The governors of the 17 states in Southern Nigeria may have to hold a meeting to deliberate on their next line of action as a result of President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration that his government was planning to revive the cattle grazing routes of the First Republic.
The Southern Governors’ Forum had placed a ban on open grazing of cattle in the south of Nigeria in their first ever meeting in Asaba, Delta State, few weeks ago, a decision they took to stop the incessant clashes between herders and farmers and to contain the killings and kidnappings often blamed on herders.
They insisted on ranching of cattle as the way forward, a position popularly supported by northern governors and the umbrella body of cattle breeders, Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) and other Nigerians.
However, President Buhari’s government had faulted the Southern governors’ position, saying it infringed on the right of herders to free movement.
The president also granted an interview to a television station recently in which he said he had instructed the attorney general of the federation, Mr Shehu Malami, to bring up the old grazing routes of the First Republic for implementation.
However, southern governors spoken to have insisted on maintaining the decision to ban open grazing, which they took at the Asaba meeting until the forum decides otherwise, while some northern governors have said they are making plans for grazing reserves.
Ekiti State government has said that it will continue to abide by the decision of the Southern Governors’ Forum on the ban on open grazing.
The state commissioner for information, Mr Akinbowale Omole, said the stance of the governors on the issue remains effective until the forum decides otherwise.
Omole said, “The decision of the Southern governors on open grazing in the region was a joint one; as such the state cannot solely make a pronouncement against it.
“You know the decision was taken after a meeting of all governors from the zone, so we will have to wait for another joint meeting to know the next thing. So, we will not act unilaterally on the matter as a state and government.”
Similarly, the Osun State governor, Adegboyega Oyetola, has said the decision to ban open grazing was a collective decision of Southern governor, therefore, the decision to reject or embrace the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to revive grazing routes as contained in First Republic gazette will be appropriately addressed jointly.
Speaking for the governor in Osogbo, his chief press secretary, Mr. Ismail Omipidan said it will not be appropriate for Governor Oyetola to solely react to an issue that concerns many states without a resolution by the parties’ concerned.
No Benue Land For Grazing Route, Ruga – Ortom
But the Benue State Government has declared its opposition to the president’s stance, saying no land in Benue State had been gazetted for grazing routes, grazing reserves, cattle colonies and Ruga settlements.
It also described the idea of reviving grazing routes of the First Republic as shocking, curious and a misplaced priority.
The state governor Samuel Ortom also asked the federal government to count Benue State out of its plan to commence rehabilitation works on grazing reserves across the country
Governor Ortom, who made his position known through his chief press secretary Terver Akase said, “We may not stop the federal government’s plan to rehabilitate grazing reserves or create cattle routes in other states, but we wish to make it clear that no land in Benue State has been gazetted for grazing routes, grazing reserves, cattle colonies and Ruga settlements.
“Based on this, I want to state categorically that Benue State is therefore not part of the grazing reserves rehabilitation programme of the federal government.
“We have been reading and hearing in the media the pronouncement by the federal government that it will soon commence rehabilitation work on grazing reserves in the country. We find the move not only shocking and curious, but also as a misplaced priority..
“At a time the country is worried about the worsening security situation and many Nigerians are calling for national dialogue to address the fundamental issues that have led to the present state of affairs, the federal government considers the reopening of cattle grazing routes as the only solution available for the country’s; this is incredible.”
According to Ortom, “It is now clear that there is a hidden agenda which only the Presidency knows. Otherwise, all the regions of the country have accepted the fact that open grazing of animals is no longer fashionable and should be banned to pave the way for ranching, yet, the government at the centre is insistent that grazing reserves/cattle routes must be created across the country in the 21st century!”
He recalled that on February 9, this year, the Northern States Governors’ Forum (NSGF) met and agreed that the current system of herding, mainly by open grazing, is no longer sustainable, in view of the growing urbanisation and population of the country, and consequently resolved to sensitize herders on the need to adopt ranching as the new method of animal husbandry.
He pointed out again that the 17 governors of Southern Nigeria rose from their meeting in Asaba on May 11, also this year, with a ban on open grazing in the entire region, equally adopting ranching as the alternative method of rearing animals.
“So, as it stands, the Presidency is the lone hand pushing for the continuation of open grazing and the return of cattle routes of 1950s and 60s. The Presidency has, by its endorsement of open grazing, emboldened armed herders who lay claim to all lands in Nigeria as belonging to Fulani, hence their invasion of farming communities and killing of original owners of such lands,” Ortom said.
The governor declared that, at present, even if the state had cattle routes, they had been taken over by airports, roads, schools, hospitals, as well as markets, houses and other human activities. Even as he noted that the country’s land mass had also reduced to less than 923 square kilometres with the excision of Bakassi to Cameroon.
Ortom said: “We, in Benue, have embraced ranching as the viable alternative to open grazing and there is no going back on our resolve. Our ranching law which prohibits open grazing is Benue people’s reaction to the incessant killings, and it is also an instrument of development.
