Akeredolu, herders bicker over Forest reserves
Many residents of Ondo State have been living in fear as a result of the activities of bandits masquerading as Fulani herdsmen who have killed and kidnapped for travelers for ransom.
Babatope Okeowo reports that the seven days ultimatum given by Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu that unregistered herders should quit the state has sharply divided the Southern and Northern leaders.
Activities of killer herdsmen and kidnappers were prominent within the four Akoko Local Governments area of Ondo State before the recent waves of kidnapping that have sent fear down the spines of the people of the state.
Aside the kidnapping of former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Olu Falae, many of the kidnap cases including that of the then Regent of Akungba-Akoko, Toyin Omosowon took place between Owo/Ikare road. It was because of the kidnapping and bad portions of the road that made people to describe that axis as the most dangerous route in the southern part of the country.
The recent killing of the a first class monarch, the Olufon of Ifon, Oba Israel Adewusi, the kidnapping of the wife of the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Mrs Ale, along Akure/Ondo road which was unheard of hitherto along the road and the kidnapping of a couple along Akure/ Owo road and the killing of Deputy Registrar of Federal University of Technology, Akure,
Dr Amos Arijesuyo have made residents to be jittery.
In fact, the abduction of travelers along Akure/Owo and Owo/Ikare roads by these killer herdsmen and suspected bandits made many people to refuse travelling to the Ondo North senatorial dis trict of the state. Those who gave their experiences to family members and reporters identified their abductors to be of Fulani extraction.
They claimed they were taken to the forest reserves of the state where they were the overlords in the state owned forest reserves. It must be noted that the state is blessed with many forest reserves. All the senatorial districts have forest reserves which cannot be easily accessed by security agents.
Those kidnapped along the roads are usually taken into the forest until ransoms are paid. These victims said they usually trekked hours in the forest before they got to their destinations.
The activities of bandits masquerading as Fulani herdsmen made Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu to give illegal occupiers of the vast forest reserves of the state seven days within which to vacate or face the wrath of the law.
Akeredolu’s ultimatum Speaking during an interactive meeting with the leadership of the Hausa/ Fulani and Ebira Communities in the state, Akeredolu said security reports and debriefings from victims of kidnap cases pointed in one direction traceable to some bad elements masquerading as herdsmen.
He said these killer herdsmen have turned forest reserves in the state and across the Southwest into hideouts for keeping victims of kidnapping, negotiating for ransom and carrying out other criminal activities.
In his ultimatum which takes effect from Monday, Akeredolu said “As the Chief Law and Security Officer of the State, it is my constitutional obligation to do everything lawful to protect the lives and property of all residents of the State. Recent security trends attest that these times require all hands to be on the deck as the difficulties we face are dire.
The challenges are quite enormous but we are determined to confront them head-on. “We decided that all the criminal elements who hide under various guises to aid the destruction of farmlands as well as perpetrate other violent crimes such as kidnapping, drug peddling and other nefarious activities, must be stamped out of our dear State I wish to reassure the residents that the State Security Council, under my leadership, shall not relent in tackling these challenges as pragmatically possible.
We shall remove all threats in no distant future. “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. “In its usual magnanimity, our administration will give a grace period of seven days for those who wish to carry on with their cattle-rearing business to register with appropriate authorities.
Our resolution to guarantee the safety of lives and property within the State shall remain utmost as security agencies have been directed to enforce the ban.” Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore’s rejects ultimatum The National President of Miyetti Allah, Alhaji Bello Abdullahi Bodejo said the ultimatum of Governor Akeredolu is not binding on them as Fulani herdsmen have right to stay wherever they wanted in any part of the country.
Bodejo in an interview with a national daily said “The Akeredolu does not have any right to give such ultimatum to our people.
People, including Fulani voted for him to be the governor; so he should be the governor of everybody in the state. Fulani have been in the forests he is talking about even before he was born; they have been there for over 250 years.
No matter how dangerous a forest may be, Fulani would go and settle there.
After staying there for a long time and their cow dung turns the place fertile, people would begin to come there to farm and to settle and from then, they begin to make claims that our cattle were destroying their farms.
We are suing the governor and seeking injunction restraining him and others from carrying out his threat. But even at that, nobody, no power can send the herdsmen out of Ondo State.
“No herdsman will obey the governor; the herdsmen will not step an inch out of Ondo forests; they are going nowhere.
We won’t obey the governor; it is only the constitution of Nigeria that we obey. We have been in that area before he was born how can he just grow up and ask us to leave; no Fulani will leave that place. What are his reasons for the quit notice?
He alleged that it is the herdsmen that are kidnapping and robbing people and they operate from the forests. “All the lands in this country belong to the Fulani, but we don’t have any business to do with land if it doesn’t have areas for grazing; if the land doesn’t have cow food, we won’t have any business with it. We don’t sell land, we don’t farm.
What we consider is the areas that have cow food. If the place is good for grazing, we don’t need anybody’s permission to go there. Nigerians should know that our association, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore is not backing anybody who is a kidnapper, armed robber, and we are calling for law enforcement agents to go after all these criminals and deal decisively with them.
“Any person who thinks he owns any forest should be taken to psychiatric hospital. Nobody owns any forest; forests are for Nigerians. Fulani herdsmen have the right to move into any forest and settle there for their business. Why do farmers go and cultivate thousands of hectare of land and fence it, who gave them that land?
