By Our Editors
Recently, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State asked all herders to leave the forests in the state. The seven-day notice he gave them to comply with the directive elapses today, January 24.
The governor attributed kidnapping and other nefarious acts in the state to the activities of those he described as “some bad elements masquerading as herdsmen.” He also noted that the decision to ask them to leave was taken based on intelligence reports available to him as well as his conviction that it would help in restoring peace and order in the state.
While we are not contesting the responsibility of the governor as the chief security officer of the state to maintain law and order, we dare to say that the quit notice to herders to vacate Ondo forest is overreaching and ill-advised.
It is the considered opinion of this newspaper that political actors ought not to create bigger problems in an attempt to solve a lesser one. We think that alienating a whole Fulani community- yes, the herders are Fulani- because of the activities of some few criminal elements is likely to send out the wrong signal.
As a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), we assume that the governor is well informed on the provisions of Chapter 4, Section 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which clearly stipulates that every citizen is entitled to move freely around the country and is at liberty to reside in any part of it. Similarly, the same constitution made it clear that no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry or exit from the country.
We are persuaded to argue without conceding that most of the gory activities of kidnappers and bandits in recent times are traceable to perceived criminal elements suspected to be Fulani herdsmen. But is that enough to profile a whole community of Fulani and order them to leave the state? What is the guarantee that such a decision will eventually bring about the peace the state craves for?
Akeredolu is educated enough to know that criminality is not an exclusive attribute of a people whose only offence is that a few bad eggs among them were suspected to be involved in crime-related activities. Is it not possible that some indigenes of Ondo State are hiding under the cover of the profiled herdsmen to perpetrate the same evil the governor is worried about? Is he not setting a dangerous precedence that could have a monumental backlash?
In a country sharply divided along ethnic and religious lines, the order by the governor will, no doubt, exacerbates an already tense situation.
As should be expected, Akeredolu’s directive has continued to generate reactions, with the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF) urging the governor to rescind the order. Indeed, by the quit notice to herders, Akeredolu is threading on slippery grounds. What happens if other state governors, who are also overwhelmed by activities of some criminal elements, decide to toe the same line by giving the same notice to other tribes to vacate their states? This impending anarchy must be nipped in the bud.
Needless to say that Nigeria is experiencing its worst security crises in recent years – farmers/herders clashes in the North Central, banditry in the North West, insurgency in the North East, kidnapping in the South West and South East, and cultism in the South South. It is a dire situation that must be handled with consummate exactitude.
It is our considered opinion that security matters should not be treated from the shallow prism of ethnicity or worse still, politics. In our view, the governor should fish out the criminal elements among the herders and make them to face the full wrath of the law, rather than the hasty generalisation of tagging all herders as criminals. We insist that scapegoating a whole tribe or association is an invitation to crisis.
The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria should also be decisive. They should, as a matter of urgency, fish out the criminal elements among them who are giving the whole tribe and association a bad profile.
On its part, the federal and state governments should do everything within their powers to stem the tide of kidnapping and banditry in the country. We, therefore, call on Governor Akeredolu to rescind his quit notice to herders because, in our view, it will breed bad blood and anarchy in the long run. We believe that Nigeria already has more than enough security crises for any anybody to want to create more.