Three senior lawyers and groups, including Afenifere and the Yoruba Council of Elders, on Wednesday, criticised the Presidency over its stand on the Ondo State Government’s ultimatum to herdsmen in the state’s forest reserves.
But the Northern Elders’ Forum directed the Fulani herdsmen to disregard the notice to quit forest reserves in the state.
Also on Wednesday, the Ondo State Government said it did not tell herdsmen to leave the state of its forests, but forest reserves, which had become hideouts of kidnappers.
Recall that the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, had on Monday ordered herdsmen to leave the state’s forest reserves within seven days.
The Presidency, in a statement by the President’s Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, faulted the governor, saying he should not act outside his constitutional powers.
In a telephone interview with The PUNCH, the Secretary-General of the YCE, Dr Kunle Olajide, described as unconstitutional, the reaction of the Presidency.
Olajide said, “Any Nigerian is free to live in any part of the country in as much as he lives in peace with the people without engaging in violence or constituting a threat to the survival and wellbeing of others. But how do you explain a situation where you get to a place and engage in crime and criminality, killing and maiming of innocent people and plundering their farmlands and the likes?
Commending Akeredolu, he stated, “The Presidency has turned a deaf ear to the calls of the people and governors of the South-West for protection from these herders in the last five years.
“The herders in Yoruba land are Fulani. Therefore the issue of ethnicism crime does not arise. The Federal Government ought to do the needful by calling security officers to act and enforce orders issued by the lawful authority in the state.”
The pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, in a statement titled, ‘Ondo Forests: Fulani Presidency Again,’ issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr Yinka Odumakin, said the Muhammadu Buhari regime had again shown its non-pretence as representing the Fulani interests above other tribes in the country.
Afenifere stated, “The intervention by what we mistakenly call the Federal Government of Nigeria on behalf of marauding Fulani 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 the Fulani interests against those of Yoruba, Igbo, Junkun, 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 Fulani.
“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.
“What has this government done to assure our people that it can protect our lives with the open murders of Mrs Funke Olakunri, the Olufon of Ifon and the Deputy Registrar of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, among many others?”
On its part, the Coalition of Oduduwa Elders, in a statement by its National Coordinator, Dr Tunde Aremu and National Secretary, Folake Ajasin, supported the quit notice given by the governor to Fulani herdsmen to leave forest reserves.
Also, the Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland, Gani Adams, said Akeredolu had constitutional rights to give the notice to quit to illegal residents in the forest reserves.
In a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Kehinde Aderemi, Adams said the Presidency had failed to address the security situation across the country.
He stated, “Garba Shehu/Presidency apparently doesn’t know the meaning of forest reserves. It’s not accessible except to authorised personnel/loggers. Apart from the place being a place for valued cash trees, it also means a haven of safety for protected animals against poachers. The herdsmen living in the forests are not only unauthorised, they also would likely cut down trees to make fires and must also kill animals for food.”
Also, farmers in Ondo State supported the governor and asked him to back up his ultimatum with a law.
The Chairman of the Ondo State Agricultural Commodities’ Association, Mr Gbenga Obaweya, in an interview with The PUNCH, urged the governor to sponsor a grazing bill at the state House of Assembly to tackle the security challenges in the state.
Don’t politicise security, SAN tells FG
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Tayo Oyetibo, in an interview with The PUNCH said Akeredolu had the right to ask herdsmen to leave the state government forest reserves, urging the Presidency not to politicise the matter.
He said, “As the chief security officer of the state, the state government has the power to say that those that are occupying the forest should come and register although I would have expected that law should have been passed to that effect to control the movement of people in the forest.
“I think the Presidency is misunderstanding the governor, everybody in Nigeria should support the safety of anybody living in any part of Nigeria. So if those living in the forest are committing crimes, government, whether federal or state, should see to the discovery of those that are behind the crimes. This I think is the motive of the governor of Ondo State and I don’t think that issue should be politicised at all.
“They (the FG) should meet with the state governor and see what is happening in Ondo State to nip it in the bud before it’s a mess. I don’t think it’s a matter for politics at all.”
