By Eric Elezuo
At two separate meetings held in May and July 2021 in Asaba and Lagos respectively, 17 southern governors unanimously agreed to ban open grazing in their states in a bid to curb growing insecurity in the region. Their action, however, appears to put a clog in regards for President Muhammadu Buhari, who particularly, is against such moves having proposed the RUGA alternatives as well as the resuscitation of the long abandoned grazing routes.
President Buhari had given his directive on revival of grazing routes while fielding questions during an Arise Television interview. The directive has met with diverse reactions among state governments across the country.
Buhari had said that approval had been given for the reclamation of grazing routes as a way out of the perennial farmer-herders conflicts. This directive, stakeholders have noted, was rooted in the First Republic concept in which there were designated routes where herders moved cattle in different parts of the country.
The move generated mixed feelings among Nigerians. While some, mostly from the northern parts supported the move, which they said would end the protracted farmer-herder clashes, governors, socio-cultural groups, farmers and other stakeholders from the south opposed it.
However, the governors, many of whom are of All Progressives Congress (APC) extraction, the president’s party, threw caution to the winds, deciding to toe the line of the region. Some of them have harboured a feeling, justifiably though, that Mr. President is either not capable of the confronting the insecurity in the region occasioned by the marauding herdsmen or he is completely nonchalant of the deadly situation. This stance tended to declare a ‘to your tents O Israel’ situation among the 17 states that make the southern region.
The group had therefore, given itself till September 1, 2021 to pass and sign into law every machinery required to ensure that open grazing is forbidden in the region. This will put paid to the grazing route proposal by the president, a move most analysts wondered why the president should even mute the idea, seeing that time and development have overtaken the matter.
But reactions trailed the southern governors resolution from many quarters including the presidency and Fulani groups.
A Fulani group, Gan Allah Fulani Development Association, warned against the decision of the Southern governors to ban open grazing in their states.
It explained that a ban on open grazing in Southern states would lead to a breakdown of peace between Northerners and their neighbours from the South.
The group described the resolution as unfortunate and capable of affecting Nigeria’s unity.
The group’s National Secretary, Ibrahim Abdullahi, described the resolution as unfortunate and capable of affecting Nigeria’s unity, adding that it was impossible because they have not made an alternative plan for herders.
He stated that the decision of the governors would promote hatred between Southerners and Northerners.
“If you stop open grazing in the South, you are simply saying that those people should move to the North or they should move to other parts of the country. What happens if those in the North also ask the Southerners to leave?
“Are we promoting unity or hatred? What the governors are saying is practically impossible and it does not promote the unity of this country.
“You don’t stop people’s means of living and expect peace to reign. So, the implication is that the unity of Nigeria is going to be in question.
“You don’t expect those that will be affected to return to the North and live in peace with people from the South living in the North.”
As the matter raged, President Buhari, through his media aide, Garba Shehu, responded as follows:
PRESIDENT BUHARI OKAYS DEEP ROOTED SOLUTIONS TO HERDSMEN ATTACKS, CLEARS WAY FOR RANCHING AND REVIVAL OF FOREST RESERVES
President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed a strong resolve to address the conflicts of herders and farmers in a sustained and lasting manner that should lead to the emergence of a permanent solution to the frequent clashes between them, as well as the associated problem of the gun-wielding “killer herdsmen.”
The President had approved a number of specific measures to bring a permanent end to the frequent skirmishes as recommended by Alhaji Sabo Nanono, the Minister of Agriculture in a report he submitted and the President signed off on it back in April, well before the actions of the Southern Governors Forum which attempts to place a ban on open grazing and other acts of politicking intended by its signatories to demonstrate their power.
It is very clear that there was no solution offered from their resolutions to the herder-farmer clashes that have been continuing in our country for generations.
But the citizens of the southern states – indeed citizens of all states of Nigeria – have a right to expect their elected leaders and representatives to find answers to challenges of governance and rights, and not to wash their hands off hard choices by, instead, issuing bans that say: “not in my state.”
It is equally true that their announcement is of questionable legality, given the Constitutional right of all Nigerians to enjoy the same rights and freedoms within every one of our 36 states (and FCT) -regardless of the state of their birth or residence.
Fortunately, this declaration has been preempted, for whatever it is intended to achieve and Mr. President, who has rightly been worried about these problems more than any other citizen in consultation with farmers and herders alike, commissioned and approved an actionable plan of rehabilitating grazing reserves in the states, starting with those that are truly committed to the solution and compliant with stated requirements.
