Ifon: Once upon a town, By Wole Olaoye


Reading Time: 6 mins read

One area of quick win for the Nigerian government: re-energise the security apparatus to restore normalcy in Nigeria’s towns, villages and forests. When economic activities are restored in these places, poverty will recede. 

In those days when social order was the norm and life was predictable, it was normal for groups of hamlets to aspire to become villages someday; villages aspired to become towns (or, at least suburbs); and towns looked forward to the day when they would become cities in the fashion of the glitzy municipalities.

No one foresaw the day when, in the manner of children crawling back into their mothers’ wombs, thriving towns would start shrivelling, withering, shrinking, and reverting to the stature of rustic villages from whence they had originally emerged. It is a big leap into backwardness, a giant effort to undo countless seasons of back-breaking manual labour through which the locals tamed the environment. 

All over Nigeria, if you look carefully enough, you will find former towns which are now villages and erstwhile villages which are now mere settlements — no thanks to the novel phenomenon of banditry, cattle rustling, kidnapping for ransom and other forms of criminality that have defied the government’s tepid response in the last decade. Today, I use Ifon, a town in Ondo State, as a point of contact with other Nigerian communities suffering similar afflictions.

At the turn of the last century, Ifon used to be a divisional headquarters. It lost that status later but came back to reckoning in 198,9 when it was named as headquarters of Ose Local Government in Ondo State.

Before the era of expressways, you had to drive through Ifon if you were going from the West to the Midwest or Eastern Region. Over time, the town and its surrounding communities prospered on account of bustling commerce. If that town had continued on that trajectory, it would have someday numbered among the significant urban centres in Ondo State. But that has not been the case. All the optimism about the area became dampened when tragedy gave the town a bear hug and refused to let go.

Ifon attracted national attention on 26 November, 2020, when the town’s traditional ruler, the Olufon, Oba Israel Adeusi, was killed by unknown hoodlums on his way from the Council of Obas meeting in Akure. Killing an oba is taboo in Yorubaland. After that, the secretary of the APC, another indigene of Ifon, was killed along Imoru Road in the town. Then, a businessman based in Ifon, Mr Ojo Emmanuel, was killed at Omi Alafa. Up till today, their killers are still at large. 

Following the death of Oba Adeusi in such gruesome circumstances, Ifon has gradually become a ghost town. The elites have relocated to surrounding towns because of the security situation at home. Its vantage location of being a link to many towns and states in the Midwest and Eastern regions, which used to be a great asset, is now a handicap. 

Ifon is the border town between Ondo and Edo states. When the police turn the heat on robbers in Edo State, they easily escape across the border into Ifon and other towns in Ondo State. The security situation is compounded by the menace of the cattle rearers who have taken over the forests and have been terrorising local farmers. The forest reserve in Ifon extends all the way to Edo State. Many farmers have reportedly been abducted in their farms and many of the townswomen raped by roving bandits.

The string of tragedies dogging the town is relentless. On 23 April, the former chairman of Ose Local Government, Hon Bola Adelegbe, was abducted along Okeluse Road. Up till now, he has not been released — even after payment of the ransom of N5 million demanded by his faceless abductors. No one knows whether he’s alive or dead. 

As with many other rural communities in other parts of the country, the unending menace of herdsmen destroying farmlands and feeding their cattle with farm produce, has led to several skirmishes between the herders and indigenes of the town. The situation is now threatening food security in the area because farmers are afraid to go to their farms, lest they are kidnapped.

The people were aghast two years ago when some of their community leaders were invited by the police to report in Abuja on the allegation that a cow belonging to herders had been killed by an unknown indigene. There was no word about investigations into the killing of their Oba but the police were quick to issue an invitation over the alleged killing of a cow? 

Hon Olaniyi Eni-Olotu, a community leader, was one of those invited. According to him, “The police actually invited four of us indigenes to report in Abuja to explain what we knew about the dead cow. Imagine, our Oba was murdered and there had been no arrest of the perpetrators, but when a cow was reportedly killed, they invited us to report in Abuja!”

The saga of insecurity continues unabated. The highway’s terrible state of disrepair is a bonus for the bandits. Only last week, gunmen killed two commuters on their way to Ifon. It usually takes about 30 minutes to drive from Ifon to Owo. Now, it takes five to six hours because the road has broken down due to lack of maintenance.

The result is that while the motorist is busy navigating the craters and gullies on the road, bandits launch surprise attacks from the surrounding bushes. They shoot indiscriminately and swoop on those trapped in vehicles. They rob both the wounded and the dead. At times they abduct a few survivors to the bargain. It was bad enough when the road was motorable. Now, it is pure hell looking out with one eye for passable patches of laterite or tar and scanning the horizon for armed bandits with the other.

Even by Nigerian standards, that kind of situation must be considered as double jeopardy because the other ‘regular’ crimes such as bank robbery have all but shut down the town. The story is still told of a red letter day in 2017 when a 15-man gang of armed robbers invaded Polaris Bank in Ifon, killing the three policemen on duty and escaping with an undisclosed amount of cash taken from the vaults of the bank. The incident grounded social and commercial activities in the town. Today, Ifon, the town that produced the legendary musician, Orlando Owoh, no longer has a bank!

One issue that the bank robbery brought to the fore was the matter of under-policing. Many people were of the view that if the police were well equipped and available in higher numbers, no gang of rag-tag robbers would just shoot its way to the vaults and cart away all the cash in the bank. As with many other towns in Nigeria, under-policing is clearly a problem. 

Hon Olaniyi Eni-Olotu wonders, “How can the government expect the police to be effective when they don’t have enough personnel and the necessary equipment to do their job? The police in Ifon don’t have patrol vehicles. How are they expected to monitor criminality? The police must be well provisioned before they can deliver.”

Insecurity is one of the negative ‘levellers’ in Nigeria. The bandits and robbers and sundry gunmen who are holding society hostage all over the country do not ask about the religion or tribe of their victims. They simply point their guns at helpless souls and terminate their lives.

If you have the courage to drive past Ifon, you will see rows and rows of cocoa trees untended by their owners who have been frightened away by robbers, bandits and herders. You will see food crops wasting away. You will see a town which is slowly but surely grinding its way back to villagehood. The modern order changeth, yielding place to antiquity. Without the government’s firm intervention, this will be another inexorable slide into prehistory where dog eats dog. 

Without doubt, this could be an area of ‘quick win’ for Nigeria’s new federal administration. Just restore adequate security to Nigeria’s towns and communities and watch as the people gleefully pick up the pieces of their lives. Nigerians are not asking for too much when they demand protection. They have to be alive to be economic players. Dead men don’t pay tax.








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