Akeredolu acting within his powers – Yusuf Ali
Similarly, another senior advocate, Yusuf Ali, who spoke to one of our correspondents, said the state government had the right to determine whatever he wishes on the land in the state.
He said, “Any land within each state of the federation is given in trust of the governor for the citizens of the state, so technically speaking, it means the land in the state belongs to the governor and somebody who owns something has a right to determine the use of that thing.
“If truly the Land Use Act had vested all the lands in the state to the state government then the governor has the right to determine how the land would be used, who may have access, who may not have access.”
Another SAN, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, also faulted the Presidency.
In an interview with The PUNCH, the senior advocate said the Presidency misinterpreted sections of the constitution.
Adegboruwa said, “I salute the courage of the governor. He displayed rare statesmanship and courage. I think it is a lesson for all governors to take hold of their territories and safeguard the lives and property of people.
But another SAN, Mike Ozekhome, in his position, stated, “The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as altered) provides the right to freedom of movement throughout Nigeria of a citizen, and to reside in any part thereof. Section 41 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in very clear and precise words, provides as follows:
“Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereto or exit therefrom.”
According to him, the Presidency has every right to call the governor of Ondo State to order.
Order not notice to quit, we only asked herdsmen to leave forest reserves, not forests – Ondo
Meanwhile, the Ondo State Government on Wednesday insisted that the Federal Government’s opposition to notice to quit would not change its position.
Speaking to one of our correspondents, Akeredolu’s Special Adviser on Security Matter, Alhaji Jimoh Dojumo, said the government was serious about the issue.
In the same vein, the government also stated that the governor’s order was in the interest of the residents of the state, including the Fulani herdsmen.
It warned that the governor’s directive should not be misinterpreted to mean notice to quit for the Fulani that resides in the state.
The state Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr Donald Ojogo stated these on the Channels Television, programme, monitored on Wednesday.
Ojogo said, “Insecurity is a national issue and no part of the country is exempted. Now kidnapping and banditry are now becoming a pandemic so to say. If actually, Garba Shehu issued the statement, then he owes the nation explanation to let people know why he must take up the fight of criminal elements. I do not believe that with his pedigree, he might want to offer himself as a spokesperson for the people masquerading as herdsmen and committing crimes.
“Government did not say Fulani people should leave Ondo State. Some herdsmen have occupied the forest reserves and in this case, the forest reserves are different from the natural forests. Government has not come out to say that the Fulani should vacate all the forests in Ondo State. The focus here is the forest reserves.
“There are specific purposes that forest reserves have been earmarked for. There are thousands of hectares of land in the thick forest. Unfortunately, some of those criminal elements have gone to mingle with Fulani herdsmen who have occupied portions of these forest reserves and settlements. In any case, anytime victims are kidnapped, they take them into the depth of forest reserves, and security agencies have had enough evidence to show that victims are taken into the forests.
“So what government is trying to do is to clear the mess by a way of regulating the activities of herdsmen and not only Fulani people are herdsmen. The governor ( Akeredolu ) was explicit in his directive.”
Disregard Akeredolu’s order, NEF tells herdsmen
But the NEF asked the Fulani not to leave the forest reserves, describing Akeredolu’s order as provocative.
The NEF Director (Publicity and Advocacy), Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, said this in a statement in Abuja on Wednesday.
The statement reads, “It has, however, become necessary to speak at this stage and offer advice 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 urges the Fulani community in Ondo to stay 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.
Eviction: Makinde allays Fulani fear
Meanwhile, the Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, has said that no individual or group has the right to initiate forceful eviction of the Fulani from the state.
Makinde gave the warning in a statewide broadcast on Wednesday in reaction to the ultimatum that was given a popular businessman and activist from Oke Ogun axis of the state.
The governor while reiterating his determination to uphold the nation’s constitution, said the common enemies of the people were not the Hausa/Fulani, but the hoodlums, cultists, armed robbers, kidnappers and bandits.
Makinde said, “We cannot overlook the fact that there had indeed been instances that caused concern. The fragile peace between the herdsmen and farmers in Oke Ogun is being threatened. Individuals who are not authorised are going around chasing people from their homes and causing mayhem. This assault on residents of Oyo State is not the way to further the Yoruba cause.”