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Forest Reserve quit notice: stakeholders on how to sustain peace efforts

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Buhari. Photo: TWITTER/NIGERIAGOV

As everything is being done to ensure the evacuation of illegal and criminal herdsmen from Ondo State Government Reserves, there have been stringent demands by members of the public to the Federal Government to immediately phase out the traditional open grazing policy.

Contrary to insinuations, the peace parley held last week Monday at the instance of the Presidency with the Southwest governors, Miyetti-Allah Cow Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) and security agencies was to diffuse the tension that had been brewing. There were misgivings in some quarters that the sudden meeting, chaired by the Chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum and Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, would be a compromise that would force the state government to back down on its orders, especially with the presence of some governors from the north.

But at the meeting in Akure, it was agreed that the 7-day ultimatum issued by Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, which expired penultimate Sunday, that all unauthorised herdsmen should vacate the state’s reserves should be upheld. Also, they agreed that security is a national problem, and as such everyone should support the order. The meeting revalidated the ban placed on night grazing and underage herding amongst other measures taken to secure life and property of the citizenry.

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However, those at the meeting blamed a section of the media, particularly social media, for misinforming the people on the 7-Day ultimatum order, which was misinterpreted to mean the indiscriminate evacuation of Fulani and all herders from the state. Irked by placing such blame on media practitioners, the state chapter of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), at its congress last Thursday, led by the state Chairman, Mr. Tona Aderinboye, lashed out at those blaming the media.

“That the congress notes with dissatisfaction blaming of the media by the Southwest governors/Miyetti Allah’s meeting held in Akure over recent eviction order of Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu to herdsmen who are illegally occupying the state’s forest reserves,” an angry Aderinboye said.

The union also expressed deep concern over the spate of killings and kidnappings on highways in Ondo State, especially the Akure-Owo-Ifon Road and Akoko area, though the menace has reduced drastically since the 7-day ultimatum order Akeredolu gave.

“The congress therefore expresses the urgent need for operatives of the Nigerian Army, Nigeria Police and other security agencies to concentrate on Ogbese/Owo/Akoko axis of the state to rid kidnappers, who usually share their ransom, even beside the road without being arrested,” Aderinboye further stated.

The media chief declared unflinching support for Governor Akeredolu’s decision and pleaded that all security agencies should not rest on their oars to flush criminals out of the state.

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Meanwhile, less than three days after the Akure meeting, some herdsmen, in their usual style, stormed a community in Idanre Local Government Area and destroyed crops in farms worth millions. The Guardian learnt that the herdsmen went to Obasooto Camp along the newly constructed Akure-Idanre road with over 100 cows, grazed the farms and destroyed the agricultural products despite the extant order.

One of the victims, Mr. Friday Ayaghi, who hails from Kogi State, recounted that his cassava plantation was totally destroyed by the herders, lamenting that his source of livelihood was no more. A physically challenged farmer and octogenarian, Idowu Olatuja, disclosed that the family’s farmland, a large expanse of cassava, pineapples, plantains and cocoyam farm was totally destroyed by the herdsmen and their cows. Olatuja noted that they first attacked his wife’s farm some 10 days before his own farm, but returned three days later and swooped on his farm and the rest of his wife’s crops.

Another victim, Mrs. Sarah Akingbesote, lamented that over six hundred heads of cocoyam were eaten up by the cows, crying; “How and what will I eat now?”

The state Commander of Amotekun Security Network, Mr. Tunji Adeleye, said his men had sprung into action across the state, ready to carry out the order of the state governor and to combat crime across the state. Adeleye told The Guardian that; “We have not arrested anyone; we are just appealing to them to leave.”

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Less than 24 hours after the Akure meeting, the state’s Assembly of Traditional Religious Worshipers (ATRW) appealed to Yoruba people to embrace traditional religion so as to fight the killer herdsmen. They expressed readiness to be part of the fight against criminality and banditry ravaging the state and urged Governor Akeredolu to co-opt them to combat “the heinous activities of criminal herdsmen in our land.”

While addressing a press conference in Akure, the state ATRW Coordinator, Chief Adewale Oso, said they have the capacity and resources as well as spiritual support of the ancestors to battle insecurity in Ondo State.

