Not many knew Kunle Garb, a Nigerian pastor and field missionary, until July when Dapo Abiodun, the Governor of Ogun State, cried out for the presidency’s help over the unlawful arrest and imprisonment of a Nigerian by the Benin Republic.
Garb’s arrest also sparked a reaction from the Ogun State chapter of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), and ultimately, the leadership of the Nigerian Senate.
WHO IS KUNLE GARB?
Oluwakunle Garb, an indigene of Abeokuta in Ogun State, is the youngest of seven children. As a child, he attended Our lady of Apostles Primary School, Oke-ilewo, Methodist Primary school and African Church Grammar School, all in Abeokuta.
From there, he attended Yaba College of Technology to study Graphics and Applied Arts between 1989 and 1990.
“I came from a humble background, so I had to take up menial jobs just to fend for myself and pay my tuition. I worked as a bricklayer mostly during this period. As a matter of fact, I started fending for myself since I was a class one student,” he told FIJ.
While working as a bricklayer at the Ogun State Governor’s office one day, he encountered a top ranking state official who assisted him in getting a job at the Ogun State High Court. Through this opportunity, Garb was able to complete his tertiary education at Yabatech.
A FORMER CULTIST
“I was once a cultist in Yabatech. But as God would have it, I had a friend who would always engage me in the ways of the Lord, hoping I would one day change my life style. In the end, God’s way prevailed on my life and I gave my life to Christ.”
After this, Garb attended West African School of Theology in Jos, Plateau State. He would later work with the Kenyan Intelligence Agency. He also gained Kenyan citizenship during this period.
In 1995, he resigned his appointment with the Kenyan agency and returned to Nigeria to bag his masters and doctorate degree in Missionlogy.
After this, he did several missionary works with several groups and in 2016, he got a revelation to fully settle in Igbokofi, a border area in Yewa North Local Government in Ogun State to further his mission.
THE FACE-OFF WITH BENIN REPUBLIC
Trouble first started in 2018 when Garb rose to resist encroachment moves by officials of Benin Republic into Igbokofi.
“I first caught a hint of the encroachment moves by Benin Republic in 2018. I initially thought it was a joke. Then I discovered that Benin Republic had removed four boundary pillars to pave way for their encroachment. Over a period of time, they had removed pillars 75, 76, 77 and 78. Igbokofi Market was where Pillar 77 used to be, but with time, their officials removed it and nobody knew,” he told FIJ.
The Abeokuta-born clergy further inquired from both Benin and Nigerian locals who had been residing in the area for a long time and they also confirmed the removal of the pillar. It was later discovered that the Beninese government had removed the pillar during a road construction, and just to further eat into the Nigerian territory.
Armed with a prior knowledge that Igbokofi Market was registered in the market directory of Yewa Local Government and Ogun State, Garb visited the local council office to ask a few questions.
“I asked the officials when they last visited the market to collect rates and fees, and also to know how things were going in the area. They told me they last visited in 2008. I demanded to know why they stopped visiting but no one could give me an answer. Igbokofi has nine polling booths to show you how big it is. Unfortunately, our politicians only visit when they want to curry votes,” he lamented.
ENCROACHMENT BY 2.7KILOMETRES
The pastor then eventually discovered that it was during the period the Local Government officials stopped visiting the area that Benin Republic removed Pillar 77, paving way for them to encroach into Nigeria by 2.7 kilometres.
“The Benin Republic government is very smart and fast. Between 2008 and 2009, when they discovered that the Nigerian government did not do anything about their encroachment plans, they built a school, a police station and a network mast.”
When he knew the Nigerian Government would not do anything about this act of encroachment, the pastor deliberately bought a land and built a non-tuition paying missionary school in April 2018, and at the last point where Benin Republic had stopped. He also mobilized for two sign posts bearing the Nigerian flag to be put on either end of the new boundary.
Sensing this act of resistance, Benin Republic gendarmes began storming Igbokofi periodically to harass and arrest its indigenes.
This prompted the pastor to visit the Benin Republic police station at the encroached region and he was told by a commander he met that Benin Republic was within its right to build infrastructure that would extend into Igbokofi.
