Despite the inter-ethnic clashes raging in certain quarters of the nation, Oje-Owode in Oyo State presents a peaceable coexistence of three ethnic groups. OLAMIDE ENIOLA reports how this feat has been achieved.
The concept of home or place of origin means different things to different people. For the Fulani and Bororo who are mostly herdsmen, residing in Oje-Owode, a town in Saki-East Local Government Area of Oyo State, is where home is and their place of origin, despite not being ethnically or linguistically connected with the community.
Without being able to state specifically the number of years that they have resided in this Yoruba town, the Fulani and Bororo in Oje Owode community now see a hometown deconstructed to mean a place of residence, a place of safety and/or a place where help is available.
Speaking recently to Sunday Tribune on his sojourn in the community, the Baale (head) of the Fulani in Oje-Owode, Alhaji Ali, a septuagenarian who has lost almost every tooth, went down memory lane on his younger days.
“It’s been long I got here. As much as I can remember, I got here as a child, so much so that those I gave birth to have given birth to those who have also given birth. Although Fulani are known to be nomadic, the entire Fulani community in Oje-Owode has come to stay,” he said.
Speaking further, the man who is the oldest Fulani person in the land said: “At that time, we kept moving from one place to another because we were not enlightened, unlike now that some of our children have started attending school. The Oje-Owode localised Fulani are not nomads; we have become one with the Yoruba. Our forefathers lived together and as long as this community continues to exist, we are not going anywhere.”
Unlike the Baale of Fulani resident at Gaa Onipanu area of the town, the Seriki Bororo of Oje-Owode, Alhaji Buda Abdulahi, who is above 60 years old, could recollect the number of years he has been staying in the town.
In what appears as an endearing assessment of how homely Oje-Owode is to the Bororo, Alhaji Buda said: “In this place, we are well and comfortable. This is (about) my 15th year here, and over the years, when anything wrong happens, the indigenes would call us to order and vice versa.
“We have mostly lived in harmony and peace with the indigenes here. Even when there seems to be some differences, we always resolve them through dialogue.”
From this narrative, it would then mean that the cohabitation of the host ethnic group with the Fulani and the Bororo, in Oje-Owode is different from the constantly bloody farmers-herdsmen clashes prevalent in the Middle Belt, Eastern and Northern parts of Nigeria.
Dynamics of inter-tribal relationships
Having lived together fairly long enough, it seems there is perhaps a method to the cohabitation which makes their coexistence almost rancour free. Alhaji Ali, head of the Fulani gave an inkling of this relationship dynamics.
“We have furthered our relationship by creating and running communal societies of interest with the Yoruba,” he said, adding that: “The name of the society of which I am a member is Oredegbe. In the society, we socialise during festive seasons. Apart from this, there have been inter-marriages between us and the Yoruba. Likewise, our children attend the same schools with theirs such that the knowledge which used to be an exclusive preserve of the Yoruba is now being shared with Fulani children.
“In fact, when the Yoruba community has any social function, I always contact my kinsmen to make contributions, both in cash and in kind, to support them; the same happens when the Fulani community has an event to celebrate.
“Beyond this, we have easy access to land whenever we are in need. I, for one, cannot remember my state of origin. We used to be in Oje-Ile with the Yoruba until things got scattered there. We founded this town together. So for me, I am an indigene of Oje-Owode.
“Certain things have fostered this peaceful cohabitation. One, unleashing violence on another person’s substance is forbidden here. As herdsmen, we make sure our cattle do not invade farms. When the cattle are much, we assign two to three different people to take them out on grazing, without destroying farms,” he revealed.
Corroborating Alhaji Ali’s claim, the Baale Agbe of Oje-Owode community, Alhaji Tiamiyu Okegbenro, explained that the community no longer sees the Fulani as strangers, as they are now being referred to as natives too. For him, this differentiates the Fulani in Oje-Owode from Fulani in other parts of the nation.
“We’ve been together for long to the extent that Fulani are now indigenes of Oje-Owode. For these ones, their grandfathers were born and brought up here. In fact, our fathers, while I was growing up, I noticed, would keep their goats in care of these Fulani.
“In recent times, our relationship with them has been unprecedented. We intermarry and they even have a household name to themselves like Agbo Ile Yoyin. The household recently held a wedding ceremony to which we were invited. Furthermore, they have a seat in the Oje-Owode traditional council by the name, Jowuro.
