Herders and some farmers on Thursday throw their weight behind President Muhammadu Buhari who for the first time expressed his support for the recovery of designated grazing routes as one of the ways of resolving the protracted farmers/herders clashes.
President Buhari spoke while fielding questions during an exclusive interview broadcast Thursday on Arise Television.
But the Afenifere sociocultural group in the South West, Ohanaeze in the South East and PAN Niger-Delta Forum (PANDEF) in the South South kicked against the move, insisting that the power to allocate land is vested on governors and not the president.
Analysts told the Daily Trust that if President Buhari pursued the recovery of the grazing routes vigorously, prominent buildings in many states across Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) would be pulled down.
They said there were hundreds of kilometres of grazing routes from Maiduguri that passed through Bauchi, Plateau, Nasarawa, Benue, Cross River and the Delta region; and then from Sokoto to Kwara and many states in the South West and South East.
It would be recalled that the 17 southern governors had banned open grazing after a meeting held in Asaba, the capital of Delta State.
President Buhari, who expressed his opposition to the decision, directed the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to kick-start the process of recovering land from people who had used the cattle grazing routes for other purposes.
Malami, who had earlier spoken against the decision of the southern governors to ban open grazing, likened it to northern governors banning spare part business synonymous with southerners, especially the South East people.
Asked if he agreed with the AGF’s position, President Buhari responded: “You want me to contradict my attorney-general?
“What I did was ask him to go and dig the gazette of the First Republic when people were obeying laws. There were cattle routes and grazing areas. Cattle routes were for when they (herdsmen) are moving up country, North to South or East to West, they had to go through there.
“If you allow your cattle to stray into any farm, you are arrested. The farmer is invited to submit his claims. The Khadi or the judge will say pay this amount and if you can’t, the cattle is sold. And if there is any benefit, you are given and people were behaving themselves and in the grazing areas, they built dams, put windmills. In some places, there were even veterinary departments so that the herders are limited. Their route is known, their grazing area is known.
“I asked for the gazette to make sure that those who encroached on these cattle routes and grazing areas will be dispossessed in law and try to bring some order back into the cattle grazing,” he said.
Buhari also protested against the utterances of Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom who had accused him of failing to take actions against herdsmen because he is also a member of the Fulani herders.
He said the Tivs, which form the majority in Benue and the Fulanis had been engaged in cultural conflicts for a long time.
“The governor of Benue said I am not disciplining the cattle rearers because I am one of them. I cannot say I am not one of them but he is being very unfair to me and I told him that the Nigerian cattle rearer was not carrying anything more than a stick, sometimes with a machete to cut some trees and feed his cattle but those sophisticated ones move with AK 47.”
Sit up and solve security challenges in your states
President Buhari has challenged the 36 governors to tackle security challenges in their state saying they have “very effective traditional institutions and security system at the state and local levels.”
He said instead of rushing to Abuja to tell him to solve their security challenges, the president said they should confront the matter head-on by engaging the critical stakeholders like traditional rulers.
When asked about his view on state police, the President said: “I have been reading it in the newspapers. Those of us who are old enough to know the old NA (Native Authority) police and so on, that time the traditional institutions’ leaders were very effective in each community. I will give you an example of recent.
“Two governors from the South West came to tell me that the cattle rearers in some of the forests there had killed farmers while their cattle were eating their crops. So, I told them you campaigned to be elected and you are elected, he said yes. I said go back and sort out yourself because there has been a system, as all of us here can recall, even in your local government, when there is security at each level at the local government and state.
“It consists of the traditional leader in that area, who had been there for generations. So, they know all the crooks in the locality. Then the police, then those who would come, whether they are cattle rearers or influential traders, they are part of it. They meet either monthly or quarterly and discuss the security at that level. If it is above them, they pass it on.
“So, I told those governors to go back to the older system so that they will have intelligence; you will know what is happening in your constituency. You just can’t go round winning elections and then sit tight and think somebody will do their job for them. I just sent them back.”
On the secessionist agenda of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the president promised to go after the group.
“In any case, we say we will talk to them in the language that they understand. We will organise the police and the military to pursue them,” he said.
Afenifere, Ohanaeze, PANDEF react
Pan-Yoruba sociocultural organisation, Afenifere, said Thursday that the president’s statement on plans to revive cattle routes and grazing areas was unpresidential and a big disappointment.
