The Presidency on Tuesday waded into the controversy generated by the directive of the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, asking herdsmen to leave the state government forest reserves.
Apart from ejecting the herdsmen, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu also banned under-aged grazing, night grazing, movement of cattle within the cities and highways. He also gave the herdsmen seven days ultimatum to comply with the order.
However, the Secretary General of the Miyeti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Usman Baba-Ngelzerma, had reacted that the association had not been formally informed.
But in a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the President called for restraint on the side of the state government and the Fulani communities.
In the statement titled, ‘In tackling crime, Ondo State Government will not act outside the constitution,’ the Presidency also called on both sides to continue their dialogue.
The statement reads partly, “Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, a seasoned lawyer, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and indeed, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, 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 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.”
Nobody asks herdsmen to leave – Ondo
In a swift reaction, the Ondo State Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Donald Ojogo, said the Presidency statement had stated “unambiguously, the position of the Federal Government.
“The Ondo State Government did not ask Fulani to leave the state. The governor said herdsmen who are unregistered should leave our forests. The statement from Garba Shehu is brazen display of emotional attachments and it’s very inimical to the corporate existence of Nigeria. We need clearly defined actions on the part of the Federal Government to decimate the erroneous impression that the inspiration of these criminal elements masquerading as herdsmen is that of power. Our unity is threatened, no doubt.
“It (statement) states in a breath that the governor fights crime with passion while it is prevaricating on the atrocities. The question is, are the herdsmen who are perpetrating murder, kidnapping and robbery more important than government and even the Federal Government in this case? Ethnic nationality and activism on the part of anyone hiding under the Presidency or federal government is an ill wind,” the commissioner added.