Director-General of Progressives Governors Forum, PGF, Dr. Salihu Moh. Lukman, has staired Nigerians to realise that the current spate of kidnappings in different parts of the country has put the country in a precarious situation that demands urgent stiffer measures to arrest.
Lukman stated that any Nigerian that is not disturbed by the high rate of kidnappings, banditry and other similar crimes in the country is directly or remotely involved in the crimes.
Decrying the ongoing “divisive debate” in the media that trailed the recent face-off between Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State and Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media, Mallam Garba Shehu, on the activities of kidnappers in Ondo State, Lukman said Nigerians needed to wake up to the reality that preventing or arresting criminal activities such as kidnapping and banditry cannot be achieved by massaging our ethnic and religious sentiments. 
He argued that these criminal activities can hardly succeed without the collaboration of community and religious leaders, adding that there were also strong allegations of even collaboration of security officials.
Lukman cautioned that such criminalities should not be trivialised along ethnic and religious fault lines and warned those who engage in divisive debate along ethnic and religious fault lines on the face-off  between Akeredolu and Garba Shehu to desist from such as it will only distract our leaders from being able to summon the courage to tackle the real problem while the bandits continue to wreck havoc on the people.
 He stressed that the country needed to forge stronger national unity  to be able to initiate the kind of reforms, which can produce the expected outcomes. 
“In addition to forging stronger national unity, we should include the issue of stiffer sanctions for both the criminals and their collaborators, much more than what is provided in our current laws. There is no reason why we should not consider the introduction of death penalties for both the criminals and their collaborators, for instance,” he averred.
Speaking on the backdrop of the recent statement issued by His Excellency, Rotimi Akeredolu on Monday, January 18, 2021 asking herdsmen to vacate Forest Reserves in Ondo State within seven days as well as banning night-grazing with immediate effect, the PGF DG said though the objective of the Ondo state government which was well articulated, was to ensure that the forest reserves in Ondo State are disallowed from being used as hideouts for kidnappers, bandits and other criminals, but was misconstrued.
He also said the response to the statement of Governor Akeredolu by Mallam Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media & Publicity), on January 19, 2021, is generating all manner of debate, which is completely at variance with the intended objective announced by Governor Akeredolu. 
“The debate also completely departs from Mallam Garba Shehu’s ‘call for restraint on both sides and urge the state government and the leadership of Fulani communities to continue their dialogue for a good understanding that will bring an urgent end, the nightmarish security challenges facing the state.
In a statement released by Lukman on Thursday and made available to news men in Abuja, he said, “No Nigerian, or indeed any rational person, irrespective of nationality, can oppose this laudable objective of the Ondo State government. Mallam Garba Shehu wouldn’t have disagreed with the objectives as expressed in the statement of Governor Akeredolu. But somehow, from all the media debate going on, this is hardly the case.
“Since the release of the statement by Mallam Garba Shehu, the usual divisive politics has been activated. Afenifere, Arewa, Christian groups and many Nigerians are engaging the issues, sadly in ways that may only compromise or distract our leaders from being able to summon the courage to ‘reform, modernise and move our nation forward’. Ensuring that Forest Reserves, and indeed all forests, not just in Ondo State but in every part of the country are prevented from being used by kidnappers, bandits and all criminals, which as Mallam Garba Shehu correctly indicated should be given every urgency given the ‘nightmarish challenges’ it poses. This calls for courage on the part of our leaders to be able to initiate any viably effective reform.
“Without therefore attempting to pass any judgement on our leaders, one would have wished that in the first place, Governor Akeredelo, rather than issuing a public statement on the matter, invite the leadership of Miyetti Allah and all other groups and directly engage them on strategies of enforcement of initiatives to secure all Ondo State forests, including the ban on night grazing. In which case, what may likely come to the public should have been agreement between Ondo State government and the groups on matters of implementation of reform initiatives.
“On the other hand, if Ondo State government was unable to engage groups and its decision to initiate reform as announced by Governor Akeredolu portend the possibility of violating provisions of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended, given the powers of the Federal Government, rather than a public statement of caution by Mallam Garba Shehu, one would have rather recommend that the appropriate agency of the Federal Government invite the Governor, discuss the matter and agree on the best way to achieve the laudable initiative of the Ondo State government and accordingly inform Nigerians about the way forward. To make a public statement of caution suggest some disagreement between the Federal Government and Ondo State government about the desirability of reform as announced by Governor Akeredolu, which is not likely the case.
“Every time spent debating in divisive terms on problems of criminality in the country, which doesn’t discriminate our identities, means lost opportunity to contract or mobilise implementation of agreement. In fact, it may even mean some levels of protection for the criminals as all public attention is diverted away from the criminals to engaging the false issues of what our identities represents. In the particular case of the intended reform to secure Ondo State Forest Reserves as announced by Governor Akeredolu, since the commencement of the unhealthy debate about whether it means expelling Fulani groups from Ondo State, every specific initiative in the proposal may have been suspended. It is most likely that no direct discussion has taken place between Ondo State government and Federal Government. This will then mean that rather that exploring areas of stronger collaboration between the state government and Federal Government, we have inadvertently created some dichotomies, real or imagined.
“The easy temptation is to politicise the debate. Luckily, on this matter, both Ondo State and the Federal Government are controlled by the APC. This simply confirms the liberal atmosphere in APC. APC controlled state government is not constrained to disagree with APC controlled federal government. Put differently, APC controlled federal government is not shy from publicly disagreeing with initiatives of APC controlled state government. On a matter as grave as the issue of kidnapping, banditry and other criminal activities, it will not be treated in APC as a family affair when it affects APC controlled state government but differently with state governments controlled by other parties,” the statement reads in parts.

 


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