The sleepy town of Ijare in Ifedore Local Government Area of Ondo State had a rude awakening on September 21 with the mysterious death of 36 cows inside a sacred grove.
Inhabitants of the town had described the bizarre occurrence as a punishment for the Fulani herders for their impertinence of grazing in a sacred mountaintop grove belonging to the town.
The catastrophe caused shock among Fulani herdsmen and also struck fear in the minds of farmers in the town, sparking rumours of mass relocation.
The disaster left the town in turmoil as rituals are yet to be conducted for the cleansing of the grove and appeasement of the supernatural forces that unleashed the cataclysm.
Some of the town’s residents told Saturday Sun the incident was instigated by the obstinacy of some Fulani herdsmen in the town who despiste the series of warning by traditional priests and chiefs still went ahead to steer their herds up the mountains into the grove. Such action was considered a flagrant violation of the tradition of the town which stipulates that only the substantive Olujare of Ijare, who is the traditional and spiritual head of the town, is entitled to enter the grove at the summit of Oke Owa (Owa Hills) at the outskirt of the town.
According to the town’s tradition, Saturday Sun gathered, the Olujare of Ijare, Oba Adebamigbe Olawagbemigun, visits the mountain once in a year to make sacrifices to the deities on behalf of the people of the town.
The monarch’s retreat usually lasts a whole day––day and night––during which he prays to their deities for peace and tranquillity in the town and also performs the necessary rituals. His recent trip to the grove was in January.
The climb from the foot of the hill to its peak, takes at least one hour. On the journey to the summit, sacrifices are offered at various sections. However, the peak of the hill where the grove is located is the exclusive preserve of the Olujare. Any individual, who trespassed, according to the people’s belief, will be struck dead by thunder.
Oke Owa, a mountain with a verdant vegetation of trees, shrubs, herbs and climbers, naturally attracts Fulani pastoralists to the area. But on September 21, the presence of cows and herders supposedly provoked the gods to anger. In the aftermath of the calamity, the dominant theory is that the herd was killed by lightning.
Amara, a resident of the town told Saturday Sun: “On Saturday, I saw the Fulani herdsmen with their cows while they were entering the bush and climbing the mountains. But this morning, a hunter that was passing came to inform us that he saw the same cows but they were already dead. We rushed there and were shocked to find the cows all dead.”
When contacted, spokesperson for the Ondo State Police Command, Femi Joseph, confirmed the incident.
Traditional Prime Minister of the town, Chief Wemimo Olaniran, gave an insight into the mystery.
“The place is not meant for ordinary people; even the king that goes there, does so with great caution. Incidents like this happen when people desecrate the sacred land,” he said.
Chief Olaniran added: “Anyone who desecrates any sacred part of Ijare will suffer this kind of fate; it happened in the past. Where the cattle died is called Owa where the Olujare visits once a year. The innermost part of the cave is where he stays for 24 hours in seclusion, performing traditional rites. So, no individual is permitted to visit there. At our end, it was an act of God for which nobody can be queried.”
Continuing, he gave a background of events leading to the devastating climax: “Five days before now, we learnt that some Fulani men were there and had built their tent there. We prayed to God to save us. We asked God to intervene; we don’t want anything to desecrate the place because it is a very special place as far as Ijare community is concerned. And on Saturday evening the God that we serve in this town answered our prayer. We have no regret.”
The community leader who said it is forbidden for anyone to touch the dead animals, avowed the cows’ carcasses “will be there forever.”
Traditionalists in the town, he disclosed, will appease the gods at the appropriate time.
“We counted no fewer than 36 cows already dead. They would be there and no one would be allowed to touch them,” he stated.
Another resident of the town, Olusola Segun gave yet an illuminative perspective to the sacred grove: “Apart from the king, only virgins could visit Oke Owa. The journey from the foot of the hill to the top takes an hour; how the herdsmen made it to the top with their cows was a source of concern to many.”
