Sunday Igboho: The Nigerian separatist who wants a Yoruba nation

Sunday Igboho

Agitations for breakaway states in Nigeria are nothing new and a controversial car salesman has emerged as the latest figure calling for a Yoruba nation in the country’s south-west.

Hailed as a hero by his supporters, Sunday “Igboho” Adeyemo is seen as a dangerous rabble rouser by his opponents, accused of inciting ethnic hatred and killing.

Mr Adeyemo first achieved some national notoriety last October when he used the country’s independence day to call for the creation of an independent Yoruba republic, although he was widely ridiculed for the idea at the time.

He is being taken more seriously now, as he has become a lightning rod for grievances related to land rights.

In early July, he fled the country after authorities raided his home in Ibadan as the authorities cracked down on separatists figures.

Just days before the raid on Mr Adeyemo’s home, Nnamdi Kanu, another separatist leader who wants a Biafra state in the country’s south-east, had been arrested in a foreign country and brought back to Nigeria.

Mr Kanu is currently facing charges of felony.

Since the arrest of Sunday Igboho, there have been protests for his release such as this one in London

Mr Adeyemo was arrested in neighbouring Benin three weeks later and Nigeria wants him extradited to face charges back home.

He is accused of stockpiling arms, which he denies.

Lionised in a feature film

Once only well-known in his part of south-western Nigeria, Mr Adeyemo became a national figure after he thrust himself into the heart of one of the country’s deadliest conflicts – clashes between Fulani herders and other groups, over access to land and grazing rights.

After the killing of a politician in January, Mr Adeyemo felt he had seen enough and captured attention with his demand that the Fulani herders, from northern Nigeria, leave the south-west, seen as the home of the Yoruba ethnic group, for all their alleged crimes.

This self-styled defender of the defenceless, popularly known as Igboho – after his hometown in south-west Oyo state – is no stranger to controversy and deadly conflict.

The 48-year-old has been lionised locally for his role, in the late 1990s, in age-old intra-Yoruba communal battles. His reputed exploits were acted out in a feature film that was a fantastical display of magic charms and juju.

In one scene where rival gangs face off, the actor playing Mr Adeyemo arrives on a motorcycle, picks up a poisoned banana and calmly eats half of it without feeling any ill effects. He then plucks a machine gun out of thin air and fires at his opponents who flee in every direction.

That film and other tales about him, such as that he walks around with a snake around his neck, have contributed to a local reputation of invincibility.

Who is Sunday Adeyemo?

  • Born in 1972 in Igboho, Oyo state

  • Runs a dealership selling new and second-hand cars

  • Was a motorcycle mechanic in his early years

  • Has a foundation named after him that caters to the needy

It is not clear how he came into the car business that he operates out of the city of Ibadan but he seems to have made a success of it, selling everything from new Rolls Royces to second-hand Toyotas. His clientele include powerful politicians and governors and he is often seen with them in public.

Land rights were originally at the core of his grievances which morphed into agitations for nationhood.

Climate change is pushing Fulani pastoralists to go further south to graze their cattle

Fulani herders and their families walk for hundreds of kilometres from the extreme north to central Nigeria and beyond at least twice a year to find the best grazing land for their cattle.

But this has often led to friction with local communities, who accuse their cattle of trampling on their crops, and sometimes accuse the herders of robbery and other crimes.

  • Africa Daily podcast – Why are farmers and herders fighting in Nigeria?

Some of the herders are also employed by rich southerners who own cattle but employ Fulani to look after them.

A federal government plan approved in 2019 to solve the problem by creating ranches for the herdsmen was rejected by most southern governors who accused President Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani, of hatching a plot to grab land for his people.

In the past few years, clashes have become more deadly as both the Fulani and those opposed to them have set up armed self-defence militias.

In the south-west, state governors established a regional security outfit, Amotekun, to help deal with the problems.

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Open grazing has also been banned in all six south-western states.

Map: Nigeria

Tensions were ignited in December after the killing of politician Fatai Aborode in Oyo state.

Mr Adeyemo decided to take matters into his own hands and told the Fulanis to go, without providing any evidence of their involvement in that killing or other alleged crimes.

Eviction order for Fulani herders

After his seven-day ultimatum expired in January, he held a rally in the area where the killing took place, after which the homes of some more settled Fulani, who had been part of the community for generations, were burned.

Mr Adeyemo denied responsibility for the trouble, saying that the police had been with him all through the time he was in the area.

But he also travelled to Yewa in Ogun state to “evict” Fulani herders.

There, he was received by a joyous crowd and whipped them up by saying that “killer herdsmen” had escaped justice “because the herdsmen are close to the federal government”.

“Any Fulani herdsman who engages in kidnapping should be flushed out,” he added.

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His actions have been widely condemned, especially by groups in northern Nigeria who accuse him of inciting ethnic violence and engaging in the “unlawful eviction” of citizens.

Some political leaders in the south-west have joined in the criticism but there were also massive support for him in the region.

Federal lawmaker Shina Peller wrote a message on Instagram saluting Mr Adeyemo’s “courage, bravery, and participation in this struggle”.

www.instagram.com/p/CKlWqkqHwEk/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

A GoFundMe account to raise money for his cause received more than 10m naira (£19,000; $26,000) in less than 24 hours.

‘Nigerians can live where they want’

Mr Adeyemo’s sympathisers accuse the federal government of not doing enough to stop the attacks on local communities by herdsmen.

Benue Governor Samuel Ortom, whose state was until recently the epicentre of deadly clashes between the herders and farmers, believes that the crisis has been enabled by the leniency of the president towards the Fulani herders.

Information Minister Lai Mohammed said he would not be drawn into a reaction on the governor’s comments, telling the BBC that “Nigerians have a right to live in all parts of the country”.

Nobel literature laureate Wole Soyinka, who is from the south-west, also criticised Mr Buhari’s silence on the activities of herders, saying it could develop into a civil war.

Soyinka said Mr Adeyemo, like other Nigeria’s self-rule agitators, had responded to the situation in the way he knew how.