The Presidency on Tuesday cautioned Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), against breaching the constitution in securing the state.
In a statement by Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, the Presidency reacted to a directive by Akeredolu to herders to vacate Ondo’s Reservation Forests within seven days.
The statement reads: “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 emerging, is a lack of consistency in messaging, which in turn leads to various contradictions regarding the 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 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.”
Akeredolu, in addition to ordering herders out of the forest, also banned night grazing following an upsurge of kidnapping.
The governor said herders wishing to carry on with cattle-rearing business in the state must register with the appropriate authorities within a week.
Akeredolu, who is also Chairman of the Southwest Governors Forum, warned criminal elements using the forest to perpetrate evil to henceforth expect fire for fire.
He spoke during an interactive parley with the leadership of the Hausa/Fulani and Ebira communities.
Akeredolu said he would not allow few individuals to turn the state into a haven of dare-devil criminals.
The governor said security reports and briefings by victims of kidnapping pointed to some bad elements masquerading as herdsmen.
He said it was worrisome that the criminals have turned forest reserves across the Southwest into hideouts for keeping their victims, negotiating for ransom and carrying out other criminal activities.
Akeredolu, who ordered all herdsmen in forest reserves to vacate within the next seven days effective from Monday, also prohibited the movement of cattle within cities and highways.
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.
“This meeting, therefore, is convened to address the issues of insecurity with the ultimate aim of attaining the goal of a safe environment.
“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.”