Akeredolu’s quit notice and Buhari’s govt defence of killer herders

IF there was any doubt left in the minds of Nigerians that the Muhammadu Buhari administration places more premium on the lives of Fulani herdsmen than any other lives in the country, such an illusion was violently shattered last week. First, in an unprecedented, crude and criminal assault on the sensibilities of the country, the Presidency rose in stout defence of the killer herdsmen ordered by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State to quit the state’s forest reserves after they had perpetrated murder, torture, rape and mutilation, even while collecting ransoms from the families of their hapless victims. Second, the administration ordered the arrest of a Yoruba rights activist, Sunday Adeyemo (Sunday Igboho), for incendiary rhetoric and deployed a police Tactical Squad to Oyo State to effect its wishes while not extending the same gesture to Adamu Boyejo, a Fulani irredentist who dared Governor Akeredolu to enforce his quit notice while declaring that the Fulani own all lands in the country, and who has threatened other ethnic groups in the country with death and destruction for more than five years. Worse still, Buhari’s own spokesmen are on record as making incendiary statements, including the declaration that it was better for farmers to give up their lands than to be killed by herdsmen, and there is no official record of the president ever countering their murderous and heartless submissions.

Disturbingly, the government’s action came after some military men accompanied herdsmen to communities in Ogun State, brutalising the residents and asking them to accommodate their killers, and after many citizens in states of the South-West had suffered horrific treatments, including mutilations and murder at the hands of the herders. The verdict is clear: Buhari, aided by propaganda rag sheets pretending to speak for the North, runs a government of herdsmen, by Nigerians, and for herdsmen.

It is indeed galling that the Federal Government has chosen to place the governor of Ondo State, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN),  in the eye of the storm for daring to  live up to his constitutional mandate by protecting his people, something President Buhari has refused to do to Nigerians. A needless hoopla  rages because the country operates a patently defective federalism where the centre often lacks capacity or, as in this case, is too engrossed with primordial partisan interests to appreciate the imperatives of delimitation of power in a federal structure.  Otherwise, the hullabaloo that followed the governor’s exercise of his constitutional mandate to take every lawful step to protect life and property in a state where he is the Chief Security Officer would not have arisen.  The governor’s sin was that he ordered, as part of official steps to address the root cause of kidnapping, in particular, and other nefarious activities being perpetrated in the forest by outlaws masquerading as herders, that all forest reserves in Ondo State should be vacated by illegal herdsmen within seven days.  Pray, what is so outrageous, uncharitable or unlawful in asking criminals who have unlawfully occupied government property to vacate such property?  Save for deliberate presidential mischief, why would the governor’s unambiguous directive to the herders be given sinister interpretations?

The gory details of the chilling atrocities perpetrated by the killer herdsmen and kidnappers in Ondo State are within the public domain and only insensitive and unfeeling persons, whether ordinary, prominent or in government, are pretending that nothing is amiss and,  worse still, even expect the governor of the state to fold his arms and do nothing. It is not every political leader that can afford to be lethargic and manifest criminal cluelessness in the face of grave insecurity, only to mouth sympathies with the citizens when untoward incidents happen. Ordinarily, given the grave, pervasive and unsettling level of insecurity in the land, and the apparent lacklustre performance of the Federal Government in containing it, the President should encourage and support the sub-national governments on every lawful initiative they take to combat insecurity. But that has not been the case. On the contrary, the Buhari government often goes out of its way to hamstring the states from protecting lives and properties by latching onto extant laws and ignorantly or mischievously interpreting them in a manner that stands logic on its head.

For instance, the Presidency, in contradicting Governor Akeredolu’s  recent order, alluded to the right to freedom of movement of every citizen and the right of citizens to reside in any part of the country as guaranteed by  Section 41(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). The provisions of the grund norm are not in contest. What is being challenged is the misreading or deliberate misinterpretation of the provisions to suit narrow partisan interests in a period of pervasive lawlessness which has literally put the country on a tailspin. The veritable questions are legion:  do the provisions of the Constitution vest in citizens the right to trespass on private, communal, or, as in the instant case, publicly acquired and controlled lands or forests? And assuming but by no means conceding that the rights being wrongly projected by the Presidency to deliberately give erroneous sense of ownership and entitlement to Fulani herdsmen apply in the case at issue, are those rights absolute?  Can’t, and shouldn’t,  those rights be derogated from  in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or health and for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons as enshrined in Section 45 (1a and 1b) of the Constitution? Is the Buhari govt suggesting that Ondo State’s forest reserves should remain the abode of herders who abduct, maim or kill their victims, negotiate and collect ransoms?  Isn’t that callous?

And if a while ago security imperatives, according to the Presidency, ought to have prevented the 43 farmers gruesomely beheaded by Boko Haram terrorists in Borno State from visiting their farms without official permission, why should the same security reasons become less crucial to motivate a responsible government to rid its property of criminals and to protect lives and properties of its people? Is that not unwarranted duplicity? We urge Governor Akeredolu to be firm in his resolve and abounding duty to prioritise the security and welfare of the people of Ondo State as provided in Section 14(2) b of the Constitution. Truth be told, if the quality of the Federal Government’s overall strategy or approach to tackling insecurity in the country is viewed from the prism of its intervention in Ondo State, it becomes unequivocal why its performance has been grossly ineffective and counterproductive. Sadly, it has become an established pattern for his Presidency to swiftly intervene on issues bordering on the atrocities of Fulani herdsmen  in the country,  acting as their publicist in a fashion that assails the sensibility of other Nigerians, and oftentimes unabashedly descending into the arena and polarising the country along ethnic and regional lines.  This sordid trend is inimical to confidence building, genuine bonding and cohesion of citizens in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religion society and it is really concerning, and perilously so, that such vital sensitivities are being discounted at the highest level of governance in the land.

From his utterances and actions, it is clear that Muhammadu Buhari is not ready to be the President of all Nigerians. We therefore urge all Nigerians affected by the murderous onslaught to take all legal, proactive and legitimate steps to protect themselves. The National Assembly must rise up to the occasion and call Buhari to order.

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