According to him; “Let us reason together and apply workable approach or solution to this problem. The state government has ignored traditional worshippers and we are the ones who can assist them to end this Fulani Jihadists.

Oluwarotimi Akeredolu

“When children depart from the legacy of their forefathers, they will become prey to their enemies. If Chief Sunday lgboho, Chief Gani Adams had chosen to be ignorant like many of our people by departing from the way of their ancestors, we would not be asking them to help us chase out criminal herdsmen.

“We need to wake up from our slumber and give support to the traditional worshippers. The government should not see these Fulani herdsmen’s notorious activities as just kidnapping. They are terrorists across Nigerian borders and mainly from the northern part of this country.”

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Oso affirmed that the marauders had sponsors from the north and outside the country, lamenting that they had besieged several parts of the state, including Owena, Ogbese, Ikaramu, Ikare, lsua junction, Akungba junction, Owo junction, Ipele junction, Emure-Ile and others.

“These places should be well monitored, their leaders fished out and held responsible for any act of killing and kidnapping,” he said and appealed to northern elders and elites to immediately embark on massive education of their children.

According to Adeleye; “Sharia education is good education if that is what they want. It should be given to them. They should know that the children they failed to educate are the ones giving us sleepless night today. It is a pity that our leaders just realised that we are under siege in Yorubaland.

“Fulani’s are all over our land moving freely, destroying our farmlands, raping, killing our children and wives and nobody can stop them or challenge them because they have the backing of the their people in Nigeria.

“ATRWOS is battle-ready to join the state government in the fight against insecurity. Let us change the society together. The Fulani herdsmen, in alliance with their callous imperialists masters and puppet administration, must be called to order. An injury to one is an injury to all.

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“Our traditions have powers to expose evil-doers around us. If some people are killing and hiding, when authorities do the right things in the traditional way, they would be exposed.”

The group lamented further; “If the Federal Government cannot fish out suspected Fulani herdsmen that killed our prominent Ondo elites like Mrs. Funke Olakunrin, the daughter of Afenifere leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, Oba Adeusi Olufon of lfon and Amos Arijesuyo, deputy registrar, FUTA, then the governor is not asking for too much.

“We the Assembly of Traditional Religion Worshippers of Ondo State, hereby throw our weight behind Rotimi Akeredolu and the Government of Ondo State, that the Fulani herdsmen in our Forest Reserves should immediately leave our farmlands if they cannot live in peace with us.

“The land belongs to Olodumare and we got it through our ancestor’s efforts. Nobody should cause us any pain under any guise in our father’s land. Any further attack on our people shall be met with reprisal attacks. This is not a threat; we are battle-ready.”

SHORTLY after the peace parley, Governor Akeredolu received the newly posted Assistant Inspector General of Police for Zone 17, Akure, Mr. Isaac Akinmoyede and the new Brigade Commander of 32 Artillery, Owena Cantonment, Brig. Gen. Raymond Utsaha.

Without mincing words, the governor told them that Ondo people cannot continue to live in fear due to the increasing spate of kidnapping, robbery and other criminal activities being recorded daily.

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“We have great challenges,” Akeredolu said. “We need all hands on deck. Our challenges are enormous. Top of it is the issue of kidnapping. We cannot continue to live in fear. It is our constitutional responsibility as governor and as police to prevent crimes and guarantee the security of life and property of our people.”

Akeredolu assured the new AIG and the Brigade commander of good working relationship, as extended to their predecessors in office, lauding the security agencies for their cooperation with the Amotekun Corps.

The police and army bosses, Akinmoyede and Utsaha, pledged to be committed to a synergy to reduce crime to the barest minimum across the state and gave their words to work with Amotekun.

MEANWHILE, the state Chairman of Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), Chief Joseph Akinlaja, has urged President Muhammudu Buhari to publicly condemn and warn criminal elements either from Yoruba, Fulani, Igbo or Hausa to desist or face the full weight of the law. Akinalaja, a former member of the House of Representatives, said the president needed to dissociate himself from criminal elements using Fulani herdsmen as subterfuge to unleash terror on innocent travellers and farmers in the state.

