By Tunde Olusunle
For those who know a thing or two about the history and evolution of the Okun homeland, never has the area been as weaponized and as violent as the experience of the 2019 general elections. The Okun country, by the way, is the Okun-Yoruba speaking stretch of Kogi State. To refresh our minds about this part of the sprawling and luminous landscape called Nigeria, Okunland is the southernmost extremes of the Yoruba country, on the nation’s geophysical map. It is abutted to the north west by the Igbomina-speaking part of Kwara State; to the west by Ekiti and to its south west by Ondo State. Okunland traverses six of the 21 local government areas in Kogi State, namely: Yagba West, Yagba East, Mopamuro, Ijumu, Kabba-Bunu and Lokoja. In what is a definite geophysical aberration, Okunland is delineated within the North Central zone of Nigeria.
Because the area is wholly subsumed geoculturally and ethno-linguistically in the expansive Yoruba sub-country, its sophistry as one of the most educated sub-nationalities in Nigeria, is most often understated. Yet, unarguably, Okunland whose people provided the bureaucratic, even technocratic backbone of the erstwhile omnibus Northern Nigeria administration, is one of the most literate ethnic groups in Nigeria. The Sunday Bolorunduro Awoniyis, Silas Bamidele Daniyans, Ade Johns, Moody Olorunmonus, Emmanuel Otitojus, Michael Asajus, Raphael Ibitomis, and so on, who served meritoriously in various capacities in the evolutionary course of Nigeria are all well documented.
The professorial and doctorate degree indices of Okunland per square kilometre, run neck to neck with that of its Ekiti kith, to its geographical west. My good friend, Yemi Akinwumi, Vice Chancellor of the Federal University Lokoja (FUL), discussed with me a few years back, the need for us to document the human resource profile of Okunland, so as to perspectivise the contributions of scholars and professionals from that critical core of Nigeria, to nation building. Statistics available to us as at that time, put the number of professors of Okun extraction, at over 200. Former Health Minister, Professor Eyitayo Lambo, many years ago aggregated about two dozen professors from Isanlu, his birthplace at that time, one of the several communities in Okunland.
While not pre-empting the proposed publication highlighted above, “charity might as well begin from home,” the media (scholars and practitioners), which is the forte of this writer, where Okunland has contributed some of the very best professionals, to the vocation, in the course of state building and service to nation. Household names like Olatunji Dare, Ayo Olukotun, Peter Olowo, Jimmy Atte, Dapo Olorunyomi, Eniola Bello, Tunde Ipinmisho, Ishaq Ajibola, Segun Ayobolu, Simon Kolawole, Vicky Olumudi, Moji Makanjuola and Lara Owoeye-Wise, are distinguished Okun sons and daughters in the media. Gbemiga Ogunleye, Tunde Asaju, Babajide Otitoju, Kola Ologbondiyan, Austin Elewodalu, Sanya Oni, Ola Ampitan, Vincent Akanmode, Toyin Ibitoye, Ronke Bello, Dayo Asaju, Dayo Thomas, Adeleke Adeseri, Ayokanmi Osinlu, Duro Meseko, Richard Elesho, Ralph Omololu-Agbana, among others, are also media bright lights from Okunland.
The Okun-Yoruba country is also the home of seasoned intellectuals like Adeoye Adeniyi, Ade Mobain Obayemi, Felix Anjorin, Pius Adesanmi, Idowu Ajibero, Bade Onimode, Olu Obafemi, Albert Anjorin, Ifeyori Ihimodu, Etannibi Alemika, Emily Alemika, Adewumi Osanaiye, Sam Ale, Bamidele Solomon, Tunde Adelaiye, Rotimi Ajayi, Gbenga Ibileye, Mike Ikupolati, Kolade Obamiro, Dave Omokore, Bamidele Olobaniyi, Sam Metiboba, Segun Akanbi, and Ezekiel Olumodeji, among others. There are also Taiwo Fagbemi, Taiwo Daramola, Salman Idris, Timothy Asobele, Stephen Owa, Moses Ayodele, Francis Bayo Lewu, Joseph Owonubi, Samuel Olowo, Olu Olufeagba, Albert Kole Olayemi, Olujide Jackson, Blessing Oladele, Sunday Orebiyi, Paul Bolorunduro, Kutu Raphael and Joash Amupitan, among several others.
Respected Okun scholars also include Oluwatoyin Abimbola Babalola, Funlola Alabi, Abubakar Musa, Job Oluwatimilehin Atte, Bola Titus Omonona, Taiwo Daramola, Felix Ibitoye, Segun Ogungbemi, Joseph Abiodun Balogun, Veronica Ayelabola, Samuel Olowo, Juwon Ore, Stephen Bolu, David Irefin, Abdulmalik Abdulwahab, Kola Olorunleke, Gabriel Tunde Arosanyin, Kayode Joash Simonyan, Adeleke Fayomi, Lloyd Baiyekuhi and Ayodele Jimoh. Adeoye Adeniyi (University of Ilorin); Dapo Asaju (Crowther University); Rotimi Ajayi (Landmark University), Felix Anjorin (Bingham University), have all been Vice Chancellors at various times in various universities. This is not forgetting Akinwumi who is the incumbent Vice Chancellor of FUL.
