Frank Ikpefan, Gbenga Omokhunu, Abuja; Osagie Otabor, Akure; Adebisi Onanuga, Robert Egbe and Alao Abiodun, Lagos
THE Presidency’s reaction to the order by the Ondo State Government to herders to vacate its reservation forests sparked an outrage on Wednesday.
Lawyers backed Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, saying he is empowered by the constitution to secure his state as the chief law officer.
They noted that the governor did not order the herdsmen to leave the state but to vacate its Forest Reserves and get registered for security purposes.
Some Yoruba elders and the Afenifere faulted Tuesday’s statement by presidential spokesman Garba Shehu cautioning the governor.
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) described the directive as shocking, saying it was targeted at the Fulani community.
Akeredolu on Monday said herders wishing to carry on with cattle-rearing business in the state must register with the appropriate authorities within one week.
He warned criminal elements using the forest to perpetrate evil to henceforth expect fire for fire.
He spoke after an interactive parley with the leadership of the Hausa/Fulani and Ebira communities in the state.
What the Presidency said
The Presidency in a statement by Shehu, partly said: “”In our view, he 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.
”We want to make it clear that kidnapping, banditry and rustling are crimes, no matter the motive or who is involved.”
Lawyers: Akeredolu right
Three Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), Seyi Sowemimo, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa and Kunle Adegoke, as well as legal experts Jiti Ogunye and Ige Asemudara, were of the view that the governor’s position is backed by law.
Rights crusader Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) said the Presidency was right to caution Akeredolu.
He said: “The Presidency has every right to call the governor of Ondo State to order seeing that he is about to infringe on the fundamental rights of Nigerian citizens.
“It is unconstitutional for the Governor of a state to ask herdsmen to leave any state in the country.
“The right to freedom of movement is meant to be enjoyed by all citizens.”
On the right to own land, the SAN said: “It is arguable that the herdsmen, who have been issued a quit notice by Governor Akeredolu’s request, are actually being sent away from a land to which they have legally acquired title and possession over.
“Where it is proven that the herdsmen have lived on the land for a significant time, then they are deemed to have a bonafide title to the land under the law.”
Sowemimo believes it was not the Federal Government’s prerogative to determine how Ondo’s forest reserve is utilised.
He said the state government reserved the right to make an order on its land.
According to him, the use of land in a particular state should be within the purview of the governor.
Sowemimo said: “There is a right of movement, but it is not absolute. If there are security considerations which may make that right not to be feasible to exercise, then I think that it is quite legitimate for the governor to make an appropriate order.”
Adegboruwa said Akeredolu cannot be legally faulted.
To him, the Presidency may have misinterpreted the constitution.
He hailed Akeredolu’s courage and statesmanship and urged other governors to take legal steps to secure their states.
For Adegoke, Akeredolu was “perfectly right” and acted lawfully to protect life and property in the light of the danger posed by criminals inhabiting the forest reserves.
He explained that the right of anyone, including herders, to move anywhere they please is not unqualified.
Adegoke said: “Nobody has the right to enter into a forest reserve, graze there when it is not allowed, or to build there without approval.
“There are qualifications to the fundamental rights preserved in the constitution. Nobody can jump on any land and say ‘because I am a Nigerian, I have the right to stay anywhere I like.’
“If you are a Nigerian and you wish to stay anywhere you like, you have to purchase land there.
“No Yoruba man can go to Kano and claim that because he’s a Nigerian, he can conquer any land and say because he is doing a trade. No Igbo man can do that as well.
“So, if we know that this is not something anybody will allow, then it would be sheer dishonesty for the Federal Government to insist that the governor must tread with caution.
“The governor is perfectly right in telling them to vacate the forest reserves. The notice required to get a trespasser off your land is not more than seven days.”
Ogunye believes the rights to freedom of movement and the citizens to reside in any part of the country do not vest in anyone the right to trespass on private, communal or publicly-acquired and controlled land or forest.
According to him, every land is owned by individuals, communities, villages, towns, sub-ethnic groups or the government.
He noted that the land acquired and controlled by the government, under the old Public Lands Acquisition Act or the extant Land Use Act were taken from aboriginal and indigenous communities, with compensation paid most times.
“This implies that government itself recognises that there are no ‘free, unowned, unpossessed lands’ within the boundaries of Ondo State.
“There are no free forest zones anywhere. For the forest reserves that are owned by the state government, people (including indigenes) may not lawfully hunt for games or carry on logging activities therein without a permit. It is criminal to do so,” Ogunye said.
Asemudara believes the ultimatum is justifiable and lawful.
He said: “The first essence of government is the safety and security of lives and property. Akeredolu has a duty and the power to evict people from or restrain anyone from entering the Forest Reserves of the state especially when their activities therein are illicit or criminal.
“Furthermore, the right of use and occupation of any land within the state is under the powers and control of the Governor as a trustee as conferred by the Land Use Act.
“As a matter of law, the constitution preserves and strengthens that power. So, when Garba and his cohorts bandied constitutionalism around like a veil for their religious and tribal prejudices, it is in vain that they did so.”
Ondo’s stand unchanged
ONDO government insisted yesterday that nobody would be allowed to legally operate in the forest reserves without approval.
Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr Adefarati Gboyega, said over 50,000 farmers engaged in different forms of agricultural activities in the forest reserves have been registered.
He said activities of the farmers are regulated to reduce criminality.
According to him, over 70 per cent of the government reserves were encroached on by farmers as of 2017, with many culprits prosecuted and jailed or fined.
He said farmers were made to register to farm at the reserves with stiff adherence to all regulations that protect animals and trees.
