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Uproar over Ondo quit notice to criminal herders

By Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Seye Olumide, Kehinde Olatunji (Lagos) Segun Olaniyi, Sodiq Omolaoye (Abuja), Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan), Oluwaseun Akingboye (Akure), Ann Godwin (Port Harcourt) and Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna)
21 January 2021   |   3:33 am
Uproar caused by quit notice given by Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, to unregistered herdsmen to vacate state forest reserves within seven days has deepened...

Akeredolu, in an interactive meeting with the leadership of the Hausa/Fulani and Ebira Communities in Ondo State.<br />The Governor, who is the Chairman of the Southwest Governors’ Forum said Kidnappers Should Expect Fire For Fire Across the Southwest.<br />Crossed swords. Photo; TWITTER/ONDOFIRSTBORN

Akeredolu replies, says President’s emotions threatening national unity
• Afenifere accuses Buhari of protecting only Fulani interests
• Yoruba elders, PANDEF back governor
• Akeredolu’s quit notice provocative, unhelpful, says Northern Elders

Uproar caused by quit notice given by Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, to unregistered herdsmen to vacate state forest reserves within seven days has deepened.

The governor gave the notice on Monday during a meeting with leaders of Hausa/Fulani and Ebira communities in the state.
At the meeting held at Cocoa Conference Hall of the Governor’s office, Alagabaka, Akure, the governor said activities of herdsmen had for long threatened the security of the state.
The Presidency, in its reaction, argued that ‘’insecurity is not alien to any group, the language they speak, their geographical location or their faith.’’

The Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, in a statement on Tuesday urged the state government to tackle all forms of criminality without breaching the rights of herders in the state.

But Akeredolu would not allow the Presidency to have the last word on the matter. Reacting to the remark by the Presidency on his quit order, he warned that Nigeria’s unity was being threatened because of Buhari administration’s emotional attachment to Fulani herdsmen despite their menace.

The state Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Donald Ojogo, spoke on behalf of the governor yesterday in Akure.

Ojogo insisted that Shehu’s comment was inimical to the peaceful existence of Nigeria, lamenting that Shehu had stated: “unambiguously, the position of the Federal Government.”

He clarified that the state government did not ask Fulani to leave the state but that unregistered herders should leave the state’s forests.

“The statement from Garba Shehu is brazen display of emotional attachments and it’s very inimical to the corporate existence of Nigeria,” he said.

On its part, the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, noted: “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.”

The Publicity Secretary of the group, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said “it is in line with non-pretense by this regime that it represents only Fulani interests against those of Yoruba, Igbo, Junkun, Ijaw and other tribes in Nigeria.

Odumakin lamented that “Fulani criminals” had caused untold hardships in Ondo State and other Yoruba towns and cities in recent time, adding that “only an irresponsible government that wants to behave like our Federal Government that will continue to fold its arms.

“Are Ondo Forest Reserves under Ondo state Government or FG and Miyetti Allah? We agree with the Ondo State Goverment that the insensibility of Garba shehu violates the corporate existence of Nigeria.

“The lives of our people and other non-Fulani communities are daily being taken by local and foreign Fulani bandits without any sign that these lives matter to the government with its desire to shield the Fulani from the laws.

“Nobody would ever have believed that it would get to this irresponsible stage that the Federal Government will come to this barbaric level Garba shehu has taken it and the peak of their direct salvos against Amotekun since it started.”

COALITION of Oduduwa Elders, similarly, threw their weight behind the governor.

The elders accused the Presidency of undue meddlesomeness in issues within the purview of the state.

They 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.

The group, in a statement signed by its National Coordinator, Dr. Tunde Aremu, and National Secretary, Mrs Folake Ajasin, respectively, 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.

ANOTHER body of elders, Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), rebuked the Presidency.

Speaking with The Guardian in Ibadan, the YCE Secretary-General, Dr. Kunle Olajide, who lauded Akeredolu for the step, said: “The YCE supports and commends Gov Akeredolu for his vacation order to criminal herders plundering the state’s forest reserves, maiming and killing Ondo citizens, destroying farms and kidnapping our people for ransom.

“We believe the order is even a little too late but better late than never. The chief security officer of the state cannot be expected to keep quiet when criminals perpetrate their criminal acts.”

BUT Northern Elders Forum (NEF) described the vacation order as provocative and unhelpful, saying the governor had no constitutional power to take such an action.

The forum made its position known in a statement made available to journalists by its Director, Publicity and Advocacy, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, yesterday, in Abuja.

The forum said that though the governor’s duty to protect and improve the security of citizens cannot be challenged, he went overboard by asking the Fulani community to leave its lawful location.

Noting that the action taken by the Ondo state governor would worsen perceptions that the Fulani is unsafe and unwelcome in certain parts of Nigeria, the forum added that no Nigerian had the power to take punitive action against citizens on political grounds.

“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.”

While it urged the Fulani community in Ondo to stay put where they are and continue to be law-abiding, the elders advised Akeredolu to rescind his order on the herders or clarify his position in the event that he was misunderstood.

PANDEF, a foremost group in the Niger Delta, said the order was in the best interest of the security and safety of the people of Ondo State, and other Nigerians who reside or travel through the state.

The National Publicity Secretary of PANDEF, Ken Robinson, urged Akeredolu and the people of Ondo State to remain resolute.

He said, “The callous and barbaric actions of herdsmen should not be allowed to continue anywhere in Nigeria.”

But Pro-Biafra agitators, the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), and an Ohanaeze Ndigbo chieftain, Chief Chekwas Okorie differed.

While MASSOB said it was solidly behind the order and anything that could be done to stop the activities of herders in the state and other parts of the southern region, Okorie cautioned against a blanket order that may be unhealthy to the stability and unity of the country.

Leader of MASSOB, Uchenna Madu, stated that the group was disappointed that the Presidency could come up to defend herders whose activities had been found to have compromised the security of life and property in Ondo State, insisting that such posture clearly lent credence to allegations of their deriving their strength from the Presidency.

“MASSOB supports the governor. We support every meaningful step to be taken to root out these people from Ondo State. The governor should not succumb to the pressure of the Presidency. Let him maintain his word,” the group said.

But Okorie insisted that the decision of the governor was not well thought-out, stressing that there were other ways he could have done what he was asking for, without creating a fuss in the system.

He said: “Look at the way the governor of Benue State handled his own matter. He was very resolute and went ahead with his State Assembly to come up with anti-grazing law, which is now operating in that area. People who feel opposed to open grazing can follow that route.”

In Kaduna, the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU) and the Arewa Consulative Forum (ACF) disagreed on the matter.

While SOKAPU expressed support for the governor, Arewa leaders asked him to obey the 1999 Constitution, as amended, which guarantees the freedom of movement of all Nigerians.