Nigeria’s legal profession has been graced by luminaries like Niyi Oshe, Bayo Ojo, Joash Ampitan, John Baiyeshea, Duro Adeyele and Malomo Awomolo, all Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), from Okunland. To make assurance doubly sure, these very senior “silks” are topmost quality senior members of the bar, and not quota allottees. Prominent diplomats from the same part of Nigeria, through the years include Olayinka Simonyan, JJ Lewu, Edward Aina, John Kayode Sinkaiye, Babatunde Paul Fadumiyo, Rafiu Sola Enikanolaiye, all substantive ambassadors. Businessmen, bankers and captains of industry have included Kola Jamodu, Ola Oyelola, Abiodun Alphonsus Ehindero, Dele Dada, Stephen Olorunfemi, Babs Omotowa, John Obaro, Tunde Ayeni, Jide Omokore, Austeen Olorunishola, Funso Owoyemi, Segun Ogbonnewo, and many more.
Nigeria’s military has been served over time by officers from Okunland, who distinguished themselves and made the rank of Brigadier General and above, across all three arms of the military. These include: David Medaiyese Jemibewon, Olu Omotehinwa, Rufus Kupolati, Adeyinka Adeniyi, Femi John Femi, Sam Teidi, Joseph Ajayi, Joseph Owonubi, Julius Oshanupin, Theodore Ilemore, Kunle Awarun, Bunmi Ajibade, Paul Okuntimo, Olu Irefin, Foluso Daniels, Matthew Teidi, Emmanuel Abejirin, Funso Owonubi, Jones Babalola, Femi Adeoye, Lonsdale Deji Adeoye, John Obasa, and many more. Richard Babagbale, Bode Foluso Ayeni, Alice Mshelia, Olutoyin Johnson, Samuel Ayo, Tahir Umar, Adeleke Segun and Abiodun Adebayo are also Okun men and women, who have meritoriously donned the gears of Nigeria’s military services.
The security and intelligence services have had names like Ahmadu Sheidu, Raphael Ige, Raphael Osanaiye, Williams Toyin Akanle, Afolabi Oludoyi, Mike Arokoyo, and a host of others, at various times. The nation’s public service has equally been richly benefited by the enterprise of Okun people over the years. Harry Osha, Mike Gbadebo Olowolaiyemo, Biodun Nathaniel Olorunfemi, Sola Akanmode, John Olanrewaju, Abdulganiyu Obatoyinbo, Folashade Yemi-Esan, Tunde Irukera, Olu Adebola, Sam Ale, Bamidele Solomon, Lanre Ipinmisho, Ade Abanida, Funso Fayomi, Toba Olusunle, Tunde Bello, Adedayo Kayode, Dele Onimode and several others, ascended to the zenith of their careers in the organisations and establishments where they served.
The soccer fields and tartan tracks of global sports, have featured Okun flagbearers like Segun Olumodeji, Fatai Atere, Sunday Bada, Abiodun Obafemi, Samuel Elijah, Emmanuel Obafemi, Dele Aiyenugba and Shola Ameobi, among several others. Okun people have also proven their mettle in entertainment with Art Alade, Dare Art-Alade, Jaywon, Debbie Rise, Morayo Joseph and Steve Babaeko, to name but a few. The quality and quantum of scholarship, skills, talent and experience which Okun people parade will be envy of many countries in the world.
Okunland has been variously described as an “oasis of peace and tranquility,” something of an island of sanity and quietude, an abode of some kind of pristine serenity, even when the world, was literally unsettled, restive and aflame. Yes, viewed against the backdrop of experiences in other zones and communities in the Kogi space, Okunland has, by its DNA, been the most sober, most restrained, most welcoming segment of the state, over several aeons. Okun people have always been genetically welcoming and accommodating, ever willing to oblige even the wayfarer a drink, a meal and bedspace, in the dark anonymity of night. That was the Okunland passed down from preceding generations to successor epochs. In a poetic summation of the trademark conviviality in Okunland, Obafemi in one of his verses describes the area as one where “calabashes of palmwine, make the ceaseless rounds,” in communal fellowship. The senior Daniyan, a foremost Okun nationalist and leader, was famous for the “new year eve communion” where he was joined by associates and friends from across the Okun ecoscape, to savour roasted yam and palm oil sauce, a traditional Okun delicacy, waiting for the breaking of the dawn of a year.
