Heavy protest has rocked Akure, the Ondo State capital on Thursday as commercial drivers, members of the Nigeria Forest Services also known as Forest guards, farmers and traders stormed the streets in support of Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu‘s order to herdsmen to vacate forest reserves in the state within seven days.
The protesters carried placards urging the Ondo Governor not to back down on his directive.
Comrade Jacob Adejo, the Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, said commercial drivers were no longer safe in the state.
Adejo said his members need protection as herders attacked them with impunity as well as kidnapped them before now.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Presidency and Governor Rotimi Akeredolu headed for a showdown over the ultimatum given by the latter to Fulani herders to vacate the forest reserves in the state.
While the Presidency said the governor had no constitutional powers to ask anybody to leave the state or any part of the state, the governor insisted that his seven days ultimatum stands.
The Presidency, in a statement by Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity in Abuja, maintained that asking the herders to leave could set off a chain of events, which the constitution anticipated and tried to guard against.
The statement read:
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 the 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.
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 name plates, 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.
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.
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.
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.