Abuja, Akure, Lagos — The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) yesterday called on Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu to rescind his order on Fulani herders in the state or clarify his position in the event that he was misunderstood.
The forum said it was shocked at reports suggesting that Governor Akeredolu asked the Fulani community to leave its lawful location in addition to other restrictions on activities of Fulani people who have lived in the state for a long period.
The director, publicity and advocacy of the forum, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, made the call in a statement made available to LEADERSHIP in Abuja.
The forum said: “It 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 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 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. Similarly, the Fulani do not enjoy legal immunity in any part of Nigeria.
“The Fulani are subject to all laws and regulations and must respect the communities with which they live and interact. What is dangerous and unacceptable is to profile and demonize the Fulani and treat him outside the laws of the land like all other Nigerians.
“The forum has been following the case of killings of Fulani in Oyo State by Amotekun, and is anxious to see that justice is done in this case. The quit order by the Governor of Ondo will worsen perceptions that the Fulani is unsafe and unwelcome in certain parts of Nigeria.”
The forum urged the Fulani community in Ondo to remain where they are and continue to be law-abiding, saying they should collaborate with all legitimate authorities to police their communities against criminal elements.
The northern elders however cautioned the Fulamis to resist moves to label them entirely as criminals.
Noting that the governor has a responsibility to protect the rights of all people in Ondo State, including the Fulani, the forum said Akeredolu will be well-advised to engage them towards improving security in the state instead of treating all of them as criminals without rights or protection under the constitution.
“For the avoidance of doubt, no Fulani anywhere in Nigeria will accept unfair and illegal treatment just for being Fulani. Nigerians will be treading a dangerous path if we tolerate treating entire ethnic groups as suspects or criminals,” NEF added.
Presidency Ignorant Of Our Predicament – Governor
But the Ondo State governor said yesterday that the Presidency was ignorant of the true state of security in the state.
Reacting to the statement issue by the senior special assistant, media and publicity, to the president, Mallam Garba Shehu, on the security situation in the state, Akeredolu said if the president was aware it wouldn’t have reacted the way it did to the order that herdsmen should vacate forest reserves in the state within seven days.
Garba Shehu had said Akeredolu, “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”.
But speaking through his senior special adviser on security matters, Alhaji Jimoh Dojumo, the governor said the order became necessary having considered all options to check incessant kidnapping, killing of the people and destruction of farm crops.
He disclosed that the state government had met with the leadership of the herdsmen in the state on how to check activities of armed herdsmen, including kidnappings and killings in the state.
He said, “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 know that it’s becoming unbearable to the fact that after the #EndSARS saga, there was never a day that one to two people will not be kidnapped in the state.
“This situation is embarrassing, disturbing even to the fact that our Amotekun Corps are 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 rubbed minds together to addressed this issues of insecurity. It was there we discovered that we need to go ahead for solution.
“We discovered during the meeting that most of the destruction of farmers’ crops occurs at night time based on night grazing. Then the governor deemed it necessary to ban it.
“Another major fact is this issue of underage grazing. How can you imagine a 7-year-old boy taking charge, grazing 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.
“At Arimogija in Ose local government area of the state, they uprooted the cassava of a particular farmer and gathered it for their cows to feed on. And information got to this man and what the man did was to move along with his two sons to the bush and when they got there, they challenged this Fulani herdsmen and what this Fulani herdsmen did was to fire gun on this man. They killed this man alongside his son while the elder son escaped with machete cuts. What can we say about that? This is what we have been experiencing every day.
“The latest now is that you will see Fulani rearing their cows on
expressway. Is that not dangerous to motor users? And when this order came, we have to get this order straight and there are two ways to it. The governor ordered that people should move out of that place if you’re not there for any other illegal means. If you’re in the bush carrying arms doing nothing in the forests, forest reserves belong to the government and before you can encroach on any of the forest reserves, you have to get permit and that is what we are saying.
“It is very unfortunate that we found ourselves in this situation because all along we have been addressing these issues. We have written to them, invited and dialogued with them, meeting their leaders”.
He, however, expressed hope that within the seven days given to the herdsmen to vacate the forest reserves, there would be improvement in the security of lives and property in the state.
He said, “Within this seven days ultimatum, we believe that things will improve for better change.”
Afenifere Accuses FG Of Taking Sides
Meanwhile, the pan Yoruba socio- political organisation, Afenifere, has accused the federal government of taking sides with bandits, kidnappers and marauding foreign herdsmen in the disagreement between Ondo State government and the herdsmen in the state on the vacation order.
Afenifere, in a statement signed by its national publicity secretary, Yinka Odumakin, said the decision of the federal government to take sides with the Fulani herdsmen alleged to be perpetuating the atrocities did not come to it as a surprise.
The group said it is in line with non-pretence by the regime in power that it represents only Fulani interests against those of Yoruba, Igbo, Junkun, Ijaw and other tribes in Nigeria.
It noted: “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.”
Afenifere alleged that foreign Fulani criminals have caused untold hardships in Ondo State and other Yoruba towns and cities in recent times, adding that only an irresponsible government will continue to fold its arms.
It stated: “Are Ondo forest reserves under Ondo state government or FG and Miyetti Allah? We agree with the Ondo state government that the insensibility of Garba Shehu violates the corporate existence of Nigeria. What has this government done to assure our people that it can protect our lives with the open murders of Mrs Funke Olakunrin, the Olufon of Ifon and the deputy registrar of FUTA among many others?”
The organization alleged that the lives of its people and other non-Fulani communities are being taken daily by local and foreign Fulani bandits without any sign that those 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 one come to this barbaric level Garba Shehu has taken it and the peak of their direct salvos against Amotekun since it started.”
Afenifere therefore urged true- born Yorubas to stand behind Governor Akeredolu in these trying times.
Odumakin said, “He must do all within the law to flush Ondo forests of all criminals. Other governors should emulate their chair and free our land from the Fulanis who have surrounded us with the shield of the federal government.
“Let them declare open war on behalf of the Fulani and our ancestors will all wake up in their graves.”