That primordial calm and quietude in Okunland, however, was violated in the rudest of manners on the eve of the 2019 general elections. Yes, the customary pin-drop silence of the night was crudely blighted on the eve of the presidential election, on Friday February 22, 2019. Gunshots rent the air in a most unusual staccato in Isanlu, headquarters of Yagba East local government area (LGA), holing up residents in their various homes. A similar situation was reported from all the other major communities in Okunland, notably, Egbe, Mopa, Aiyetoro-Gbedde, Kabba, Iyara. The shootings equally continued during the State Assembly elections a fortnight later, March 9, 2019.
The stakes were high. The testimonial of the administration of Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s President since May 29, 2015, and who was seeking reelection on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), was to be appraised at the ballot the next day. Public sentiments and opinion favoured a repudiation of the incumbent at the polls and the acclamation of his archrival, Atiku Abubakar who was flying the banner of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). The insinuation across board was that loyalists of the ruling party sensed a potential whipping and therefore wilfully orchestrated the preemptive intimidation of the of the opposition, via the night time gun scare. This was to dissuade supporters of the opposition from leaving their homes to vote on the election morning. It was also calculated to privilege apologists of the ruling party, to perpetrate sundry schemes in the polling stations, without antagonism by their opponents.
Shootings were heard in Aiyegunle-Gbedde and Aiyetoro-Gbedde, both in Ijumu LGA. Aiyetoro-Gbedde is the home of Dino Melaye, who was on the ballot in his quest to return to the Senate, as representative of Kogi West. He ran against his political adversary Smart Adeyemi, whose seat he took over at the 2015 election. Melaye and Adeyemi are both from the same LGA, so the contest was going to be fiesty, that Saturday February 23, 2019. Femi Ajisafe, a retired director from the federal public service, missed being hit by a bullet when his polling unit was invaded in Aiyegunle-Gbedde, on the same March 23, 2019. Gunshots were also fired in Kabba, political and traditional headquarters of the Okun people.
In Yagba West LGA, a certain Segun Olu was arrested Saturday March 9, 2019, during the state assembly elections in Egbe, one of the major communities in the local government area. He confessed in his statement to the police, that he had 10 other accomplices in the shooting and mayhem inflicted on the town. Segun Olu implicated a top official in the administration of the LGA as the sponsor of his gang, while also adding that firearms were brought from Lokoja the state capital. One Tunde Oladipo who was at Polling Unit 01 in Egbe on that day, to exercise his civic responsibility, was reportedly shot in the leg as he joined forces with others to prevent thugs from snatching ballot boxes. In the case of Mopamuro LGA, the quantum violence witnessed during the presidential election and reports from the field across Okunland, necessitated the boycott of the House of Assembly election, by the PDP, on the same March 9, 2019.
By the time the governorship election in Kogi State was to be held on Saturday November 16, 2019, which was also the date of the repeat senatorial election between Melaye and Adeyemi, voter harassment had assumed a novel dimension in Kogi State, with specific reference to Kogi West. The Court of Appeal had earlier voided the election of Melaye as Senator, following a petition by Adeyemi, and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), scheduled the rerun poll for the same day as the governorship ballot.
In Lokoja, abode of many Okun communities, a helicopter reportedly belonging to the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), allegedly fired bullets from the sky, dispersing voters from their queues! Melaye’s nephew Juwon Oluyomi, was fatally shot at the former parliamentarian’s polling unit while shielding the ballot boxes from being stolen by renegades. He died shortly afterwards. This is not alluding to developments elsewhere in Kogi State on the occasion of the governorship election, which spontaneously produced a song with the refrain “ta ta ta ta,” to underscore the free deployment of the barrel of the gun, to enforce and illegally obtain electoral victory.
Ever since, Okunland has lost its original, therapeutic quietness and innocence. The political hirelings of yesterday, much like the Niger Delta militants of the past, have become the lords of the manor today. Suddenly, so sadly suddenly, the Okun country has now degenerated into a haven of crimson crimes, hitherto alien and unknown to its people. Robberies, kidnappings, banditry, and similar criminalities have become the norm in the area. First, there was an extremely bloody bank robbery incident in Isanlu, early June 2020. The attack on the “First Bank” branch in the town, took place simultaneously with an unprecedented assault on the divisional police station in the community, which claimed the lives of eight policemen and officers. No part of Okunland had previously witnessed such an incident, executed by over 20 robbers.
September 13, 2021, there was an attack on Kabba Prison, during which over 200 inmates were set free by the bandits. It was the first time such an occurrence would be experienced in the sleepy Okunland. Sunday September 19, 2021, gunmen attacked the ECWA church in Okedayo, Kabba, along the Kabba-Okene road, killing one of the congregants, Elder Reuben Gbenga (the chief security officer of the church) and abducting three. Seventy-eight year old Chief Julius Oshadumo, pioneer Provost of the College of Education Technical, Kabba, (COETK), one of the abductees, was later killed in a crossfire between the kidnappers and vigilantes. His wife, Mrs. Olu Oshadumo, was shot during the attack on the church.
