From Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan and Laide Raheem, Abeokuta
On Monday January 18, 2020, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State who doubles as Chairman, South West Governors’ Forum, gave a seven-day ultimatum to herdsmen to vacate the government forest Reserves. The order, followed spike in kidnapping and armed robbery cases in the Sunshine state. Alarms had been raised on many occasions over kidnappers and armed robbers been using the forests to perpetrate crimes.
The abductors, according to some of the rescued or released victims, spoke Fulani language. A number of them also speak Yoruba and other languages in Nigeria.
The kidnapping and armed robbery cases were not limited to Ondo. Other states in the South West also have their share of the insecurity. The need to overcome the security challenges in Yoruba land made all the governors in the South West geo-political zone of the country, with active support of the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission, to organise series of security summits. The outcome of the summits culminated into the launching of the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSC), known as Operation Amotekun, on January 9, 2020 in Ibadan, Oyo State.
When Akeredolu gave the quit notice from forest reserves on Monday, many Yoruba leaders saw the governor’s action as a brave one and a welcome development, though a number of people criticised the order on the grounds that the governor lacks the constitutional power to do so.
Chairman, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Mallam Garuba Bello, said: “We support what Governor Akeredolu has said. He did not say Fulani should leave the state. But he wants the criminals to leave the state. “We need peace in the state and the governor’s order will bring peace. Our members are not involved in kidnapping. Our members are very responsible. Anybody that kidnaps or does criminal activities should be dealt with.”
But Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, said in Abuja on Tuesday: “The Presidency has been keenly monitoring events occurring in Ondo State and the orders by the government of the state, asking herders to vacate the forests in seven days.
“What is clearly emerging is a lack of consistency in messaging which in turn leads to various contradictions regarding the accuracy and the intent behind the message. There is little to be said other than to call for restraint on both sides and urge the state government and the leadership of the Fulani communities to continue their dialogue for a good understanding that will bring to an urgent end the nightmarish security challenges facing the state.
“Governor Akeredolu, a seasoned lawyer, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and, indeed, a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), has fought crime in his state with passion and commitment, greater sensitivity and compassion for the four years he has run its affairs and, in our view, will be the least expected to unilaterally oust thousands of herders who have lived all their lives in the state on account of the infiltration of the forests by criminals.
“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 name plates, 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.”
Akeredolu shot back immediately. He spoke through his Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Donald Ojogo: “The Ondo State Government did not ask Fulani to leave the state. The governor said herdsmen who are unregistered should leave our forests. The statement from Garba Shehu is a brazen display of emotional attachments and it’s very inimical to the corporate existence of Nigeria.
“We need to clearly define actions on the part of the Federal Government to decimate the erroneous impression that the inspiration of these criminal elements masquerading as herdsmen is that of power. Our unity is threatened, no doubt.
“Shehu’s statement states in a breath that the governor fights crime with passion while it is prevaricating on the atrocities. The question is are the herdsmen who are perpetrating murder, kidnapping and robbery more important than government and even the Federal Government in this case? Ethnic nationality and activism on the part of anyone hiding under the Presidency or Federal Government is an ill wind.”
Chairman, Yoruba World Assembly and Baale of Ekotedo, Ibadan, Elder Taiye Ayorinde, threw his weight behind Akeredolu: “Before now, Justice Adewale Thompson, gave a ruling for the whole of the Western Region and that law has not been repealed. The law stipulates that no herdsman, no cow, no dog, no goat, should roam around the Western Region states, most especially Government Reservation Areas and Government Forestry.
“Now that Governor Akeredolu has reaffirmed it, we stand by it. We Yoruba stand by it. You don’t have any right to get cows to roam about the street. I had 36 cows before, on behalf of the family. I sent some people to train in Italy. Then, before I said Jack Robinson, these people had taken the cows and ran them into the bush. Government forest is not meant for rearing cows. Reservation areas, streets in Nigeria are not meant for rearing of cows.
“The Federal Government did not say Akeredolu did not have the constitutional power to give the order. I am sure some people working with the president said that. This is where some aspects of the media are being misused.”
Babaloja of Oyo State, Alhaji Aderemi Jimoh, said: “The person that resides in Abuja cannot be saying the people of Ondo State should not quench the fire that is burning on their roofs. The person that resides in the state will not fold his arms and be watching without taking any action. I have not seen anything bad in what Akeredolu said. He is the governor in that state and his people are being kidnapped, robbed and killed. What do you expect him to do?
