Again, Southern govs, others tackle Buhari over grazing sites’ order



  • We’ve already passed anti-open grazing laws, say governors

Again, Southern state governors, including those of Delta, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa; Benue, Samuel Ortom; Rivers, Nyesom Wike; and Ekiti, Dr Kayode Fayemi, on Friday, tackled the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), over the order to review with dispatch 368 grazing sites in 25 states across the country.

Diverse southern groups, including Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere; Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze; and the Pan Niger Delta Forum, also launched a heavy pushback against the President’s order.

The Southern governors and groups expressed shock at the decision of the Federal Government to go ahead with the plan to review the establishment of grazing sites across the country despite the stiff opposition to it by the people of Southern Nigeria.

Seventeen southern governors, under the aegis of the Southern Governors’ Forum, had on May 11 met in Asaba, Delta State capital, to deliberate on the prevalent insecurity and other issues affecting the region.

In a 12-point communiqué after the meeting, dubbed the Asaba Declaration, the forum, chaired by Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), resolved that open grazing of cattle be banned across Southern Nigeria.

The governors said the incursion of armed herders and bandits into the southern part of the country had presented a severe security challenge such that citizens were no longer able to live their normal lives.

Hence, in their communiqué, they resolved that open grazing of cattle be banned across Southern Nigeria, decrying the increased killings and rape of women perpetrated by armed herdsmen in the region.

“Given this scenario, it becomes imperative to enforce the ban on open grazing in the South (including cattle movement to the South by foot),” the governors declared.

Southern Nigeria comprises the states of Ondo, Osun, Ekiti, Oyo, Ogun, Lagos, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu, Imo, and Rivers.

Eight weeks after their meeting, the 17 state governors again met in Lagos on July 5 to reaffirm their stance on the Asaba Declaration after a wave of criticisms by the Presidency, Senate President Ahmad Lawan, and the Attorney General of the Federation/Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.

However, unbothered by the southern governors’ opposition to the revival of old grazing routes or sites, President Buhari on Thursday approved the recommendations of a committee to review with dispatch 368 grazing sites in 25 states in the country to determine the levels of encroachment.

The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu, disclosed this in a statement titled, ‘President Buhari approves review of grazing reserves in 25 states.’

Buhari’s directive was after his approval of the recommendations of a committee chaired by his Chief of Staff, Prof Ibrahim Gambari.

Among others, the committee recommended the collection of field data on 368 grazing reserves across the 25 states to assess the level of encroachment and encroachers, stakeholder engagements, and sensitisation.

The committee also recommended the production of maps and geo-mapping/tagging of sites, analysis of findings and report preparation as well as the design of appropriate communication on grazing reserves and operations.

The number of the grazing reserves and states was deduced from considerations of existing security concerns and other pre-existing socioeconomic conditions.

The President directed that the assignment be undertaken with dispatch to bring more understanding to the grazing reserves and ensure their implementation.

The inaugural meeting of the committee was held on May 10.

However, the Chairman of the South-South Governors’ Forum and Delta State Governor, Okowa, resisted President Buhari’s decision and subtly reminded him that governors had the authority over the lands in their states.

Okowa, who spoke through the state Commissioner for Information,  Mr Charles Aniagwu, said the state House of Assembly had already passed into law the anti-open grazing bill into law.

He said, “We are in a country of law and the law has given governors the control of land in their states. The governor is the one who gives the Certificate of Occupancy to every individual and allows them to have full ownership of the land.

“We are convinced that very soon, the Federal Government will begin to have a rethink, knowing well that it is not legal for Mr President to be the one to map out land in the states.”

Also, in a scathing remark on Friday, Benue State Governor, Ortom, stated that the Buhari regime had turned the country into a “cow republic.”

Ortom said with the latest move, it was crystal clear that President Buhari was planning to plunge the country into a crisis.

The governor, who likened the Buhari regime’s approach to security to the Taliban agenda in Afghanistan, said that the regime had placed more priority on the welfare of cattle than on the citizens.

Ortom, in a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase, said, “In a country where insecurity has reached an all-time high with hundreds being killed by armed herdsmen, bandits and other terrorists, the Presidency is only bothered about animals and their safety and is deploying all machinery and arsenals of government to impose grazing reserves and cattle routes on Nigerians. This is unacceptable!”

The governor added, “It is now clear that the Presidency wants to plunge the country into an avoidable crisis. Otherwise, what is the justification for President Buhari’s insistence that grazing reserves be established across the country when Nigerians have openly kicked against the policy and have embraced ranching in place of open grazing?”

Ortom stated that the President was only flogging a dead horse on the issue of grazing reserves, saying the people of Benue State were ready to lay down their lives to reject the programme.

He said, “What is the difference between the Buhari administration’s approach to insecurity and the Taliban agenda in Afghanistan? It is now evident that the government at the centre prioritises the welfare of cattle over human beings and is bent on taking Nigeria back to the pre-colonial era with some snippets of society.

“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 projects that the President has for Nigeria, but Benue State is not interested in such a project.

“It is hypocritical for the Presidency to support and fund ranching in Katsina State and turn round to impose grazing reserves on other states,” Ortom added.

Also, Rivers State Governor, which passed the Anti-Open Grazing Bill into law on Thursday, said by the passage of the bill into law, its position on the Federal Government’s grazing sites was already clear.

