By Kunle Agho, Abeokuta
For the second time, soldiers from 35 Artillery Brigade, Alamala, Abeokuta, Ogun State, have visited some villages in Yewa North Local Government Area, Ogun State, where they had earlier brutalised residents at the instance of some herdsmen.
The soldiers had earlier escorted some herdsmen to some of the villages on December 19, 2020, and flogged many of the residents for refusing to allow the herdsmen to graze their cattle on their farmlands.
The affected villages include Ateru, Moro, Ologun, Agbon, Igbota, Ogunba-Aiyetoro, Oke-Odo, Ibore, Gbokoto, Iselu, Ijale, Ohunbe, Igbeme, Ijoun, Owode-Ketu, Igan-Alade, Lashilo, Oja Odan, Moro, Ologun, Iyana Meta, Igbooro, Egbeda and Kuse, TheNation reports.
At Ubeku, in the presence of the Baale (village head) Chief Olaleye Adigun, a youth leader, Peter Koposhu, and other villagers, the soldiers asked one of their victims, Seye Mulero to recant his statement published in the petition and some national dailies.
According to a four-minute audio recording of the event that transpired during the visit and obtained by TheNation, Captain Onyebuchi revealed that the Army headquarters was worried by the petition it received and news report over the allegation that men of 35 Artillery Brigade, Alamala, Abeokuta escorted herdsmen to the affected communities where they brutalised some villagers for refusing herdsmen to graze their cattle on their farmlands.
In the said audio recording, Onyebuchi was heard frantically asking Mulero to make a video recording of the retraction to save the Army from embarrassment.
However, according to the Nation, the victim refused to retract his statement, insisting that he was flogged and badly wounded.
Disturbed by Mulero’s stance, Onyebuchi said: “The story says ‘Soldiers escort herdsmen to Ogun villages… At that point, the soldiers seized him and beat him mercilessly…’
“See, this is a weighty allegation, and we will not take it for granted.
“The (Nigeria) Army got in touch with Alamala (35 Artillery Brigade), which in turn sent me here. I have to write a report on the investigation because I must report back to the person who sent me here.
“…I want you (youth leader) to video him (Seye) because your name is what we have in the petition. Your name is what we have, so you (youth leader) will record him now, he will call his name and say that nobody touched him.”
Onyebuchi then asked that Mulero be filmed while refuting the story that he was beaten by soldiers who escorted herders to the village.
“He will call his name as you are recording him and say that all these are false. Nobody touched him and whatever he said, nobody forced him to say; he said it out of his free will in the presence of the Baale and the youth leader and, of course, members of the community.
“Are you getting me? Go ahead…if that is done, I think I am okay with it.”
However, the soldier warned that the failure of the victim to make the retraction might force the Army to return to arrest him and shun any distress call from the community.
He said: “Let me tell you what this thing means. There’s a need to clear this air. If you don’t clear it, next time they call, the Army will not respond because you people have alleged and penned the Army’s name in a bad light (sic) and the Army will not respond when there is an emergency in this place.
“If they don’t respond, you can’t blame them. So, the need to clear this is very important. If I were you, I would come out clear because your name is everywhere in the petition they wrote; that you were beaten mercilessly, and look at you here.
“Say it that whoever is doing it is doing it on his own; that you didn’t send anybody.
“If you like, pretend to feign lack of understanding by saying ‘mi o gbo, mio gbo (I don’t understand)’, that is your problem… If tomorrow they come here and pick you up that you were using the Army’s name anyhow, you will go in for it. So, the earlier you clear the air, the better for you.”
However, Mulero refused to be intimidated, saying: “…I was flogged. You can see the wounds on my back and still feel pains. The soldiers beat me up, kicked me, and dealt blows on me. Even parts of my body swelled up.”
Mulero’s younger brother, Gabriel, who the soldiers also flogged, said the soldiers’ second coming had heightened fears among the villagers.
He said: “The soldiers wore red berets, which suggested they were military police. They left around 4 pm. They met with the Baale, the youth leader Peter Koposhu and other villagers.
“They came in a military van and left disappointed after my brother refused to do what they wanted of him.”
The second visit of soldiers to the communities has created tension and panic in the area as residents are beginning to relocate for fear of being apprehended by the minions.
The villagers see continued harassment by military men to indicate more trouble on the horizon. They fear that soldiers could arrest and further intimidate those perceived to be opposed to them and the herdsmen they are backing.
A villager, Daramola Adekola, said he was one of the people contemplating relocating from his village. He condemned what he termed as orchestrated oppression by soldiers following the community’s rejection of herders.
Adekola said: “I am an indigene of this community, but life has become miserable for us, especially those of us who are farmers, following the destruction of our crops and farmlands by herdsmen.
“Since we have been crying out to security forces for protection from the herders who have been killing our people, including children, and raping our women, the military did not for once respond to our cries.
“But look at the way they escorted herdsmen to forcibly graze in our villages and beat some of our people mercilessly for rejecting the herders.
“Now, they returned after our plight, which was published by The Nation went viral and resorted to forcing the victims to recant following what they termed the embarrassment the report caused the Army.
“I am one of those considering leaving the community, because many of us fear that they may come back again to further deal with us, going by the countenance of the officer who led the soldiers after the victims refused to recant what was published in the petition and the newspaper.”
Reacting, the spokesperson for 35 Artillery Brigade, Major Osoba, confirmed that Captain Onyebuchi went to the villages on the said date and therefore was in the best position to explain what transpired.
He said: “Captain John Onyebuchi is one of our officers here, and he is the officer in charge of legal services.
“But since Captain Onyebuchi is the one who went to the villages, I want to advise you to demand his phone contact from the villagers, so you can call him because he is in the best position to explain to you what happened there.”