I read the story with some disbelief, praying that it will soon be rebutted and denied as one of those social media stunts. But alas! The police authorities in Ondo State later confirmed that Chief Olu Falae was indeed attacked in his farm around Oba Ile area of Akure, by suspected herdsmen. How could this happen, with such bravado, for the herders to set parts of the farm on fire, destroy the crops and hope to get away untouched? Not long thereafter, the tension was stoked again with the cold-blooded murder of Mrs. Funke Olakunrin, daughter of Pa Fasoranti, frontline statesman and prominent Yoruba leader. And as if these were not enough, we woke up one day to learn that a frontline Pastor of the Christ Apostolic Church and Deputy Registrar of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, was killed by men masquerading as herdsmen. Then the unthinkable happened, when a first class traditional ruler, the Olufon of Ifon, was gunned down on the expressway, whilst the criminals eloped into the Ogbese forest. It was then clear to all, not the least the people of the South West of Nigeria, that something had to be done, urgently.
Generally speaking, land belongs to God, from the perspective of the holy scriptures, where it is stated that the land and all that are in it, are owned by God. God has however been generous to put man in charge of the land, while man has in turn put the government in charge, to hold the same in trust for the people. This is the purport of the Land Use Act, which is now protected by the Constitution, being one of those special laws inserted into the Constitution to protect them from undue amendments or outright repeal. Land comes in several categories, most of which is virgin land not occupied physically. Between 1985 and 1989, I joined my Uncle to traverse the length and breadth of Ogbese River, abutting the expansive but rich Ogbese Forest, in search of timber, for commercial exploitation. Since my Uncle dealt at length with the Forest Guards, I had to follow him to attend most of the meetings, during which I became familiar with the workings and operations of the Forestry Departments, in Ondo, Edo, Delta, Ogun and Lagos States.
Perhaps unknown to herdsmen and the Presidency, there is an existing law in Ondo State, enacted as far back as 1st February, 1938, for the creation, preservation and control of virgin forests in the State. That law has created some layers of ownership and control of forests in Ondo State. The government of the State, has by that law, reserved certain forests for the cultivation, growth and preservation of timber and rubber, in certain locations within the State, with restricted access to members of the general public. At certain stages of development, some of these forests are handed over to the authorities of the local government in their domain and at times, the host community. But in all cases, the forests have been acquired by the government and christened Forest Reserves. The Ogbese Forest Reserve is one of the largest and richest in Nigeria. It is very massive indeed, spanning over several hectares of land, making it an easy target for criminal-minded elements as a suitable location and hideout, to plan and execute criminal actions of robbery, kidnapping, etc.
Ogbese Forest Reserve is very rich in vegetation, given that no one is permitted to farm or cultivate therein without the express permission of the authorities, granted in writing. Under and by virtue of section 45 of the Forestry Law of Ondo State, whoever uproots, fells or otherwise damages any protected tree of over two feet in girth, commits an offence and is liable upon conviction, to be sentenced to a fine or imprisonment or both. The same goes for illegal grazing and trespass. In some portions, Ogbese Forest Reserve shares its boundaries with Edo State, around Owan area, Ofenitebe Village and some other locations, along the very narrow but violent Ogbese River, which has been left to feed the reserve. That river flows down from Owan area to Nikrogha, Gelegele and other towns in Edo State, criss-crossing Ekiadolo, Iguobazuwa and other locations. We do normally wait for the rainy season when the river is full and flowing, trailing along with the current for the movement of logs to Nikrogha where they are rafted together and towed to Lagos State with a tug boat. So, from personal experience, I know that Ogbese Forest Reserve is very massive and rich in vegetation. It is very difficult to traverse the entire forest, even in a whole week, which is why it is easy for criminals to convert it to their hideout. But the fact is that it belongs to the State government, at least by law.
