Nigerian forests have become the hideouts of criminals including intinerant foreign herders stoking ethnic crisis and killings in the country, Ogun Gov. Dapo Abiodun, said at the weekend.
He has, therefore, urged the federal government to take urgent steps to rid the nation’s forests of criminals, who are using it as base to launch attacks on hapless citizens.
Abiodun said this while speaking to State House correspondents after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
He said: “These forests that we now see that are places that continue to harbour criminals, we must do something about it.
“We know there are people that live in the forest legitimately, but there are so many people that live in those forests illegitimately. We must definitely do something about those forests.
“These are some of the things that we found to have aided this violence and escalated it and we believe that if the right steps are taken, we can manage the situation and we can live together as brothers and sisters, as we’ve always lived for so many years.”
The governor called on Serikis (local northern traditional leaders in the South) to keep registers of farmers to prevent undesirable elements from infiltrating their ranks.
“We’ve enjoined all our serikis and our farmers to keep a list of those that live on their farms in registers so that when strangers come in, they will know who are strangers amongst them.”
On the porous nature of the borders, Abiodun wants the federal government to initiate steps to secure the nation’s borders to prevent influx of foreigners who engage in criminals activities and escape into their countries.
“It is our hope that the federal government will also now look at how to better secure our borders so that people don’t just cross our borders, cause crimes and run away,” he said.
Abiodun blamed the rising tensions in the state on ethnic profiling of criminals, noting that people in the state find it difficult to distinguish between peaceful Fulani herders and criminal cattle rustlers.
“I must say that the Fulani have lived with us in Ogun State for hundreds of years. The Seriki Fulani from that particular corridor speaks better Yoruba than I do because his father was born there.
“Part of the problems we realised we had was ethnic profiling, criminals are criminals and criminals abound everywhere. There are criminals in Yoruba land, there are criminals in Igbo land, there are criminals in the Niger Delta, there are criminals in the north and we see that even in the north, in the northeast, in the north-central, we see that there are criminals activities.
“The governor of Niger State spent a night with me, by the time he got back to Niger State, 50 people had been kidnapped and we cannot be profiling them based on ethnic grounds and be saying, ‘oh the Fulani have kidnapped Fulani or Hausa men in Niger.’
“Our people have had a problem with drawing a line between peaceful Fulani people, who are traditionally herdsmen, and bandits who are cattle rustlers, who will steal cattle, take the cattle to farmlands belonging to people, attack them.
“Now farmers and indigenes now carry out counter attacks against innocent people that have been living with us
“We rose up from that stakeholders meeting with a few conclusions, one of which was to form a joint stakeholders committee that comprises Fulani, the herdsmen, the farmers and government.
“That has since been put in place. That committee is going to be sworn in, I think sometime this evening.
“We made available pickup trucks, motorcycles, telecoms equipment, for the joint security patrol team to further strengthen security along the areas where these incident had occurred in last few weeks.
“I will like to say that my colleagues further demonstrated their commitment by actually donating to all sides; to the farmers and to the Fulani community,” the governor explained.
He also lambasted a section of the media, particularly, the social media, for heightening ethnic tensions in the country through unverified and sensational reports.
“Again, we notice that our media houses have not particularly been helping us. Social media have become such that people are quick to send messages around on WhatsApp or on Instagram of things that are not true.
“So many messages are being shared and sent around, some of them, we’ve seen that they are videos of places that are not even Nigeria.
“Some videos are videos of incidences that occurred last year. We have people that are quick to share these videos around and this is causing disaffection amongst our people.
“We don’t have any other country but this country. It beats me why anyone would be in such a hurry to spread fake news and news that can immediately cause a problem between us and our brothers from different parts of the country.
“We don’t have any other country but Nigeria. We must be responsible in journalism. Yesterday, we rose from NEC, resolving that there must be stiff penalties for people that are propagating fake news because fake news is threatening the unity of this country.
“And I want to implore you who are traditional journalists that we must be responsible in reporting things. We must try and report news as accurately as we can. I appreciate that you want to create sensation. That is how you sell your newspapers and your TV advertisements and all that, but we cannot threaten the security of the country. This is a national security issue.”
“So, I came to brief the president on what I just shared with you, that right now, we’re enjoying relative peace, we intend to sustain that peace,” he said.
Also commenting on President Buhari’s response to his briefing, Abiodun said: “I must say that the president was very impressed with how we’ve dealt with the matter.
“He particularly commented that the steps we’ve taken are steps that he has always recommended; that we must have the joint stakeholders’ committee that has farmers, herders, traditional rulers and government and that this committee should meet like once a month.”