The group stated that the president has violated the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which he swore to uphold by the statement as the constitution vests the authority over land in a state on the governor.
Publicity Secretary of the group, Comrade Jare Ajayi, in a chat with Daily Trust, said, “ Who designated specific routes as exclusively belonging to those who would be grazing cows? If you are doing this kind of thing in their own areas, it is understandable, that is their own area.
“I have not read anywhere that our forefathers sat down and agreed that these particular routes, maybe from Ogbomosho, to Saki or Badagry, for grazing.
“For us in Afenifere, the statement is unacceptable. We are solidly behind the governors from the South who banned open grazing,” he said.
Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State and Chairman of Southern Governors’ Forum could not be reached for a reaction yesterday as his commissioner for information, Mr Donald Ojogo, declined comment on the president’s statement.
Vice President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo worldwide, Chief Damian Ogene Okeke stated that there was no grazing route in the South East.
He regretted that instead of President Buhari concentrating on restoring the glory of the country, he wanted to revive grazing routes.
“I was expecting the president to call for a meeting of elders of various nationalities to discuss and proffer solutions to the nation’s insecurity. We need to meet ourselves and discuss the way forward for the country. It does not necessarily mean a national conference but we can have an elder meeting,” he said.
The Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) said that President Buhari’s comments throughout the entire interview were a disaster.
The spokesman of the group, Ken Robinson said PANDEF was not utterly surprised at the president’s ostensibly declaration of support for open grazing.
“Everything about this presidency indicates that it is not nationalistic. The conduct and actions of this administration have been largely parochial and sectional.”
When contacted for a reaction, the Head, Media and Public Affairs, NGF Secretariat, Mr Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, told our correspondent that there was no need to join issues with President Muhammadu Buhari.
Grazing routes blockage major cause of our crisis — herders, farmers
The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) has welcomed the directive by President Muhammadu Buhari for all encroached grazing routes across the country to be recovered.
The Acting Publicity Secretary of the Association, Adamu Toro, said the encroached grazing routes had been the main cause of the crisis between herders and farmers in the country.
He said most of the grazing routes had been taken over by lawless Nigerians, making it difficult for the herders to move freely along with their animals.
The association noted that though the president’s directive was coming late, it would go a long way to address the present crisis situation in the country.
‘’We thank Mr President for that and we do hope he will take further actions that will drastically reduce the present conflicts in the country,” he said.
Toro also identified the collapse of the local government system as one of the causes of the various crises being witnessed in all parts of the country.
Another herder, Mohammad Ardo, said recovering of some of the encroached grazing routes was important, observing that there was no way herders will move nowadays without encroaching some properties built on some of these routes.
“We should tell ourselves the truth, there is no way open grazing can be completely banned at the moment, it has to be something gradual and before that will happen, we have to manage the situation,” he said.
The factional President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Arc. Kabiru Ibrahim said the directive would make a tremendous impact on the herders/farmers conflicts because animals stray into farmlands that encroached into their routes which made conflicts unavoidable.
“In some areas, buildings have been erected on some of these routes; so if we are able to re-establish the routes, we will definitely minimise the conflicts arising from cattle straying into farms. It is a very good decision but costly,” he said.
A technical adviser to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Saleh Momale, said the recovery of cattle routes in the country would go a long way in modernising the traditional cattle rearing system in the country.
In a phone interview, he said if recovered, the cattle routes and other traditional cattle rearing assets would address the challenges bedevilling herders in the country.
“I do not want to insinuate on who have taken possession of some of these critical production infrastructures because it is only a thorough review of the gazettes and those areas that will reveal those who have substantially encroached on some of these production infrastructures, whether they are federal institutions or like you said communities and even individuals.
“The recovery of some of these stock routes is practically possible because they are still within rural or grazing areas where we have high concentration of the pastoralists, particularly in the northern states.
“It is left for the appropriate agencies of government to pick the gazettes, objectively review them and see to the reacquiring of the areas in accordance with the existing laws in the country,” he said.
By Muideen Olaniyi, Ismail Mudashir, Hussaini Yahaya, John Chuks Azu, Saawua Terzungwe (Abuja), Abdullateef Aliyu (Lagos), Bola Ojuola (Akure), Titus Eleweke (Awka) and Victor Edozie (Port Harcourt)