“But because the excesses of the Bororo could not be curtailed by Jowuro, we have had to include the Bororo into the council with the title Seriki. So if we want to meet the Fulani, we call on Jowuro and Seriki if we want to meet the Bororo,” he said.
Being an agrarian community, most of the residents of Oje-Owode work in the forest. Speaking on the economic activities they engage in, Seriki Bororo explained how their farming and cattle rearing businesses do always take them beyond their immediate community.
“Our economic life revolves around farming, cattle rearing and selling. We sell a few of our produce here in Oje-Owode, and most in Ago-Are, Tede and Kishi, because there is no kraal here. One thing that is evident is that the Oje-Owode community frowns on indolence.
“Our children go to school, especially the nomadic primary schools here. Our women have access to the primary healthcare facilities here too. However, serious health issues involving child delivery and surgery are taken to Saki,” the Seriki Bororo said.
Claims and counter-claims
At Gaa Jowuro, another “native” Fulani settlement, the residents who chose to speak to Sunday Tribune as a group, revealed certain grey issues. While they acknowledged that the Yoruba have been magnanimous in hosting two other different tribes, they accused the Bororo as the black sheep.
“The Yoruba in Oje-Owode are hospitable, unlike the Bororo who could be destructive. They are the ones always invading our farms. We used to report them to the traditional council, but when we observed that the council wasn’t doing much to curb them, we started reporting to the police force and the civil defence to make sure the person whose farm has been destroyed is compensated.
“It is not as if the Bororo are the only ones rearing cows here. Fulani have been rearing cows here before their coming, and we don’t invade others’ farms with our cows. It was when they came that we started having crises,” one of them who acted as spokespersons alleged.
In a counter argument, the Bororo community, through their leader, Alhaji Buda, debunked the allegations leveled against the group. The Seriki explained that cases of farm invasion recur because farmers, who are mainly Yoruba, do not exercise caution in the way they clear off walking paths taken by cattle during dry season or when ploughing the land for farming during planting/rainy season.
He said that: “One major problem we have always had with the Yoruba here is the way they do deprive our cattle road access during rainy season. When ploughing for new planting season, the farmers would creep into the road paths hitherto taken by our cattle in the dry season. This infraction is why it appears as if we are always being accused of leading our cattle to graze on farmers’ produce. It is not as if there are no grasses on which our cattle can graze, but the roads to those grasses are usually cleared during rainy season like this.”
He added: “All our efforts at reporting this have not produced any desired result. We are striving for what to eat, just as they (farmers) are. Farmers and herdsmen are professional kinsmen, and we should live as such.”
Tolerance and tolerance….
Also speaking on these infractions, Chief Okegbenro explained that he and others like him had learnt to be patient with and tolerant of them. While revealing some of the mischief being perpetrated by this supposed violent group, he observed that some of the interventions by government, which should have put an end to the excesses, unfortunately, appear to have strengthened further perpetration of violence.
“We can’t really say there haven’t been hitches as hosts of the Fulani and Bororo in this community. However, since the coming of the Bororo from Niger, the peace we enjoy has been relative. At first, we took them the way we have been taking the Fulani; we learnt with time, that the two groups are not the same character-wise, even though they speak the same language as the Fulani.
“Before the Bororo’ arrival, we could keep anything on the farm and retrieve it any time we need it. Cows would not be directed to invade our farms. Things have not remained the same since this group came. When they incidentally meet you on the farm with their cows and you challenge them, they wouldn’t care a damn, perhaps because they see nothing wrong in invading our farms.
“The worst part of the story is the Bororo can ask a toddler or an adolescent to take about 30 cows or more on grazing. How can such direct the cows without them destroying farms? Our yam and maize farms are really suffering now. During cashew season, the cows would invade our cashew farm and swallow cashew nuts, our real money-making cashew product. But because cows cannot chew the nuts, they excrete them when they are led back to their hut. To our amazement, Bororo who never planted cashew, as much as we know, will be the one selling us cashew nuts. As a community, we frowned on these at first, but we later resorted to dialoguing with them.
