Kemi Olaitan in Ibadan, Fidelis David in Akure, Alex Enumah in Abuja, Emma Okonji and Nosa Alekhuogie in Lagos
The Ondo State Governor and Chairman, Southern Governors’ Forum, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, yesterday, took a swipe at his Kaduna State counterpart, Nasir El-Rufai, for criticising the legal approach adopted by the southern governors in handling the open grazing crisis, saying his statement was a ploy to externalise banditry in the country.
Also, while speaking on the Arise News Television, Akeredolu, who told his Kaduna counterpart that the southern governors had the capacity to deal with anyone, who contravened the laws, accused el-Rufai of inciting the herders against them, even as he reiterated the resolve of the South that the presidency must come to the region in 2023.
El-Rufai had while speaking to newsmen on Tuesday after a visit to the National Secretariat of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Abuja, insisted that the anti-open grazing law being passed by some Southern states was not implementable, but that ranching and not open grazing was the solution to the ongoing farmer/herder’s clashes.
But, Akeredolu, first in an official statement by his Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Donald Ojogo, said, “Governor Nasir el-Rufai, if he was properly quoted and his views not misrepresented, is struggling hard to export banditry to the South under an expressed opinion that is laced with mischief.”
The statement read: “In these days and times, anyone who makes statements such as that allegedly made by the governor belongs to a class of an unenviable ilk masquerading as leaders.
“There is no wisdom in condemning/banning open grazing, prohibiting inter border movement of cattle in the North, including Kaduna, with an accompanying disapproval of a law that gives bite to same, in another part of the country.
“Perhaps, it is apt to state clearly that the likes of Governor el-Rufai are already in a hysteric ‘mode’ of escalating and indeed, externalising banditry, especially, as the military onslaught against criminal elements and other terror variants suffices in the North.”
The Ondo governor noted that, “such comment like that of the Kaduna Governor, if indeed he made that statement, merely seeks to encourage anarchy under the guise of resentment of a law by affected stakeholders.
“In order words, it is a cleverly crafted path towards replicating in the South, the most despicable situation in the North, that Nigerians of goodwill daily pray to overcome. It’s a ploy beyond the ordinary.”
Akeredolu, further added that, “The Anti-Grazing Law, especially in Ondo State, has come to stay. It shall be zealously guarded and conscionably deployed to protect all residents of Ondo State, notwithstanding their ethnic and religious biases. Those who have nothing evil to perpetrate have nothing to fear as regards the Law.”
Speaking on Arise, Akeredolu, who wondered why anyone would think the region was playing politics with the issue, warned that the south did not take the wellbeing and the livelihood of its people lightly and would do anything to protect them.
He claimed to be surprised by the utterances of the Kaduna governor said, adding that, “There is no politics about the anti-open grazing law. We say people are destroying the livelihood of our own people and we say we are not going to allow it to continue and it is certain.
“And if he says it is not a law we cannot enforce, let him wait or let him bring his herders here, they will go back to inform him whether we are able to enforce the laws, he will get to know. There is no need for him to be in a hurry, the people will go back to him to tell him that it is being enforced and we are going to enforce it”.
More on the issue of capacity, Akeredolu noted that the law was already in operation in Ondo, because those who were infringing on the law were paying for it.
According to him, the state has established a process to ensure any herder, who destroyed any farm was made to pay repatriation before the cattle would be released to such a herder, adding that, “as a second time offender, you are going to prison.”
While observing that Miyetti Allah and other herders in Ondo State were already cooperating with the government, he lamented that the Kaduna governor and those who speak like him were only inciting herders against the people of the south and therefore warned that anyone, who broke the law in the state would be punished in line with the law.
“I am happy that Miyetti Allah people are willing to imbibe it; they are not waiting to be incited as my brother want to think. Maybe they should flout the law, that is why he is saying it is not implementable or whatever his words are, that is like wanting to incite the people.
“You are trying to incite the people, who say they are going to oppose this law and we are saying that if you oppose this law, you will face the consequences. The law is there and has been passed by our own House of Assembly and the Houses of Assembly of every state that has passed the law and every state that has passed the law will implement the law to the letter,” he maintained.
The Ondo governor queried why southern governors should consult with their northern counterparts before passing a law that was in the interest of their own people, adding that the southern governors could not “beg” northern governors before passing a law that was in the interest of the people.
He held that the northern governors met regularly and even met with the president after their meeting and the southern governors have never made any fuss about it.
Akeredolu argued that even the northern governors knew that open grazing was not in the best interest of their people but only wanted to continue to oppress them by allowing them to take their cows from one region to another, adding that that their mode of life was anachronistic and not going to hold.
He commended Katsina State for its decision to embrace ranching, noting that they were ready to support the state and give it necessary patronage, when operational.
Addressing the 2023 presidential election, the chairman of the Southern Governors Forum said, “The only way we can continue to remain united as a country is that there must be fairness, there must be equity and there must be justice and the only thing that is fair in this country today is that if we have had a northern president for eight years, it must come down to south this time. That is what we are saying, we are not forcing it on people. We are going to go out and campaign about it, this is politics, it is a game of number”.
He recalled that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo became president in 1999 because everybody agreed that the president must come from the south and after Obasanjo, everybody also agreed that it should go to the north and Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua also emerged as president.
“There is nothing wrong in it, that is understanding”, he said, adding that the north has no choice but to be fair to the south and support the push for a southern president.
His position on the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), which was just returned to the National Assembly for amendment, was that the governors would continue to push for the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF), which belonged to both the federal g and the state governments, rather than the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, which did not represent their interest but that of the federal government.