A seething rage is trailing last week’s directive of President Muhammadu Buhari to a committee to reclaim old grazing routes, with Nigerians kicking against the move and warning that the move could court a civil war.
This new move is coming three months after the Southern states have commenced signing laws prohibiting open grazing in the 17 states of the region following their meeting in Asaba, Delta State, on May 11 and some days to the September take-off of the anti-grazing laws in the Southern states.
This, notwithstanding, the Federal Government has continued to tinker with the unpopular policy as it frantically repackages the failed 2017 Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) policy.
It was repackaged as the 2019-2028 National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) in 2019 as a child of circumstances due to RUGA’s widespread rejection. Two years after the introduction of NLTP, the package is currently described as the Livestock Intervention Programme (LIP), and part of it is reclaiming the old grazing routes.
Ahead of the September 1 target date, the anti-open grazing laws have become operational in Ogun, Abia, Oyo, Ekiti, and Ebonyi. Rivers, Osun, Bayelsa and Ondo, which have signed legislations, while Delta, Akwa Ibom and Enugu have sent bills to their state Assemblies. A few of the states like Anambra, Cross River, Imo, Edo and Lagos are yet to begin legislative process on the bill.
What has now stirred the hornets’ nest is a statement released on Thursday, which unveiled President Buhari’s moved to revive 368 grazing reserves in 25 out of the 36 states in the country by approving recommendations of a committee chaired by his Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, to review, ‘with dispatch’, 368 grazing sites to determine the levels of encroachment, stakeholder engagements and sensitisation.
The statement did not disclose the 25 states where the purported grazing sites were located, but it is expected that states that reportedly agreed to RUGA after unprecedented uproar against the policy will be among the 25 states. They include Sokoto, Adamawa, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Kogi, Taraba, Katsina, Plateau, Kebbi, Zamfara and Niger.
It is also speculated that Kwara, Ekiti, Oyo, Ogun and Ebonyi are included in states where efforts are already on to reclaim grazing routes.
Some officials in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, when contacted at the weekend could not disclose the identities of the concerned states.
Checks at other ministries represented in the committee headed by Gambari, which advised the President on the review of the grazing reserves, also failed to offer any clue on the identities of the 25 states. The ministries include: justice, water resources and environment.
But an official in the Ministry of Justice explained that the identities of the 25 states would likely be made known when the committee concluded the review directed by the President. The official suggested that the statement issued by the presidency to announce the review would have disclosed the identities of the 25 states if it was necessary at the moment.
The Gambari-led committee had its inaugural meeting on May 10 but its activities were not publicised until the Presidency on August 29 announced that President Buhari had, based on its recommendations, directed a review of the controversial grazing reserves.
But in a recent report, Director of Department of Animal Husbandry Services at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Winnie Lai-Solarin, had said there were 415 grazing reserves in Nigeria. According to Lai-Solarin, the 415 grazing reserves were located in 21 states, with 141 of the grazing reserves gazetted. Out of the 415 grazing reserves, only two are in the South, one each in Ogun and Oyo states.
Lai-Solarin noted that Nigeria’s grazing reserve law, known as the National Grazing Reserve Law, was passed in 1965. The then Northern Nigeria Legislative Assembly had, in 1965, enacted the Grazing Reserve Law to provide legal grazing rights and land titles to pastoralists, particularly Fulani herdsmen, as a response to tensions between the herdsmen and farmers.
YESTERDAY, Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, again restated his disagreement with the President’s directive when he threatened to drag President Buhari to court should he insist on going ahead with any policy that will support open grazing or grazing reserve in the country.
Ortom, who spoke with newsmen after arriving Makurdi from Asaba, where he attended the burial of the father of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, insisted that under his watch, the state will never accept open grazing.
While maintaining that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria supercedes the Northern Nigeria Law that provided for grazing reserves, the Governor said the state government will not accept the policy, insisting that he would rather stand with the NLTP.
Governor Ortom wondered why the President has continued to insist on open grazing, which had been banned in Benue since 2017. “The truth is that if the entire country had accepted ranching, why is Mr. President insisting on open grazing when there is no land for such.
“In the 50s, when this policy was initiated, what was the population of Nigeria, it was less that 40 million, but today we are more than 200 million. The 923 square kilometer is not even enough to cater for the population. The reason Mr. President is insisting on this, to some of us, I think shows there is a hidden agenda.
“Under my watch, Benue State will not accept open grazing. I have already briefed my lawyers should Mr. President insist on going ahead with the policy,” Ortom stated.
The Governor stated that the Land Use Act is clear on the issue of land ownership and management, stressing that any attempt to subvert his right as a Governor through creation of nonexistent cattle routes would be resisted with a legal action.
He called on aides of the President to advise him properly on issues so that things would work better for the country, pointing out that insisting on cattle routes in the 21st century when states are enacting ranching laws was retrogressive.
Governor Ortom stated that already, there is serious food crisis in the country due to insecurity and if nothing is done to curtail the trend, the situation would get worse in the coming years.
“Farmers have been chased into IDP camps by herders and children are dying of starvation in addition to being denied education, yet what is more important to the central government is the wellbeing of cows. We expected the pitiable condition of displaced people to be the preoccupation of the Federal Government but it is sad that what the Presidency is interested in is grabbing land for cows,’’ the governor maintained.