“If you desire a piece of land to farm, you have to apply to the Ondo State Ministry of Agriculture.
“The government, after considering your application, shall grant the considered hectares of land in which you are regulated to do your legal and legitimate farming.
“In retrospect, we have registered over 50,000 thousands farmers who engage in different forms of agricultural activities in Ondo State Government Forest Reserves.
“With this, we regulate their activities and reduce criminality as we interface daily with farmers.
“Love it or leave it; farming is farming, be it crop production or animal husbandry. If any Nigerian irrespective of his/her state of origin desires land for farming in Government Forest Reserves, he/she must apply to Ondo State Ministry of Agriculture and pay the normal fee for the required hectares of land.
“It is illegal for herdsmen to encroach on Ondo State Government Forest Reserves without permission and graze on the farms, many of which will be destroyed.
“Let me say it again and again that no activity (hunting, planting crops and animal rearing) can be done in Ondo State Forest Conservation without permission. The laws guiding Ondo State Forest are clear and concise on it,” the commissioner said.
Ondo Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Donald Ojogo, while speaking on Channels , wondered whether President Buhari authorised the statement.
He expressed doubt that Shehu indeed issued the said statement “because it would have been a dangerous one for the unity of this country.”
“If true,” Ojogo said, “it would mean certain officials in the Presidency are actually out to create a problem for President Buhari. We must appreciate the effort of this President in his fight against insecurity across the country.
“If indeed he (Shehu) issued the statement, then he owes this nation a great deal of explanation to let people know why he must take up the fight of people masquerading as herdsmen to commit a crime.”
Yoruba elders, Afenifere knock Presidency
SOME Yoruba elders backed Akeredolu and blasted the Presidency for issuing the statement.
The elders, under the aegis of Coalition of Oduduwa Elders, warned the Presidency to steer clear of governance issues in Ondo or any other state.
They said the governor’s action was to protect lives and property of all Ondo residents, including the herdsmen.
Its National Coordinator, Dr Tunde Aremu, and National Secretary, Mrs Folake Ajasin, urged the governor not to be distracted by those they said have failed to safeguard the lives of Nigerians.
“We have painstakingly watched the rushed statement by the Presidency through one of its spokesmen, Mallam Garba Shehu, cautioning the governor against his action and instead, declaring that the people who have been identified to be responsible for kidnappings, banditry and killings in the state cannot vacate the areas they use to carry out their nefarious activities.
“This is strange to us given that the Constitution vests certain powers on state governors as chief security officers of their respective states on certain steps they can take to safeguard the lives of citizens and their property.
“Akeredolu, to the best of our knowledge is a sitting governor of Ondo State.
“Until he is out of office, he has the constitutional mandate to device the best ways possible in giving his people who voted him into office good and quality leadership.
“The quit notice to herders to leave Ondo forests is one of those steps he has taken to protect the citizenry. So, we ask the Presidency to leave him alone.”
Afenifere, the Yoruba sociopolitical organisation, through its
National Publicity Secretary Yinka Odumakin, faulted the Presidency’s reaction.
It said: “Are Ondo forest reserves under Ondo State Government or the Federal Government?
Farmers back Akeredolu
The Ondo State Agricultural Commodities’ Association (OSACA) urged Akeredolu not to be intimidated.
Its Chairman Gbenga Obaweya and Secretary Ayo Omogie said in a statement said the governor’s order had brought hope to farmers. The group said: “The grazing bill before the House of Assembly should be given an accelerated passage.
“The social and economic impact of these nefarious activities of the herdsmen, if not quickly checked, will lead to severe famine in due season, as farmers are leaving their farmland in droves for fear of being attacked, raped or kidnapped as these have become a recurring issue.
“The governor’s order is imperative for it will save farmers from becoming paupers and insolvent as these herdsmen graze freely on their crops on daily basis.
“Most of these farmers took loans from different financial institutions to establish their farm.
“It is on record that farmers in Ondo State have lost over 2000 hectares of rice and over 3000 hectares of cassava just to mention a few to herdsmen activities across the state.”
Fani-Kayode attacks Presidency
Former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani- Kayode, faulted the Presidency
In a series of tweets, he said: “Quit notices cannot be given to law-abiding citizens in any part of Nigeria but must be given to those that kill, steal and seek to destroy the lives of others.
“Murderous terrorists and bloodthirsty and evil men that hide in the forest to ambush, kidnap, kill and destroy innocent and hardworking men and women have no constitutional rights.
“Akeredolu has done and said the right thing and I urge every single Southwest governor to do the same. Bandits, killers and unhinged, blood-lusting and bloodthirsty psychopaths and sociopaths are not welcome.
Shehu Sani faults directive
A Former Kaduna Central Senator, Shehu Sani, faulted the governor’s action and urged him to reconsider the decision.
The former senator, in a post on his official Facebook page, said it was wrong to ask all cattle herders to leave the state while they have the right to live anywhere.
He added that the government must make effort to punish those who breach the law and respect the rights of the innocent.
Shehu wrote: “My Dear Governor Akeredolu, I’m quite aware of the security challenges facing your state.
“I appreciate your efforts, but it’s completely wrong to ask all cattle herders to leave Ondo forests.
“The sins of a criminal few should not affect the law-abiding and peaceful ones who have the right to live and move freely in all parts of our country.
“Efforts must continue to be made to deal with those who breach the law, while and respecting and protecting the rights of the innocent.”
Northern Elders ‘shocked’
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) also criticized the governor.
In a statement issued by its Director, Publicity and Advocacy, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, the group said: “Northern Elders Forum is shocked.
“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 capitalise on the issue to compound our existing challenges around security and co-existence