“The law was enacted by representatives of the people in the Benue State House of Assembly, in exercise of their powers as provided by Section 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). Part 2 of the Second Schedule reinforces the power of the State House of the Assembly which provides that ‘a House of Assembly may make laws for the State with respect to industrial, commercial or agricultural development.’ The Law followed due process with public hearings and requisite opportunity for all stakeholders making input.
“We expect the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to weigh the negative consequences its recommendation will have on the unity and security of the nation and advise Mr President that Nigerians are not on the same page with him regarding the matter of open grazing. It is not too late to salvage the situation.”
The Benue State governor expressed worry over the plight of one million farmers who had been displaced as a result of herders’ attacks and are now in IDP camps, a development which is already adversely affecting food production in the state.
He said the task of returning them to their ancestral homes is what should bother the Ministry of Agriculture and other agencies of the federal government “not the other way round.”
He noted that up until now, the federal government has been unable to redeem its promise to rehabilitate and reconstruct the ancestral homes of the displaced persons in the state, so as to resettle them as promised through Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, as well as give them N10million to help them start life again, “but they have the money for cattle route.”
Akeredolu, Wike, Uzodimma Insist On Southern Governors’ Position
Governors of Ondo, Rivers and Imo states have also insisted on toeing the line of Southern Governors on placing a ban on open grazing.
Ondo State Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu yesterday declared that the governors in Southern Nigeria will not allow any form of open grazing in the region.
Akeredolu, who was reacting to the recent directive by President Muhammadu Buhari that cattle grazing routes would be restored across the country, declared that there is no going back on the decision reached by the Southern Governors at their meeting in Asaba, the Delta State capital.
Speaking through his senior special assistant (SSA) on security, Alhaji Jimoh Dojumo, the governor said open grazing remains banned in the state.
“There is no alternative to that, not only in Ondo State. Don’t make it an Ondo State issue. It is the decision of the Southern Governors and it remains.
“It is the decision reached at the Southern Governors’ Forum at Asaba. We are not going to release any grazing routes. If there is going to be an alternative, which I don’t doubt, it is not going to be open grazing,” he said.
Rivers State Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike spoke in similar vein, saying the decision of the Southern governors on open grazing and other issues must be respected.
Speaking at an event in Bori, headquarters of Khana local government area of Rivers State, Wike said those opposed to resolutions taken by Southern governors should realise that no section of the country is inferior to others.
The governor declared that he had taken further steps to fulfill the resolutions reached by Southern governors in Asaba.
Wike said: “We have taken a position and (there is) no going back. Enough is enough. We are not second class citizens of this country. We also own this country.”
On its part, the Imo State government said the first line charge of the government entails the protection of lives and property.
Chief press secretary to the governor, Oguwike Nwachuku told LEADERSHIP that no responsible government sits down and watches things going wrong without doing anything about it.
The CPS revealed that the issue of open grazing had remained a challenge in the country, especially when this practice violates the rights and privileges of the citizenry.
Nwachuku added that a situation where cattle enter into farms, destroy the crops and, sometimes, the herders engage in squabbles with the owners of the farms is most unacceptable.
He insisted that cattle grazing is a private enterprise and the owners of the cattle should find a way of engaging in their trade without posing danger to other citizens.
The CPS highlighted that what the State government is interested in is peaceful co-existence between the indigenes and visitors and will support whatever measures put in place to restore peace and order .
He stressed that the South East governors had banned open grazing in their various deliberations, followed recently by Southern governors.
The state government, he revealed, stands behind these decisions aimed at bringing lasting peace and stability.
A source at the office of the chief press secretary to Abia State governor told LEADERSHIP that open grazing became unlawful in the state following the enactment of a law against it by the House of Assembly.
Explaining that breaking of the law will attract stiff prosecution, the source added that the recent banning of open grazing by the Southern Governors’ Forum had given the law a stronger impetus.
The source, who said he was unaware of the gazette, not to talk of the content, adding that if it existed, it must have been for areas that engaged in cattle rearing, which, he was sure, Abia State was not one of them.
Insisting that the ban includes movement of cattle on foot, the source who pleaded anonymity maintained that ranching remains the best option where the land for it is available.
Taraba Open Grazing Prohibition Law Still In Place – Governor Ishaku
For his part, Governor Darius Ishaku of Taraba State has insisted that the state law that prohibits open grazing in the state is still in force and will not be repealed.
Ishaku who spoke through his senior special assistant on media and publicity, Bala Dan Habu, said the state government is making plans to implement the law across the state very soon.
“The Taraba State Open Grazing Prohibition Law has not been abrogated. We can only make it work in the state but there in no other option; that is what the people of the state want. The governor will soon implement it across the state.”
Jigawa, Niger, Plateau Intensify Grazing Reserves’ Projects
Meanwhile, some states are moving ahead with plans to implement a grazing reserve system for cattle breeders in their states.
LEADERSHIP gathered that the Plateau State Government has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with two companies to implement the controversial grazing reserve policy in the state under the National Livestock Transformation Programme of the Federal Government.
