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Rethinking grazing routes debacle

2 months ago | 441



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The reopening of grazing routes has undoubtedly added another twist to the endless crises in Nigeria in recent years. Nigerian cannot achieve any meaningful growth with these numerous self-inflicted conflicts. And for a leader, who wants history to be fair to him, President Buhari should strive to leave a legacy of lasting peace for all Nigerians rather than these “endless wars’’.

 

By Goddy Ikeh

 

THERE is no doubt that this season of crisis has become the new normal in the country as government policies and politicians have become the major drivers of these crises. For some Nigerians, this new trend has become acceptable, though the informal method of governing a country that is troubled by multiple challenges, which the leaders appear to lack the political will to tackle.

While the nation is struggling to curtail the rampaging activities of the bandits and their ransom game, incursion of Boko Haram insurgents largely in some northern states, exploits of armed herdsmen and kidnappers nationwide, the new Value Added Tax war among others, the federal government has added the grazing routes and reserves debacle to further worsen the tension in the country. This followed the approval in August by President Muhammadu Buhari of the recommendations of the committee to review 368 grazing sites, across 25 states in the country, “to determine the levels of encroachment”.

And as expected, many Nigerians have expressed their concerns over the reopening of grazing routes across the country when the contending issues of funding RUGA, grazing reserves and water bill and the new farm settlements schemes have not been resolved.

Expectedly, Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka was among the first patriots to criticize the ongoing plans by the federal government to reopen grazing routes across the country. Soyinka told a news conference recently in Lagos that many experts have identified ranching as the solution to the perennial farmer-herder conflict.

“Virtually the whole nation is screaming that we do not want any open cattle grazing. Whether they go by the name of cattle routes or grazing reserves,” Soyinka said.

“Round the entire nation, we’ve had opinions surmounting the antiquated mode of cattle rearing. Even the all-powerful, untouchable Miyetti Allah, even they have gone on record to say that ranching is what we want.

“And when we think all that debate is settled in rational terms, along comes a new version, rather like Decree 4, of Ruga, with the President insisting on sending his agents out to map out and recover the old grazing reserves when governments and people and experts, agronomists, businesspeople are saying that this is a business and it should be conducted in this particular way.

“So why is this President obsessing about something which is being rejected right, left, and center?” local media reports quoted Soyinka as saying.

In the same vein, the Pan Yoruba Socio-Political Group, Afenifere, has described the approval given by President Buhari to review grazing reserves in some states as not only a waste of taxpayers’ money, but a sweet pipe dream in a fool’s paradise.

In a statement in Akure in August, the general secretary of Afenifere, Sola Ebiseni, lamented that the president was “wasting taxpayers scare resources on a program which conception lacks all conceivable growth capacity”.

”The approval by President Muhammadu Buhari to review, with dispatch, 368 Grazing Reserves across allegedly 25 states in the country to determine the levels of encroachment did not surprise Nigerians.

“It does not also matter that having felt the pulse of the nation in his interview with the Arise television in June, the president is still wasting taxpayers’ scarce resources on a programme whose conception lacks all conceivable growth capacity.

“It is instructive that the recommending and implementation Committee is headed by Professor Ibrahim Gambari, the Chief of Staff to the President who, in conjunction with Professor Attahiru Jega, during the first term of Buhari, presented a “Memorandum On Pastoralist-Farmers’ Conflicts And the search for peaceful Resolution” published in January 2018, which contained the same recommendations now being foisted on the nation.

“They have submitted, among other recommendations that “it is clear that Nigeria and indeed Africa have to plan towards the transformation of pastoralism into settled forms of animal husbandry.

“The establishment of grazing reserves provides the opportunity for practising a more limited form of pastoralism and is, therefore, a pathway towards a more settled form of animal husbandry.

“Grazing reserves are areas of land demarcated, set aside and reserved for exclusive or semi-exclusive use by pastoralists. Currently, Nigeria has a total of 417 grazing reserves all over the country, out of which only about 113 have been gazette.

“Thus, the present policy of the Buhari administration on Grazing Reserves is the implementation of the script by the Fulani intelligentsia.

“The recommendations which pandered to deceptive national solutions to orchestrated farmers/herders clash, nonetheless reek of the odiferous stench of ethnic agenda for settlement of the Fulani in the ancestral lands of other ethnic nationalities.

“The non-Fulani Nigerians are not stupid, as the Federal Government, probably imagine, not to know that the concept of Grazing Reserve, by the Gambari and Jega definitions above, is a worse form of official dispossession of their ancestral lands for the inheritance and use of the Fulani than Cattle Colony, RUGA and Grazing Routes which they have roundly rejected.

“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 function 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 statement said.

In his reaction, the Senate spokesman, Ajibola Basiru, said that there was no law on grazing routes in any part of Nigeria. He said that the law on grazing reserves, recognised as a state law in the 1999 constitution, actually criminalised open grazing.

In a statement, titled: “No Law of Grazing Routes in Nigeria: Either North or South”, Basiru maintained that modern animal husbandry practices remains the panacea to herders/farmers clashes in Nigeria.

The senator said that the provisions in the said state laws which are applicable to some states in Northern Nigeria, specifically made it an offence for anybody to roam about with cattle, outside of the grazing reserves.

