President Muhammadu Buhari drew flak from across the country on Friday following his approval of the recommendations of a committee to revive 368 grazing sites in 25 states.
The first salvo came from Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State who declared the grazing sites recovery plan unacceptable.
He accused the Presidency of seeking to turn Nigeria into a ‘cow republic’ through its grazing reserves policy.
The Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, all vowed in separate statements not to cede an inch of land in the South-south, Southeast and Southwest for grazing purpose.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) also called for caution on the part of the federal government.
Ortom, who is well known for his long standing opposition to open grazing in his state, wondered why the Presidency “is only bordered about animals and their safety and is deploying all machinery and arsenals of government to impose grazing reserves and cattle routes on Nigerians” at this time when “insecurity has reached an all-time high with hundreds being killed by armed herdsmen, bandits and other terrorists.”
The governor, in a statement through his Special Adviser on Media Terver Akase, said the latest move could plunge the country into crisis.
He said: “The Buhari administration has turned a blind eye to the unimaginable levels of encroachment on lands belonging to Nigerians by cattle. Mr President has never come out even once to condemn the activities of herdsmen and the attacks they visit on innocent people.
“The only time the President is heard speaking about atrocities of the herders is when he defends them.
“It is now clear that the Presidency wants to plunge the country into 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?”
He said “millions of Nigerians have been displaced following attacks by armed herders and are currently suffering in IDP camps” with Benue State alone, according to him, having “over 1.5 million displaced people with thousands living in camps and many more forced to flee their ancestral lands to stay under dehumanizing conditions in open fields.”
He added: “The Buhari administration does not seem to be worried about the food crisis already ravaging the country. 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 their President is the wellbeing of cows.
“We expected the pitiable condition of the displaced people to be the preoccupation of the President whom they voted in 2015 and 2019. It is unfortunate that the people’s genuine show of love, trust and votes for Mr. President are being rewarded with hate, cruelty and dictatorial policies aimed at grabbing their lands to donate to herders and cows.
“We challenge the Presidency to name what it has done to alleviate the plight of those displaced by herdsmen in Benue and other states since 2018.
“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 a society where in the words of Thomas Hobbes, life has become ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’.
“The country has been turned into a cow republic by the present administration and the basic principles of equality, justice, fairness and equity which engender peace and suppress anarchy are non-existent.
“President Buhari has refused to prove wrong those who accuse him of being a Fulani President. He has instead proven that he indeed belongs to somebody.
“But Buhari is not the first Fulani man to be President of this country. Nigeria had Presidents Shehu Shagari and Umaru Yar’Adua who were also of Fulani ethnicity but were Presidents for all Nigerians and treated citizens of this country fairly and equitably.
“Our country has never been more divided on ethnic lines and sentiments as it is under President Buhari who was thought to be the most prepared to lead the country at this time. Under President Shagari and President Yar’Adua, Nigerians were not chided by a horde of presidential spokesmen and social media hirelings for simply expressing their views on government policies.
“Perhaps Mr. President is not aware that most of the northern states, including his home state Katsina and the entire southern states have unanimously rejected open grazing of livestock and approved ranching.
“The Presidency is therefore whipping a dead horse on the issue of grazing reserves. 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 also did not spare the President’s advisers.
He said of them: “Those saddled with the duty of advising Mr President have apparently failed in their responsibility. They ought to have told the President that though grazing reserves existed in some parts of the country before independence, there have been several reviews and laws which, in addition to the years of social and infrastructural development as well as population growth, have superceded and rendered the reserves null and void.
“Additionally, the Land Use Act provides that governors are the custodians of all lands in their states. The Federal Government has no constitutional right to appropriate lands for itself or anyone else for that matter without the approval of state governors.
“Nigeria is practising democracy; not despotism or feudalism. The President is obligated to listen to the yearnings of the people and lead according to the constitution. Leaders are elected to solve problems, not create more problems for the people.
