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Quit notice to herders divides southern, northern elders

NEF to Akerodolu: Your order provocative, unhelpful
Afenifere: Buhari’s govt represents only Fulani interest

The seven-day quit notice handed to herdsmen to leave forest reserves in Ondo State has stirred up controversies in the polity and has polarised northern and southern leaders. While the Yoruba sociopolitical organisation, Afenifere, has thrown its weight behind Governor Rotimi Akeredolu over the quit notice, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), yesterday, described the order as provocative. Hence, the northern elders asked Fulani to stay put in the state as all Nigerians have the constitutional rights to reside anywhere in the country.

Akeredolu had, on Monday, banned underage grazing, night grazing, movement of cattle within the cities and highways. He also asked unregistered herdsmen to vacate the state-owned forest reserves within seven days.

The Presidency had, through Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, on Tuesday, called for restraint on the matter by both the state government and the Fulani communities. It, however, declared that it is unconstitutional to issue quit notice to any Nigerian citizen residing anywhere within the country.

Afenifere has, however, countered the Presidency’s position. This is as the Yoruba organisation said the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has again shown its non-pretence as representing the Fulani interest above other tribes in the country.

In a statement yesterday titled: “Ondo Forests: Fulani Presidency Again,” the National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said the regime had not done enough to give an assurance it could protect the lives of people in the South-West.

It said: “The intervention by what we mistakenly call the Federal Government of Nigeria on behalf of marauding Fulani in Ondo State against the lawful government in that state did not come to Afenifere as a surprise as it is in line with the non-pretence by this regime that it represents only Fulani interests against those of Yoruba, Igbo, Junkun, Ijaw and other tribes in the country.

“That the Federal Government, through 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 Fulani.

“The Fulani criminals have caused untold hardships in Ondo State and other Yoruba towns and cities in recent time and only an irresponsible government that wants to behave like our Federal Government will continue to fold its arms “Are Ondo forest reserves under Ondo State government or the Federal Government and Miyetti Allah? We agree with the Ondo State government that the insensibility of Garba Shehu violates the corporate existence of Nigeria.”

Afenifere noted further that: “What has this government done to assure our people that it can protect our lives with the open murders of Mrs. Funke Olakunri, the Olufon of Ifon and the Deputy Registrar of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, among many others? “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 one day come to this barbaric level Garba Shehu has taken it and the peak of their direct salvos against Amotekun since it started.”

Afenifere also urged all true-born Yoruba to stand behind Akeredolu in these trying times for him to do all within the law to rid Ondo forests of criminals. However, NEF’s Director, Publicity and Advocacy, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, in a statement, noted that the group is “shocked at reports that Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, is asking a 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 Forum said it “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 northern elders noted that “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 capitalise 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,” Baba-Ahmed said. NEF stated that they will not accept unfair and illegal treatment just for being Fulani. “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 urges the Fulani community in Ondo to stay put where they are and continue to be law-abiding. They should collaborate with all legitimate authorities to police their communities against criminal elements, but they should resist moves to be labelled entirely as criminals.

“We call on Governor Akeredolu to rescind his order on the Fulani, or clarify his position in the event that he is misunderstood. He has a responsibility to protect the rights of all people in Ondo State, including the Fulani, and he 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 said. Meanwhile, the Ondo State government has berated the presidential spokesman, Garuba Shehu, over his statement against the ultimatum given to herdsmen to vacate forest reserves.

The state Commissioner for Information, Donald Ojogo, on a breakfast programme on Channels Television, monitored by New Telegraph, said the intonation of Shehu’s statement was a pointer that he spoke for the herdsmen and not the Presidency. Ojogo said: “It’s certain and I’m convinced that Mr. President, by his nationalistic posture and patriotism, could not have directed that the statement be issued. “The statement is highly despicable. It means that there are certain officials in the Presidency who are creating problems for the president.

“His suspicious defence of criminal elements under the guise of herdsmen is most unacceptable and goes a long way to show that Miyetti Allah could not have done better. “For emphasis, people must differentiate between natural forests and forest reserves.

What the Ondo State government has done is to ensure proper regulation of those who are in the reserves and have provided habitation for criminals.” Also, the Senior Special Adviser to the Governor on Security Matters, Alhaji Jimoh Dojumo, emphasized that the order became necessary, having considered all options to check incessant kidnapping, killing of the people and destruction of farm crops.

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