With veterinary clinics, water points for animals, and facilities for herders and their families including schooling – through these rehabilitated reserves, the Federal Government is making far-reaching and practical changes allowing for different communities to co-exist side-by-side: supporting farmers to till their fields, herders to rear their livestock and Nigerians everywhere to be safe.
The entire country is acutely aware of the strain the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on public finances, for both Federal and States. Still, given the pressing urgency of addressing the perennial challenges, the federal funding for the project that has been delayed is now being partly unlocked. Actual work for the full actualization of the modern reserve system in a few of the consenting states should take off in June.
As a federation, stakeholders watched to see if the president would dare the governors under his command, especially those of them under the winnowing broom of the APC, to take a stand against his administration. But unfolding situations have shown that it was the governors, who dared Buhari.
In addition, the socio-cultural group, Miyetti Allah Kauta Hore, said they will not recognise anti-open grazing policy, describing it as ‘satanic’. The herders said the anti-open grazing policy taking off September 1 had been overtaken by events, even as they declared their support for the Federal Government’s plan to revive grazing reserves, grazing routes and facilitate ranching in all the states.
National secretary of Miyetti Allah, Saleh Alhassan, said members would not recognise any anti-open grazing policy in the country. “Nobody can do anti-grazing policy in Nigeria, where we are constitutionally guaranteed the right of movement and occupation,” he said.
But Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State took the bull by the horns, calling the bluff of Mr. President, Muhammadu Buhari, when he suspended all activities in Ondo State forest reserves. He followed it up on the twilight of August 2021 with the signing into law of the Anti-Grazing Bill passed by the State House of Assembly.
A statement his Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Donald Ojogo, released to newsmen noted that “the move is in line with the resolution of the Southern Governors’ Forum at its last meeting in Lagos where September 1 was set as the deadline for governors in Southern Nigeria to sign the Anti-Open Grazing Bill into law.
“This is worthwhile and a very laudable development aimed at stemming needless instances of skirmishes, conflicts as well as infractions on the enviably peaceful disposition of the good people of Ondo State,” the statement said.
Explaining the import of the new law across the 18 local councils of the state, Akeredolu, who is also the Chairman of the Southwest Governors’ Forum, said: “For emphasis, no particular group of persons is the target. While it is the hope of government that all residents would take an ample advantage of this law to enhance our socio-economic well being in Ondo, compliance of same shall be given the utmost attention.
Oyo State, on its part, said it has passed the anti-cattle grazing bill into law since 2019, though it still experiences skirmishes with implementation as herdsmen move freely in some parts of the state unrestricted.
Due to this development, some commuters said the road is still a dangerous route at night owing to activities of armed herdsmen, an indication the law, which was indeed passed, does not have the force of implementation.
Enugu State residents had given explicit support and approval to the State House of Assembly to enact the anti-open grazing law in the state.
During a public hearing on a “Law to prohibit open grazing, regulate cattle ranching and for connected purposes,” organised by the Joint Committees on Judiciary, Agriculture, Public Petitions, Ethics and Privileges and Youths, Sports and Culture of the state Assembly, the people stated that enacting such law would not only restore peace, but security of farmers and residents.
Herdsmen under the aegis of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders’ Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) and the Hausa community in the state said Northerners in the state were for anything that would ensure safety and peaceful coexistence.
Leader of Northern Community in Enugu and Sariki Hausawa Enugu, Alhaji Yusuf Sambo, as well as Chairman of MACBAN, South East Zone, Alhaji Gidado Siddiki, said the one month period would enable them articulate their position on the said law.
The resonating effects of the ban have echoed in the north as well, as some Northern states have also taken firm decision. The Katsina State government, among other states, has banned the transportation of cattle from the state to any part of the country.
This was contained in a statement signed by Abdu Labaran, Director General, Media to the state government. The ban is part of efforts to improve security in the state and is backed by the Security Challenges (Containment) Order signed into law by Governor Aminu Bello Masari.
The order also bans trucks/lorries carrying firewood from the bush and the sale of animals at the markets of Jibia, Batsari, Safana, Danmusa, Kankara, Malumfashi, Charanchi, Mai’aduwa, Kafur, Faskari, Sabuwa, Baure, Dutsinma and Kaita local councils.
In the same vein, Niger State Governor, Abubakar Bello, has suspended the operation of cattle markets across the state. This was communicated in a statement signed yesterday by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Ahmed Matane, which stated that it was part of measures to address security challenges in the state.
The directive is expected to take effect from today. “Any vehicle carrying cattle into the state must show way-bill and evidence of the origin where the cattle were purchased and their destination,” the statement added.
It also noted that the state government had banned the sale of petroleum products in jerry cans or any other containers at filling stations. “All filling stations should not sell petrol of more than N10,000 to each vehicle at a time and should be wary of vehicles or motorcycles coming for repeat purchases,” the statement read.
The pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, In a communiqué, lauded governors for their resolution against open grazing, calling on them to intensify efforts in deployment of Amotekun operatives, hunters and vigilantes.
“We hear that the head of Miyetti Allah said they will not recognise the law passed by our states and that our governors will never be able to enforce those laws. We will enjoin the governors to ensure that the laws are enforced. If they have the capacity to tell us that the laws passed by our own parliaments in our own various states will not be enforced, we will say Yoruba people will support the governors to ensure the laws are enforced and we assure them that the Yoruba people will support the governors to enforce the laws,” the communiqué read.
While most states in the north have commenced process of reclaiming lands for cattle grazing route, the southern states including some northcentral states like Niger have remained adamant, insisting on total ban to open. Most of them have followed it up with legislative process leading to enactment of laws.
The Niger State Government in a statement by the Secretary to the Government, Alhaji Ahmed Ibrahim Matane, said ranching and grazing reserves would be the best solution for cattle farmers, saying that reopening grazing routes might be difficult because of the level of development in the country.
“We believe that if we are adopting the ranching system, in the long run, there would be no need for grazing routes.
“We should also be mindful of the fact that most of the routes are now farmlands; most of them have been taken up by towns, villages and communities as a result of development.
Frowning at Buhari’s grazing route concept, Akeredolu, who is also the Chairman, Southern Governors Forum, said: “Would you say that where the Deji of Akure’s palace is now is a grazing route and we have to remove it for a grazing route? We can’t do that now. Things are changing and there has to be a paradigm shift.”
Speaking for the Southeast region, the Vice President of Ohaneze Ndigbo worldwide, Chief Damain Ogene Okeke, said there was no grazing route in the South-East, and so there is nothing to resuscitate
“There is no grazing route in the South-East. The president should be interested in restoring the glory of the country instead of talking about grazing routes,” he said.
Most residents knocked Buhari saying that the demand for the recovery of grazing routes suggested that the president had interest in the activities of the Fulani across the country.
The Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) rejected open grazing and movement of cattle as an archaic practice that had become untenable in contemporary Nigeria.
“Everything about this presidency indicates that it is not nationalistic. The conduct and actions of this administration have been largely parochial and sectional.
“We will continue to aver that nepotism under the Buhari administration has caused more problems for Nigeria than anything else,” the group said through its spokesman, Ken Robinson said.
Daily Trust quoted Hameed Ajibola Jimoh, a lawyer, as saying that grazing routes were not the same as freedom of movement, adding that grazing is not under the exclusive legislative list and concurrent legislative list, but under the residual legislative list.
“This gives grazing powers to state governments. The federal government can only make grazing laws and control same as it concerns the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja and federal lands within states, but not on state governments’ lands as distributed under the Land Use Act.
“The taking over of grazing routes in states infringes not only on the autonomy of states and powers of governors, it affects their sovereignty and violates federalism as a democratic principle, except as it relates to the FCT, Abuja and federal lands within states.”
Another lawyer, E.M.D Umukoro said: “The answer is simple. The law known as the Grazing Reserve Law of 1965 provides for grazing and grazing routes. However, this law is only applicable to northern Nigeria.
“Therefore, the applicability of the directive of Mr President is for only the northern states of Nigeria.
“It must also be added that it is the responsibility of the attorney-general and other legal minds within the government to advise Mr President on legal issues.
“The spokesperson of the Senate has been reported to state that there is no grazing act in Nigeria, so it will be ultra vires for the powers of the president to give such directive,” he said.
Analysts have proved variously that the issue of grazing does not occur on the exclusive list, and so, way beyond the purview of presidential powers. Consequently, Buhari has no right to legislate on grazing matters. They maintained that it appears on the residual list, and as a result, only state governors can legislate on it.
So will Buhari dare the governors, and go beyond his constitutional powers, thereby causing constitutional crisis.
Time will tell!