Nigeria’s Presidency on Tuesday called to order Ondo State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), over his seven-day ultimatum to herders to vacate the forests in the state following growing insecurity allegedly perpetrated by the pastoralists.
It expressed concern that the governor, as a legal luminary, could unilaterally issue the quit order without taking cognizance of the constitution that guarantees the rights of citizens to movement and to live in any part of the country.
It said in a statement by President Muhammadu Buhari’s media aide, Mallam Garba Shehu that the governor ought not to have taken the unilateral step without consulting widely.
It also urged the government of Ondo State and all the 35 others nationwide to draw clear lines between criminals and law-abiding citizens, who must equally be saved from the infiltrators.
Akeredolu, on Monday, had ordered the herdsmen to vacate all government forest reserves in the state within seven days.
The governor gave the order during an interactive meeting in Akure with the leadership of the Hausa/Fulani and Ebira communities.
He had said security reports and debriefings from victims of kidnap cases pointed in one direction traceable to some bad elements masquerading as herdsmen.
“We have cases of several attacks on our people by these mindless elements. You will recall the gruesome murder of one of the members of the Ondo State Traditional Council who was caught in the web of the devious plans of these workers of evil on his way back to his domain.
“While we were still grieving, other kidnap attempts were made on the lives of road users across the state, especially along our boundaries and hinterland,” he had said.
Besides issuing the quit order, the governor had also banned night grazing in the state and the movement of cattle within cities and highways, while also outlawing under-aged grazing of cattle.
Akeredolu decried the activities of the criminal elements, adding that they have turned forest reserves in the state and across the South-west into hideouts for keeping victims of kidnapping, negotiating for ransom and carrying out other criminal activities.
However, the presidency, in a reprimand of the governor’s action, called for caution, asking both the state government and the herders to dialogue with a view to addressing the security challenges facing the state.
The statement, entitled: “In tackling crime, Ondo State will not act outside the constitution,” noted that although Akeredolu with his pedigree in the first four years as governor fought crime with passion, he could not have asked the herders to leave the state in a jiffy.
It said: “Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, a seasoned lawyer, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and indeed, a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), has fought crime in his state with passion and commitment, greater sensitivity and compassion for the four years he has run its affairs and, in our view, will be the least expected to unilaterally oust thousands of herders who have lived all their lives in the state on account of the infiltration of the forests by criminals.
“If this were to be the case, rights groups will be right in expressing worries that the action could set off a chain of events which the makers of our constitution foresaw and tried to guard against.”
The statement added that what is emerging is a lack of consistency in messaging which in turn leads to various contradictions regarding the accuracy and the intent behind the message.
The statement called for restraint on both sides and urged the state government and the leadership of the Fulani communities to continue their dialogue for a good understanding that will bring to an urgent end, the security challenges facing the state.
It said: “We want to make it clear that kidnapping, banditry and rustling are crimes, no matter the motive or who is involved. But to define crime from the nameplates, as a number of commentators have erroneously done- which group they belong to, the language they speak, their geographical location or their faith is atavistic and cruel.
“We need to delink terrorism and crimes from ethnicity, geographical origins and religion—to isolate the criminals who use this interchange of arguments to hinder law enforcement efforts as the only way to deal effectively with them.”
The statement said the president, who swore to defend the constitution, has spoken against the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in asking citizens of Northern origin to leave.
It added that the president did not spare the group based in Sokoto, ‘Muslim Solidarity Forum,’ which asked the Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, to leave, adding also that the president is prepared to do all that the law permits to protect citizens all over the country in their choice of where they wish to reside and are treated as equal citizens.
“The government of Ondo and all the 35 others across the federation must draw clear lines between the criminals and the law-abiding citizens who must equally be saved from the infiltrators. Beyond law and order, the fight against crime is also a fight for human values, which are fundamental to our country,” it added.