Saturday October 9, 2021, another kidnapping incident occurred in Kabba, a short distance from the location of the earlier incident. Two people including Elder Raphael Olufashe, were killed, while four were abducted, including Tolufashe’s daughter. The gunmen have placed a ransom of N30 million on those in their custody. Before this time on May 1, 2021, a Commissioner with the Kogi State Pensions Board, Adebayo Solomon was killed in a kidnap attack, on the border between Eruku in Kwara State and Egbe in Kogi. He was riding in the same car with the chairman of Yagba West LGA, Pius Kolawole, who was abducted.
These developments as would be expected, have impacted socioeconomic activities in the Okun stretch of Kogi State. Okun civil servants and entrepreneurs from across the country who regularly visited their home communities especially at the weekends for social engagements, have had a rethink. Arising from this, countryside businesses which thrive on the erstwhile regular “weekend economy,” have been asphyxiated. These include hotels, restaurants, services, farm produce, and so on. That hitherto consistent homeward traffic has not been helped by the extremely deplorable conditions of all the roads, all the approach entries into Okunland.
Video clips and photographs of totally broken down roads including the Kabba-Isanlu-Egbe-Omu Aran; Kabba-Iyamoye-Omuo Ekiti-Ado Ekiti, as well as the Ilorin-Omu Aran-Eruku-Egbe roads, have trended considerably, in the social media, in recent weeks. In instances, commuters actually passed time on the roads. Because the condition of the various roads is so terrible, commuters are compelled to slow down to navigate through pot holes, gullies, bumps and bush paths, travellers are very much at risk. Marauders easily mount sentry on the roads or spring out from the hiding in vegetation on the sides of the roads, at the noise of approaching automobiles.
Representations have been made to federal authorities, notably the Ministry of Works and Housing, (FMWH), and the Federal Emergency Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA), by officials of the Kogi State government and parliamentarians representing the state, respectively. The governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi whose state is linked by the Kabba-Iyamoye-Omuo Ekiti road, has also been engaging with multibillionaire industrialist, Aliko Dangote, whose cement complex is sited in Obajana, Kogi State. Dangote’s company rebuilt the Lokoja-Obajana-Kabba stretch of the road to Ekiti, which needs remediation already, by the way. Cracks and openings are noticeable on aspects of the concrete work. Fayemi’s advocacy is for the extension of the road to Ado Ekiti, especially given the fact that cement-bearing trucks from Dangote’s plant, traverse the road in numbers, every day. To date, however, not much has been done.
It is instructive that the Speaker of the Kogi State House of Assembly, Matthew Kolawole and the Security Adviser to the governor, Jerry Omodara, both visited Kabba last September, when the ECWA Church incident occurred. A meeting was held between both officials and stakeholders and security chiefs in the LGA, on that occasion, to rejig the security architecture of the council. Much more will, however, have to be done. Governor of the state, Yahaya Bello, will need to take some time off his ongoing consultations for his proposed presidential aspiration, to attend to burning state matters. While keeping the flame of his bid for the nation’s top job aglow, he should be reminded that his primary mandate and obligation, is to the people of Kogi State. His job in this regard, subsists till January 2024.
Should he become president come May 2023, another chief executive will carry the can, thereafter. The people of Okunland, of Kogi West and of Kogi State at large, want to be reassured by seeing their governor in their domains, touring black spots in various parts of the state. They want to see him leading the way in recalibrating the security apparatus of the state. They want to see him with officials from the FMWH and FERMA, complete with heavy duty equipment, ready to change the face of our monstrous, deathly and jagged roads. Until he becomes president, his primary constituents in the three senatorial zones, nine federal constituencies and 21 LGAs, want to see more of their governor.
Crucially, Okunland cannot wait to wrestle itself from the stranglehold of this alien regime of fear, uncertainty and trepidation. Okunland desires to reinvent itself, as that customarily peaceful, communal and companionable sub-country, where you leave the doors to your home ajar at dusk, and retire to your couch, with both eyes closed. We want to take back that our idyllic homeland, where we are woken at dawn, not by the cackle of gunfire or clanging noise of machetes, but by the unmissable crow of the cock, the bleat of goats in the neighbourhood and the teasing aroma of akara e’lepo, wafting through the morning breeze, awaiting the companionship of ogi gbi’ gbona. We want to reclaim that quintessential Okunland, girt by the streaming Oyi river, where dawn rouses you in Iyamoye, and dusk embraces you in Igbaruku.
*Tunde Olusunle, PhD, is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE)