Governor Rotimi Akeredolu’s directive that herdsmen should vacate Ondo’s forest reserves has been described as contradictory and unconstitutional by some Nigerians while others hail the order.
Some analysts and legal practitioners who spoke to Daily Trust maintained that the statement by the Ondo governor was indirectly asking herders to leave the state, which was against the Nigerian Constitution.
However, others supported the governor saying he has the right to ask questionable characters to leave.
Governor Akeredolu, who gave the directive on Monday, asked all herders to leave within the next seven days. The ultimatum will lapse on Sunday, January 24.
On his verified Twitter handle, he also banned night-grazing and movement of cattle within the cities and highways of Ondo.
‘Not on the agenda’
But the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) in Ondo said what the governor posted on his Twitter handle was different from what they discussed during their meeting with him on Monday.
Its chairman, Alhaji Bello Garba, told one of our correspondents that they held a meeting with the governor during which he admonished them to work with security agencies in exposing criminals.
“We are not aware of any order from the governor directing our people to vacate Ondo forest reserves because during our face-to-face meeting with him yesterday, he did not say anything like that,” he said.
According to the Miyetti Allah leader, “The governor summoned a meeting with us, the Fulani leaders and those representing farmers to discuss security issues. He said farmers and herders live in the forests and that is where criminals live.
“He said we should expose criminals who are kidnapping people for ransom. The governor also asked us to ask our people to desist from night grazing or moving our cattle on the highway. This is all I know,” Alhaji Garba said.
Also, one of the national leaders of Miyetti Allah said the directive by Akeredolu will not stand because it was a constitutional matter.
The official, who does not want his name mentioned, said the federal government must speak out before the issue degenerates to something else.
The expulsion came less than a week after a leading thug in Oyo State, Sunday Igboho, asked the Fulani to leave the State.
However, efforts to get clarification from those speaking on behalf of the Ondo governor on the vacation order were not successful.
The Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr Donald Ojogo, said he cannot talk about it adding that the governor is a lawyer and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
Spokesman for the governor, Segun Ajiboye did not pick his calls. When contacted to comment on the matter, the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Tony Ojukwu, said, “When last I checked, there is still freedom of movement in the constitution. Unless there is a law authorizing this directive, if it is disobeyed, how will it be enforced?
“We are a country of laws bound by the constitution and people should desist from making statements that cannot be justified by the law or the constitution. I don’t have the facts and I am only commenting purely on the law and the rights in the 1999 Constitution,” he said.
What Akeredolu said
The Ondo governor yesterday attributed kidnapping and other nefarious acts in his state to the activities of “some bad elements masquerading as herdsmen.”
While saying the decision to ask them to leave was taken based on security documents, Akeredolu said the resolution was a decisive action that will restore peace and order in the state.
According to him, “Today we have taken major steps at addressing the root cause of kidnapping, in particular, and other nefarious activities detailed and documented in security reports, the press and debriefings from victims of kidnap cases in Ondo State.
“These unfortunate incidents are traceable to the activities of some bad elements masquerading as herdsmen. These felons have turned our forest reserves into hideouts for keeping victims of kidnapping, negotiating for ransom and carrying out other criminal activities.”
In light of the foregoing, Governor Akeredolu highlighted the following orders:
- All forest reserves in the state are to be vacated by herdsmen within the next 7 days with effect from today, Monday 18th January, 2021.
- Night-grazing is banned with immediate effect because most farm destruction takes place at night.
- Movement of cattle within cities and highways is prohibited.
- Under-aged grazing of cattle is outlawed.
“Our resolution to guarantee the safety of lives and property within the state shall remain utmost as security agencies have been directed to enforce the ban.
“In its usual magnanimity, our administration will give a grace period of seven days for those who wish to carry on with their cattle-rearing business to register with appropriate authorities,” the governor said.
Daily Trust reports that the governor did not give more details on how herders would register, and whether after they register, they could access the forest reserves.
It was also not clear whether the Ondo State Government was planning to establish ranches.
Govt has duty to safeguard lives but… – Lawyers
Dayo Akinlaja (SAN) lauded the governor’s directive to insecurity in the state, noting that the major aim of the government is to ensure security and welfare of the people.
“There is nothing unconstitutional about the directive. I can’t say I am privy to the reason behind the directive, but I think it has to do with the fact that the forests are infested with criminals and kidnappers. So, let the innocent ones come out so that the government can clear the forest of the evil ones. Thereafter, the innocent ones can go back,” he said.
Also responding, Paul Ananaba (SAN) said it was a delicate decision for the state government to make because on one hand, as the elected governor of the state, he has a duty to protect the lives and property of the citizens, and on another hand, he has no right to “chase Nigerians out of any part of the country.”
A top constitutional lawyer, who asked not to be named, said while the governor’s action may be seen as controversial, he said under the Land Use Act, governors have the locus standi to give directives on the use of lands in their territory.
“This is why you see governors giving orders for a raid on criminal hideouts and in fact, ordering the demolition of such places,” he said.
However, another senior lawyer, Aminu Gadanya, who is also the Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Kano State, said the provision of the Land Use Act can never supersede that of the constitution, which guarantees freedom of movement.
He said it is a settled matter of law that where a provision of an Act is in conflict with a provision of the Constitution, that of the Constitution will take pre-eminence.
“By the provision of Chapter 4, Section 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he (Akeredolu) does not have the power to issue that ultimatum. It is a breach of their (herdsmen) constitutional right. Because by the provision of that section of the Constitution, they (herdsmen) can move freely and live at any place they wish. He cannot curtail that freedom,” he said.
He said even when the governor was acting on security reports, as stated in this instance, “I am sure they (criminal elements) are not the majority because there are surely those Fulani herdsmen that have been living there for several years. In my personal opinion, he cannot out rightly say he has given the entire herdsmen ultimatum to leave that forest.”
On his part, Barrister Lawan Ishaq said, “The excuse that some governors in the South West are advancing that Fulani are behind most kidnappings in that area is a lame excuse just to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it.
“While I am not excusing all Fulani herdsmen as innocent – surely like any other people, there are bad eggs – saying they are solely behind kidnappings and other nefarious criminal activities is insincere. Banning them from any section of their own country is a very dangerous precedence, which shouldn’t be allowed to go scot-free.”
Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), on his part, said, “Maybe people want Akeredolu to go and negotiate with bandits who are also Boko Haram like what the governors of Zamfara and Kaduna did.”
A political analyst and lecturer in the Department of Political Science, Bayero University, Kano (BUK), Dr Aminu Hayatu, told our correspondent that while it is not a new thing when talking about settlers/indigene problems, “it will be uncivil for any part of the country to make attempts to give an ultimatum to anybody to leave a particular place.”
He said as, against arbitrary orders, governors should always refer the matter to the judiciary so that “a position would be taken as to what is the position of law on such matters of contention.”
Daily Trust recalled that in a similar controversial move, Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, banned open grazing in the state in 2017.
The law was signed on May 22, 2017, and came into effect in November of that year, generating heated debate in the polity.