Before now, we hardly knew about the Ondo forest reserves. The Afforestation Project of the state government was hardly in the news. But the times are changing very fast. The ordered past is being violated by a wild, new day. This violent reality is rearing its ugly head in Ondo State. Ondo forests are fast losing their virginity. Rather than play host to wildlife as they have always done, they have become a haven for rampaging Fulani herdsmen who are freely distorting their essence. Before the unfortunate turn of events, the forests have been there for protection of wildlife species and their habitat. They have been a natural reserve for cultivation of economic trees. All of that was aimed at the maintenance of healthy wildlife populations as well as restore, protect and enhance natural ecosystems.
But that was then. The nature-enhancing project has come under attack. An army of occupation has introduced humans into what used to be a natural habitat for trees and undomesticated animals. What is worse is that the strange occupants of the reserves have converted them into havens for criminal activities. As the chief security officer of the state, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu is scandalized by all this. He is bothered by the growing insecurity in the state he was elected to superintend over. As a responsible leader, he cannot sit askance and entertain the open air criminality and brigandage that is going on in his domain. He has to confront the oddity. To restore order, he has asked the armed Fulani herdsmen who have taken over Ondo forests and made them home for kidnappings and murders to leave the forests.
That is where we are. Akeredolu’s order is clearly in order. It is unacceptable for any person or group of persons to take refuge under cattle rearing and use same to venture into territories that are not meant for them. This is more so when such an enterprise has become the hallmark of criminality. It is for this reason that men and women of conscience have been applauding the governor. He is being commended for taking the bull by the horns. We know that some governors in his shoes would have dissolved into anonymity were they to be confronted with a testy issue such as this. But Akeredolu has approached the matter with courage and boldness. That is leadership in action.
However, while all this was going on, a strange interjection came from the Presidency. One of its spokespersons, Garba Shehu, freely misconstrued the governor’s order. He took the governor’s ultimatum to murderous herdsmen to leave Ondo forests to mean a notice to quit to the Fulani to leave Ondo State. According to the presidential spokesman, the governor has no constitutional powers to order anybody out of his state. But did Akeredolu order anybody out of Ondo State? No, he did not. He asked the criminals using the forests in the state as their base to vacate them. The genuine ones among them have been asked to register with the government so that they will be known and their activities can be monitored. This is fair enough by all standards.
Regrettably, however, the Presidency has imputed improper motive into the governor’s action. They are giving the order the colouration it does not deserve. Going by Garba’s posturing, it is clear that the governor’s order has become a subject of bad blood and divisive politics. The Presidency has introduced pig-headedness into the matter. That is why Garba had to proceed on a wild goose chase in the bid to find justification for his position. There was no point, for instance, for him to have made reference to the quit notice issued to Bishop Matthew Kukah by some Muslim groups. The two instances are incomparable. Kukah is a man of God who incurred the wrath of some elements in society for his views on the Buhari presidency. That should not earn anyone quit notice. The other matter has to do with herdsmen who kill and maim in the guise of doing business. This group has become a threat to society. They, therefore, deserve to be reined in. This is what Akeredolu is trying to do. He should not pamper criminals. Why are those opposed to his pronouncement on criminal herdsmen not interested in the substance of the action?
It is much more regrettable that some northern groups have toed the line of the Buhari presidency. A certain group is even threatening civil war should the Fulani leave Ondo State. It is really unfortunate that ethnic politics has crept into an issue that is supposed to be viewed from the lenses of security. The issue before us, strictly speaking, borders on security of life and property. We are all witnesses to the fact that the Buhari presidency has inflicted on the country the worst form of insecurity. Today’s Nigeria has been reduced to a killing field. Life no longer has value or meaning in our shores. The Nigerian has become more or less a doomed voyager. He can meet his Waterloo at any time. This hopeless situation has destroyed our social fabric. Sometimes, the people wonder whether this was the same country that was bequeathed to Buhari with fanfare in 2015. The reversal of fortunes has been so total that Nigerians are confused. They do not know what to make of their pitiable situation.
But since hope is the only thread the living can hang on to, some well-meaning Nigerians are doing everything within their power to ensure that we all do not drown.
It is within this caveat that we can locate the action of the likes of Akeredolu. He is out to ensure the security of life and property in his domain. This should interest men and women of goodwill. To ask Akeredolu to treat the activities of criminal elements in his territory as normal and acceptable smacks of insensitivity. A leader who has the interest of the led at heart cannot do that.
The Presidency’s defence of the Fulani in this matter is misdirected and hasty. It bears repeating that the government of Ondo State did not issue any proclamation against the Fulani. It has no reason to do so. It is only asking criminal elements among them to leave the forests they are occupying unlawfully. This should be of interest to the central government, which is being harangued for its inability to deal with insecurity. The Presidency should have taken interest in the criminality, which necessitated the action of the governor. What are armed Fulani herdsmen doing in Ondo forests? This question should be of interest to the Buhari administration, which has detailed one of its aides to defend the Fulani even when such defence is flying in the air. There is no need reducing the issue in Ondo to ethnicity. It is a national malaise, which those who have the interest of the country at heart are working hard on. Those who insist that the criminal herdsmen should be allowed to operate without let or hindrance are the real enemies of the country. They are stoking the embers of acrimonious division in guile. They should have no one but themselves to blame if things get worse than they are at moment.