Segun narrated an anecdote: “There is a particular festival called Odun Olofin. A masquerade, dressed in fresh palm fronds, goes about and can spot any harmful charm worn by anyone in the crowd. It would rush at the bearer of the juju and confiscate it. The masquerade is so fearful that people are not allowed to step on any of the fronds that drop from its body. Its minders rush to pick them up to avoid calamity.”
The point of his anecdote: “In Ijare, there is supernatural power.”
Miyetti Allah demands compensation for 36 cows
The National President of Miyetti Allah Kautel Hore socio-cultural organization, Abdullahi Bodejo, has called on both the federal government and the Ondo State government to pay compensation for the 36 cows killed by thunderstorm at Ijare in Ifedore Local Government Area, Ondo State.
Speaking with Saturday Sun, Bodejo said thunder is an act of God, but some people were happy over it because of the hatred they have for the Fulani, and therefore attributed it to punishment for the herders.
“Our cows are supposed to be treated as other assets like cars that are insured. A Fulani man doesn’t have any company, but the cows are his company and industry; they are his everything – car, shops, etc. Now that the cows are dead, what do you want that Fulani man to do since they were not insured?
“So, the government, whether the state government or the federal government should pay compensation for those cows killed by thunderstorm. Even if a motorcar kills a cow on the road, the government should pay compensation, it is the best thing to do. Even if Fulani man wakes up to see his cow is dead, let the government pay compensation
“If you don’t compensate him, maybe some bad company or bad people can invite him and teach him illegal things and he would join them to begin to torment other people. Government should pay him; death of 36 cows is not a small loss. It shouldn’t be a heavy thing for government to do; let the government quickly settle the Fulani man.
Asked if his group will carry out reprisal attack should the government fail to pay any compensation, Bodejo emphasised that the “Fulani are peaceful people; they don’t make or cause trouble; on the other hands, others are always looking for the trouble of the Fulani.
“Some media houses, except The Sun that always balances its stories, would always demonise the Fulani as the people causing trouble or attacking others. If they raze Fulani houses, they turn to accuse Fulani as being responsible; if two brothers fight, they finger the Fulani.
“The members of the community shouldn’t be afraid of any attack because a single Fulani can never attack a community; members of the community didn’t kill the cows, thunderstorm killed them from the stories we were told. I don’t see any reason to be afraid.
“How can one Fulani man attack a community? Sometimes when members of community attack themselves they say it was Fulani that attacked them. This has happened in many places. I believe that very soon all the state governors would understand the values of the Fulani in this country.”
Reacting to the development, the Chairman, Ondo State chapter of the Miyeti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Alhaji Bello Garuba confirmed that the owner of the cattle is a prominent member of the association. He described the incident as an act of God.
“As Muslims, we believe nothing can happen without the knowledge of God,” he said. “We have put that behind and we have continued with our day-to-day activities. Though it was a painful loss, we believe God knows the best.” Garuba, however, dismissed the idea of the Fulani leaving Ijare town on account of the incident.
“We are not going to leave any part of the state. Our people will continue with their farming business across the state,” he affirmed.
Concerns and fears
The thought of 36 carcasses of cows rotting away in the sacred grove and no action taken to evacuate them is troubling to the people of the town who fear it could cause an outbreak of an epidemic.
To this end, some of the inhabitants have appealed to the state Ministry of Health and Environment to come to their aid.
The Sapetu of Ijare, Chief Adewemimo Olaniran called on the government to mandate the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health to take action in the interest of the health of the community. The appeal came just as elders and local shamans are fine-tuning plans on rituals to be performed to appease the gods over the desecration of the sacred hill.
Meanwhile, the news of the abnormal incident has travelled far and wide, attracting a multitude of people that flocks to the community for a glimpse of the scene of the disaster.
The Speaker of Ondo State House of Assembly, Hon Bamidele Oloyelogun, who is from the local government, led members of the house Committee on Agriculture to the community yesterday.
However, neither the Ministry of Agriculture nor the Ministry of Health has responded on the matter as at the time of filing this report.