So it was that the governor of Ondo State, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu, handed down a seven-day ultimatum to all herdsmen to vacate all the forests of Ondo State or face prosecution. Is His Excellency entitled to this notice? By law, yes. Section 12 (2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) makes the security and welfare of the people of Ondo State the primary focus of his government. This means that security and welfare should be the basic pursuit of the government of Ondo State. The Forestry Law of Ondo State has reserved all forests in the State and they are thus excluded from private ownership or individual acquisition. Whereas section 43 of the 1999 Constitution allows every citizen to acquire and own land in any part of the Federation, such acquisition or ownership can only be done in line with due process of law, such as buying land from communities or the government, but certainly not for herdsmen to jump upon land and then occupy it, without the consent and authority of the appropriate authorities.
How and why did Akeredolu return? The Governor has a date with history, given his background, generally. He is a product of Great Ife, that is University of Ife, (now Obafemi Awolowo University), where the spirit of Aluta – progressive students’ unionism, was born in him. He carried this into his private legal practice, by identifying with the masses and the less privileged, deploying his resources to secure justice for the poor and vulnerable. Akeredolu built a massive building in Ibadan, where he offers free accommodation for new lawyers, to start their legal practice to enable them find their feet and later stand on their own. Then he extended his influence to the national politics of the Bar, when he was elected the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA. Without doubt, he re-ignited the Alao Aka-Bashorun era of progressive Bar leadership, as he was a no-nonsense President, always speaking truth to power. And true to his origin, Akeredolu is from Ondo State, where the masses resisted successfully, an attempt to impose a governor on them in 1983, when common eggs turned to fire and rockets, to burn houses and even guns and bullets. He was domiciled in Ibadan, the headquarters of Yoruba politics. And he is from Owo, if you know what I mean.
So when he became the Governor of Ondo State, the expectations from him were high indeed. But as a typical politician with his eyes on the second term, His Excellency maintained the politics of diplomacy. But that did not stop him from launching the Amotekun Security Network in his State, as was earlier done by his fellow Governor, Ayodele Peter Fayose, some years back. Against all odds, Governor Fayose signed into law, the anti-grazing law of Ekiti State and proceeded to implement it. Some herdsmen who tested his resolve were rounded off, tried and promptly convicted. That sent the right signal to the marauding herders, who thereafter embraced the law and have been at peace with the people of Ekiti. It is gratifying that Governor Kayode Fayemi has sustained that momentum, for the good of the people. It is no news that Governor Akeredolu enjoyed the backing of the Presidency to secure his second term in office, through constant visits to and consultations with Aso Rock Villa. So, many of us began to watch him, to see his reaction to the spate of killings being perpetrated by herders in his State. And he responded courageously, by issuing a 7-day quit notice, for them to vacate the forests of Ondo State.
Without proper legal consultations, the Presidency responded with a statement that showed its contempt for the principle of federalism, in seeking to control the Executive Governor of an autonomous State, created by the Constitution. For good cause, forestry is within the concurrent list in the Constitution, the consequence of which is that only States can legislate on it, as has been the case in Ondo State, with the enactment of the Forestry Law of 1938. Thus, from the point of view of law, Governor Akeredolu was perfectly entitled to enforce the extant provisions of the Forestry Law of his State, being the chief security officer thereof. In the absence of a valid permission by the government of Ondo State, herders operating in the forest reserves of the State did so illegally, as trespassers. What they are entitled to is a seven day notice to quit and cease from further acts of trespass. What the herders should do is to approach the appropriate State or Local Government authority in charge of their location, to negotiate the terms of occupation and use of land.
That process will acknowledge, recognize and define the roles of the parties to the agreement, the location, duration and terms of occupation, as well as penalties for breach. It is such lawful acquisition that is envisaged by section 43 of the 1999 Constitution, not compulsory acquisition of land by force, which is prohibited under section 44 of the Constitution. So, it is gratifying that Akeredolu has indeed returned, daringly and resolutely. He should sustain the momentum, embrace dialogue when offered and leverage that to determine the parameters of the activities of herdsmen in Ondo State. Other Governors should now take a cue from Akeredolu, to save their people from criminals, murderers, rapists, kidnappers and thieves, hiding under a banner of grazing, to wreak havoc on the natives. So, I say welcome back, Aketi.
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Two Catholic priests Kidnapped In Edo
The abduction of two Catholic priests, Rev. Father Udo of St, Patrick Catholic church Uromi and Rev. Father Philemon Oboh of St. Joseph Retreat Center Ugboha, was confirmed on Sunday by Edo State Police Command.