The director of press and public affairs, Government House, Simon Makut Macham, in a statement in Jos, said the companies would start operations at the Wase and Kanam Grazing Reserves.
Governor Simon Lalong expressed delight that the initiative was gradually becoming a reality after the initial setbacks occasioned by misinformation, politicisation and skepticism that drew unnecessary resistance.
He said through robust engagement, enlightenment and dialogue, the earlier fears were dispelled, leading to the acceptance of the programme by the farmers, pastoralists, and businessmen.
Governor Lalong was once quoted to have said in an interview that “Even the current Government House in Jos is built on a grazing route.”
Efforts to speak to the state commissioner of information and communication, Hon. Danmajang, did not yield any fruitful result as his mobile phone was switched off when our correspondent called for his reactions to the issue.
Meanwhile, LEADERSHIP learned that Jigawa State has over 450 identified grazing reserves and the state is ready to collaborate with federal government in developing them.
The chairman of Pastoralists/Famers Conflict Resolution Board, Hon Adamu Birniwa, stated this in an exclusive interview in Dutse, the Jigawa State capital.
He said before federal government announced its plans on the nationwide grazing reserves, Jigawa State had been working day and night for the demarcation and improvement of grazing reserves as part of the measures to tackle pastoralists/farmers conflict in the state
Birniwa added that the state had demarcated 80 grazing reserves out of which 57 had been gazetted.
He said providing enabling environment for pastoralists to conduct their trade in Nigeria is not a privilege but their constitutional right which must be granted and protected according to the law.
“We, in Jigawa State, have a committee saddled with responsibility retrieving all illegally encroached grazing reserves, Cattle Route and Water points”
“So whatever policy federal government came up with on developing grazing reserves we are ever ready to collaborate.
“Annually, federal government spends billions of naira to support agricultural development in the country. We never miss such intervention, so as well we will do everything possible to ensure that whatever policy federal government introduces for animal farming, our pastoralists will benefit from it maximally,” Birniwa said.
In Niger State, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello said the state is a trail blazer in developing a grazing reserve to meet the reality of the modern times.
Chief press secretary to the governor, Mrs Mary Noel Berje, said Niger State had begun the development of Bobi Grazing Reserve in synergy with the federal government through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
She said the grazing reserve is being developed with modern facilities like school, health centre and other social amenities that will make grazing along routes unnecessary.
The grazing reserve, she added, is a deliberate policy aimed at permanently ending farmers and herders clashes.
In Cross River State, all effort to get Governor Ben Ayade’s spokesperson, Mr. Christian Ita, to react on the issue of whether the state government is going ahead to ban open grazing or dump it for grazing routes failed as text messages and calls put across to him were not responded to.
However, when our correspondent called one of the directors at the state ministry of information and orientation, Mrs. Pauline Eba, she said she was not competent enough to speak on the issue.
She said that since the exit of former information commissioner, Mr. Asu Okang, last month, the ministry information is yet to have a commissioner who could have spoken on the issue.
Suspected Herdsmen Threaten Attack On Delta Over Okowa’s Opposition To Open Grazing
There is apprehension in Delta State especially Asaba and surrounding communities over a purported threat letter sent to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa.
The letter, discovered by residents, gave a 72-hour ultimatum to the governor to withdraw his support for the ban on open grazing or risk having the state capital attacked.
The said letter entitled “Fulani Jihadist Warning: An Open Message Of 2 Paragraphs To Delta State” was said to have been posted at strategic locations in the state capital, including at the fence of the Living Faith Church, a.k.a. Winners Chapel, at Infant Jesus Road in Asaba, the state capital.
The letter came weeks after governors of the 17 southern states at its meeting in Asaba banned open grazing of cattle in the region.
The ban was rejected by the federal government, with the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, claiming that the decision of the governors violated the rights of herdsmen to free movement.
But in the unsigned letter, it particularly threatened that Fulani Jihadist fighters will attack Asaba and Governor Okowa’s hometown of Agbor if he failed to change his position on open grazing in the state.
The letter reads in part, “This is to inform Delta state that the Fulanis of Usman dan Fodio leadership shall do everything it can to uphold the legacy of our heritage of open grazing for we are nomadic people from origination and shall never negotiate the ownership of Nigeria and West Africa and Sub-Sahara.
“We hereby demand the governor of Delta state to immediately withdraw his early stand for the call to ban open grazing in 17 regions in not less than 72 hours from the above date, and also withdraw his position as the leading voice for the governors.
“Failure to adhere to this demand, for being the host of the 17 governors, Delta state, most likely the city of Asaba and Agbor, shall encounter severe consequences than that of Borno, Kebbi, Katsina, Kaduna, Enugu, Benue, Oyo and many more that will not respect the Fulani heritage, as we take responsibility to detonate explosives uncovered in the state capital secretariat, which should serve as warning to the Delta state government for what is to come, should the governor fail to abide to our demand.”
The letter advised all Fulani and northerners, including security personnel, to leave Delta state as soon as possible.
The state government and security agencies are yet to react to the threats at the time of filing this report.