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By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, ABUJA
Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, on Wednesday, threw their weight behind Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, insisting the ultimatum he gave unregistered herders to vacate forest reserves in the state was not unconstitutional.
In separate interviews with Vanguard, the senior lawyers maintained that the 1999 Constitution, as amended, empowered the governor as Chief Security Officer, CSO, of his state, to take any action that is geared towards the protection of lives and properties in the state.
The Presidency had in a statement that was issued by Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on media and publicity, Mr. Garba Shehu, tackled governor Akeredolu, contending that he lacked the powers to issue such ultimatum to herders in the state.
Responding to the position of the Presidency, a constitutional lawyer, Mr. Mohammed Albeny, SAN, said: “Even though the constitution permits every Nigerian to move or reside in any part of the country.
“However, if a migrant becomes violent or engages in acts of terrorism as some of the herdsmen have done, the governor, being the Chief Security Officer of the State, has the power to ask them to leave.
“They can only stay so far as they are peaceful and comply with the laws of the state. The governor has every power to protect his people, both the indigenes and every other person that is resident in his state
“The Presidency should understand that Nigeria is a federation and there are powers given to the governor to protect the people and properties of the state from terrorists.
“The Presidency should realize that the governor of Ondo state is a veteran lawyer and before he issued that statement, he was well aware of the constitutional angles. So far as I am concerned, he has the power to issue the directive and the power was properly exercised.
“The governor does not owe terrorists the duty of care under our laws. These people are armed and are constantly terrorising indigenes of the state. Most of them are not even Nigerians.
“Even if they are Nigerians, whereas the Federal Government prohibited citizens from carrying arms in self-defence, herders carry arms about. Even Amotekun that is a security outfit were not encouraged to carry arms, yet herders carry arms about. Nobody will tolerate that and no law will protect such people.
“All state governors have the power to expel armed herdsmen from their states because they commit terrorist acts. Every resident of any state must subject to the law of the state.
“What the Ondo state government has done is brave and courageous. I want all other Southern governors to emulate him by asking violent terrorist groups to exit their state”.
Likewise, another SAN, Mr Paul Ananaba, said: “There is freedom of movement in Nigeria, but that freedom is not absolute. The Constitution provides for derogation of constitutional rights, for the public good.
“I do not see what is wrong with the governor taking steps to protect citizens in his state. He did not say so outside Ondo.
“FG indeed ought to have supported the governor rather than antagonising him. This is because the duty of government is to protect lives and properties.
“The governor is working within the constitutional provision that you can derogate peoples freedom in the public interest.
“Section 45 of the 1999 Constitution empowers the governor to restrict the right of movement and association to the extent of protecting the right and freedom of other persons.
“Nobody is in doubt that those herdsmen are killing, kidnapping and attacking people in the forest. I do not see why the state government should not take steps. Ideally, the FG should have sent security agents to flush out those people”, he added.
On his part, Mr. Dayo Akinlaja, SAN, said: “The governor is the Chief Security Officer of the state and he has the responsibility and binding duty to ensure that the state is secured.
“If he found it expedient that violent herders should leave the state, no law prohibits him from taking the action.
“To my understanding, the idea of asking them to come out of the forest is to ensure that the innocent ones that are doing legitimate business, are separated from the violent ones that take cover in the forests.
“I do not see anything the governor has done that is beyond his powers. The whole idea is to ensure that the forests are kept safe.
“If the presidency is doing what is expected of it, I do not see why there will be a need to flush the forests.
“We are talking about security and it should be the business of every government.
“If the presidency made everywhere secured, the directive from the governor would not have been issued.
“There is nothing untoward or illegal in what the Ondo governor has done. He is not asking them to vacate the whole state, but to come out of the forest.
“The whole idea is to smoke out those that are perpetrating evil from the forest. I see nothing wrong or unconstitutional about the governor’s directive”, Akinlaja, SAN, argued.