“Again, seeing that this set of people could unleash violence if care is not taken, we have decided to be cautious and patient in relating with them. So the Fulani are not our problem here, the Bororo are. When you send them away from your farm today, they are coming tomorrow. They are very evasive and influential, even when their infractions get reported to the police. What I would say has mitigated their invasion in recent time is the herbicides we use in spraying our farms. Once sprayed, Bororo will not allow their cattle to graze on that farm.
“Despite all the hitches we have had, especially with the Bororo, I must say that we have enjoyed a relative peace of mind in recent times. Armed robbery and raping have ceased. But concerning their invasion of our farms, they keep maintaining that we, both farmers and herdsmen, jointly own the forest. While we agree with their argument, the question to ask is: how many times have farmers waylaid them to unleash havoc on their livestock?
“To worsen things, the government is not helping much. I’ve had to question again and again the rationale behind the proposed creation of an exclusive radio station for the Fulani. These people are always in the bush. You expect them to be listening to the radio while taking cows out on grazing? Are there no radio stations in the North? Can’t Fulfulde be spoken on those radio stations in the North? What about the money paid to Miyetti Allah? It as if the government is reinforcing the violent to perpetrate more violence,” he said.
In what could be seen as a common need, these major ethnic groups in Oje-Owode have unanimously appealed to the government to create more schools and to empower them for self-reliance.
The men at Aba Jowuro were unanimous in the appeal with one of them saying: “While we appreciate the government for establishing nomadic primary schools for our children in Sepeteri, Ago-Amodu, Oje-Owode, Arogede, Tede and Ago-Are, we will like to have secondary schools for them too.
“Another big problem at hand is hunger. We need government’s empowerment so that we can be self-reliant and train our children beyond primary school. Anybody could go about stealing because of hunger. So we plead with the government to bail us out.”
In view of various inter-tribal crises going on across the nation, Seriki Buda noted that: “We hear of bloodshed in the faraway north, and I feel this has been the case because the people there have not learnt to tolerate one another.” He advised that “the local community leaders there (should) call their youths to order,” adding: “We do always pray such will not come near us here.”
A don, Professor Yisa Kehinde Yusuf, who is an indigene of the community, has a deeper perspective of this inter-relationship, observing that is it symbiotic in nature. He added that if certain Nigerians would desist from stereotyping the hitherto castigated Fulani and relate with them based on the individual differences they exhibit, problems confronting the nation would be better solved.
“Instances of cohabitation have their advantages and disadvantages, whether it’s within a single family where you have the husband, the wife and the children, or a society where you have different families or within a society where you have people of the same ethnic group or where you have people of different ethnic groups.
“Usually when cultures meet, they have the tendency to enrich one another mutually. For example, the Yoruba culture has enriched some of the local Fulani in terms of their social life. In terms of life expectations, the horizon of some of their young ones, especially the community opposite my house, has broadened and some of them have started seeing the community as too small for them.
As a result, some of them have had to move to more urban centres like Ibadan to work and return ‘home’ in Oje-Owode. The social outlook of their parents too has changed; that’s why they are asking for more schools to enhance their economic and social life. When people talk about the Fulani, they have an agenda. Because they are not wanted for political and religious reasons, they are often painted in the negative.
As a result, people overlook the tendencies we are talking about, and start throwing propaganda about. People stereotype and over-generalise about them, without regarding their individual differences. The problem with this kind of categorisation or characterisation is that it makes it difficult for problems to be solved. For the Yoruba community, the relationship has also been beneficial. Some in the Yoruba community have cattle which they keep with the Fulani, and for these ones, this is like saving for the rainy day. For instance, during a wedding, instead of having to bother about money for cow, they could just request for one or two of their cows kept with the Fulani.
In another instance, when there is a housing project and they need money for roofing, they could ask them to sell two or three cows so that the proceeds could be spent on the project. So, the relationship between the Yoruba and the local Fulani communities is symbiotic, and they speak good Yoruba when they communicate. The Bororo are problematic because they can still be regarded as strangers. They do not have yet the emotional attachment to the community, unlike the local Fulani.
“Having lived with the Fulani here, the way we see them is different from the way they are portrayed in the mainstream and social media,” he said.
Though the peace in Oje-Owode may be trying hard to maintain a balance, it is representative of several other parts of Oke Ogun in Oyo State where the Fulani people have become indigenised to the extent of inter-marrying with the locals and even bearing Yoruba names. However maintaining that balance is of paramount importance, if “kiths and kin” would need to continue to live together in peace