From all indications, President Muhammadu Buhari is hell-bent on breaking the country. A president who is desirous of building an egalitarian society where the rule of law is supreme cannot consistently be insisting on having his way even when it is obvious to all discerning minds that the path the president is toeing is fraught with troubles that are capable of tearing the nation apart. It is not a mark of strength that a leader insists on always having his way and never caring a hoot how the people feel and yet Buhari claims he is exercising the mandate given him by the people.
Since coming to office, the president has pursued only the agenda of the Fulani cattle breeders. That he is their patron cannot explain why he insists that it is only what pleases the pastoralists that he will spend eight years of the nation’s time and resources pursuing. The country is grappling with various challenges too numerous to mention, yet the president seems to be wasting his time creating more conflicts and disputes among the people he claims to be leading. How can a president that means well be talking about a gazette of grazing reserves that is not meant for the entire nation and yet he is talking about encroachment? Is the president saying those so-called grazing reserves would also be in parts of the south or what? Is the life of the cattle of more importance to the president than human lives? Are the governors of those 25 states where these reserves are in agreement with the federal government? What is the implication of this to the Land Use Act of 1978 where authority over land is vested on the states?
President Buhari recently approved recommendations of a committee to review “with dispatch,” 368 grazing sites, across 25 states in the country, “to determine the levels of encroachment.”
The president’s directive followed his approval of the recommendations of a committee chaired by the Chief of Staff to the President, Ibrahim Gambari.
Among others, the committee had recommended the collection of field data on 368 Grazing Reserves across 25 states to assess encroachment and encroachers, stakeholder engagements and sensitization.
The committee also recommended production of maps and geo-mapping/tagging of sites, analysis of findings and report preparations as well as design appropriate communication on Grazing Reserves and operations.
The president directed that the assignment be undertaken with dispatch to bring more understanding on the Grazing Reserves, and implementation.
Members of the committee included, Governor of Kebbi State and Vice Chairman, National Food Security Council, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu; Governor of Ebonyi State and Chairman of NEC Sub-Committee for National Livestock Transformation Plan, David Umahi; Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu; Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono; Minister of Environment, Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar and Deputy Chief of Staff, Ade Ipaye.
The Technical Sub-Committee consists of representatives from the seven members of the main committee in addition to representatives from the Ministry of Justice, Surveyor General of the Federation, National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA) and National Space Research Development Agency (NASRDA).
Among its Terms of Reference, the Committee was to collate from states and confirm the status of all Grazing Reserves, assess the percentage of available land and those with existing encroachment complications for case-by-case resolution in partnership with state governments and the FCT.
The committee will also make recommendations for gazetting of ungazetted Grazing Reserves and create a database of National Cattle Herders and ensure that Grazing Reserves are well communicated to all stakeholders.
Recall that the 17 state governors of the south and some governors in the north have said they do not have land for open grazing and therefore want the idea jettisoned. To the presidency, these governors are just wasting their time. What the president understands about federalism is a centre that sits at the federal capital territory in Abuja makes recipes for destruction, unceasing conflicts, unrestrained killings and confiscation and occupation of people’s ancestral lands and possessions. That’s the sole reason the nation has remained in turmoil for the over six years of Buhari’s administration. All Buhari thinks this nation deserves for entrusting our common patrimony and destiny in his care as president is to bequeath the nation a seed of discord after leaving office, which is what open grazing regime represents.
Meanwhile, the statement through which the directive was announced, issued by Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity Garba Shehu, did not disclose the identities of the concerned 25 states.
With confusion surrounding the identities of the 25 states, various state governments, particularly those in the southern part of the country, have come out to declare that they would not allow grazing reserves in their territories.
The 17 southern states are: Delta, Ekiti, Rivers, Edo, Ogun, Oyo, Lagos, Bayelsa, Abia, Enugu, Ondo, Ebonyi, Anambra, Imo, Akwa Ibom, Osun and Cross Rivers.
In the wake of Buhari’s directive for review of the grazing reserves, Chairman of the South-South Governors Forum and Delta State governor Ifeanyi Okowa, on August 20, pointed out that grazing reserves were not allowed in the southern states, most of which had already passed anti-open grazing laws.
Southern groups, including Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere and the Southern Nigeria Frontier, have also kicked against the plan to revive grazing reserves in the country.
Benue State governor Samuel Ortom, who has been leading the campaign against open grazing after series of attacks by armed Fulani herdsmen led to the death of hundreds of Benue indigenes, said Buhari deliberately concealed the identities of the 25 states where the said 368 grazing reserves were located.
“The Federal Government craftily concealed the names of the states where Mr. President has ordered that grazing reserves be foisted on the people,” Ortom said in a statement issued by his Spokesman Terver Akase on August 20.
But Ortom insisted that no part of Benue would be allocated for grazing reserves or cattle routes.
“There is no gazetted land or cattle route in Benue State. Our state should be counted out of the proposed grazing reserves programme,” the governor said, adding: “If President Buhari must actualise his cattle agenda in Benue State, he should be ready to kill all of us. We know that grazing reserves and cattle routes are the only project that the President has for Nigeria, but Benue is not interested in such a project.”
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.
Going by the August 19 directive, Buhari intends to gazette hitherto ungazetted grazing reserves.
Sadly, while the rest of the nation remains worried, the presidency has continued to attack those opposed to this archaic approach to animal husbandry. They insist in their wisdom that the same open grazing which led to conflict between farmers and herders which led to the enactment of the grazing reserve law of 1965 by the northern Nigeria legislative assembly, will provide solutions to the entire nation with more population and after close to 60 years.
Shehu’s attack on Ortom was absolutely unnecessary, uncalled for and in total disrespect to the person of the Benue governor. As the chief law officer of his state, the governor must at all times do what he considers best for the people that voted for him, the same way the president appears poised to set the entire nation on fire just to find comfort for herders and their cattle even where their actions are against global best practice.
If the presidency continues to look for scapegoats in Gov Ortom, how do they explain the killings on the Plateau, the north east and north west, are they all attributable to Ortom’s opposition and ban of open grazing?
Has the presidency ever wondered whether or not Gov Ortom has the blessing of his people or not? At this age and time more serious governments are thinking of ways of making lives more comfortable for the people through provision of good housing and health facilities, rather we are perpetually wasting precious time on cattle and their comfort.
In a federation, all the federating units must be consulted before laws or policies which affect all are made. If the presidency means well the identities of these states should be known to all. Keeping it away from public glare is only postponing the doomsday.