The priests were abducted along the Benin-Auchi Road on their way back to Uromi in Esan South-East Local Government Area of the state.
In a statement on Sunday, the Police Public Relations Officer of the state, SP Chidi Nwabuzor, confirmed the abduction of the reverend fathers.
The statement read: “This is to confirm the kidnap of two Catholic Rev. Fathers; Rev. Fr. Udo Peter of St. Patrick Catholic Church Uromi and Rev. Fr. Philemon Oboh of St. Joseph Retreat Center, Ugboha in Esan South East LGA of Edo State.
“The Edo State Police Command was informed of the incident by the Divisional Police Officer, Ugboha, Edo State, that on Sunday, July 3, 2022, one Rev. Father Amos Abhulimen of St. Dominic Catholic Church Ugboha, reported that he was informed by the Catholic authority via WhatsApp that the above-named Catholic Rev. Fathers were attacked, kidnapped and taken to unknown place by some kidnappers along Benin-Auchi Expressway between Ehor and Iruekpen Communities.
“Immediately, the Commissioner Of Police, CP Abutu Yaro, dispatched policemen to the area to carry out aggressive and well coordinated manhunt in arresting the kidnappers as well as rescue the Rev. Fathers unhurt,” the statement added.
A Catholic priest popularly known as Rev. Father Christopher Odia was Kidnapped last Sunday at Ikabigbo Community, Etsako West LGA and was later found dead after few hours in the bush.
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Court Jails APC Senator Seven Years For Fraud
The Senator representing Delta North Senatorial District at the National Assembly, Peter Nwaoboshi of the All Progressives Congress (APC) , has been sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment.
The Court of Appeal in Lagos on Friday also ordered that the senator’s two companies, Golden Touch Construction Project Ltd and Suiming Electrical Ltd, be wound up in line with the provisions of Section 22 of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2021.
The court’s ruling was delivered in an appeal challenging the judgment of Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke of the Federal High Court which on June 18, 2021, discharged and acquitted the defendants on two counts of fraud and money laundering. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which arraigned him however challenged the lower court’s decision.
EFCC had arraigned the three defendants over the acquisition of a property named Guinea House, Marine Road, in Apapa, Lagos, for N805 million.
Part of the money paid to the vendor – N322 million transferred by Suiming Electrical Ltd on behalf of Nwaoboshi and Golden Touch Construction Project Ltd – was alleged to be part of proceeds of fraud.
Earlier in his judgment, Justice Aneke said the evidence of the prosecutor “proved that the third defendant obtained a loan of N1.2 billion from Zenith Bank to purchase additional equipment and as provision of working capital”.
“It also proved that the loan of N1.2 billion together with interest of N24 million was properly granted to the third defendant .Nothing else was proved by the complainant or prosecutor in this case,” the EFCC quoted the judge as saying in a statement.
The high court judge was also quoted as claiming that a fatal blow was dealt to the case of the prosecution by its failure to call officials of Sterling Bank “to testify and probably tender exhibits F and F10. Consequently, he discharged and acquitted the defendants”.
However, ruling on the EFCC’s appeal on Friday, the Court of Appeal held that the trial judge erred in dismissing the charges against the respondents.
“The court said the prosecution had proved the ingredients of the offence and consequently found the defendants guilty as charged,” EFCC said.
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Drama In Court As Lawyer Appears In Priestly Attire
By John Michael Ojo
There was a mild drama today at the Okpoko Magistrate Court in the Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra State, as a lawyer simply identified as Ogbachalu Goshen appeared before the court in a pastoral robe.
But Ogbachalu who was standing before the magistrate, CB Mbaegbu, was denied hearing on the ground that he was not properly attired, leading to a minor incident in the court.
However, citing a recent Supreme Court’s judgment which supported the wearing of hijab by female students in public schools as a reference point, Ogbachalu reminded the court that it was his right to dress in his priestly attire as he was an ordained pastor and that the objection by the court to hear him, was an infringement on his fundamental human right as enshrined in section 38 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
The magistrate however disagreed his submission which only forced the court to dismiss.
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