Stephen Gbadamosi, Ibadan & ANDREW OROLUA, ABUJA
Worried by the recent attack on Governor Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) by the Presidency over a statement credited to him on the regulation of Fulani herdsmen movement in Ondo, the Odua Peoples Congress (OPC) New Era has called on the Federal Government to allow him to fix the security situation in his state.
National Publicity Officer of OPC New Era, Comrade Adesina Akinpelu, in a statement he personally signed in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, on Thursday, said the group was ready to mobilise all militant groups in the South-Western states of the country in favour of Akeredolu.
The OPC New Era condemned the reactions of the Federal Government to the ultimatum given by Governor Akeredolu to the unregistered herdsmen grazing on the soil of Ondo State.
He said that the OPC spread across the country, cautioning that the Federal Government should not force them to mobilize their members in the South-South and South-East in support of the governor of Ondo State.
Akinpelu added that the Yoruba, both at home and in the Diaspora, should not allow the struggle of our leaders to be in vain”
He noted that kudos should be given to the likes of Processor Banji Akintoye over where they have placed the struggle for the liberation of the Yoruba nation.
Comrade Akinpelu called on all traditional rulers, religious leaders and “all true sons and daughters of Oodua not to allow the name of Akeredolu to be dented by the Federal Government led by President Muhammadu Buhari.”
He also called on President Buhari to, as a matter of urgency, address the insecurity situation disturbing the country, especially in the South-Western states of the country.
“Why is it that President Buhari is only responsive to issues that concern the Fulani more than other ethnics in the country?” he asked.
Comrade Adesina reminisced that when the daughter of Pa Reuben Fasoranti was allegedly killed by the Fulani kidnappers, there was no tangible response from the Federal Government “except condolence letter sent to the family without any action to fish out the killers.”
Adesina threatened that all militant groups in the South-West would be mobilised to defend Akeredolu and the entire Yoruba-speaking states, in the face of further provocation.
“It will be recalled that days ago, Chief Sunday Adeyemo (Sunday Igboho) issued a quit notice to the Fulani herdsmen who allegedly terrorise the Oke-Ogun axis of Oyo State.
“Igboho recently launched a lonely invasion of some forests in Oke-Ogun to fish out some of the Fulani herdsmen who use the forests as cover after perpetrating their deadly acts,” he noted.
Comrade Akinpelu also condemned the statement credited to the Seriki of Fulani in Oyo State that it was only President Buhari that could ask them to vacate any place, saying it was obvious that the herdsmen had the president’s backing as their patron.
“During the reign of the former governor of Oyo State, the late Lam Adesina, Buhari rushed down to Oyo State when a crisis erupted between the Fulani and Yoruba people. And that was an indication that President Buhari maintained a bond with the Fulani herdsmen,” he said.
Also, a human rights activist and legal practitioner, Jiti Ogunye said the Ondo State Government has legal right to order expulsion of “armed herders” from its forest to protect the lives and property of its people.
He said the decision of the state is intendem with the Constitutional provision provide in Section 14(2)(b) that the “security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government “
“The right to freedom of movement and the right of the citizens of Nigeria to reside in any part of the Country guaranteed by the Constitution do not vest in citizens, indigenous or non -indigenous, the right to trespass on private, communal or publicly acquired and controlled lands or forest.
Every land in Ondo State and in virtually all the other states of the federation Nigeria is owned by individuals, communities, villages , towns , sub-ethnic groups or the government.
Indeed, the lands that were acquired and controlled by the government, under the old Public Lands Acquisition Act or the extant Land Use Act were acquired from aboriginal and indigenous communities.
He said that compensation were usually but not always paid by government for such acquisitions.
Ogunye explained that what this implies is that government itself recognizes that there are no “ free, unowned, unpossessed lands “ within the boundaries of Ondo State.
Equally, there are no free forest zones anywhere. According to him, the forest reserves that are owned by the State government are restricted areas and people are not allowed to hunt for games or carry on logging activities therein it without permit.
