• Our gods were angry, say elders
• It’s a natural occurrence –Scientists
Ondo State drew attention to itself many months ago when about 36 cows belonging to some herdsmen were struck dead by lightning at the Oke-Owa hill in the agrarian community of Ijare in the Ifedore Local Government Area of the state. The incident was astonishing with the villagers linking the development to the anger of the gods of the land.
The ‘sacred’ Oke-Owa hill is a conspicuous rocky and bushy area at the right when entering the town from Akure, the state capital. It’s less than a kilometre from the main road leading into the town. Looking at the hill from afar, nothing exposes its seeming sacredness Before the incident, there have been clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the area.
We gathered that the area had recorded cases where herdsmen took their cows to graze on farmlands and destroyed crops. This is the case in several states in the South-West from Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti, Osun and Ondo. Herdsmen have been accused of maiming, raping, killing and abducting many people in their host communities. Thus, residents in Ijare town weren’t bothered about the cows killed by lightning.
Our correspondent learnt that as crop destruction by grazing cows lasted in Ijare, the farmers took their case to the security agencies and the state government. But the complaints were said not to have been addressed.
A visit to the community showed that the people were of the belief that lightning struck that day for a reason. They were of the view that gods of the town must have been provoked to fight against the activities of herdsmen on their land. Besides, others insisted that it was a lesson to the herders who always trespassed on people’s farms with their cows without bothering about the losses farmers would incur.
Many of the villagers asserted that the Oke Owa hill where the herders took their cows for grazing is a no-go area for the indigenes let alone visitors or strangers. It was further gathered that only the town’s traditional ruler mounted the hill once a year to offer prayers to his forebears for progress of the area and the dwellers.
Elders, residents speak on Ijare traditions
The traditional Prime Minister of Ijareland, High Chief Wemimo Olaniran, who spoke with our correspondent blamed the occurrence on what he termed the refusal of the herders to respect the community’s traditions despite warnings not to graze on any land in the town.
Wemimo, who is the second-in-command to the town’s monarch, said, “what happened at Oke-Owa almost two years now was done by the gods of the land who got angry because the herders trespassed a sacred place and nobody is allowed to go there. It’s only the kabiyesi that goes there once in a year with alaworos (some chiefs) to perform some traditional rites for the development of the town and for continued peace.
“The herdsmen went there and rented tents, intending to settle there. When we got the information on their presence on the land, we went there to confirm and after that, we consulted. Three days after our consultation, lightning struck and killed the cows they took to the place. It was a divine occurrence and not our own making. It was like they came to desecrate the Oke-Owa hill but the gods of the land resisted them. Since then, they have stopped going to the place.’’
On the mystery behind the incident, the traditional chief, who is also a lawyer, said, “It is not something that anyone can explain easily like that. As I said, when we got the information that herdsmen were on the hill, we consulted and prayed because every town has its traditions and the gods of the land fought for us. Probably, their mission was to know what that place stands for but the gods of the land resisted them. It wasn’t that we did anything about it when we saw them in the place. It’s the gods of the land that fought for us.
The chief, who described Ijare as a peculiar town, stated that it remained undefeated because of the gods guiding the town.
He stated, “We came from Ile-Ife. When our forefathers left Ilare, they took along the olofin (deity) and that is why till today, olofin is in Ijare and it’s the reason why Ijare has not lost any war because olofin is there to fight battles for us. Whenever anything bothers, us, we go to odole where the olofin is to consult and after we have done the needful, something will happen to ward-off impending war.’’
The high chief noted that despite the lightning that struck dead cows on Oke-Owa hill, herdsmen still take their cows to graze on farms and destroy cows with impunity.
He, however, added that the residents of the town were always on the lookout for destructive herders.
Wemimo noted that the people had been arresting and handing over criminal herdsmen to the police and the state Security Network Agency also known as Amotekun. He states that the security agents usually make them pay compensation for whatever their cows destroy on people’s farms.
An indigene of the town, Mr Ayo Adebayo, who said he experienced the cows’ destruction of crops, stated that his farms were destroyed many times by cows led on grazing outings by herders. Adebayo added that lightning scared off the herders and since the incident, he had no issues with his crops, particularly the cassava plantation, which he said was destroyed several times in the past by cows.
He said, “Truly, Ijare is a small community but we have shown the herdsmen that they cannot do what they have been doing in other places across the state and in the South-West in our community. Before the incident, they would enter our farms and destroy crops with their cows. They took their cows to my cassava plantation which I spent over a million naira on. Their cows ate up the crops. I reported them to the police but no action was taken. It was when lightning killed their cows that we started having peace of mind. If they refuse to stop their cows from grazing on farms in our community, we will not relent.’’