“Nigeria is grappling with numerous security and economic challenges that should ordinarily worry the President. The Federal Government introduced the National Livestock Transformation Plan, NLTP and Nigerians accepted the policy. Why has the Buhari administration dumped the programme and opted for grazing reserves and cattle routes? That is the question agitating the minds of discerning Nigerians who suspect foul play.
“The Federal Government’s posture has emboldened armed Fulani herdsmen who go about maiming and killing innocent Nigerians. That the government has turned deaf ears to calls for the licensing of responsible Nigerians to own sophisticated weapons is another pointer to a hidden motive.
“We also read the President’s comments yesterday at the National Security Council meeting where he threatened to sack Security Chiefs for what he termed failure to tackle insecurity in the country. Why won’t the Security Chiefs fail when the body language of the Commander-in-Chief points to a clan of sacred cows who must be spared and given protection to perpetuate evil?
“How will the Security Chiefs succeed when their formations are not well funded and the troops are left to confront terrorists who have superior weapons? Why will the military commanders be decisive when those who kill their personnel and other Nigerians are given preferential treatment on the pretence of “repentance”?
“We hope that Mr. President was misquoted. But if indeed he made the statement attributed to him, he was not being fair to the security agencies.
“President Buhari’s spokesman Femi Adesina once asked Nigerians to choose between holding onto their lands or losing their lives. What is happening now is confirmation of that threat from the Presidency. They introduced Cattle Colonies, Ruga and National Water Resources Bill but Nigerians rejected all the policies. The latest push for grazing reserves and cattle routes is surely the final onslaught against majority of Nigerians who must be deprived of their God-given lands to accommodate foreign herdsmen moving into the country for the occupation agenda.
“Governor Samuel Ortom has repeatedly stated that there is no land for grazing reserves or cattle routes in Benue State. Though the Federal Government craftily concealed the names of the states where Mr President has ordered that grazing reserves be foisted on the people, we wish to categorically state that no part of Benue will be allocated for grazing reserves or cattle routes!
“The stand of the Governor is not personal; it is the collective decision of Benue people. There is no gazetted land or cattle route in Benue State. Our state should be counted out of the proposed grazing reserves programme.
“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.”
No one in Southwest will give land for cattle – Afenifere
The Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, dismissed moves to revive any grazing sites the Southwest.
Leader of the group, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, said no one in the geo-political zone will cede his land for grazing.
“This man (Buhari) is just stubborn, stubborn. Nobody! We are not going to cede our land for grazing,” he told The Nation on the phone yesterday.
Asked what would happen if the Federal Government insists on seizing such land, Adebanjo retorted: “Which government? The government does not have any right on our land, and the governors would not give our land for grazing.”
In a separate statement on the issue, the Secretary General of Afenifere, Sola Ebiseni, said President Buhari was just wasting scarce resources on a programme that lacks all conceivable growth capacity.
The Afenifere scribe described the policy on grazing reserves as the implementation of a script by the Fulani intelligentsia.
His words: “We recall and support the Resolutions of the Nigerian governors, particularly from the South of the country, banning all forms of open grazing, and it does not matter to us that some elected governors, in a federation, would condescend so low to functioning as members of a committee presided over by an appointed aide of the President, no matter the name in which his office is painted.
“The concept of Grazing Reserves, otherwise known as Hurumi, which was introduced during the colonial and immediately after independence failed in the north, particularly in the Middle Belt provinces, notwithstanding a monolithic one North government and permissive land use regime.
“For the umpteenth time, let the President be told that the constitution which he reveres relentlessly and the Land Use Act which derives equal force therefrom extol the majesty of the people over their land.
“Even the governor who holds the land in his state in trust for the people cannot dispossess any citizen thereof, except for proven overriding public interest through the due process of law.
“The current exercise is not only a waste of tax payers’ money, it is a sweet pipe dream in a fool’s paradise. Every herder has a state of origin. Let the governments of the respective states make arrangements for settled life for them in the territory where the culture is fully appreciated.”
PANDEF, Ohanaeze: ‘Our people have no land to release for grazing’
It was the same song of no land here for grazing from the South-south and the Southeast.
The Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) representing the Southsouth and and Ohanaeze Ndigbo for the Southeast vowed that no inch of land in the two regions would be ceded to the Federal Government for the purpose of grazing cattle.
Spokesman of PANDEF, Hon Ken Robinson, in a telephone interview on Friday, said: ”Our simple response to that is that there are no grazing reserves in the South-south. No grazing reserves at all to be reviewed.
“No inch of South-south land would go for grazing reserve. Cattle rearing is a business. If anybody wants to go into cattle rearing, the person should see it as a business. Do they reserve fishing reserve for us in the north? There is no grazing reserve in the South-south. That is our position.”
Öhanaeze Ndigbo’s spokesperson, Alex Ogbonnia, said: “Ohanaeze’s position is that Igboland does not have land for grazing. Every land in the Southeast is owned by God, people and shrines. I don’t understand what you mean by grazing reserve. Ohanaeze’s position on this is no.
“Nigeria runs a federal system of government. Many houses of assembly have passed bills against open grazing and some of them have been signed into law. I am sure that in some states where the open grazing law has been signed is in operation.
“Even in the northern region there are some states that have banned open grazing. If the Federal Government wants to impose its will on the states, that is where constitutionalism comes in. I am sure some states will resist.”
‘It’s meant to arm-twist southern governors over grazing ban’
A faction of Ohanaeze Ndigbo interpreted the federal government’s directive as a response to the recent ban on open grazing by Southern governors.
It said it was meant to arm-twist southern governors to reverse the ban.
Secretary of the faction, Okechulwu Isiguzoro, asked the Southeast governors to resist any attempt to make them change their stance on open grazing ban.
He also warned Southeast governors that they would be taking a huge risk if they donated land for grazing.
He said: “Ndigbo will not condone further obnoxious policies from the Federal Government aimed at helping the enemies, especially the murderous herdsmen, to erect a” TALIBAN STATE” in southeastern Nigeria.
“Southeast governors’ forum had in the past given the region’s verdict that there are no available lands for grazing reserves or Ruga in anywhere in the East.”
“So we hope that no Igbo governor will sabotage this verdict, as it won’t go without sanctions.
We can’t trust President Buhari – Igbo group
Another Igbo group, Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF), said it did not believe Buhari was taking the action in the best interest of Nigeria and the majority of Nigerians.
Its spokesman, Abia Onyike said: “Approving grazing reserves is not the solution to the attacks on farmers by herdsmen. The federal government knows the problem.
“Herders have been grazing their cattle for decades without any confrontation with the farmers. The question is why did they start attacking farmers and villages with guns and machetes?
“As far as we’re concerned, there’s no problem between herders and farmers. Rather, it is hegemonists and their blood-letting herdsmen that are killing innocent people in their farms, raping hapless women and using their cattle to graze in those areas without any form of control.
“There’s nothing like herdsmen/farmers crisis. When they say it like that, they just give impression that farmers are also causing trouble.
“The farmers are in their various localities and these people come and visit them with war and terror.
“We’re saying that the federal government is not doing anything about it.
“We don’t trust the president because most of his actions have been in favour of his ethnic group. Our suspicion is that the President is not doing this for the interest of the entire country. Let him discuss this in the 12 core northern states.”
PDP urges caution
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) called for caution over the president’s directive on location and mapping of grazing reserves in 25 states.
The spokesman for the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a telephone chat with our correspondent, said the party could not make any informed comments on the matter because there was no policy statement on the President’s directive yet.
Ologbondiyan, however, called for caution on the part of all stakeholders, saying, “We must avoid tendencies that could further annihilate our people in any part of the country.”
Buhari being misled, says Senate spokesman
Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Ajibola Basiru, in his reaction, said it seemed the President was not getting the right legal advice on the issue.
