The presidency has reacted to the directive of Rotimi Akeredolu, governor of Ondo state, who gave herders a seven-day ultimatum to vacate forests in the state.
The governor, who said the decision was taken as a result of rising insecurity in the state, added that “bad elements” have turned the forest reserves into hideouts for keeping victims of kidnapping, negotiating for ransom and carrying out other criminal activities.
But reacting in a statement on Tuesday, Garba Shehu, presidential spokesman, said the action could set off a chain of events “which the makers of our constitution foresaw and tried to guard against”.
He called for restraint on both sides and urged the state government and the leadership of the Fulani communities to continue their dialogue for a “good understanding that will bring to an urgent end, the nightmarish security challenges facing the state”
Shehu said while the presidency would not condone any form of criminality, it is cruel 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”.
“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,” the statement read.
“What is clearly emerging, is a lack of consistency in messaging which in turn leads to various contradictions regarding accuracy and the intent behind the message.
“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. 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.”
Shehu said the president, who swore to defend the constitution, has spoken against groups which issued threats capable of sparking tension in the country.
“The president 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,” he said.
“The government of Ondo, and all the 35 others across the federation must draw clear lines between the criminals and the law abiding citizens who must equally be saved from the infiltrators. Beyond law and order, the fight against crime is also a fight for human values which are fundamental to our country.”