He explained that an act of trespass on forest reserves is a criminal offence adding that there is a “ Forest Guards Department” in the Agricultural Ministry that enforces restrictions and disallows unauthorized entry!
The forests are owned by peoples and government of the State. This being the case, it is indubitably an act of trespass for any herder or non- herder for that matter, to invade the lands, possess same and carry economic activities thereon; either of a nomadic/ itinerant kind or permanent type.
He also said that because of the land ownership structure in the state disputes and litigation often arise between individuals, communities, villages and towns.
The right to freedom of movement and settlement do not permit a herder to constitutionally migrate from his part of the Country and unlawfully settle on another’s person’s land temporarily or permanently.
Cocoa farmers from Ondo State cannot lawfully, while exercising their right to freedom of movement, move to Katsina State, and occupied large expanse of lands within lawfully acquiring the land from their owners before practicing their trade or cultivating their plantations and flourish in that State.
He said that other issue of herder borders on criminality and armed banditry, including kidnapping, ransom harvests and murders of innocent citizens in the forests.
Ogunye explained that in Ondo State, there are people of northern, eastern and southern extractions who are lawfully and legitimately working as farmhands and labourers on the farms and in the forests.
With the permission of their hosts, they settled in the farms with their families and “no order has been made for their “expulsion “.
The indisputable fact is that some non- indigenes have taken over or substantially infiltrated the Ondo State forests, including foreigners – Malians and Niger Republic Citizens, posing as Fulani Herdsmen.
Unfortunately, some rogue elements associated with the herders have been found in the past to be amongst the criminals.
The pretext or alibi used in invading the forests and staging violent kidnappings therefrom is that they are herdsmen.
To extirpate this excuse, the State has a bounding duty to order these “herdsmen “out of the forests. In any case, cattle breeders look for grazing fields to feed their cows; they do not adamantly insist on a continued occupation of dense, rain forests.
He said the state should be worried about the development because only recently, when government or military officials were giving reasons why some farmers were killed in Borno State by terrorists, it was alleged that the farmers went to their farms, under the shadow of a raging war, without securing security clearance or permit to return to the farms.
“This indicates that for security imperatives, farming may be prohibited or suspended. If this could happen, why, in your “humble view “will a responsible state government not have the power to expel “armed herders “ from its forests to protect the lives and property of its people, he queried .
In his contribution, a legal activist based in Abuja, Martin Okorie said that so far as the State has an existing law on forestry reserve prohibiting trespass, that state can expel trespassers in its forest.
He said that the idea of foreigners forcefully occupying forest is because government officials are unwilling to enforce Forest reserve Act.
In its reaction, the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF) said the quit notice issued by Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu to unregistered Fulani herders to vacate the state’s forest reserve is unconstitutional and uncharitable.
NEF Director, Publicity and Advocacy, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, in a statement, advised Governor Akeredolu to find the bandits masquerading as Fulani herdsmen and deal with them accordingly rather than ejecting the entire Fulani community from the forest.
The statement reads: “The Northern Elders’ Forum is shocked at reports that Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, is asking a Fulani community to leave its lawful location, in addition to other restrictions on activities of Fulani people who have lived in the state for a long period.
“The Forum had resisted the urge to comment since the reported quit order because this is an extremely sensitive issue. It has however, become necessary to speak at this stage and offer advice before mischief-makers capitalize on the issue to compound our existing challenges around security and co-existence.
“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. Indeed, all governors need more support to improve their responses to security challenges which citizens face. Nonetheless, no Nigerian has the power to take punitive action against citizens on political grounds.
“The Forum believes that the action of the Governor is provocative and unhelpful. If there are criminal elements among the Fulani who live in the state, the governor should take appropriate steps to identify them and deal with them.
“Similarly, the Fulani do not enjoy legal immunity in any part of Nigeria. The Fulani are subject to all laws and regulations and must respect the communities with which they live and interact.