The dust raised by the quit order to herdsmen to vacate forest reserves in Ondo State within seven days has further deepened schism in the country as the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) yesterday called on the state governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu to rescind his order or clarify his position in the event that he was misunderstood.
The governor issued the notice on Monday, January 18 during a meeting with leaders of Hausa/Fulani and Ebira communities in the state.
At the meeting held at Cocoa Conference Hall of the Governor’s office, Alagabaka, Akure, Akeredolu stated that the activities of herdsmen had for long threatened the security of the state.
The NGF in its reaction described the vacation order as provocative and unhelpful, saying the governor has no constitutional power to take such an action.
The forum made its position known in a statement issued by its director, publicity and advocacy, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed in Abuja yesterday.
The forum said that though the governor’s duty to protect and improve the security of citizens cannot be challenged, he went overboard by asking the Fulani community to leave its lawful location.
Noting that the action taken by the Ondo state governor would worsen perceptions that the Fulani is unsafe and unwelcome in certain parts of Nigeria, the forum added that no Nigerian has the power to take punitive action against citizens on political grounds.
“The Forum had resisted the urge to comment since the reported quit order because this is an extremely sensitive issue. It has, however, become necessary to speak at this stage and offer advice before mischief-makers capitalise on the issue to compound our existing challenges around security and co-existence.”
“Governor Akeredolu is a senior lawyer who should know that the constitution does not give him the power to deny any Nigerian the right to live where he chooses if he does not break the law in the
“His duty to protect and improve the security of citizens and all people in Ondo state cannot be challenged. Indeed, all governors need more support to improve their responses to security challenges which citizens face. Nonetheless, no Nigerian has the power to take punitive action against citizens on political grounds.
“The forum believes that the action of the governor is provocative and unhelpful. If there are criminal elements among the Fulani who live in the State, the Governor should take appropriate steps to identify them and deal with them. Similarly, the Fulani do not enjoy legal immunity in any part of Nigeria.
“The Fulani are subject to all laws and regulations and must respect the communities with which they live and interact. What is dangerous and unacceptable is to profile and demonize the Fulani and treat him outside the laws of the land like all other Nigerians.
“The forum has been following the case of killings of Fulani in Oyo State by Amotekun, and is anxious to see that justice is done in this case. The quit order by the Governor of Ondo will worsen perceptions that the Fulani is unsafe and unwelcome in certain parts of Nigeria.”
The NGF urged the Fulani community in Ondo to remain where they are and continue to be law-abiding, saying they should collaborate with all legitimate authorities to police their communities against criminal elements.
It however cautioned the Fulanis to resist moves to label them entirely as criminals.
Noting that the governor has a responsibility to protect the rights of all people in Ondo State, including the Fulani, the forum said Akeredolu will be well-advised to engage them towards improving security in the state instead of treating all of them as criminals without rights or protection under the constitution.
“For the avoidance of doubt, no Fulani anywhere in Nigeria will accept unfair and illegal treatment just for being Fulani. Nigerians will be treading a dangerous path if we tolerate treating entire ethnic groups as suspects or criminals,” NEF added.
Earlier, the senior special assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and publicity, Garba Shehu, had, in a statement on Tuesday urged the state government to tackle all forms of criminality without breaching the rights of herders in the state.
He said apart from the fact that the position of the state government goes against the Nigerian it was capable of setting certain things in motion.
Shehu pointed clearly that since Akeredolu is a seasoned lawyer and a senior advocate of Nigeria for that matter, he knows better than to unilaterally oust thousands of herders from his state, an act which can earn him much heat from rights groups.
“We want to make it clear that kidnapping, banditry and rustling are crimes, no matter the motive or who is involved. But, to define crime from the nameplates, as a number of commentators have erroneously done- which group they belong to, the language they speak, their geographical location or their faith is atavistic and cruel.
“We need to delink terrorism and crimes from ethnicity, geographical origins and religion—to isolate the criminals who use this interchange of arguments to hinder law enforcement efforts as the only way to deal effectively with them.
“The government of Ondo and all the 35 others across the federation must draw clear lines between the criminals and the law-abiding citizens who must equally be saved from the infiltrators. Beyond law and order, the fight against crime is also a fight for human values which are fundamental to our country,” he said.
In its reaction, the pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, in a statement entitled, ‘Ondo forests: Fulani presidency again,’ issued by its spokesman, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said the Buhari government had again shown its non-pretence as representing the Fulani interests above other tribes in the country.
He said: “The intervention by what we mistakenly call the Federal Government of Nigeria on behalf of marauding Fulani in Ondo State against the lawful government in that state did not come to Afenifere as a surprise as it is in line with the non-pretence by this regime that it represents only the Fulani interests against those of Yoruba, Igbo, Junkun, Ijaw and other tribes in Nigeria.
“That the federal government and its minion, Garba Shehu, could only hear Ondo State when Governor Akeredolu was very loud and clear about herders to vacate forest reserves in the state is symptomatic that this government has a serious problem with heating the rest of us when the issue involves its anointed Fulani.
“The Fulani criminals have caused untold hardships in Ondo State and other Yoruba towns and cities in recent time and only an irresponsible government that wants to behave like our Federal Government will continue to fold its arms.
“What has this government done to assure our people that it can protect our lives with the open murders of Mrs. Funke Olakunri, the Olufon of Ifon and the Deputy Registrar of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, among many others?”
“The lives of our people and other non-Fulani communities are daily being taken by local and foreign Fulani bandits without any sign that these lives matter to the government with its desire to shield the Fulani from the laws.
“Nobody would ever have believed that it would get to this irresponsible stage that the federal government will one come to this barbaric level Garba Shehu has taken it and the peak of their direct salvos against Amotekun since it started.
“All true-born Yoruba should stand behind Governor Akeredolu in these trying times.
“He must do all within the law to flush Ondo forests of all criminals. Other governors should emulate their chair and free our land from the Fulanis who have surrounded us with the shield of the federal government,” he said.
Meanwhile, a senior lawyer, Mr. Tayo Oyetibo, urged the presidency not to politicize the matter arguing that Akeredolu has the right to ask herdsmen to leave the state’s forest reserves.
“As the chief security officer of the state, the state governor has the power to say that those that are occupying the forest should come and register although I would have expected that law should have been passed to that effect to control the movement of people in the forest.
“I think the Presidency is misunderstanding the governor, everybody in Nigeria should support the safety of anybody living in any part of Nigeria. So if those living in the forest are committing crimes, government, whether federal or state, should see to the discovery of those that are behind the crimes. This I think is the motive of the governor of Ondo State and I don’t think that issue should be politicised at all.
“They (the federal government should meet with the state governor and see what is happening in Ondo State to nip it in the bud before it’s a mess. I don’t think it’s a matter for politics at all,” Oyetibo told The Punch in an interview.
Similarly, another senior lawyer, Mr. Yusuf Ali, said the state governor has the right to determine whatever he wishes on the land in the state.
“Any land within each state of the federation is given in trust of the governor for the citizens of the state, so technically speaking, it means the land in the state belongs to the governor and somebody who owns something has a right to determine the use of that thing.
“If truly the Land Use Act had vested all the lands in the state to the state government then the governor has the right to determine how the land would be used, who may have access, who may not have access,” he said.
In Kaduna, the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU) and the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) disagreed on the matter.
While SOKAPU expressed support for the governor, Arewa leaders asked him to obey the 1999 Constitution, as amended, which guarantees the freedom of movement of all Nigerians.