According to him, Buhari as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces was silent for too long, adding that his body language may further aggravate killings, kidnappings, banditry and other security challenges confronting various parts of the country.

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He urged President Buhari to emulate former President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who exhibited nationalistic trait by arresting and prosecuting suspected criminal elements among members of Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) when he was President between 1999 and 2007.

Fayemi

Akinlaja said; “General Muhammadu Buhari should speak out now so that his body language will not show that he is in support of criminal elements and the ethnic group he belongs to.

“It is pathetic that everybody is mentioning Fulani everywhere. His body gesture means a lot. So if he speaks and warn criminal elements, this sole act will wipe out the kidnappers.

He recalled that “When Obasanjo was president, OPC under Dr. Frederick Faseun and Gani Adams was very useful during this era; crime was reduced. Because of OPC’s popularity, many perpetrated evils with the security outfit. Obasanjo rose against the criminal elements in OPC; till now OPC is sanitised and still exists. In fact, the body language of Obasanjo nipped all criminal activities in the bud.

“Even in Katsina, we have criminal elements, Buhari could have acted like Obasanjo. Buhari needs to speak out. His silence means a lot.”

The former lawmaker described the Southwest governors’ meeting in Akure with Miyyetti Allah national leadership as a welcome development, warning herdsmen against flouting the 7-day quit notice to illegal occupants.

Similarly, the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Olu Falae, whose farmland is often attacked by herdsmen, decried the sentimental position often taken by the Federal Government on issues of herdsmen/farmers’ rift across the country.

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According to Falae; “The Federal Government reacts to cattle issues as if the cattle belong to the Federal Government. Cattle belong to the Fulani and the Federal Government is not Fulani. They should be reminded that it is Federal Government of Nigeria, not the Federal Government of Fulani, with just about 10 million people.

“So, the cattle belong to private individuals not to the government. What’s their interest? When cattle and the Fulani went to my farm to destroy it, why didn’t the Federal Government show concern? It is absolute nonsense.”

Falae, who was kidnapped by Fulani herdsmen on his 77th birthday in September 2015, said the Federal Government should assist the herdsmen to set up ranches in the north, “where cattle is indigenous. Let them run as private business without harassing anybody and anybody harassing them.

“The time has come for Nigeria to do what the rest of the world has done, which is to move away from this ancient free grazing of cattle and move into modern cattle ranching which is what the whole world is now doing.”

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The elder statesman warned, “free grazing, in a situation like Nigeria, is a threat to national security, because the height of it is to make the farmers, including someone like myself, subsidize cattle activities for the herdsmen.

“They bring their cattle to my farm, eat up my maize, cassava and rice free of charge, which they sell at a very high profit. So in other words, the rest of us are farming for them. This is totally unacceptable. And when you put it in ethnic context, the herdsmen are not Yoruba people; they are largely Fulani from the north. How can it be the case that I, Olu Falae and other Yoruba farmers, will be farming for the cattle of Fulani?

“If they want to rear cattle, they can do it anywhere, but let them acquire the land from the owners of the land, fence it round and create cattle ranches. They can feed it with cattle feeds, which they can manufacture themselves or buy. That is the way it is being done in the rest of the world; that is the way it has to be done here.”

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Contrary to notions that some herdsmen are hiding in Forest Reserves to commit crimes, Falae said, “a lot of the herdsmen and their cattle are not hiding in Forest Reserves; they are staying on private farmlands.

“By going there, the cattle and herdsmen are trespassing; it is a criminal offence. In the night, they drive the cattle to go and eat the crops on the private farmland. That’s is willful damage.”

He urged the state governors not to limit their search for the trespassers to the forest reserves but to extend their scope of operations to private farmlands.

“We, the ordinary farmers in Ondo State, have decided to protect our lands. Nobody has the right to trespass on my land and I have no right to trespass on anybody else’s land. These are the issues and they are very clear,” he declared.

“We will protect our farmlands against any trespasser. The private farmland is by far greater part of the area where they are doing all the havoc. We will defend and protect our private property under the constitution.”

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