The 7-day ultimatum issued on criminal herdsmen on January 18, 2021 by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State to either vacate forest reserves in the state or face the full wrath of the law has culminated to acrimonious reactions from various groups, including the presidency. The quit directive to the criminal herders, according to the governor, was issued after reviewing cases relating to kidnappings and other crimes in the state.
While it is incontestable that the power to protect lives and property of citizens resides in the government, a situation where ruthless outlaws are allowed to operate unhindered amounts to accepting the failure of state. The bloody cynosure of daily life in many of our communities is a constant reminder that our nation is cascading down the valley of self-destruction. To tackle these blood-thirsty elements against fulfilling their mission of turning our country into a flourishing field of crimes, the need to bring these criminal perpetrators to justice remains crucial.
In a bid to tackle rising waves of kidnappings of citizens in Ondo State, Governor Akeredolu last Monday issued an ultimatum to criminal herdsmen who have turned the state forest reserves into safe havens for their criminalities to either vacate the forests or be ready to face the fury of the state. For those acquainted with happenings in the state and the increasing series of abductions, the quit order should not have come at a better time.
First, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeder Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) swiftly faulted the quit order, stressing that issuing an ultimatum to the herders is akin to violating their rights as citizens. MACBAN declared that if the Ondo state government decides to expel herders from forest reserves, then, it should provide an alternative source for grazing.
Unexpectedly, the presidency that is always known for delaying reaction on matters swiftly issued a statement condemning the ultimatum within 24 hours after Akeredolu’s quit order. In a statement signed by presidential spokesman Garba Shehu, it warned the governor against expelling “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.”
Arguing that “insecurity is not alien to any group, the language they speak, their geographical location or their faith”, the statement further said that Governor Akeredolu should “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 Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF) also came hard on Akeredolu whose quit order it interpreted as an expulsion notice to Fulani. Warning the governor to desist from exercising power that he does not have, NEF declared, “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
South-west elders on the platform of Coalition of Oduduwa Elders have declared support for Akeredolu over the quit notice. Apart from flaying the presidency for cautioning the governor, the Yoruba elders blasted the federal government for engaging in “undue meddlesomeness” on a matter that is within the purview of the state governor to handle.
Commending Akeredolu for his bold steps in safeguarding lives and property of citizens, the elders wondered why the presidency only though it wise to intervene over a quit order on herders occupying forest reserves, while keeping mute at the nefarious activities of criminal elements terrorising.
According to the elders, “We are surprised that the presidency which has not reacted to the cries of the people of Ondo or South West, leaving the region to form Amotekun security outfit to protect its people, would be so concerned to issue a rushed statement over the governor’s action!”
Supporting the action of the quit order on the herders, a Lagos-based lawyer, Ademola Owolabi, noted that Governor Akeredolu “has the power and every right to issue the order. He asked herdsmen to vacate the place first because the reserve is the state government asset and the right of Nigeria to live anywhere is not absolute because the security of lives and properties of citizens is also the duty of the governor to ensure.”
The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF) also joined the throng of support for Akeredolu over the ultimatum that expires on Monday January 25, 2021. According to the SMBLF, “The federal government statement by Garba Shehu that the governor of Ondo State lacks the full powers to decide on its reserves in spite of the Land Use Act that vests lands in states in the governors was a complete overreach and clear abuse of the constitution in a bid to elevate Fulani herders above the law”.
From all points raised by proponents and opponents of the quit order on criminal herders occupying Ondo state forest reserves, it is clear that the Land Use Act 1978 vests the use of land on state governors. While it is the duties of state chief executives to oversee the safety of citizens, caution must be taken not to violate the nation’s laws that grant the right to citizens to live in any part of the country.
We should note here that the order on criminal herders is not directed at any ethnic group but criminal elements who engage in abductions and kidnappings of law-abiding citizens. As a state governor, Akeredolu owes people living in Ondo state protection of lives and property. For those who deliberately interpret that the ultimatum order was meant for Fulani; it is their responsibility to rationalise how they came about their conclusion.
Banditry, kidnappings and other criminal activities are threatening the corporate survival of our country. Apart from impoverishing the wretched of our communities who are coerced to pay whopping sums in ransom, criminal elements have found safe havens in forest reserves they have seized to perpetuate their evils.
While it will amount to an act of illegality to expel Nigerian citizens in any part of the nation on account of their ethnic or faith divides, there is nothing wrong issuing quit order on criminals who have taken over forest reserves and unleashing terror on defenceless communities.
These bandits and kidnappers are not only spilling the blood of innocent citizens but robbing them of their hard earned money. On Monday, the president of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU), Hon Jonathan Asake, disclosed how communities in Southern Kaduna were forced to cough out N900 million ransom in 2020. In one spot alone, few kilometres to Kafanchan, no fewer than five people were abducted and the sum of N60 million paid as ransom within a period of less than six weeks.
What is needed now is not to discourage Akeredolu in flushing out criminals from the state. The federal government and other relevant security agencies should lend a helping hand to destroy these vicious criminals. For now, these forests are no longer used for agricultural purposes, but have been seized by criminals. Beyond obfuscating the issue at hand, critics of Akeredolu’s quit order should stop playing the ostrich before it is too late.