Basiru told The Nation that the issue of grazing reserves is not within the purview of the Federal Government since land is vested in state governors.
He called on the President to seek proper advice from his legal advisers on how to address issue of animal husbandry in the country.
Basiru said: “You know I have raised this issue several times. I don’t believe the President is receiving proper advice on this grazing reserve matter.
“The issue of grazing reserve is not within the competence of the Federal Government. If he wants to do anything at all about grazing or animal husbandry, he should work with the state governments, because by the Land Use Act, the land comprising the entirety of each state is vested in the governor and the use and management of the land is also vested in the state.
“So, I believe the President is not being properly advised and therefore, he should get his legal team to properly advise him accordingly.
“There is no law on grazing reserves in Nigeria. Even the Northern Nigeria law which used to operate as a state law does not even define what is a grazing route and it is not grazing reserves.
“So, I don’t know where the President is getting his advice from and why his legal advisers are not properly advising him.
“The operating law on management of land in Nigeria is the Land Use Act and beyond the fact that the President even needs to apply for land for the purpose of development by the Federal Government, he does not have the business to say he wants to reserve any land for grazing, because the land comprising the entirety of each state is vested in the governor by Section 1 of the Land Use Act.
“So, I think it would be proper that the legal advisers of the President should properly advise him accordingly on how to address issue of animal husbandry.”
It’s invitation to civil war – HURIWA
The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) called the Federal Government’s move an open invitation to civil war.
The group in a statement accused the federal government of “doing everything outside of the law to arm-twist other ethnic groups just so the President’s kinsmen are awarded the ancestral lands for their private commercial business of grazing cattle.”
It advised the President to avoid actions that are capable of pushing Nigeria into a long drawn civil war.
It added: “For the avoidance of doubt and from the abundance of scholarly submissions, Mr. President should note that the Land Use Act enacted in 1978 was meant to standardise land administration systems across the country.”
Human rights lawyer, Barr. Emperor Ogbonna, described open grazing as obsolete.
He said: “The truth is that open grazing and grazing routes are outdated. No sane country still allows cows to migrate from one place to another grazing on grazing routes.
“The modern trend is for cows to be ranched in ranches.
“Since the President is keen about the security of the country, any directive that may increase the chances of insecurity should be avoided.
“Insisting on the grazing routes when there are other options like encouraging northern governors to give out land to the farmers or herders to ranch is a better option.”
The President’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, announced on Thursday that Buhari had approved the recommendations of a committee to review “with dispatch, 368 grazing sites across 25 states in the country and to determine the levels of encroachment.”
The committee headed by the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, called for the collection of field data collection on 368 Grazing Reserves across 25 states to assess encroachment and encroachers, stakeholder engagements and sensitization.
Miyetti Allah: Grazing reserve will douse tension between farmers, herders
Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) has said the move made by the Federal Government to review 368 grazing sites across 25 states would douse tension between farmers and herders.
National Secretary of the association, Baba Othman Ngelzarma, made this known to The Nation on Friday said the association is not opposed to any form of settlement that will bring peace between farmers and herders in the country, considering the growing population and the climate change effect in the country.
He said the move is an indication that the government has given attention to the livestock subsector just like the attention given to the agronomy subsector.
According to him, Nigerian pastoralists are still practising the primitive system of animal husbandry because no attempt was made by the past administration to modernise animal husbandry.
He said: “This is a welcome development, considering the direction the crisis has taken. This means attention has been given to the livestock sector like is given to the agronomy sector of the country.
“There is no state that is not complaining about farmers/herders crisis and the encroachment at those reserves are too much.
“Not only the encroachment, you find some farmers blocking cattle roads linking to those grazing reserves and watering points of cows and the pastoralists are finding it difficult to move freely from one grazing reserves to watering points of cattle.
“We are not opposed to any form of settlement that will bring peace considering the growing population and the climate change effect in the country.”