The Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF) on Wednesday chided Governor Rotimi Akeredolu for directing Fulani herdsmen to leave Ondo forests within one week.
But the Ondo State Government had fired back at the Presidency for calling them to order, saying the statement issued by the Aso Villa on Monday was not from an informed perspective.
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Also, the Afenifere and other groups from the South West and South-South, including some farmers, lauded the decision taken by Governor Akeredolu saying they were with him.
What the Northern group said
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) in a statement advised Governor Akeredolu not to allow “mischief makers” to compound security challenges in the country with his order, urging him to rescind the directive banishing the herdsmen or clarify his position in the event that he was misunderstood.
The statement signed by the Director, Publicity and Advocacy, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed argued that Akeredolu as a senior lawyer should know that the Nigerian Constitution does not give him the power to deny any citizen the right to live where he chooses if he does not break the law in the process.
NEF said that if there were criminal elements among the Fulani herders who live in the state, the governor should take appropriate steps to identify them and deal with them and not to pass a sweeping indictment.
The statement read, “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 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,” he said.
Akeredolu is right – South West elders
However, the National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, said the Yoruba socio-cultural group was not surprised by the statement from the presidency urging Akeredolu not to go against the law.
Afenifere alleged that the development showed Buhari’s preference for promoting Fulani interests.
It said the prompt response by the Presidency was a sign that the Buhari government “has a serious problem with heating the rest of us when the issue involves its anointed Fulanis.”
According to Odumakin, “The intervention by what we mistakenly call the federal government of Nigeria on behalf of marauding Fulanis 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 Fulani interests against those of Yoruba, Igbo, Jukun, 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 Fulanis.
“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.
“Are Ondo forest reserves under Ondo State government or the federal government and Miyetti Allah? We agree with the Ondo State government that the insensibility of Garba Shehu violates the corporate existence of Nigeria,” the statement said.
The Afenifere urged Yoruba people to stand with the governor, asking other South-West governors to emulate Akeredolu in order to “free our land from the Fulani who have surrounded us with the shield of the federal government.”
Another group, the Coalition of Oduduwa Elders, also warned the Presidency to steer clear of governance issues in Ondo or any other state in the country, saying the governor’s action was the best in protecting the lives of Ondo citizens.
In a statement signed by its National Coordinator, Dr Tunde Arem and National Secretary, Barrister (Mrs) Folake Ajasin, the group asked the governor not to be distracted by actions of those it said “have failed to safeguard the lives of Nigerians” but be firm and decisive in his actions aimed at giving Ondo people safety.
“Akeredolu, to the best of our knowledge is a sitting governor of Ondo State. Until he is out of office, he has the constitutional mandate to device the best ways possible in giving his people who voted him into office good and quality leadership,” they said.
While noting that herders, like other citizens, have the rights to live anywhere in the country, the Yoruba group said, “They (herdsmen) must be reminded that their rights stop where other people’s rights start.”
Presidency not aware of our problems
Fielding questions from journalists in Akure, the Senior Special Adviser (Security Matters) to Governor Akeredolu, Alhaji Jimoh Dojumo, told newsmen that the directive given to Fulani herders became necessary having considered all options to check incessant kidnapping, killing of the people and destruction of crops.
He said 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.
“The security situation in Ondo State is becoming unbearable, every one of us living in the state knows that it is becoming unbearable to the fact that after the #EndSARS saga, there was never a day that one or two people will not be 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 address these issues of insecurity. It was there we discovered that we need to go ahead for a solution.
“We discovered during the meeting that most of the destruction of farmers’ crops occurs at night due to night grazing. Then the governor deemed it to ban it.
“Another fact is this issue of underage grazing. How can a boy of between 7 and 8 years take charge of about 200 cows? These Fulani herdsmen keep on destroying people’s properties and they are doing this recklessly. These Fulani herdsmen will uproot cassava by themselves and gather it in a particular place for cows to eat.
There was a time we held a 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 increasing,” he said.
Alhaji Dojumo expressed hope that within the seven days given to the herdsmen to vacate the forest reserves, there would be an improvement in the security of lives and property in the state.
Ondo farmers support Akeredolu
Members of the Ondo State Agricultural Commodities’ Association (OSACA), the umbrella body for all agricultural value chain and farmers’ group in Ondo State, said they supported the position of Akeredolu for herders to leave.
They said by issuing the vacation order, the governor had rescued them because criminal elements who turned the forest reserves into hideouts for carrying out unlawful activities denied them the room to carry out their legitimate farming businesses. In a statement signed by Gbenga Obaweya and Ayo Omogie, chairman and secretary of OSACA, the group urged the governor to back the directive with relevant legislation as a matter of urgency.
“The grazing bill before the House of Assembly should therefore be given an accelerated passage. 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.
“It is on record that farmers in Ondo State have lost over 2,000 hectares of rice and over 3,000 hectares of cassava, just to mention a few, to herdsmen activities across the state,” they alleged.
Also, the PAN- Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), the umbrella body of traditional rulers, leaders, and people of the coastal states of the Niger Delta expressed dismay over the statement from the presidency.
“It is disturbing that a legitimate order by a governor against a group of people who have been ‘illegally and forcefully’ occupying the lands of Ondo State is being questioned by a presidential aide.
“Is it not bad enough that this administration has been unable to take reasonable action against these herdsmen, for their violent crimes, across the country? “PANDEF, therefore, urges President Muhammadu Buhari to call Mr. Garbu Shehu to order, while prodding Governor Akeredolu and the people of Ondo State to remain resolute.”
What we discussed with Akeredolu- Miyetti Allah
On his part, the Chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) in Ondo State, Alhaji Bello Garba, said they had no problem with Governor Akeredolu.
Garba said during their meeting with the governor, Fulani had not been told to leave the state or the forests but that they should cooperate with the government to flush out the bad eggs.
Speaking to Daily Trust in his office on Wednesday, Garba said he had summoned a meeting of all members of the association from the eighteen local government area of the state.
He said that the directive of the governor was in line with the directive of the national leadership of the association, which banned them from night grazing or leaving cattle under the custody of children.
While contributing to the debate, Shehu Sani, a former senator from Kaduna State, wrote a short letter to Governor Akeredolu on his Facebook page:
My Dear Governor Akeredolu
I am aware of the security challenges facing your state. I appreciate your efforts but it is outrightly and completely wrong to ask all cattle herders to leave Ondo forests.
“The sins of a criminal few should not affect the law abiding and peaceful ones who have the right to live and move freely in all parts of our country.
“Efforts must continue to be made to deal with those who breach the law while respecting and protecting the rights of the innocent,” he said.