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Ondo govt urges Buhari to beware of fifth columnists, insists on protection of forest reserves

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Rotimi Akeredolu

The Ondo State Government has informed the Federal Government that the seven days ultimatum issued to the Fulani herdsmen squatting within the state’s Forest Reserve is unambiguous and it stands.

Donald Ojogo, the state Commissioner for Information fielding questions on a program, Sunrise, monitored in Lagos on Wednesday said a statement credited to the Presidency on the quit order may not have originated from President Muhammadu Buhari who he said is working to end insecurity in Nigeria.

His words, “ We are still waiting for confirmation because this statement may not have come from the presidency. And going by the pedigree of Garba Shehu, who was alleged to have authored the statement, it may not be from him, otherwise it will mean that some people in the Presidency are bent to create problems for Mr. President.

“The Forest Reserve is an asset and it’s conserved, so I will be surprised if some people want to ethnicise what Mr. Governor said, which was clear an unambiguous. The Forest Reserve is different from natural forest.

“ All the people that were kidnapped and were lucky to have come out alive have almost the same story to tell that they were taken deep into the forest. And if the Fulani herdsmen cannot fish out the bandits operating, using them as cover, that will be too bad. The ultimatum is for the good and security of everybody doing legitimate business in Ondo state.”

In a statement issued on Tuesday by Buhari’s spokesperson Garba Shehu, the presidency said it opposed the Ondo government’s directive for herders squatting in the forest reserves to vacate the place.

Shehu said Akeredolu, being a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), has fought crime in his state with passion and commitment.

“It 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 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.”

Shehu said the Ondo and all States must draw clear lines between the criminals and the law-abiding citizens.

He added that beyond law and order, the fight against crime is also a fight for human values which are fundamental to Nigeria.