Nobody is born with a land in this country; people were just moving from one place to another for settlement. Fulani are settling in every community, but we are not claiming land, we are only interested on how our cows will have food to eat.
Presidency backs Fulani herdsmen
Echoing the Miyetti Allah’s sentiment, the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Sheu asked the state government to rescind its decision on the seven day ultimatum to the killer herdsmen.
In the statement titled “In tackling crime, Ondo State Government will not act outside the constitution” Sheu said
“The Presidency has been keenly monitoring events occurring in Ondo State and the “orders” by the government of the state, “asking herders to vacate the forests in seven days. “What is clearly emerging is a lack of consistency in messaging which in turn leads to various contradictions regarding accuracy and the intent behind the message.
There is little to be said other than to call for restraint on both sides and urge 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 nightmarish security challenges facing the state.
“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.
“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 President, who swore to defend the constitution has spoken against the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in asking citizens of Northern origin to leave; he did not spare the group based in Sokoto, ‘Muslim Solidarity Forum,’ which asked the Bishop of Sokoto to leave and is prepared to do all that the law permits to protect citizens all over the country in their choice of where they wished 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.”
Since the diatribe between the Presidency and Ondo State government occurred, groups and individuals have taken sides depending on their interest.
The Northern Elders Forum, (NEF) Pan Yoruba Socio-political group, Afenifere, monarchs and individuals have differed sharply on the quit notice.
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) in its statement told Fulani herdsmen in Ondo State forests to snub Governor Rotimi Akeredolu‘s ultimatum and reject any move to label them criminals. The forum’s spokesman, Hakeem Baba- Ahmed asked Akeredolu to cancel the ultimatum given to herders to vacate forest reserves in the State.
According to the statement, the Ondo governor’s ultimatum was provocative and unhelpful. The forum noted they would not accept unfair treatment, and asked the Governor to separate criminals and treat them as such.
Baba- Ahmed said Governor Akeredolu as a senior lawyer should know that the constitution does not give him the power to deny any Nigerian the right to live where he chooses, so far as he does not break the law in the process.
The NEF urged that if there are criminal elements among the Fulanis in the state, the governor should take appropriate steps to identify them and deal with them. The group stated that Fulani should live, respect, and interact by the laws of the communities they reside.
However, it said it is dangerous and unacceptable to profile and demonize the Fulani and treat them outside the laws of the land like all other Nigerians. The Forum asked the Fulani to remain in their locations and abide by the law as they called Governor Akeredolu to rescind his order on the Fulani, or clarify his position in the event that he is misunderstood. NEF noted that no Fulani anywhere in the country would accept unfair and illegal treatment because of their tribe. Afenifere kicks
The Pan Yoruba Socio-Political Organization in its statement described the governor’s directive as a bold move. The Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said that the development will in no small measure checkmate the activities of criminals among the herdsmen.
It must be noted that these suspected bandits killed the daughter of the leader of Afenifere, Mrs Funke Olakuri along Lagos/Benin road and also kidnapped Chief Falae in his farm in Ilu-Abo in Akure North Local Government. Odumakin said that all Yorubas supported the governor’s stance on the issue.
He said Akeredolu who has been consistent with is approach against criminalities with the Southwest deserved the support of everyone within the region. His words “That’s a bold statement by the Governor of Ondo State because the Fulani herdsmen have terrorized Ondo State terribly in recent times. And a responsible governor cannot keep quite in the face of these provocations. It is a bold statement that all Yoruba support.
They cannot continue to trample on us on our land as if we are slaves. Kudos to the governor on that and he has been consistent on the matter and he deserves the support of all Yorubas.”
Similarly, the Secretary General of the group, Chief Sehinde Arogbofa, hailed the decision of the Akeredolu in flushing out criminals out of the state’s forests. He said Akeredolu took the right steps, emphasized that “Illegal people have virtually taken over our lands in the state”.
His words “Akeredolu is on the right path especially if the occupation of those places or any place in the state is inimical to the development of the state, Akeredolu as the Chief Security officer of the state can exercise this power. Akeredolu has shown to be a true Nigerians when he said that any of the herdsmen who wants to stay in any part of the state must first of all register.
You can’t just come from nowhere to occupy somebody’s land without his authority. A desperate disease needs a desperate remedy” Monarchs, lawmakers, drivers back Akeredolu’s ultimatum order to herdsmen Traditional rulers in the state also threw their weight behind Governor Akeredolu’s directive that unregistered herders should vacate forest reserves across the state within seven days.
According to the monarchs, the move by the governor which they described as timely will curb the upsurge in criminal activities in the state and as well help to identify perpetrators of the crimes. The monarchs called on President Muhammudu Buhari to demonstrate to the world that he is the father of all irrespective of ethnic affiliation.
The Olukare of Ikare, Oba Akadiri Momoh who spoke on behalf of the monarchs, also appealed to Buhari to caution his aides on the need to always exercise restraints on issues that border on the prevailing insecurity in the country.
While frowning at what they described as deliberate attempt by some persons to twist the governor‘s clear directive as regards the ultimatum, the monarchs said Fulanis like any other ethnic groups are free to live and conduct their legitimate businesses anywhere in the country including Ondo state.
The lawmakers in the state described the ultimatum by the governor as good intention meant to secure the lives and property of the people. In a statement signed by the Chairman House Committee on Information, Olugbenga Omole, the lawmakers lamented that residents of the state have gone through a lot of trauma in the hands due to the activities of criminal minded individuals.