The Presidency on Tuesday said Ondo State government would not act outside the Constitution in tackling crime.
A presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, 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.’”
He said the government of Ondo, and all the 35 others across the federation, 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 country.”
The reaction from the Presidency came after Governor Rotimi Akeredolu ordered Fulani herdsmen to vacate forest reserves in Ondo State within seven days.
Akeredolu gave the order in a statement released on Monday, January 18, following the rise in insecurity in the state despite the launch of Western Nigeria Security Network, known as Amotekun.
The governor also banned the movement of cattle within cities and highways, as well as night grazing.
Call for dialogue
The presidential spokesman, 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.”
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.
“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.”