The ‘quit notice’ issued by Ondo state governor Rotimi Akeredolu asking herdsmen to vacate forests in the state is causing growing controversy.
The presidency has described it as inflammatory, but the state government on Wednesday stood its ground, insisting the presidency was not aware of the security situation in the state.
Fielding questions from journalists in Akure, the state capital on Wednesday, the Senior Special Adviser(Security Matters) to the governor, Alhaji Jimoh Dojumo told newsmen that the order became necessary having considered all options to check incessant kidnapping, killing of the people and destruction of farm crops.
He disclosed that the state government had a meeting with the leadership of the herdsmen in the state on how to check activities of armed herdsmen kidnapping and killing people in the state.
According to him, “I want to believe that President Muhammadu Buhari is not in the picture of what is happening here because if he knew the clear picture of what is happening in Ondo State, there won’t be any negative reaction. We voted for him before he became the President and he is there to protect us not to destroy us.”
Northern Elders shocked
The Northern Elders’ Forum on Wednesday described as provocative and unhelpful an order given to Fulani herdsmen to leave Ondo forests.
The forum, which warned the governor not to allow mischief-makers to compound security challenges in the country with his order, urged him “to rescind his order on the Fulani, or clarify his position in the event that he is misunderstood.”
In a statement signed by Director, Publicity and Advocacy, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, the forum argued that Akeredolu as a senior lawyer should know that Nigerian 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.
The forum maintained that it was dangerous and unacceptable to profile and demonize the Fulanis and treat them outside the laws of the land like all other Nigerians.
Situation becoming unbearable
Revealing series of efforts made by the state government arrest series of criminal activities of some unscrupulous persons under the guise of grazing, Dojumo said,”The security situation in Ondo State is becoming unbearable, everyone of us living in the state know that it’s becoming unbearable to the fact that after the #EndSars saga, there was never a day that one to two people will not kidnapped in the state.
“This situation is embarrassing, disturbing even to the fact that our Amotekun Corps is overstressed and the best thing is to look for a way out which led to the invitation of Fulani and Hausa leaders four days ago where we robbed minds together to addressed this issues of insecurity. It was there we discovered that we need to go ahead for solution.
“We discovered during the meeting that most of the destruction of farmers’ crops do occurred at night time based on night grazing. Then the Governor deemed it fit to ban it.
“Another major fact is this issue of underage grazing. How can you imaging a 7-8years old boy taking charge, grazing about 200 cows. These Fulani herdsmen keep on destroying people’s properties and they are doing this recklessly. This Fulani herdsmen will uproot casava by themselves and gather it in a particular place for cows to eat.
“At Arimogija in Ose Local Government Area of the state, they uprooted the cassava of a particular farmer and gather it for their cows to feed on. And information got to this man and what the man did was to move along with his two sons to the bush and when they got there, they challenged these Fulani herdsmen and what these Fulani herdsmen did was to fire gun on this man. They killed this man alongside his son while the elder son escaped with machete cuts. What can we say about that? This is what we have been experiencing every day.
“The latest now is that you will see Fulani rearing their cows on the expressway. Is that not dangerous to motor users? And when this order came, we have to get this order straight and there are two ways to it. The governor ordered that people should move out of that place if you’re not there for any other illegal means. If you’re in the bush carrying arms doing nothing in the forests, forest reserves belong to Government and before you can encroach any of the forest reserves, you have to get a permit and that is what we are saying.
“It is very unfortunate that we found ourselves in this situation because all along we have been addressing this issues. We have written to them, invited and dialogued with them, meeting their leaders.
Even there was a time we held some workshop with them where the National President of Miyetti Allah was invited to Ondo State just to find a way of addressing this problem and we agreed on some points. He even promised us that this thing will stop, but we discovered that these issues are getting increased. Many people have been killed and kidnapped, one of our first-class traditional rulers was recently killed by these Fulani herdsmen on his way back to his domain. All these are callous.”
Alhaji Dojumo, however, expressed hope that, within the seven days given to the herdsmen to vacate the forest reserves, there would be improvement in the security of lives and property in the state.
He said: “Within this seven days ultimatum, we believe that things will improve for better change.”
Farmers back Akeredolu
Farmers in Ondo State have expressed support for the order on herdsmen to vacate all forest reserve areas in the state, banning night grazing and movement of cattle in cities and highways in the state.
The Ondo State Agricultural Commodities’ Association (OSACA), the umbrella body for all agricultural value chain and farmers’ group in Ondo state who spoke on behalf of the farmers said the order has brought lots of hope to farmers in the state because of the activities of criminal elements who have turned the forest reserves into hideouts for carrying out unlawful activities, while farmers can no longer be said to be safe to do their legitimate business.
In a statement signed by Gbenga Obaweya and Ayo Omogie, chairman and secretary of OSACA they said they strongly believe that such an important order should be backed up with relevant legislation as a matter of urgency.
“The social and economic impact of these nefarious activities if not quickly checked will lead to severe famine in due season, as farmers are leaving their farmland in droves for fear of being attacked , raped or kidnapped as these have become a recurring issue.
“The governor’s order is imperative for it will save farmers from becoming paupers and insolvent as these herdsmen graze freely on their crops on daily basis. Most of these farmers took loan from different financial institutions to establish their farm.
“The governor’s order will also save our revered cultural and traditional institutions from being bastardized. These criminal elements are no respecter of persons to be attacked or kidnapped.
“The recent price increase of agricultural commodities is not unconnected to the activities of herdsmen for they have grazed most of the farm produce and even fed their cattle with it.
“It is on record that farmers in Ondo State have lost over 2000 hectares of rice and over 3000 ha of cassava just to mention a few to herdsmen activities across the state.”