Rotimi Akeredolu, Governor of Ondo State on Monday, January 18, 2021, issued herders a controversial ultimatum to vacate all forests in the state. The governor gave the herdsmen just seven days to comply while going ahead to ban Night grazing with immediate effect.
The daring ban has split opinions in the country along two parallel lines. The are those who support the governor’s order, on the grounds that he has the power to take any relevant step to tackle insecurity in the state.
Those opposing this ultimatum feel he is going against the constitution that gives every Nigerian the right to live in any town or city within the country.
The Fulani leadership under the aegis of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) are top on the list of those against the ultimatum. According to the group, the governor’s decision is outrageous and totally unacceptable.
Another group backing Miyetti Allah’s position is The Northern Elders Forum,(NEF). They have directed the herders in Ondo state to remain in their locations and they should refute the state government’s efforts to tag them as criminals.
The Presidency is equally miffed by the order. In a letter signed by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, the governor was cautioned against such a move as it is unconstitutional to order any group to move out of any part of the country. The statement stated that herders, like other citizens, have the right to live anywhere in the country.
Some groups supporting Gov Akeredolu have gone ahead to rephrase and restate the order. The Chairman of the Western Nigeria Security Network, Amotekun went ahead to raise alarm on what he described as the rising number of fully armed Fulani herders trooping into South western states.
Southwest elders under the aegis of Coalition of Oduduwa Elders have also expressed their support over the Ondo government’s directive. The elders also condemned the Presidency’s statement as they urged the governor to ignore it. They stated that the unwarranted interference was not welcomed since it is within the state’s jurisdiction
The Yoruba leaders in response to the statement made by the presidency also said ‘the herdsmen must be reminded that their rights stops where other people’s rights starts’, adding that: ‘Their rights can only be guaranteed if they live in peace and harmony with their host communities.’
‘We strongly believe that as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, the governor knows the position of law regarding the action he has taken to protect Ondo people,’ the coalition concluded.
Some other Yoruba groups have gone ahead to accuse the Federal Government of leaving major national issues to intrude in the affairs of state governors. The ultimatum, according to the groups was needed to help protect the lives of Ondo citizens. The groups stated that despite the federal government’s exclusive controls of conventional security architecture in the country, they have not exercised it to protect citizens of the state. ‘The herdsmen coming into the state are doing so not for the purpose of grazing, but killing and destroying property,’ they stated.
Ondo and other South-West states are not unfamiliar with periodic attacks from armed herders. Mostly from the Fulani ethnic stock, the herders have perpetrated various criminal acts in the South-West over the years. The forest across the zone has always been the hideouts used to carry out these nefarious activities.
The Yoruba Patriots Movement had in 2019 demanded that forests in the South-West should not be allowed as a grazing zone to improve security in the region. This followed rampant cases of kidnapping and killings that year. Herdsmen had gone as far as threatening monarchs in their palaces. The group called on the presidency to check the killing spree by herders in the country, especially in Yorubaland. The group stated that if this was not checked, it would result in self-defence and anarchy.
The rising level of armed attacks and banditry in the zone was exactly the reason that led to the decision by Southwest leaders to form the regional security outfit, Amotekun. Although the group recorded success during the early period of their appointment, It however seems ‘Amotekun’ has gone wild just within this short period of their existence as there have been reports of rampant killings by members of the outfit.
Governor Akeredolu, reinforcing his directive, has also ordered the clearing of bushes on the highways. The clearing will be within the entire 18 local government areas of the state. This is to make for a proper view of the highway.
There is no doubt that the incessant killings and kidnaps in the state are issues that has to be dealt with. However acting without tact and issuing ultimatum that contravened the constitution could attract cataclysmic results that may even engulf the country.
Kidnapping and banditry are crimes, no matter the motive or who is involved. But, to define any crime along ethnic, geographical and linguistic lines could be seen as provocative and somewhat unfair. There have been reports of criminals disguising as herders to invade, kidnap and kill in the state
The government of Ondo, and all the 35 others across the federation must take pains to draw clear lines between the criminals and law abiding citizens seeking survival and pastures for their livestock.
Every country on earth is faced with the problem of security challenges in her process of national development; it is not peculiar to Nigeria. Akeredolu’s current daring posture is an affront against the constitution he swore to uphold. The constitution guarantees every Nigerian series of rights including freedom to reside in any part of the country. His Ultimatum is directly against it
Akeredolu, inadvertently or by design, is also threatening Nigeria’s unity with this blanket ultimatum, not minding who is carrying out legitimate activities or not. What will be the ultimate result be if groups sympathetic to the plight of legitimate herdsmen give a similar ultimatum to Ondo citizens in their area? A national crisis might brew from this.
Even the current confrontational posture towards the Federal government, over a statement advising all sides to apply caution, amounts to nothing but playing to the gallery.
It is vital that component states, as well as all citizens should remember Nigeria’s experience during her civil war from 1966 to 1970. It was aggravated by the strict posturing of the Governor of the eastern region towards the federal government at that time. Daring the central government, especially in a federal setting like that of Nigeria, over issues that can sorted out cordially, does not bring any benefit to anyone.
It is vital that all parties in any national conflict must apply caution and desist from comments that can create disaffection and disunity.
Researchers have revealed that the conflict’s roots lie in climate-induced degradation of pasture and increasing violence in the country’s far north. The federal government should move in promptly to moderate activities of both herders and local residents. All criminal elements must be arrested and prosecuted. The federal government should speedily carry out its National Livestock Transformation Plan. State governments and Communal leaders should curb inflammatory rhetoric and encourage compromise. Private bodies and International partners should support livestock sector reform.
If handled without tact, this issue can grow deadlier and undermine national stability. All stakeholders will need to agree on the best way to handle this delicate security issue in Ondo state. Whatever decision to be made should not lead to any bloodshed, as threats and confrontation are not instruments for resolution of issues.
- Peace Omenka