By Adebayo Obajemu
Rotimi Akeredolu, Governor of Ondo State is a lawyer and former President of the Nigeria Bar Association. He is also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, an assemblage of elite lawyers who have managed to carve a niche for themselves in the law profession, having practised for a minimum of ten years.
But it is not as a lawyer that he will be remembered by history and posterity though he is a leading light in the hallowed profession.Rather, his legacy will rest on the causes he has chosen to espouse,his fight for equity, his courage and bravery to stand for the convictions he stands for,and above all, for redefining governance in Ondo State.
Lately, Akeredolu has emerged as the most vocal voice in Southern Nigeria, and certainly one of the most vociferous voices championing the interests of the South.
However, the events of last week with respect to the PDP zoning formula which may have ceded the presidential slot to the north seems to have pull the rug under the feet of the southern governors he leads that had demanded that the position return to the south after four years in the north.
Early on, when governors were being careful to throw their hats into the ring on the incessant killing of farmers and destruction of farmlands in the South, he it was who came banging and fuming about the menace of herdsmen, when many of his colleagues, with the exception of Samuel Ortom, thought it was politically incorrect to hold strong views on the matter for fear of not offending the sensitivity of Abuja.
He had series of verbal battles and brickbats with Miyetti Allah and some Northern leaders on the matter, including Aso Rock, who through the Attorney General, AbubakarMalami, insisted that the course Akeredolu wanted to follow on anti-open grazing was illegal. But he was unfazed, and dared the federal government to go to court.
He also played a major role in setting up the Southwest regional security outfit, codenamed Amotekun to combat insecurity, kidnapping and to enforce anti open grazing law among others. He galvanized the Southern response and allegedly forced his colleagues to come out of their closet to address the matter.
Before becoming the Chairman of the Forum, the south unlike the north, did not have a common governors’ forum; instead, there were the south west and south east governor’ forums.
However, the threat from herdsmen brought the three zones in the south together, with him as the chairman. Their first meeting was in Asaba, Delta state capital in May.
His painstaking efforts paid off when the Asaba meeting was convened to discuss issues of interest to the South. The Asaba meeting was consequent on the worrisome spate of insecurity in Nigeria, as stakeholders across the country have been worried over insecurity.
The Asaba meeting, which lasted for over four hours was attended by 15 out of the 17 Governors in the region and reach far-reaching decisions aimed at tackling the deteriorating security situation in the country before it results in full-blown anarchy.
Among the decisions reached were the ban on open grazing in the South, restructuring of the country, respect for Federal Character, sanctity of the unity of the country; State Police and convocation of a national dialogue.Akeredolu read the 12-point communique issued at the end of the meeting.
The Governors in the communique “resolved that open grazing of cattle be banned across Southern Nigeria; noted that development and population growth has put pressure on available land and increased the prospects of conflict between migrating herders and local populations in the South.
“Given this scenario, it becomes imperative to enforce the ban on open grazing in the South (including cattle movement to the South by foot); recommended that the Federal Government should support willing States to develop alternative and modern livestock management systems.
“Agreed that the progress of the nation requires that urgent and bold steps be taken to restructure the Nigerian Federation leading to the evolution of state police, review of revenue allocation formula in favour of the sub-national governments and creation of other institutions which legitimately advance our commitment to and practice of true federalism.
“Recommended that in view of widespread agitations among our various peoples for greater inclusiveness in existing governance arrangements, the Federal Government should convoke a national dialogue as a matter of urgency…
“Affirmed that the peoples of Southern Nigeria remain committed to the unity of Nigeria on the basis of justice, fairness, equity and oneness and peaceful co-existence between and among its peoples with a focus on the attainment of shared goals for economic development and prosperity…
“Observed that the incursion of armed herders, criminals and bandits into the Southern part of the country has presented a severe security challenge such that citizens are not able to live their normal lives including pursuing various productive activities leading to a threat to food supply and general security.”
The forum has since held two other meetings in Lagos on July 7, and Enugu on September 14.
