In recent years, rising insecurity in Nigeria appears to have been strengthening separatist movements across the country. In July 2021 when Nigerian separatist leader Sunday Adeyemo, also known as Sunday Igboho, was arrested in neighboring Benin as he was about to board a flight to Germany, he was the second Nigerian separatist leader to be arrested that month outside the country.
Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, or IPOB, had been arrested earlier that month in a foreign country and returned to Nigeria to face trials for offenses including treasonable felony. Igboho, who has been campaigning for an independent Yoruba state in southwest Nigeria, was on his way to Germany when he was arrested around 2 am on Monday, July 19, 2021, by the International Criminal Police Organisation at the Cadjèhoun Airport in Cotonou, the Republic of Benin.
He had fled Nigeria after authorities raided his home in Ibadan accusing him of stockpiling arms, which he denies. To some, particularly his supporters and community members, Igboho is a hero for helping them fight for access to land and for calling for a Yoruba nation. To others, he is inciting ethnic hatred. In October 2020 when he called for the creation of an independent Yoruba republic while Nigeria was celebrating its independence day, no one took him seriously until the following year when he began fighting for land rights.
Igboho, in January 2021, issued a seven-day ultimatum to herders and pastoralists in southwest Oyo state to vacate the state. Well known in south-western Nigeria at the time for his role in Yoruba communal battles, he became popular across Nigeria when he delved into the country’s deadly conflicts between Fulani herders and farmers over access to land and grazing rights, according to BBC.
About twice a year, Fulani herders and their families walk long distances from the north to central states and other regions in Nigeria to look for grazing land for their cattle. But farmers and locals in these areas say that the cattle of the Fulani herders destroy their crops and cause water pollution. The Fulani herders have also been accused of robbery and other criminal activities.
Violence between these herders and farmers have been escalating. Since January 2018, it has killed over 1,300 people and displaced many people. New laws banning open grazing were introduced in some states.
In December 2020, things got out of hand following the killing of a politician in Oyo state. Igboho, who could no longer accept what was going on, demanded that Fulani herders leave the south-west, a region described as the home of the Yoruba people. He accused the Fulani herders of being involved in the killing and gave them seven days to leave.
After those seven days, Igboho held a rally in the area where the politician was killed. After that event, unknown persons burned down the homes of some Fulani people who had been living with locals in the community. Igboho then traveled to Yewa in Ogun state to help evict Fulani herders. He was condemned by some but praised by others, especially Nobel literature laureate Wole Soyinka, who accused the federal government of not doing much to put an end to the farmer-herder conflict that had been costing Nigeria at least $16 billion in potential revenues annually.
Indeed, Igboho’s main concerns were over rights to land before he started agitations for a breakaway state. Born in 1972 in Igboho, Oyo state, he became a motorcycle mechanic and later started a car business in Ibadan, selling new and second-hand cars. Among his clients were governors and politicians, whom he started mingling with.
Now in his late 40s, he was celebrated in a feature film thanks to his fight for land rights. The film displayed “magic charms and juju” to show how powerful Igboho is. At the time, some said that he walks around with a snake around his neck.
On Monday — months after his arrest in Benin — authorities in the country released him on health grounds, although he is to remain in Benin for security reasons. He had been accused of “entering Benin illegally and planning to cause trouble”, BBC reported. Igboho denied the charges. Following his arrest in Benin last year, Nigerian officials never made a formal extradition request.
The separatist leader has now been released to the leader of the umbrella body of Yoruba Self-determination Groups, Banji Akintoye. Igboho’s counsel, Yomi Alliyu, SAN, spoke with Vanguard: “I am to inform you that Chief Sunday Adeyemo has been released from prison to his medical practitioners under the agreement that he should not leave the medical centre or Cotonou for any reason. Praises should be given to two prominent Yoruba personalities to wit Professor Wole Soyinka and Professor Akintoye for this turnaround in our client’s matter.”