“On the case of these laws, it was expressly stated that they are adopted from Northern Nigeria Laws of 1965. There is no provision for grazing routes as it is being claimed.

“There has never been federal legislation on Grazing Reserves and/or Grazing Routes in Nigeria and Northern Region Laws are not applicable everywhere in Nigeria.

“In fact, by the present constitutional provisions, such law cannot be within the competence of the National Assembly.”

Basiru insisted that the President, with all respect, has not received well-informed and proper legal advice from his Attorney-General and the legal team”

“As a patriot, a Distinguished Senator and someone sworn to uphold the Nigerian Constitution and in view of the apparent interest of Nigerians on the subject matter, it is pertinent to say neither in the North nor in the South is there a law creating grazing routes either as state law or federal law.

“It is rather unfortunate that our President has been misadvised on this matter, “ Basiru added.

Speaking on the issue, human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, also said that President Buhari was misled by the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, regarding gazetted grazing routes in the southern part of Nigeria.

Arguing that there was never a time grazing routes existed in the southern part of the country, Falana said: “You cannot blame the President. He is not a lawyer. So if he was informed by lawyers that there is a gazette, what do you expect him to say? And the President made it abundantly clear during the interview, ‘I am not going to oppose my attorney general.

“What I am saying here is that there was no time in the history of Nigeria that grazing routes existed in the southern part of the country. So, whoever has misinformed the President should be questioned and sanctioned.”

Falana wondered why President Buhari was talking about old grazing routes, even after the 36 states of the federation had adopted the National Livestock Plan which recommended ranching as the solution to open grazing in the country.

In its reaction, the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, said that the statement by the Senate spokesman was a clear revelation of the deceit by Northern Nigeria against other parts of the country, adding that the North was neck-deep in deceiving other parts of the country.

“It is unfortunate that the Federal Government is taking other parts of the country for granted. They create safe havens for themselves and that is why different groups would say the North is ready ‘we are ready to go’, the rest of the country can go, because they have amassed our wealth, and control our resources.

“For the past 50 years they have been draining our resources and so they could comfortably say we are prepared to go.

“It is regulations like this that triggers anger and disaffection among our people. Up until 1997 and 1998 when young people from the Niger Delta got to Abuja and saw how the place has been transformed from nothing, and then there were the abandonment of projects in the Niger Delta, that is what resulted into crises, demonstrations and protests.

“People are reacting to the neglect and marginalisation. They have continued in that manner. If it is true that open grazing is outlawed and criminalized in the North and then they are opposing the banning of open grazing in Southern Nigeria, it shows the insincerity and height of dishonesty.

“Revelations like this will continue to create anger and some kind of realization that we are being taken for granted. Even the Middle Belt is suffering the same marginalization and neglect,” local media report quoted the group as saying.

The Vanguard newspaper has also joined the dialogue on the grazing reserves debacle. In its editorial on August 29, 2021, entitled “Grazing reserves, a gunpowder keg”, the newspaper said: “WE wish to, once again, urge President Muhammadu Buhari to abandon his intention to “revive” what he refers to as “grazing reserves” allegedly gazetted in the First Republic.

“This issue returned to the front burner last week when he approved the so-called review of 368 “grazing reserves” in 25 states of the federation as presented by a committee led by his Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari. The Buhari government is moving “with dispatch” to identify the said gazetted lands and to gazette more lands.

“The missionary zeal with which government is pursuing this agenda runs at cross-purposes with the equal assiduity with which many Southern states are working to meet the Wednesday, September 1, 2021 deadline for the promulgation of their anti-open grazing laws.

“We wonder how the 25 states the Buhari government refers to was arrived at. There are 19 states in the North where the Fulani pastoralists are indigenous to. Out of those, Benue and Taraba states already have anti-open grazing laws.”

It noted that if the Southern Governors live up to their collective decision, it means that at least 19 states will have laws that will clash with the grazing reserves that the Buhari government wants to revive.

According to the editorial, the states are in a pole position under the law to assert their rejection of the open grazing policy of the Buhari administration because of the constitutional backing of the Land Use Act. The Act vests power over land on state governors to hold in trust for the people of their respective states.

“The only way the Federal Government can take land from unwilling states is to ignore the law with impunity and deploy “federal might” (the armed forces, police and security agencies) to take the land by force for the benefit of the Fulani pastoralists.

“If this happens, it will create a strong impression that government and the violent militias masquerading as “herdsmen” and forcefully occupying forests and committing atrocities throughout the Middle Belt and South share the same agenda.

“Federal forceful confiscation of people’s ancestral patrimonies could force otherwise law-abiding Nigerians to respond to the calls by Defence Minister, Bashir Magashi; former Defence Minister, T.Y. Danjuma; Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom; Governor of Taraba State, Darius Isyaku; and Governor of Katsina State, Aminu Masari, to take up arms and defend themselves. That will spawn anarchy.

“No group will sit by and allow themselves to be deprived of their land without resistance. Then open grazing policy will set Nigeria ablaze. The best option is ranching. Animal husbandry is a private business,” It added.

It advised President Buhari to spend his final 21 months in power to leave a legacy of lasting peace for all Nigerians “rather than endless wars”.

This editorial has summed it all, especially for the Nigerian leader, who is interested in knowing if history will be fair to him and his administration long after his era of “endless wars”. 

- Sept. 28, 2021 @ 12:36 GMT |

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