The 2019 elections and the desecration of Okunland

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.
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 across all walks of life.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Olusunle, PhD, is a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE)


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