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Sunday Igboho: The Nigeria car salesman going after cattle herders

Sunday Igboho is accused of stoking ethnic tensions in Nigeria after targeting Fulani herders.

In Nigeria, clashes between ethnic Fulanis and other groups have cost thousands of lives in the past decades and now a car salesman has emerged as a controversial national figure in this increasingly deadly conflict, as the BBC’s Nduka Orjinmo reports.

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.

Once only well-known in his part of south-western Nigeria, he has now become one of the most talked about – and divisive – figures across the country.

Through a series of inflammatory statements, Mr Adeyemo has been thrust into the heart of one of Nigeria’s most deadly ethnic divides – the conflict between Fulani herders and other groups, over access to land and grazing rights.

Lionised in a feature film
Last month after the killing of a politician, 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.

But 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.

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.

Mr Adeyemo 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.

Now, though, as he has become a lightning rod for local grievances he is being taken more seriously.

Land rights are at the core of those grievances.

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