“The position of the Rivers State Government is clear on this issue,” the state Commissioner for Information, Paulinus Nsirim, said.

Likewise, Ekiti State Governor, through its Commissioner for Information, Mr Akin Omole, said the state had yet to receive any official communication from the Federal Government on any subject relating to the review of grazing sites but stressed that the position of the law on who controls lands in states was clear.

“The position of the law is crucial in all things. What is the position of the law under the Land Use Act? What is the position of the Federal Government? We have to reconcile all these things,” Omole said.

Bayelsa State Governor, Mr Douye Diri, had also recently declared that there was no grazing route in the state and the entire Ijawland, describing cattle grazing route as a strange practice in the state.

“I personally do not know any cattle grazing route in Bayelsa State. I am not countering Mr President; maybe they have cattle grazing routes in the North, but here in Bayelsa State, we do not have cattle grazing routes,” he said, adding that the state House of Assembly already had in place anti-open grazing law, which had been assented to by him.

“So, the issue of cattle grazing route is strange to us in this part of Nigeria. Even when they started bringing cattle, they were bringing it for sale, not to graze. We were made to understand when we were young that cattle cannot survive in our area because of a particular insect called tsetse fly and our terrain,” Diri stated.

Meanwhile, the Ondo State Governor said he would await the details of the recommendations on the review of the grazing sites before reacting.

“We won’t react until details of the recommendations and other ancillary issues around the subject are made public. For now, it’s rather premature to react; it’s still fluid,” the state Commissioner for Information, Mr Donald Ojogo, who spoke on behalf of the governor, stated.

The Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, said it was shocked by the antics of the Federal Government regarding the issue of cattle rearing and open grazing, wondering why the Buhari regime had always been bent on giving privileges to herders.

The group said Nigerians had already kicked against the issue of revival of grazing sites and asked the Federal Government to backtrack on it.

The group’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr Jare Ajayi, said, “First, the government came up with the issue of Rural Grazing Area and when it met stiff opposition, they came up with another plan. Now, they are talking of grazing sites. Why are so much energy and resources being spent on cattle herders?

“To the basis of our knowledge, we are running a capitalist system of economy, which means anyone who is rearing cattle or is into poultry or fishery is an entrepreneur. Why should the Federal Government insist on being the champion of cattle rearers? It’s surprising that people hiding under a supposed democratic regime is against what many Nigerians have kicked against as epitomised by the decision of the Southern governors?

“Even in the Middle Belt, they have also kicked against it. This means that the majority of Nigerians are not with the Federal Government on this. It is not fair, and to us in Afenifere, it is a sign that this country is going far into dictatorship, which does not spell good for the country.”

Ajayi said the review of the grazing sites was out of place and not in tune with the spirit of federalism. “It is not too late for the government to backtrack on the move,” he said.

Meanwhile, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, as well as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome, have advised states to invoke legal action against the Federal Government should it try to impose the establishment of grazing sites on them.

Ohanaeze spokesperson, Chief Alex Ogbonnia, said Nigeria was a federal state and as such could not impose any programme on states without their consent.

“Nigeria is a federal system and by federalism, the implication is that each state has a right to accept or reject open grazing of cattle,” he said.

In a situation where the Federal Government might want to impose its policy on a state, Ogbonnia said, “It becomes a constitutional matter.”

“So, it is through constitutionalism that it (the policy) will be addressed in court. For me, it will be tested in court if the Presidency decides to impose its will on the states that say no,” he added.

Also, Ozekhome urged the unwilling states to resist the move by the Federal Government through state legislation and joint action.

He advised their attorneys general to invoke the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to air their complaints.

“The unwilling states should boldly resist the move both through state legislation and joint action against the Federal Government.

“Their attorneys general should invoke the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to ventilate their grievances,” he stated.

Meanwhile, the Youth Wing of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, in a statement vowed to resist any imposition of “cattle colony” in any part of the South-East.

The statement was titled, ‘We will resist the imposition of cattle colony in Igboland,’ and signed by the Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Youth Wing, Chika Adiele.

Adiele insisted that cattle rearing was a personal enterprise and should be treated as such.

“It is an invitation to anarchy to insist on creating cattle colonies as events of the past years have left trails of blood and sorrow over the illegal activities of Fulani pastoralists across the length and breadth of our nation,” he said.

“We strongly condemn any attempt to impose on us cattle colonies against our wish. Therefore, we call on President Muhammadu Buhari to rescind his decision on this obnoxious policy,” he added.

Similarly, the Southern Nigeria Frontier, in a statement on Friday signed by its spokesperson, Mr Olufemi Lawson, said the review of the 368 grazing reserves in 25 states was another move “in a series of desperate attempts by the regime to impose the infamous RUGA settlements system for Fulani herdsmen across the country.”

The group said, “While we have an unshaken belief in the non-existence of any grazing reserves in the 17 Southern states of Nigeria under the control of the Federal Government, it is imperative to ask the Federal Government, once again, how and when it gazetted the lands in the said 25 states because we are very sure of the powers, given by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, to the governors of the various states, as far as the administration of lands within their territories is concerned.

“This latest Freudian slip from the Presidency and the desperation to hijack lands belonging to states for grazing reserves signposts a dangerous attempt to deploy federal might to harass the federating units in a desperate bid to promote the interest of one ethnic group over those of over 350 other ethnic nationalities across Nigeria.”

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