Governor Rotimi Akeredolu’s 7-day ultimatum to Fulani herders to quit Ondo state forests is capable of inciting rounds of ethnic violence, the Presidency said on Tuesday.
The Presidency only last week tackled a Muslim group in Sokoto who gave ultimatum to the Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Kukah, to leave the state for expressing views they said denigrated Islam and Muslims.
Malam Garba Shehu, a presidential spokesperson, said in a statement that “the Presidency has been keenly monitoring events occurring in Ondo State and the ‘orders’ by the government of the state, ‘asking herders to vacate the forests in seven days.’”
Governor Akeredolu had on Monday ordered Fulani herders in the state to leave the forests within seven days. He accused them of inflaming insecurity in the state.
The government of Ondo, and all the 35 others across the federation, he said, must draw clear lines between criminals and law abiding citizens who must equally be saved from the infiltrators, adding that “beyond law and order, the fight against crime is also a fight for human values which are fundamental to our rights.
Shehu, who called for restraint on both sides, urged the state government and the leadership of the Fulani communities to continue their dialogue for a good understanding that would bring the “nightmarish security challenges facing the state” to an urgent end.
The Presidency also underscored the need to delink terrorism and crimes from ethnicity, geographical origins and religion to “isolate the criminals who used this interchange of arguments to hinder law enforcement efforts as the only way to deal effectively with them.”
“Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, a seasoned lawyer, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and indeed, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, 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 [the criminals] belong to, the language they speak, their geographical location or their faith = is atavistic and cruel.
“The President, who swore to defend the constitution, has spoken against the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) 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.”