Unimaginable calm has returned to the border towns and hotspots of kidnapping and other criminal activities in Ondo State since Governor Rotimi Akeredolu ordered herdsmen to quit the state’s forest reserves.
However, cattle grazers and their herds were still spotted in droves across the state, unperturbed and uncommonly calm, taking their cattle around for greener pastures unhindered.
Also worthy of note is that the troubled spots along Akure/Ilesa, Akure/Owo, Ikare/Epinmi/Akoko-Edo and Owo/Benin expressways, which used to be notorious for incessant kidnapping activities, suddenly become safe, as there have been reported incidence of criminal activities in the last six days.
Although the seven-day ultimatum given by the governor to unregistered herdsmen and other criminally-minded persons to vacate the state expires tomorrow, uneasy calm pervades the state, even as the order has generated controversies and mixed reactions.
Despite opposition from the Presidency and some northern elements, the state House of Assembly has expressed support for the decision, which it said is a good intention to secure the lives and properties of the citizenry.
Akeredolu, at several fora, had made frantic efforts to substantiate the import of the ultimatum, as backed by the Land Use Act of 1978 and Trade Cattle Tax Law of Ondo.
Meanwhile, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Gboyega Adefarati, disclosed that registration of farmers and their businesses was not new, adding that over 50, 000 of such have been registered in the last four years.
In the same vein, an official of the Ministry of Justice, who craved anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said both laws give enormous powers to the State Executive Council (SEC) and the Governor on land matters, especially reserved forests.
According to him: “It goes without saying, therefore, that the governor can impose conditions for anyone to enter and/or be licensed to enter any land within the state.
“The Ondo State governor, therefore, has the power to order herdsmen or any other persons carrying on any other business on lands within the territory of the state to apply for permit or licence to do so under the clear provisions of the Land Use Act.”
Without any equivocation, he added that the order to the herdsmen in the forest reserves “cannot in any way, be interpreted as a violation of the fundamental right to freedom of movement.”
The official also stressed that Section 2 of the law talks about “movement permit, which says ‘a movement permit issued in the state under the Control Trade Cattle Regulations or a permit relating to the movement of trade cattle issued by any authority having power to issue the same under any law in force in any other part of Nigeria.”
Adefarati said over 70 per cent of government reserved forest had been encroached by farmers when the Akeredolu administration came on board in 2017, recalling that the previous administration of Dr. Olusegun Mimiko arrested many and punitively punished them.
“A lot of the farmers, irrespective of their states of origin, served varying terms in jail; some paid heavy fines and many left their crops wastefully unharvest.
“After a diligent research and report on Ondo State Government Forest Reserves in 2018, we came up with a symbiotic policy of Tangy system. With stiff adherence to all regulations that protect animals and trees, farmers are registered to farm on Ondo State Government Reserves.
“With this, if you desire land to farm, you have to apply to the Ministry of Agriculture and government, after considering your application, shall grant the considered hectares of land in which you are regulated to do your legal and legitimate farming.
“It is illegal for herdsmen to encroach Ondo State Government Forest Reserves without permission and graze on the farms, many of which will be destroyed,” he said.
State Commander of Amotekun Security Networks, Adetunji Adeleye, said the Corps would deploy the recently launched Operation Clean Up to carry out the governor’s order across the forest reserves in the state.
“What the government of Ondo State said was that government forests reserve is not meant for grazing. But if for any reason you want to use it for grazing come and obtain permit.
“Once you are not officially granted this permit, vacate within seven days. Is not that government said Hausa/Fulani herdsmen should vacate the state,” Adeleye said.