The Presidency has expressed reservations over the recent Ondo State Government’s decision asking herdsmen to vacate the forests in the state within seven days or face the consequences.
Gov. Rotimi Akeredolu, had on Dec. 18 gave herdsmen seven days ultimatum to quit all forest reserves in Ondo.
Akeredolu, who expressed displeasure over criminal activities being carried out by people pretending to be cattle grazers, said the decision was part of measures to address the root causes of kidnappings and other crimes in the state.
However, a statement in Abuja on Tuesday by Malam Garba Shehu, the President’s spokesman, called on Ondo State Government and Fulani communities to continue to engage in dialogue with a view to finding an end to security challenges in the state.
The statement read in part: ”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.”
”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.
”There is little to be said other than to call for restraint on both sides and urge 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.
”Gov. 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 belong to, the language they speak, their geographical location or their faith is atavistic and cruel.”
The presidential aide also stressed the need to delink terrorism and crimes from ethnicity, geographical origins and religion.
According to him, criminals who use this interchange of arguments to hinder law enforcement efforts must be isolated and be dealt with effectively.
Shehu maintained that the president, who swore to defend the constitution, had spoken against divisive statements in the past and would continue to do so.
He specifically cited the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) who at onetime asked citizens of Northern origin to leave the South-East geo-political zone.
”He (Buhari) 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.
”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,” he added.