“He told me that Benin Republic actually extends into Igbokofi by another two kilometres. I told him to show me an evidence but he could not provide any. I actually have a copy of the treaty that was signed by the French and British government in 1914 that shows clearly that Igbokofi is a Nigerian territory,” he explained.
After his visit, the gendarmes continued harassing the indigenes and this stretched into 2021. At this point, Benin Republic had started constructing a road that would run through the area.
To put an end to this, Garb mobilized officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) to have a meeting with the gendarmes but it ended in a deadlock. And in their reaction to the deadlocked meeting, the gendarmes removed the two signposts that had been erected by the missionary and Igbokofi indigenes, and refused to give them back to the NSCDC officials.
ARREST BY THE BENIN GENDARMES
In the months that followed, the gendarmes became bolder in their harassment of the people of Igbokofi and this made the pastor organize a protest on May 20, 2021. The officers were taken aback by this action and this forced them to retreat and not return to the village for a while.
They however returned on June 24 to arrest the pastor.
“It was on a market day and I wanted to get some oranges. Then I saw them arrive and their commander said, pastor, you are under arrest,” he told FIJ.
He was first taken to Igana Police Station, and later transferred to Pobe District Headquarters, all in Benin Republic. It was at Pobe that he was accused of organizing a violent protest that had Igbokofi indigenes attack Benin Republic Gendarmes with sticks, cutlasses and guns. He was also made to understand that Igbokofi was a Benin Republic territory, and that it was an offence for foreigners to carry out attacks on the country’s soil.
After spending six days (including his birthday, June 26) in a Beninese cell, he was made an offer of agreeing to pull down his missionary school. He was also offered 60 million Francs. But Garb refused, saying he would rather die defending Nigeria’s sovereignty than develop cold feet because of their acts of intimidation. This further infuriated the Benin officials and he was transferred to a maximum prison in Porto Novo, the republic’s capital.
“At the prison, we were 16 in a cell,” he recalled.
“The inmates would always fight over sleeping arrangements because it was a 13×12 room. When they finally discovered that I am a pastor, they showed me a degree of reverence and heeded my advice on how we should be sleeping.
“In the end, we divided out into two groups — one to lie down and sleep for a while, and the other to take over when the first group wakes up. In the end, I give God the glory because I ended up leading the other 15 inmates to Christ before leaving.”
THE PATRIOT WHO DEFENDED NIGERIA’S SOVEREIGNTY
Due to the influence he had on the inmates, one of his cell members, a hardened criminal with lots of connections in and out of the prison, assisted him to get a book about Benin Republic’s judicial system. The pastor studied this book and chose to represent himself in court, despite offers of assistance by the Ogun State Government and the Nigerian Embassy in Benin.
“In their own judicial system, cross-examinations were allowed. While I was cross-examining the prosecutor, I asked him to provide the documents to show that Igbokofi belonged to Benin Republic but he could not,” he explained to FIJ.
“And God eventually did His work because while making his closing statements, the prosecutor told the judge that it would only be fair that I was released on the grounds that the Beninese government had no substantial evidence to continue holding on to me, based on the offence I was accused of.”
On July 14, Garb was released by the Benin Republic government and he arrived Igbokofi on the night of the same day.
SURVEYOR GENERAL, NATIONAL BOUNDARY COMMISSION’S REACT
On July 16, the Surveyor General of Nigeria sent officials from its headquarters in Abuja to inspect the extent of encroachment that had been carried out by the Benin Republic government. Like Garb, the officials saw the foul play on the part of Benin Republic and have made their submissions.
Garb’s act of valour also forced the Director-General of the National Boundary Commission to visit Igbokofi on August 7 and have a meeting with chieftains in the area. In his address, the DG stated that he would send in officials between August 9 and 10 to locate the position of the missing pillars, and also to clearly establish the points that mark where Nigeria ends and where Benin Republic begins along the border. He also gave the assurance that Nigerians would be assisted and protected at all times.
There also seems to be relative peace in the area, as the gendarmes have stopped making incursions into Igbokofi to harass its indigenes since Garb’s release.
“I believe with the visit of the officials, something will be done by the Nigerian government,” Garb said to FIJ. “It is just a pity that all this while our government did not know what has been going on here. I am however happy that Nigeria is making a move now. I am optimistic that we won’t lose Igbokofi to Benin republic.”
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