“He said the areas being used for kidnapping and armed robbery should be vacated. This is not bad. This law is not new. The government owns the forest and the governor, as the chief security officer of his state, has the right to tell people occupying the forest to leave. The other governors in the South West should emulate him on this order.”
The Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG) in charge of Zone 11, Mr. Agunbiade Oluyemi Lasore, said: “Nobody has authority to pursue or send out anybody from his or her territory. Every Nigerian has every right to live anywhere they want to live. But if there are criminals around there, and he is telling them to leave, maybe before they will start to screen them, that is just what I thought he is trying to say.
“What he is trying to say is that if there are criminals in the forests, they should move away. If you are there legitimately, you can always have your way. Criminal is a criminal, and he should be dealt with in that manner.”
Secretary-General of Afenifere, Chief Sehinde Arogbofa, said: “He (Akeredolu) has shown to be a true Nigerian when he said that any of the herdsmen who wants to stay in any part of the state must first register. The rate of kidnapping in this state is very embarrassing to the extent that one cannot leave one’s house without serious prayers to return home safely. Illegal people have virtually taken over our lands in the state. I must confess that the governor has felt concerned.
“Some of our traditional rulers had given lands to people without authority, to people who they cannot trace and who are alleged to be suspicious characters, people straining from Niger Republic without legal rights. It is also disturbing that there are kidnappers in these forests and hideout in our lands.”
The Olowo of Owo, Oba Ajibade Ogunoye, said through his media aide, Sam Adewale: “The governor has done well in this regard. As the chief security officer of the state, the governor cannot sit, watch and fold his arms, while the citizens are being kidnapped at will by bandits. The security of lives and properties of the people of the state is important to government. Therefore, all efforts of the government in this regard must be supported by all.”
National Coordinator, Coalition of Oduduwa Elders (CODUE), Dr Tunde Aremu and National Secretary, Folake Ajasin, said: “We have watched with great concerns the turn of events in the South West, especially in Ondo, culminating in the notice to herders to quit forests by Akeredolu.
“We have equally painstakingly watched the rushed statement by the Presidency through one of its spokesmen, Shehu, cautioning the governor against his action and instead, declaring that the people who have been identified to be responsible for kidnappings, banditry and killings in the state cannot vacate the areas they use to carry out their nefarious activities.
“This is strange to us, given that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria vested certain powers on state governors as chief security officers of their respective states on certain steps they can take to safeguard the lives of citizens and their properties.
“Governor Akeredolu has the constitutional mandate to device the best ways possible in giving his people, who voted him into office good and quality leadership. The quit notice to herders to leave Ondo forests is one of those steps he has taken to protect the citizenry. So, we ask the Presidency to leave him alone.”
Afenifere chieftain in Ogun State, Chief Duro Aikuloka, said: “I don’t see what is wrong in Akeredolu’s order. We all know how these herdsmen carry out nefarious activities, not only in Ondo, but other some South West states. Fulani herdsmen should come out in the open to reside among the people; living in the forests is hiding there to perpetrate crimes. Yes, there is freedom of movement in our constitution, but no one would allow total strangers to invade his or her land and use that to commit atrocities.
“In fact, I would want to suggest that there should be a legislation on inter-state movement, so that there will proper monitoring by the security agencies. There is serious insecurity in the country, therefore every state government must be vigilant on the happenings in its environment. Akerodolu has done what is good for the security of his state.”
Former deputy governor in Ogun State, Senator Adegbenga Sefiu Kaka, said: “Herding and farming are different practices, let the herders develop their pastures where exotic grasses would be planted to feed their animals. It is disheartening when you hear or learn that herders graze their animal in forest reserves. The resources in those reserves, if well organised and harnessed, are enough for any state government to generate income.
“Herders who want to do business should do so without invading government resources and start to deleting them. Let herders take care of their animals without causing economic destruction in the southwest. They should look ways to build ranches and if they can’t do this, they should relocate to their respective states and ask their governors to construct ranches for them.
“If the Federal Government says Akeredolu lacks the power to evict invaders in forests in his state, at least, he has the constitutional duty to protect the resources of the state, lives and properties of his people.”
Kamaldeen Akintunde, former National President of National Council of Muslim Youth Organisations (NACOMYO) said: “Banditry, kidnapping, terrorism and other forms of violence that the country is witnessing transcend religion and ethnicity. Enough of laying blame on any violent incident to a particular ethnic or occupational group(s). More so, every part of the country is experiencing one form of violence or the other.”