SENIOR Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, has said the Federal Government should give a special allocation of N6.25 billion to other states in the country as it was given to Katsina State for the establishment of ranching in the state.
Falana, who is the Interim Chair, Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB), said the reciprocal gesture is expressly stated in the Constitution that the people of Nigeria shall have equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law.
He made this known in a statement issued to newsmen in Lagos yesterday, where he recalled that President Buhari approved the sum of N6.25 billion for the immediate establishment of ranching in Katsina. He explained that President Buhari has adopted ranching to replace open grazing in line with the NLTP.
“Since what is good for the goose is good for the gander, we call on the President to approve the allocation of the same sum of N6.25 billion for every other State Government for ranch development purposes. This demand is in consonance section 17 (1) of the Constitution, which stipulates that the people of Nigeria shall have equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law.”
The human rights activist, therefore, urged the Federal Government to jettison the planned implementation of grazing reserves in 25 states since the Northern Governors Forum and the Southern Governors Forum have rejected open grazing and adopted the NLTP of the Federal Government. He added that the Federal Government has no business reviving grazing reserves.
OHANAEZE Ndigbo, yesterday, urged Southeast governors to actualize their resolve to ban on open grazing. In a statement in Abakaliki, the Secretary-General of Chidi Ibeh-led faction, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, noted that no governor would take the risk of donating lands for grazing reserves in Igboland to Fulani herdsmen without facing curses of Ndigbo.
The statement reads: “We beseech the Southeast governors to suppress the temptation of giving up their stance on open grazing ban for President Buhari’s approval of the 368 grazing reserves in 25 states. We hope that no Igbo governor will sabotage this verdict, as it won’t go without sanctions.”
Also, the Coalition of Yoruba Self-determination Groups have called on the international community to hold the Federal Government responsible if anarchy breaks out in Nigeria over the approval of 368 grazing sites across 25 states of the federation. This was contained in a statement made available to The Guardian in Ibadan, Oyo State capital, yesterday, by the Secretary-General of the Coalition, Steve Abioye.
Abioye said the development is part of the agenda of Buhari-led administration to allow the Fulani dominate other parts of the country.
“They first started with cattle colony it was widely condemned, later they introduced RUGA, we said it was not proper, now the contention is about grazing route. Even if there will be anything of such, let it be restricted to the North. Our governors in the South have met and spoken, setting September as the takeoff of anti-open grazing law and we stand by them. The international community should hold the Federal Government responsible if this position eventually leads to anarchy in Nigeria.”
An Associate Professor of Criminology at the University of Alberta, Joint Editor-in-Chief of African Security and Special Adviser on Police Act Review, Government of Alberta, Canada, Dr. Temitope Oriola, said the latest attempt by the Federal Government to reclaim cattle routes in modern-day Nigeria amid widespread rejection of open grazing contradicts common sense.
He said: “President Buhari’s move defies logic in many ways. First, it suggests he is prioritising the lives of cattle over human lives and wellbeing.”
Oriola also said such a move would complicate legislative and legal tussles, arm conflicts and secession agitations across the country.
“Second, he is heating up the polity at a period of existential threats to Nigeria from multiple quarters. In other words, he is creating further divisions in Nigeria. Third, the move has negligible positive impact on agriculture in the 21st century given the obsolescence of transhumance.”
Another academic, a grain-breeding specialist at the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR&T), Obafemi Awolowo University, Ibadan, Prof. Samuel Olakojo, said the Federal Government should have consulted widely with traditional rulers and governors rather than issuing a directive to impose open grazing.
Olakojo listed reasons open grazing is unacceptable as “the Federal Government has no land in any state. Two, the law gives right to control land to governors. Third, these same governors have enacted laws against open grazing. Four, cattle rearing is a private business like crop farming: operators of such a business should buy land for that purpose from family or community willing to sell.”
He added that while other players in agribusiness were taking loans from banks, the government wants to use public resources for private businesses of a particular set of people, asking, “Where is equity in this matter?”
Implications on agriculture, he said, would include hunger, high level of unemployment, lower contribution of the sector to GDP, crashed economy and food insecurity of Nigeria would be aggravated.
“Further implication is that Nigeria will continue to import food crops for which it has comparative advantage to produce, thereby depleting the foreign reserves. Anarchy appears looming in the nation, where youths have no jobs, masses have no food to eat, insecurity is becoming a big challenge and our currency is again losing strength daily,” Olakojo added.
HOWEVER, President of the All Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Mr Ibrahim Kabir, said: “I believe it is not an invitation to anarchy but an attempt to re-establish grazing routes and grazing reserves to mitigate the farmer/herder clashes that arise from the animals of the pastoralists straying into farmlands that encroach their traditional routes and help retrieve those grazing reserves people converted to farmlands and physical structures.
“It will mitigate incessant conflicts between farmers and herders, which together with many other factors, threaten the attainment of food sufficiency in the country. It will, therefore, help Nigeria’s agriculture greatly.”
Oyo State chairman of AFAN, Mr Olumide Ayinla, suggested that cattle ranches could be developed by Fulani herdsmen in their states of origin, and that the government resources should not be committed into private businesses.
“If the government wants to allocate land to animal husbandry, poultry, fish, pig and goat farmers should benefit too,” he said.