Plateau State governor, Simon Bako Lalong, is the chairman of the Northern State Governors’ Forum. He has been at the forefront of peace-building in Nigeria and has done a lot to restore substantial peace in his state since coming into office. He recently spoke with newsmen on some national issues.
What is your reaction to the recent developments, especially as it relates to ban on open grazing.
Well thank you very much. Just last week, I had an interview on the NTA Good Morning Nigeria programme, where myself and the chairman of the Southern Governors Forum, his Excellency Governor Akerodolu, of Ondo State also featured among other guests.
Many of the issues that are raised by Southern Governors in their Asaba Resolution are not new to us in the Northern Governor’s Forum, because we have raised them before especially particularly the issue of open grazing. On the 8 of February 2021 Northern Governor’s met in Kaduna on these issues, and raised a communiqué banning open grazing.
That communiqué led us to even move into convening an urgent Nigerian Governor’s Forum because we raised that. Again, the ban on open grazing was adopted. And we took that resolution ourselves to the president to tell him that all of us are against the open grazing, the current system of herding, mainly through open closing, which is no longer sustainable.
And in view of the growing urbanisation and the population of the country, we also resolved to aggressively sensitise herdsmen on the need to adopt new methods of herding by ranching, or other acceptable modern methods. We did not stop there at the Northern Governor’s Forum, we went ahead to start our sensitisation in the North. As I’m talking now, many of these states have already put in process, the establishment of the Ranching Law. In Plateau State for instance, I’ve sent a bill to the House of Assembly on ranching. Kaduna State is already doing that. Nasarawa is also preparing to do that, Kano is already doing that, in Zamfara they’re already doing that. So, at what point did we say we’re encouraging open grazing? We condemn that, but we also said that yes, it has to take a gradual step. And these are some of the gradual steps that we are taking, because you have to spend a lot. You have to prepare the minds of the people, so that all of them will key into it, so we don’t have an issue with that.
Open grazing has caused many problems leading to harm and destruction especially in the farmlands, where the cattle are led to graze resulting in clashes between the farmers and pastoralists. What is the lasting solution to this?
We had a solution to this, but the implementation is being frustrated here and there. You remember the introduction of the National Livestock Transformation Program (NLTP). This was introduced as a panacea.
This was introduced as a solution to the herdsmen-farmers crisis, and also to cope with this issue of movements for open grazing. A beautiful programme, which was even introduced during the time of President Jonathan. When we came into office, we adopted it with some amendments, and new governance, where we set up a committee with representatives from the six geopolitical zones with the governor of Ebonyi State as the chairman.
But the overall leader who was driving it is the vice president. I am a member of that Committee. Now, if the NLTP had been well accepted and put on ground, by now we will not be talking about this, if you look at the document itself it is very comprehensive.
Taking care of the security aspect, taking care of even the commercial aspect and taking care of the conflict aspects of open grazing, these were all considered. In addition to that, many funding organisations, international and national, were all coming in to support. But, along the line, there was a breakup because somebody coined another programme and introduced RUGA. That caused conflict, so we had to go back again to start addressing the issue. We have now come to the level where we all agree that yes, we embrace the NLTP which adopts ranching and bans open grazing.
In implementing the NLTP, what is the situation with our reserves in the country? How will it help to quell this lingering situation permanently?
If you look at the NLTP document, everything is contained in that document. We have many reserves that have been taken over by criminals and some by powerful people. But some are still available. Why can’t we take some of them and use them for economic advantages? We have many forests that we can turn them into parks. I am very happy that Plateau State is one of the beneficiaries as the Federal Government recently came out with a list of 10 reserves that they’re going to build and turn into National Parks.
Now when these reserves are put into budget, they are going to develop those places, turn them into parks, and then the states will take advantage rather than leaving them like that and then criminals coming to occupy them. Now, in addition, like I said, when you want to take advantage of these reserves, it is better to employ more of agro rangers than even ordinary security men. Agro rangers if you go to Kenya, for instance, the one that is very close to us, you see forest like that. Everything is occupied by agro rangers, people who were trained in that case, in order to protect the farmers, and even those who are going to develop the ranches, because as it is one of our reserves, is what we’re going to do to use as a pilot scheme for pilot scheme.
In that case, we’ll all need a lot of agro rangers, because they will protect the ranch, those who are interested in doing ranchers and also the farmers who are going to be farming, along with those who are engaging in the business of rearing the cattle. That is serious business.
Why does it appear that there is controversy or resistance to the issue of grazing in Nigeria, especially with the position of the Southern governors?
I think that people usually jump into conclusion without reading such communiqués. For me, as the chairman of Northern Governors Forum, when the Southern Governors communiqué came out, a lot of people were calling to ask for reactions and I said, look, many of the things that are said by the Southern Governors, are not new. At the Northern Governors Forum, we have said them ourselves. People were aware when we convened a meeting in Kaduna with traditional rulers and heads of security organisations and we came out to the communiqué. We said the issue of open grazing is no longer sustainable. All of us agreed, the Miyetti Allah, we all sat down with them. That’s why I said, its sensitisation, we went back to doing sensitisation they also accepted. If you will see the position of Macban and they will tell you we agree that this is not sustainable.
But what will the government do for us, in order to take us out of this for now? And these are the processes. Because you don’t want to push people out of any place without any lawful justification since the constitution guarantees that right. If you are a criminal, there are different ways of dealing with you. But at the same time if you are a peaceful citizen, living somewhere, it will be unfair to put it, because somebody has not committed a crime for you to ask him to leave that place. We’ve all worked against that, in the North.