Ogundare said, “Now they have known that they cannot do anything wrong to us and go away with it. Mind you, we don’t hate them. They come to our markets, but we monitor their movement and we have told them to always take their crows to graze in bushes and not on farms. We don’t want to take the law into our own hands but they still destroy farms with their cows. They always take their cows to farms in Ijare to destroy crops, we also arrested them with their cows and called the attention of their leaders to their act. It’s after they pay damages on the destroyed crops that we release their cows.’’
The community leader noted that the lightning episode was still a mystery to members of the community as no one could explain how it happened, adding that the incident was indicative that the cows and the herders desecrated the Oke-Owa hill.
“For them to return with cows to destroy our farms which are our means of livelihood is what we will not accept. We are ready to resist that anytime. Ijare will not sleep. We have our men and vigilante groups who go round the town to always monitor the movement of the herders, “he added.
On his part, the youth leader of the Ijare community, Mr Oyebode Odunayo, said the lightning happened early morning on a Sunday when Christians were preparing to attend church services (being a Christian-dominated community). He said it rained on the evening of the previous day.
He said, “We were at a meeting before going to the church and we saw some chiefs in the town running up and down. We also saw some herdsmen on motorcycles moving round the town. Upon enquiry, we were told that about 36 cows were killed by lightning at Oke-Owa hill. I think the implication of the incident on the community is that Ijare is not a place anybody can desecrate traditions.
“Where the cows died is a sacred land to the community because it is only our monarch that is traditionally permitted to annually go to the sacred part of the land. The king goes there annually to pray for the community. We believe that the herdsmen must have trespassed on the land and stepped into where they were not supposed to go. Nobody touched the cows. They were left to decay there. It is forbidden for anybody to touch the cows.”
He added that since the incident happened, the destruction of crops by cows had reduced.
Odunayo stated, “There have been clashes between farmers and herders in many places and states in the South-West but not rampant in Ijare. The incident sent a message to the herders that ijare is not a town they can toy with. Some of the herdsmen used their cows to destroy crops on some farms. They were arrested and made to pay compensation.”
Another resident of the town, Mr Folorunso Olorunsola, who described Oke-Owa as a sacred place in the town, stated that the villagers were surprised to hear that lightning killed some cows taken by herdsmen to the hill. He said the incident affirmed that the herdsmen had trespassed on a sacred place.
Olorunsola said, “The hill is a sacred place and it is only the monarch and some ‘approved’ chiefs that can go there during an annual festival. They go there to pray. Some people do follow them to pray there but there is a limit to where they can get to once they approach the hill. It is only the kabiyesi and some chiefs that go to the inner part of the hill. When the lightning struck on that day, the entire community shook and it was shortly after that we heard that lightning killed cows on the hill.’’
For Ajayi Omolere, who is a farmer in the town, it’s the nonchalant attitude of the herdsmen that was responsible for the incident. He noted that since he was born about over 40 years ago in the town, he had never mounted the hill, adding that the herdsmen seemed to have dared the gods of the town and reaped the consequences.
Omolere stated, “The herders trespassed the hill and got the consequences. Even indigenes of the town don’t go to the Oke-Owa hill. It’s only our monarch and some chiefs that go to the place every year to perform some traditional rites. Despite the incident, some herdsmen still rear cows in the town but we monitor their activities.’’
Speaking about the cows left to decay on the hill, Wemimo said health officials from the state went to the hill to fumigate the place to avert disease outbreak.
He noted, “At our end, it cost us a lot to appease the gods of the land because what happened was an abomination. The day the Speaker of the state House of Assembly came, we told him that we needed some financial assistance. He probably thought we were joking. But at the end of the day, we took up the burden and did what we were supposed to do in such a situation. To the glory of God, we are living in peace in the community.’’
In his comment, the state Chairman of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders, Alhaji Garuba Bello, said he was shocked when the news of the incident was brought to his attention at the time, adding that he was unaware that the herders took their cattle for grazing on the ‘sacred’ land.
He said, “I didn’t know that my people took their cattle for grazing on the land. We bore the losses and I warned my people not to go to that place again.”
Traditionalists, scientists differ on incident
Commenting on the development, a traditionalist and the Oluode of Ile-Oluji community, Ondo State, Chief Dada Osunyikanmi, said the Ijare incident was beyond the ordinary, stating that it was spiritual.
He said, “The lightning in Ijare was spiritual. We witnessed the same in Ile-Oluji seven years ago but only five cows were killed by lightning then. I think it was the first time it happened in Ondo State at the time. Even after the cows were dead, the herdsmen wanted to sell the meat to the innocent indigenes. I was the one who stopped them from doing that. I invited the police to stop them because whosoever eats from the dead cows would also die.
