Agba kii wa l’oja k’ori omo tuntun wo
INVASION OF THE YORUBA HINTERLAND AND A BREWING CRISIS OF CONFIDENCE
• The membership of Voice of Reason is disturbed by the spateof murders, invasion of farmland, kidnapping for ransom and other violent incidents in the South-West of Nigeria, especially in the Yoruba heartland states of Oyo, Ondo and Ekiti.
• We are especially disturbed that these ongoing incidents have, in many cases, been verifiably attributed to armed ‘herdsmen’, operating in the open or from hideouts in the densely wooded forests of the areas.
• On Monday January 18, 2021, Gov Akeredolu gave illegal herders a seven-day ultimatum to leave the forests of OndoState, citing the rising insecurity in the state. The Governor said “bad elements” have turned the Forestry Reserve into hideouts for criminals and their nefarious activities. These criminal elements have neither applied nor granted permission for the forest they occupy.
• VOR views with serious concern, the political misinterpretation of Governor Akeredolu’s statement by the Presidency, in his genuine effort to protect life and properties of citizens of his state.
• The statement from the Presidency is characteristic of our political elites and biased leadership, the genuine action of a State Chief Executive officer is being politicised to give ethnic colouration it does not deserve.
• We are aware of the generally poor security situation in the country, the facts surrounding the ongoing crisis in the Northeast, and the flagrant banditry blighting the lives of citizens in different parts of Nigeria.
• We have had cause in the past to express our concerns on these matters, and to request a more vigorous response on the part of government, not only to restore the well-being of Nigerian citizens, but to foster a sense of trust in the government and the governance process, which is at verylow ebb.
• It is a fundamental requirement of modern statehood that there be clearly defined borders and a precise definition of citizenship, and Nigeria cannot be an exception. Even the ECOWAS treaty stipulates a maximum period for which a documented citizen of a sister country may stay in another country.
• We are especially concerned at the role played in this uncomfortable situation by identified ‘pseudo-herdsmen’, many of whom are non-Nigerian Fulani elements from Mali and surrounding countries. It is a unique anomaly and affront for foreigners to be allowed to cross into territory of another nation and persistently show a pattern of wreaking havoc with impunity.
• All the major ethnic groups in Nigeria have non-Nigerian groups with whom they share genetic and cultural affinity. An example is the relationship between Yoruba in Nigeria and Benin Republic and Togo. Nobody has made the argument that by this affinity, people from Benin Republic and Togo are conferred automatically with unfettered access and citizenship rights in Nigeria.
• Citizenship carries both an entitlement and a responsibility. These foreign elements neither have such entitlement, nor show any sense of acceptance of the implied responsibilities concerning their behaviour and observance of our laws.
• We affirm that Nigerian citizens, by rights conferred through the Constitution, have a right to live in any part of Nigeria. In doing so they have a concomitant duty to observe the law of the land, live in peace with their neighbours and also show sensitivity to and respect for local culture. There are people from different parts of Nigeria who have made their lives in the Yoruba heartland and who have, in fact, become part of the local community. These include Fulanis, some of whom have lived there for more than one generation. In a similar manner, Yoruba people also live in other parts of the country. This diversity is part of the strength and beauty of Nigeria, and every patriotic citizen should be committed to preserving it.
• However, the spate of security outrages that have been allowed to happen will, if allowed to continue, dangerously erode the basic trust that is a requirement for such peaceful co-existence. There have been accusations of collusion between these ‘pseudo-herdsmen’, kidnappers and bandits and some security officials, government authorities and local communities not only in the commission of heinous crimes, but in the collection and processing of ransom payments. Crime is, in effect being rewarded, and it is proceeding with impunity.
• Several people have issued desperate expressions of concern and stressed the need for urgent action in this matter. They include the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, and the Governors of Oyo State and Ondo State. The Ondo State Governor’s recent order to Fulani to vacate the Forestry Reserve, and his restriction on nighttime herd movements and other measures seems to us to have been deliberately misinterpreted by some people as an expulsion order on all Fulani, including the long-resident and settled ones. We are certain that this is not so.
• People who have bought land and built houses and become useful members of their communities, even speaking the local language, are certainly entitled to stay in their normal abodes. On the other hand, a Forestry Reserve is held in trust for the people by government, for use for approved agricultural and other purposes. It is not approved as residential accommodation for anyone, local or foreign.
• It is our recommendation that the Federal Government wake up and step up to its responsibilities for ensuring law and order in the country, which is at an unacceptably low ebb currently. We also recommend that the State Governors in the South West should have the latitude to do their work as Chief Security Officers in their States unfettered.
• That the security situation declined to the present level in the first place without capacity for effective local action is one of the manifestations of the distorted, dysfunctional unitary governance arrangement in Nigeria, and is one of the most compelling reasons why the nation needs to be Restructured,and a True Federation created.
• The borders of Nigeria need to be effectively secured to ensure that foreign elements of whatever ethnic origin do not come in to disturb the peace of Nigerians, or, according toone of the prevalent dark suspicions, be part of a grand design to grab other people’s land in fulfillment of an atavistic, doomed design for ethnic domination.
• As usual some very vocal groups purporting to represent the interests of the Fulani have made threats and spoken in a tone that makes it clear they believe they have a higher form of citizenship than other Nigerians, that they ‘own’ the federal government, and that they can act with impunity and deal with other people, not through reasoned discussion and collaboration but through threats and bullying. This is not helpful. It certainly will not work.
• The real danger is that if the present state of brigandage with impunity is allowed to continue, it will not only erode the people’s trust in government and governance, it will make it inevitable for people to take the law into their own hands.
• We are therefore totally in support of the lawful order to the rampaging herders to vacate Ondo State Forestry Reserve within the stipulated period.
• Finally, VOR joins other well-meaning sociocultural groupsto support Governor Akeredolu and we call on other governors and political leaders across the South and Middle Belt to join in the collective effort, to prevent the establishment of other Sambisa Forests in their backyards.
Dr. Olufemi Adegoke
Chairman, Voice of Reason