Alfred Olufemi, premiumtimes
In January, a local political enforcer, Sunday “Igboho” Adeyemo, issued a seven-day ultimatum to Fulani residents to move out of Igangan in the Ibarapa area of Oyo State over alleged kidnappings and violent clashes with farmers by cattle herders in the area.
Mr Adeyemo gave the order during a confrontation at the home of Saliu Abdulkadir, the Seriki Fulani of Igangan. He was not the first to issue such an illegal order in Nigeria. But unlike the others, Mr Adeyemo returned to Igangan at the expiration of his ultimatum and, alongside residents of the area, sacked the Fulani community there.
This was despite warnings by Governor Seyi Makinde that he had no right to evict any group from the state and that the state government would not tolerate his action.
After the violent eviction in Igangan, the police declared Mr Igboho wanted. But he has continued to walk about freely and in fact, shortly after, led another expedition to Ogun State to attack another Fulani community.
Legal experts and other commentators said the Nigerian authorities face a dilemma in checking the activities of people like Mr Adeyemo because of the bad precedent the authorities set by treating with kid gloves others before him who threatened to expel Nigerians from other parts of the country.
They said the failure of the authorities to firmly sanction groups and individuals for such clearly illegal action has encouraged others and is now threatening the unity of Nigeria.
Section 41 of the 1999 Constitution stipulates that every citizen is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereby or exit therefrom.
Limitations to this freedom of movement include imposition of restrictions on the residence or movement of any person who has committed or is reasonably suspected to have committed a criminal offence in order to prevent him from leaving Nigeria, or such person been tried outside Nigeria for any criminal offence, or undergo imprisonment outside Nigeria in execution of the sentence of a court of law in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty.
Furthermore, Sections 43 and 44 of the 1999 constitution make provisions for the right of citizens to own property in any part of Nigeria.
Section 43 states that: “Subject to the provisions of this constitution, every citizen of Nigeria shall have the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria.”
But these rights of the citizens have been violated on numerous occasions with the authorities turning a blind eye. PREMIUM TIMES’ review showed more than four such incidents since 2017 under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
In 2017, 16 northern groups gave Igbo residents three months to move out of the region or face physical attacks, over the clamour by secessionists in the South East region for a Republic of Biafra.
Some of the groups which issued the ultimatum at a meeting in Kaduna identified themselves as the Arewa Citizens Action for Change, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Arewa Youth Development Foundation, Arewa Students Forum and Northern Emancipation Network.
Abdulazeez Suleiman read a statement containing the ultimatum on behalf of the groups at the Arewa House in Kaduna. The group said it was in response to the failure of the authorities in the South-east to check the activities of the secessionists.
“This latest action and similar confrontational conducts which amount to a brutal encroachment on the rights of those termed as non-indigenous people residing and doing lawful businesses in those areas illegally demarcated and defined as Biafra by the Igbo, are downright unacceptable and shall no longer be tolerated,” the groups said in the statement.
In a swift reaction to the statement, Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai ordered the arrest and prosecution of Mr Suleiman and members of the groups.
Mr El-Rufai, in a statement signed by his spokesperson, Samuel Aruwan, condemned the statement as inciting and for seeking to violate the rights of Igbo to live as citizens of Nigeria in the North.
“The Kaduna State Government takes exception to the fact that the “northern youths” did their irresponsible press conference in Kaduna. This government has been consistent in taking action to punish hate speech and incitement.
“People who may feel unhappy about irresponsible comments or actions that have taken place in other states must know that two wrongs cannot make a right, and they cannot use our state to do or say things that threaten the peace.
“KDSG has therefore ordered the arrest, investigation and prosecution of the signatories to the statement.”
However, that was as far as it went in terms of official reaction as no effort was made to arrest and prosecute Mr Suleiman and the others. Daily Trust newspapers later reported that the leaders of the group fled Kaduna following the governor’s order.
