The Northern Governors Forum (NGF) said yesterday it was concerned by reports that herdsmen belonging to a particular ethnic group are being targeted in some parts of the Southeast and Southwest, leading to loss of lives and properties.
The governors were apparently reacting to calls by Nigerians in some parts of the South for eviction of the herdsmen who have been accused of killing, kidnapping, raping and destruction of farmlands.
It will be recalled that Ondo State Governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, had asked herders in his state to vacate the state’s forest reserves and subject themselves to registration if they want to continue to do their business in the state.
Yoruba “freedom fighter,” Sunday Adeyemo, aka, Igboho, also asked herdsmen in Ibarapa area of Oyo State to vacate the state, aside from torching the house of the Seriki Fulani of Yewa community in Ogun and the cattle market in the area. Also, women in Bayelsa and Edo states took to the streets on Wednesday, asking herdsmen to vacate their states.
The Northern governors’ statement on the issue by the Chairman and Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong, came as Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai, on Wednesday night, condemned what he described as “unlawful eviction” of citizens, stating that every Nigerian reserves the right to choose where to reside.
He also asked governors and security agencies to rein in those he described as non-state actors and protect communities to stave off anarchy.
These developments came as suspected herdsmen on Wednesday afternoon invaded Government Secondary School, Iluke, in Kabba Bunu Local Government Area of Kogi State, setting it ablaze.
The Northern governors, in the statement signed by the Director of Press and Public Affairs to the Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum, Makut Macham, in Jos, described as worrisome the rampant eviction notices being given herdsmen in the South.
They recalled the recent intervention of the Nigerian Governors Forum, led by its chairman, Governor Kayode Fayemi, who met with stakeholders in Akure, Ondo State, to douse tension and forge amicable resolution of the issues.
They noted that, while such intervention was celebrated as a success to be sustained through further engagement between herdsmen and representatives of affected communities, emerging reports of attacks on herders and the gradual introduction of ethnic sentiments into the conflict is disturbing and should immediately be nipped in the bud before it gets out of hand.
The Northern Elders Statement Read:
“While the Northern Governors Forum concedes to the rights of Nigerians to reside wherever they so desire without any molestation or discrimination, it also emphasizes that criminal elements should not be used to tarnish the image of any particular ethnic group for any crime as that will portend danger to peaceful coexistence and national unity.
“Rather, such criminal elements should be exposed, isolated, and made to face the law of the land without prejudice to their ethnic backgrounds as the motives or criminal actions cannot be said to be the position of their ethnic group.
“In the face of recent worrisome developments, therefore, the Northern Governors Forum calls for calm and cautions Nigerians, particularly those in the affected areas who might have been aggrieved or targeted, to exercise restraint.
“Nigeria is going through a lot and escalating such tensions would definitely not resolve any grievances but rather aggravate the situation to levels that could threaten national security.
“Leaders across political, ethnic, religious and community lines should avoid utterances and actions that further fan the embers of distrust, hate, violence, and retaliation which can easily escalate the situation and cause chaos.
Call to speak out
“Relevant government officials, traditional rulers, and opinion moulders must also rise and speak with one voice by not only condemning crime, no matter who is involved, but also send the right signals to those who want to take the laws into their hands and trample on the Nigerian constitution by attempting to deny others the rights to live and pursue their legitimate business in whatever place they choose to reside.
“Security agencies must equally be firm and rise to the occasion by protecting all law-abiding citizens against the threat to their lives and properties, irrespective of their ethnic or other affiliations.
“They should also send a clear and unambiguous message to those threatening the peace that they will act decisively to stop them from plunging the nation into anarchy.
“The Northern Governors Forum further assures Nigerians of all ethnic, religious and political persuasions of their constitutional rights to pursue their legitimate businesses wherever they choose within the region and appeal to the people to resist any attempt to lure them into any act that can threaten the peace and tranquility of the region and the nation at large.”
Gov el-Rufai condemns eviction threats
On his part, Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai, also condemned the calls for eviction of herdsmen, and urged state governors to take a stand before the situation degenerates into anarchy.
He said in a statement: “The government of Kaduna State notes with grave concern, video clips circulating on social media platforms like WhatsApp in which citizens of a particular ethnic group are being massacred and their properties destroyed in parts of Nigeria.
“This is coming amid avoidable rhetoric, frenzied ethnic profiling and unlawful eviction of citizens from their places of domicile.
“Many citizens of Kaduna State have reached out to me as their governor to confirm the authenticity of these video clips. Some allege that these incidents have the support of leaders of the places where attacks have occurred. While I am unable to confirm the authenticity of the video clips, their impact on the peaceful coexistence of our people is a source of concern.
“On behalf of the government of Kaduna State, I call on all Nigerians living in our state to respect law and order and the rights of all citizens to live in peace and security wherever they reside or work. I appeal to my colleagues governing other states in our country to make similar statements, and disavow these attacks and massacres.
“We must avoid anarchy and vigorously promote the rule of law and the right of all citizens to life, liberty and livelihoods wherever they choose to reside.
“Elected and appointed public leaders across the country must act on their constitutional obligations to protect all citizens, uphold order, and contribute to a climate for peaceful resolution of all issues.
“In Kaduna State, we are learning from decades of unfortunate and needless experiences. We have faced the tragic manifestations of the indigene-settler divide. This has been compounded by criminal activities that often have fatal consequences.
“But the victims of criminal actions like banditry and kidnapping in our state cut across all ethnic and religious groups. We have resisted the attempt to tar all members of any ethnic group for the criminal actions of some of their members.
“At all times, our government has upheld the right of every citizen to live and pursue legitimate livelihoods wherever they choose.
“This is why we ordered the arrest of persons who issued an unlawful eviction notice to our citizens of a certain ethnicity in 2017. The impunity and calculated disregard for a common humanity that prompted such irresponsible rhetoric is sadly at play again.
“The genuine fears felt by people across the country for their safety and security imposes a responsibility on all leaders to ensure that these anxieties are assuaged and urgent steps taken to relieve human misery and stop the criminal actions that menace our citizens and their property. This should be the top priority.
“It is time for governments and leaders at all levels to step in, exercise firm action, engage people and ensure that the responsibility these dire times demand are not derailed by those who only see opportunity for their own myopic agenda.
“We cannot allow, by inaction or otherwise, the reign of anarchy where fear creates a tragic momentum of violence, blurring the lines between victims and perpetrators and complicating a difficult moment.
“We urge our representatives in the National Assembly to expedite action on the Constitutional amendments that would usher in state and community policing as this is the ultimate panacea for effective law enforcement nationwide.
“We should not allow the criminal actions of insurgents and bandits to tear our country apart. We should not be seduced into the dangerous passion of blaming innocents, declaring them guilty of the crimes of others, evicting them, killing and destroying their property.
“In difficult times, we must uphold the right of everyone to live, with security and safety. The frenzy of ethnic labelling makes solutions difficult and can only guarantee disorder, violence and pain.’’