Throwing presidential weight behind criminals

One thing that the presidency’s response to the order given by Ondo State government directing herdsmen to vacate all forest reserves in the state within seven days makes abundantly clear is that the Buhari presidency, rather than being for the whole country, is unabashedly for the Fulani.

Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, had last Monday, while issuing the vacation order, said that security reports as well as debriefings from victims of kidnap cases in the state had shown that some criminal elements masquerading as herdsmen had turned the reserves “into hideouts for keeping victims of kidnapping, negotiating for ransom and carrying out other criminal activities.”

Besides the vacation order, the governor also outlawed night grazing, under-aged grazing of cattle as well as movement of cattle within cities and along highways.

But in a statement signed by the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, the presidency accused Ondo State government of fuelling the embers of ethnicity in the guise of fighting crime. Shehu even went ahead to input into the governor’s order what he had not said. In the directive issued by Akeredolu, there is no place where he asked herdsmen, whether Fulani or otherwise, to leave the state. All that the governor said is for them to leave the forests.

As far as I know, Akeredolu acted within the limits of his powers as the governor in issuing those orders and it is so difficult to understand why the presidency would take it upon itself to speak on behalf of herders rather than seek ways to protect Nigerians who are daily subjected to harrowing experiences in the hands of these gun-wielding herdsmen.

If Mallam Shehu had familiarized himself with the nation’s constitution before issuing that statement, he would have exercised restraint and would not have attacked the governor who was merely exercising the powers conferred on him by the constitution.

The introduction to the Land Use Act (1978) Chapter L5, Laws of the Federation, states that “This is an Act to vest all land compromised in the territory of each state (except land vested in the Federal Government or its agencies) solely in the Governor of  the  State ,  who  would  hold  such  land  in  trust  for  the  people  and  would henceforth  be  responsible  for  allocation  of  land  in  all  urban  areas  to individuals   resident   in   the   state   and   to   organisations   for   residential, agriculture,  commercial  and  other  purposes  while  similar  powers  will  with respect to non urban areas are conferred on Local Governments.”

The import of this is that while the constitution may not have conferred the powers to stop anyone from any part of the country from living and working in Ondo State on the governor, the same constitution has vested in him the powers to determine where those who choose to stay in the state live and run their enterprises. The forests from which the herders have been barred are owned by the state government. So, where did the governor err?

One glaring fact from the meddling of the presidency in a clearly state matter is that the security and safety of Nigerians is not its primary concern. As far as the presidency is concerned, the livelihood of a Fulani is of higher significance than the life of the average Nigerian. It does not matter to the presidency if the Fulani have to step on the blood of other Nigerians to earn a living, they just must have their way, others can dive into the lagoon.

This comes even in bold relief bearing in mind the statement made by President Muhammadu Buhari when leaders of Benue State paid him a visit in his office after about 100 people were massacred by some herdsmen in January 2018. The President, rather than condemn the killers, beseeched the people of Benue State to learn to accommodate their fellow countrymen, the Fulani herdsmen.

Mallam Garba Shehu may not have realized it but what the presidential statement has done is to embolden criminals and encourage perpetrators of crimes to challenge the authority of the governor. The statement threw the weight of the presidency behind criminality, which is quite unfortunate. With the intervention of the presidency, what will now happen in Ondo State as from tomorrow when the orders are supposed to become effective? Will the governor still have the resolve to implement the law of the state having been cautioned by the presidency? Will law enforcement agencies rather obey the governor or the higher authority as represented by the presidency? Will herdsmen, whether they are Fulani or not, comply with the governor’s directive and leave the forests? If a state law cannot be effected in a state, what type of system are we running?

But what is happening now is contrary to the promise made by President Buhari when he was starting out in 2015. The President had said then that “I belong to everybody, and I belong to nobody.” Can the President in good conscience say he has lived up to that promise? Can he say that he has been fair to all? Can the President beat his chest and say that he has not made an Aryan tribe out of his Fulani kinsmen?

President Muhammadu Buhari at this time should be more focused on building a legacy. How will posterity treat him? Will he be remembered as a national leader or a factional leader despite being elected to the office of the President?

The President’s aides would do well to carve a positive image for the President in the psyche of all Nigerians by being fair to all. If the presidency had to issue a statement lampooning a state government over herdsmen, are we not desecrating the presidency and reducing it to pedestrianism?

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