Unofficial sources said Mr El-Rufai’s order was not enforced because the groups did not take any steps to carry out their illegal quit notice. Muyiwa Adekeye, the spokesperson of Mr El-Rufai, did not respond to requests for clarifications on why the state government’s arrest order was not eventually enforced.
Presidency’s tame reaction
Like Mr El-Rufai, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who was acting president at the time, also condemned the quit notice by the Northern groups.
At a meeting of Northern traditional leaders a few days after the eviction notice, Mr Osinbajo said the government would deal with anyone who threatened the peaceful coexistence of Nigerians.
“Violence and war are not going to do anyone any good. Wars today hardly ends. No one who has seen the face of wars even on television would wish it for anyone. We should not tolerate hate speeches or divisive comments,’’ the acting president said.
“There is no doubting the resolve of government not to allow anyone get away with hate speeches and divisive words. We will do everything within our power to protect the lives of every citizen anywhere and in any part of the country.’’
However, the federal government took no action to sanction the members of the groups that had threatened to violate the rights of citizens to live in the north if they choose to.
PREMIUM TIMES asked Mr Osinbajo’s spokesperson, Laolu Akande, what steps the then acting president took to back his bark with bite.
“You will need to talk to the security agencies for the details of that,” Mr Akande said.
The spokesperson of the police, Frank Mba, did not respond to enquiries on the subject.
Many Nigerians, however, believe that the groups got away with mere warnings because they are from the same section of the country as President Muhammadu Buhari.
Northern Governors’ Forum protection
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the former Chairman of the Northern Governors’ Forum, Kashim Shettima, was among northern elites who discouraged the authorities from sanctioning members of the northern groups.
According to government sources, some fellow northern governors were even furious that Mr El-Rufai ordered their arrest. Mr Shettima, for instance, called for dialogue with the groups.
Ahmed Ningi, the spokesperson of Mr Shettima, said although the former governor met with the leaders of the groups, he did not have the full details of what he discussed with them.
“All I know is that Oga (Mr Shettima) called them for a peaceful resolution. He promoted the one Nigeria idea. I don’t know anything about arrest,” he told this newspaper.
Since the 2017 incident, at least four non-state actors have made similar attempts to expel some Nigerians from their parts of the country. However, in only one of the four cases was attempt made to enforce the eviction notice upon the expiration of the ultimatum.
That sole case involved Mr Adeyemo. Upon the expiration of his ultimatum, Mr Adeyemo stormed the community to evict some Fulani residents. The ensuing clash between his group and the Fulani residents resulted in the destruction of properties, including the home of Mr Abdulkadir, the head of the Fulani community in Igangan.
Mr Abdulkadir and his kinsmen have since relocated to Ilorin, the Kwara State capital.
Following the mayhem, Governor Makinde and the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, ordered the arrest of Mr Adeyemo. But the order was not carried out. The self-acclaimed Yoruba activist in multiple video footage later mocked the government, boasting of his powers and influence.
Shortly after the crisis in Oyo, Mr Adeyemo again led his group to Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State to evict herders. Even though the Ogun State government immediately said it did not need his help to tackle insecurity in the state, no action was taken against Mr Adeyemo over the violence.
Need for caution
Demola Williams, a public affairs analyst, said Mr Adeyemo’s impunity indicated that the situation had gotten out of hand.
“If you noticed, before now, they only issue quit notices and move on. But now the Sunday Igboho saga has set a new precedent and people can go ahead with destruction of properties.”
Mr Williams warned that the development is capable of instigating a major ethnic crisis in Nigeria.
“Before you know it, another group may rise up tomorrow and tell Yorubas to vacate the North. The federal government does not know that it is sitting on a keg of gunpowder,” he said.
Other commentators who spoke with Premium Times agreed with Mr Williams and blamed the authorities for bringing the situation upon the country.
A legal expert, Festus Ogun, said the reason someone like Mr Adeyemo was still walking freely is because the state and federal governments lack the political will to check people like him.
