From Okwe Obi, Abuja
The Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF) has said the quit notice issued by Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu to unregistered Fulani herders to vacate the state’s forest reserve is unconstitutional and uncharitable.
NEF Director, Publicity and Advocacy, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, in a statement, advised Governor Akeredolu to find the bandits masquerading as Fulani herdsmen and deal with them accordingly rather than ejecting the entire Fulani community from the forest.
The statement reads:
‘The Northern Elders’ Forum is shocked at reports that Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, is asking a Fulani community to leave its lawful location, in addition to other restrictions on activities of Fulani people who have lived in the state for a long period.
‘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 advise before mischief-makers capitalize 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 process.
‘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 Forum urges the Fulani community in Ondo to stay put where they are and continue to be law-abiding.
“They should collaborate with all legitimate authorities to police their communities against criminal elements, but they should resist moves to be labelled entirely as criminals.
‘We call on Governor Akeredolu to rescind his order on the Fulani or clarify his position in the event that he is misunderstood.
‘He has a responsibility to protect the rights of all people in Ondo State, including the Fulani, and he 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.’