safety Corp boys carrying arms. Do they know the name a gun is called? If they run into armed robbers they are all dead.
Give us a list of the things you would like the governor to do for you. If you get the opportunity to meet the Ogun state governor today, what are the requests you would put before him?
First and foremost, we are a voluntary organization and we need the government’s assistance to operate efficiently. For us to move round and perform better, we need vehicles, at least two buses. We need motorbikes, maybe three or thereabout. Once we get a distress call, it would be easy for us to move. There are some areas that are not motorable, its only bikes that can get there, that’s where the bikes will come in handy. We need them to give us the license to carry guns. They don’t want to see us carry guns, They don’t even want to see us with ordinary bullets. We need them to support us and enable us carry out our operations without fear of being harassed.
What role do you think you can play in the fight against Boko Haram?
Well, we thank God that they are yet to penetrate the South-west, but even at that, it is what you are called to come and be part of that you interfere in. They too can’t call us because it’s the dog that you take care of that you can part on the head. Have they been taking care of us? They can’t call us to come and help them battle Boko Haram. We just told you about the guy that they shot at in the bush for several days and their bullets couldn’t penetrate his body, wasn’t it the hunters that got the guy? We have inherited herbs and black voodoo from our forefathers, and that’s something you cannot buy in the market place.
Finally, sir, is it true that there is a charm that can make it impossible for bullets to penetrate your body or harm you?
(Laughs) That is not something we can talk about openly. But we are all protected by God. It is in God’s hands that we commit our operations, He is the one who truly protects. Our bibles and Quaran are enough to shield us from bullets.