The rise and rise of regional and ethnic warlords, by Zainab Suleiman Okino 




For the right thinking Nigerian burning with patriotic fervor, there are genuine reasons to be apprehensive about the widened rift among the regions of the country. Achieving true nationhood and a united Nigeria requires a lot of hard work on the part of state actors especially political leaders, but our politicians are only adept at pulling us apart with their bad behavior and deeds after making symbolic fine speeches at rallies and gatherings. It is therefore not a surprise, that at every crisis point in the nation’s history, a new ethnic warlord emerges, and quite unfortunately, he becomes an instant celebrity or hero to his own people.


The latest of such overnight hero is Sunday Adeniyi Adeyemo, popularly known as Sunday Igboho. A quick Google search about him brought about many results ranging from his exploits, net worth, houses, cars and more. Sunday Igboho became a news item when he gave a seven-day deadline to killer-herdsmen to leave Oyo state over allegations of rape, kidnap, arson and killing of farmers.

For a man who emerged on the scene only about two months ago, it is amazing how much of him is already out there, courtesy of citizens’ disillusionment with government and their desire for proactive leadership and skewed media reporting of events, which treats outlaws as celebrities, activists, heroes or liberators.


Described as a business magnate, human rights activist, politician and philanthropist by Wikipedia, the 48 year-old has spoken vehemently of Yoruba defending themselves against killer herdsmen, referring to those who don’t support his cause as bastards, as if Yoruba is an entity outside the Nigerian context. Igboho has challenged the establishment of government and traditional institution and has continuously been spurred on to do more. In one of his interviews he challenged the government thus:

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“How did we get to where we find ourselves now? If the government at various levels had taken proactive steps, they would have nipped the crisis in the bud before it snowballed into this. We can’t continue to live in fear of the unknown in Yoruba land. Enough is enough. Where was the government when the killer-herdsmen were killing innocent people in Yoruba land? How many of the killer-herdsmen have been brought to book?”

No one can fault his logic on the government’s inaction and that is precisely the point. A non-state actor like Igboho rose to the occasion where/when government failed to act and that is tragic indeed. As long as government remains apathetic, more Igbohos will emerge from the ashes of leadership inaction.


In the course of “defending their people”, questions may arise, impunity may take the centre stage, and crimes can be committed; it still boils down to one thing—failure of leadership and bad governance. Hear Igboho: “I’ll not wait till “foreigners kill my people” before I do the right thing, I will continue to fight for the cause of justice till I die. I can’t be intimidated by anybody…South-west people must rise with one voice to resist killer-herdsmen. We are fighting for the cause of the Yoruba race, not about sentiment. Anybody is free to live…we can’t accommodate you in Yoruba land and you begin to kill our people on their property…any Yoruba who is against this noble cause is a bastard”.


Because our laws are often breached without consequences, criminals roam free without prosecutions, crimes are viewed from ethnic prisms and impunity holds sway, killer-herdsmen are shielded; there is no equity in distribution of the nation’s resources and appointments, and corruption is treated with kids gloves, ethnic bigots like Ighoho will always emerge from the ruins of a nation run to its knees. And this has always been part of our historical development.


In 1999 up to 2007, Gani Adams emerged as factional leader of O’odua People’s Congress, which in itself came about from the injustice of the annulment of the June 12 election that would have propped up Abiola as president. Gani Adams, barely educated, was indulged by even the Yoruba intelligentsia and commoners alike. During his reign as OPC factional leader, people were killed and maimed, non-Yoruba communities were sacked and or given orders to leave Yorub a land until then President Olusegun Obasanjo pronounced him an outlaw and called him to order.The man went into hibernation and was still a media sensation anyway. In October 2017, the Aalafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi conferred on Adams the title of a warrior and defender of Yoruba race, the Are Ona Kakanfo. The acceptance of the erstwhile OPC leader as the new Are-Ona Kakanfo showed the Yoruba were in agreement, despite the past atrocities committed under Adams’s leadership in OPC. The rest as they say, is history, even as I hold the view that right-thinking Yoruba did not support those violent attacks unleashed by the factional OPC under Gani Adams’s leadership.


Enter Nnamdi Kanu, someone you can describe as a nobody holed up somewhere in the UK eking out a difficult living. He amplified Igbo’s secessionist streak and before you know it, he became a Biafra activist and leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), using his UK Radio Biafra to propagate hate and bigotry. I do not know why the Nigerian government showed so much interest in Kanu to the extent of prosecuting him. Personally, I’d say he is just a rabble rouser of no consequence, that should never have been taken seriously by the Nigerian government because he is in no position to speak for the Igbo.

However, the more the Nigerian government engaged him, the more his support base grew, and the more clear-headed Igbo are made to feel guilty by association. Now he has a place in the history books.

When in 2019, the issue of RUGA was heating up the polity, a northern pressure group by the name Coalition of Northern Group emerged, speaking for herders and supporting RUGA settlements across the country. The group’s spokesman, Abdulaziz Suleiman in a press statement reminded the nation that “so long as the Fulani will not be allowed to enjoy their citizens’ right of living and flourishing in any part of this country including the South, no one should expect us to allow any Southerner to enjoy the same in Nigeria”. Well, I know Abdulaziz Suleiman very well as a colleague in Trust back then and did not know him to be lethal. I just knew he was bluffing, but the rest of the country panicked. By the time some abracadabra went on in the background, the group rescinded their so called one-month quit notice to Southerners. Neither Igboho, Abdulaziz nor their groups would have been an issue if we are not in an era when criminals, gang leaders, thugs, cultists and streetwise people wield so much power at the expense and detriment of the people. Ultimately these people are seen as defenders of their people and are glorified.

These so-called liberators, freedom fighters or warlords are succeeding in the absence of national cohesion and unifying leadership. It is not too late to work towards national integration and true national unity.

At the heart of the current phase of the internal conflicts in Nigeria is the settler/indigene distinction that has fueled most of the ethno-religious crisis in many parts of the country.
It is time to replace indigeneship with citizenship and substitute place of birth with state of origin in the demographic description of Nigerians every where in the country.These will make everywhere home for every Nigerian.

If we can manage our diversities well, the fault lines of region, religion or ethnicity will be blurred such that ethnic warlords will become irrelevant. The things that bind us are more genuine and germane than the crises, crimes and controversies that continually divide us.




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