“It is possible that the cows died upon stepping on a sacred land in Ijare. Our experience in Ile-Oluji in that regard has shown that it can happen. One can use the god of thunder to guard one’s farm so that no one could go there to steal one’s things. Anyone who steals from the farm could be struck dead by lightning. The same thing happened to the cows. Any cow that eats people’s crops on the farm has committed stealing and if such a farm is being guarded by the god of thunder, lightning can strike and kill the cows. The lightning that killed those cows in Ijare was not ordinary. The herdsmen and their cows must have committed abomination on that ‘sacred’ land and they saw the result,’’
Similarly, the Obabusua of Akureland, Chief Dada Aduloju, backed Osunyikanmi’s view, noting that the Ijare occurrence wasn’t ordinary.
Aduloju, who is also a sango (god of Thunder) worshiper, stated, “Lightning is spiritual. The one that happened in Ijare showed that the visitors shouldn’t joke with the traditions of their host community. The cows that died at Oke-Owa hill in Ijare must have stepped beyond their boundaries. Indigenes of the town don’t go where the cows died. It’s a ‘sacred’ land. I don’t think the incident was ordinary.
“Also, lightning has its advantages. It is meant to deal with thieves and evil-doers. If something is missing and no one says he or she took it, in Yorubaland, we can use lightning to find it. It will be invoked to expose the thief. It will kill the person and place the stolen item on the person’s body to show that the person stole the item.”
Another traditionalist, Mrs Taiwo Jimoh, said lightning wasn’t meant only to expose thieves, it could also expose evil doers in a community.
She stated, “If somebody or something is evil or doing what is evil in a community, lightning can be invoked to expose the person or thing. For instance, there was a day in my house when lightning struck. It came with a bang. I was frightened and rushed to see where my children were sleeping because everywhere shook. Immediately, one of our electricity meters scattered. A charm hidden inside the meter compartment dropped. I saw it. That was how it exposed the object. If the charm kept inside the meter compartment was for evil purposes, then its evil power would have been destroyed. I also remember a day lightning struck in a church and uprooted some fetish items buried in the church altar.
“So, the Ijare lightning was not ordinary. The herders with their cows trespassed the ‘sacred’ land to dare the gods and the cows were struck dead. Ijare sons and daughters don’t even go to the hill because the place is sacred. Even their monarch doesn’t go there anyhow. There’s a specific time he goes there. It is not good to be toying with people’s traditions. It always has grave consequences.”
But some scientists who weighed in on the matter disagreed with the traditionalists that the Ijare incident had spiritual connotation
One of them is Prof. Ahmed Balogun who is the Head of Department of Meteorology and Climate Science at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Ondo State.
He noted that the Ijare incident was one out of the numerous lightning incidents in the world.
Balogun said, “People are looking at it (Ijare lightning) as spiritual but it is also a natural phenomenon in this part of the world. Lightning can strike at any time. I remember a footballer struck dead by lightning on the pitch. That is not common in Nigeria. Lightning causes fire in some countries such as the United States of America, Australia and others. But many people here always attach spirituality to it which cannot be proven. The bottom line is that lightning kills. It is an electric current and it has a path. In cloud electricity, one can have a cloud, there is a connection of positive and negative. It can be between the cloud and the ground. It can also be between a cloud and a cloud if there is a point of connection. That is why they say that if you are caught in a heavy thunderstorm, don’t stay under a tree. You are better off inside your car because your tyres are insulated. At times, lightning will strike a tree and the tree will tear into two. The incident is a natural phenomenon. But people are attaching spirituality to it. It is energy that is responsible for the lightning. In fact, the energy in a lightning strike is possible to power a state. We can thus have a way to step it down using a transformer.”
For an earth scientist, Mr Segun Alao, the issue of lightning in Ijare could be ordinary and natural. He noted that lightning around the world was a natural occurrence and could happen anytime and anywhere.
He said, “As a scientist, I can’t believe that the lightning that kills cows in Ijare is spiritual because there is nothing to prove it. Lightning in several places across the world and even deadlier than the one which occurred in Ijare. Lightning is a natural discharge of electrical energy that is usually caused by imbalances between storm clouds and the ground. It can also occur within the clouds. It can also generate energy that can produce real electricity. It is a natural phenomenon. But because we seldom experience heavy and destructive lightning in Nigeria, we believe that anytime it strikes, it is spiritual.’’
Saying there was no evidence proving the spiritual nature of the Ijare lightning, Alao added that linking the cows’ death to trespassing on a land denoted as no-go area would be a wrong conclusion.
Lightning kills cows overseas
Incidents of lightning killing cows are not limited to Ijare. Many cases have been reported in some farms overseas. For instance, in June 2020, nine cows were killed by lightning during heavy thunderstorms in Ireland according to a report by the Independent.
In March, 2018, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported that an Australian farmer found six cows lying dead in a row, in what experts attributed to a lightning strike. The dead animals were discovered near a barbed-wire fence on a paddock in Queensland. The cows’ owner, Derek Shirley, was quoted as saying he was surprised by the discovery. Also, a farmer in Southern Missouri, United States, was left devastated in May, 2017, when 32 of his cows were struck dead by lightning, CBS News reported.