Many commentators have extolled the courage of the governors but worried about the possibility of fifth columnists in their midst.
Professor Hassan Saliu, eminent political scientist, says some of the governors have ambitions and they feel they need Aso Rock to actualise them, this category may not be fully with their colleagues in pursuing Southern interest.
“Ben Ayade, of Cross River, who has crossed to APC has never hidden his admiration for Buhari; I’m also worried about Ebonyi governor, Dave Umahi, and some others; when the chips are down can they have the courage of Akeredolu.
“Look at the way he has returned fire to El-Rufai on anti -razing law, how many of the Southern governors have spoken”, noted Dr. Williams Omoniyi, a public affairs analyst in his chat with this newspaper.
That was before the event of PDP zoning which saw the south divided and lost the chess game. The demand for the presidency was so angered the north prompting Dr. Baba Ahmed to rebuke the forum, insisting that the north will protect its interest to retain the position.
Of all the action taken by the Southern governors, the one has generated more controversy was the signing into law by some of these governors of the anti- grazing bill.
From when it was mooted by Akeredolu, it had come under fire from the presidency and Miyetti Allah, even though they were informed and agreed to stop open grazing and embrace ranching.
The decision of the governors was criticised by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami. He said the governors’ decision “does not align with the provisions of the Constitution, hence it does not hold water.”
“It is about constitutionality within the context of the freedoms expressed in our Constitution. Can you deny the rights of a Nigerian?”
He, however, advised the governors to work towards the amendment of the 1999 Constitution in their move to prohibit open grazing.
But he was quickly tackled by Governor RotimiAkeredolu of Ondo State, who insisted that the decision of the governors was “irreversible.”He said it was most “unfortunate that the AGF is unable to distil issues as expected of a Senior Advocate. Nothing can be more disconcerting.
He urged Mr.Malami “to approach the court to challenge the legality of the Laws of the respective states banning open grazing and decision of the Southern Governor Forum taken in the interest of their people.
“We shall be most willing to meet him in Court. The decision to ban open grazing stays. It will be enforced with vigour,” said Mr.Akeredolu, who is also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
Meanwhile, the Federal High Court, Abuja on Thursday affirmed the right of Nigerian states to implement anti-grazing laws in their domains.
The conflicts between herders and farmers have strengthened the debates around true federalism and restructuring which, among other things, will allow state governors to have control over state police.Both herders and farmers often raise allegations and counter allegations against themselves.
A former Secretary to the Government of the Federation and ex-Minister of Finance, OluFalae, has had his farms destruction and himself abducted by armed herders on his farm in Akure, Ondo State. He reportedly paid N5 million to regain his freedom.
This, among many other cases, has been reported in the past and has triggered ethnic crises in some South-west states where locals demanded the eviction of herders.Even with the creation of a regional security network code named Operation Amotekun by South-west governors, the farmer-herder crisis continues.
“It is obvious that open grazing of cattle in other people’s farms is the source of general insecurity in Nigeria. I knew herdsmen bringing their cattle from the north to be friendly but the relationship in the last 15 years…
“Before then, they don’t destroy farms but rather to sell. The moment there was pressure in the north and desert encroachment in the north, they moved to the south and carried out open grazing. Grazing is a universal activity and virtually all states of the world pass through open grazing but they left that behind centuries ago” Falae said.
Also, the spokesperson of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Emmanuel Yawe, said the group agreed with the decision of the governors.
“We have resolved that carrying of cattle all over the place is not the best. It is not the most modern and it puts herders at risk. We have already decided on ranching and in the last meeting we had with the Miyetti Allah (cattle breeders association), they also agreed with us.
Only last week, Nasir El-Rufaicriticised the Southern governors for the anti-grazing law they signed into law, saying it can’t work.But in quick repartee, Akeredolu fired back adding that the agenda of governor of Kaduna is to export terrorists to the South, and that they would not allow that to happen.
But the controversy is far from over, and the development in PDP may stoke more fire in the raging inferno. As expected, in all this Akeredolu will be at the centre of the issues concerning the south toward 2023.