“Looking at the case of Sunday, the arrest was not effective because there is no political will from the actors of the state. If the authorities had the will to prosecute, we would not have the Sunday Igboho of this world. They made the order for arrest but at the end of the day, nothing gets done. That emboldens others to go ahead to eject or evict people,” Mr Ogun said.
A senior lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana, accused the federal government itself of also violating the rights of Nigerians in the past.
“Unfortunately, quit notices have been issued against some ethnic groups by some individuals who were never arrested or called to order.
“Beggars and other poor people are forcefully arrested and deported to their state of origin. Other poor people have their houses demolished by the federal government and many state governments. In all these cases, where the poor have been dislocated, the federal government has never protested. The federal government stands to be accused of selective defence of some herders in the country.
However, Mr Falana said his position does not support the government or individuals issuing quit notice. He urged Nigerians to stop ethnic profiling of criminal elements.
Another legal practitioner and a co-founder of the New Nigerian Bar Association (NNBA), Abdulbasit Suleiman, urged people whose rights are so violated to seek redress in court.
“Nobody has the power to issue any quit notice. A Hausa man can go to the South East to stay there and a Yoruba man can go to the North to build a house. What Sunday Igboho did infringed on the constitutional rights of the Fulanis. If the government is not ready to protect them, they have the rights to challenge the action of Igboho in any high court in Oyo State,” Mr Suleiman said.
Mr Ogun noted that the circumstances leading to the quit notices were mostly matters of insecurity.
“It must follow its words with responsible actions. Paying lip service to issues of security is inimical to Nigeria’s corporate existence,” he said.
“The failure of the federal government is in not putting their words into action. Threatening them is not enough.” Mr Ogun added, calling for the arrest of Mr Adeyemo and others issuing quit notices.
Presidential spokespersons, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, did not respond to requests for comments for this report.
Below are some of the other groups that had issued quit notices to Nigerians.
A group known as Voice from the East (VEAST) issued an ultimatum to Fulani herders to leave the South East in July 2018. According to Vanguard newspaper, the group during a peaceful protest, ordered the herders to leave the region by August 31 that year.
VEAST convener, Kindness Jonah, said “We carried out the demonstration for the sole purpose of issuing quit notices to Fulani herdsmen in Igboland.”
“The aberrant killings by Fulani herdsmen purposely unchecked by the Federal Government and military instigated this quit notice.”
The state and federal governments did not speak on the threat, although the group is little known and its statement was not widely circulated or enforced.
Niger Delta militants
In 2018, another little-known group, the Coalition of Niger Delta Militants, warned Fulani herders to steer clear of the region and vowing to deal with any Niger Delta governor who allowed cattle grazing in the region.
The group gave the warning in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. It also listed oil fields and installations as targets for resumed attacks if the federal government failed to address the grievances of the region.
The group gave Fulani herders one month to vacate the region or face dire consequences.
Signatories of the resolutions of the group included John Duku, Niger Delta Watchdogs and Convener, Coalition of Niger Delta Agitators; Ekpo Ekpo of Niger Delta Volunteers, Osarolor Nedam of Niger Delta Warriors; and Simply Benjamin of Bakassi Strike Force.
Like those of the previous groups, the eviction order was not enforced.
While the controversies surrounding the action of Mr Adeyemo were still raging, a group of youth in Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State gave Fulani herders a seven-day ultimatum to leave the area.
The youth, under the umbrella of Yewa North Patriotic Forum (YNPF), also blamed herders for the killing of five residents in Owode-Ketu and Egua communities.
The youth issued the ultimatum in a statement signed by their president, Sanni Omobolaji.
“We also use this medium to give a seven-day ultimatum within which all killer herdsmen must vacate our local government or face the full anger of grieving people,” part of the statement read.
“If this ultimatum is taken with levity, we shall stop at nothing in ensuring that all unknown Fulanis are flushed out of our local government at the expiration of the seven-day ultimatum.
But the youth took no action upon the expiration of the ultimatum.