By Anayo Okoli, Regional Editor, South-East, Dapo Akinrefon, Festus Ahon, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Davies Iheamnachor & Olayinka Ajayi
The Presidency yesterday questioned the propriety of the ban placed on open grazing in Southern Nigeria by governors of the region.
The 17 Southern governors, under the aegis of Southern Governors’ Forum, had in what is now described as Asaba Declaration, raised 12 resolutions, one of which was the ban on open grazing.
But reacting to the ban yesterday, the Presidency in a statement by Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, also promised that rehabilitation work on grazing reserves in the country will commence in June.
However, the Presidency’s statement drew the ire of the Yoruba socio-political organisatuion, Afenifere, its Igbo counterpart, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, as well as the Pan-Niger Delta Forum PANDEF.
Shehu said President Muhammadu Buhari had expressed a strong resolve to address the conflicts between 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.”
According to him, President Buhari has 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 the President signed in April.
He said the recommendations were made “before the actions of the Southern Governors Forum which attempted to place a ban on open grazing and other acts of politicking intended by its signatories to demonstrate their power.”
‘Asaba declaration no solution’
The statement read: “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.”
It’s unfortunate, unpresidential —Afeni Fete
Reacting to the Presidency’s remarks on the ban on open grazing yesterday, the pan-Yoruba socio-political organization, Afenifere, described the statement as unfortunate and un-presidential.
Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Comrade Jare Ajayi, said: “The reaction of the Presidency is not only unfortunate to say the least, it is also un-presidential.
“The reason for saying this is simple, as the statement betrays a lack of understanding of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which the Presidency is supposed to be guided by.
“The Constitution describes a governor as the Chief Security Officer of his or her state. Not only that, this same constitution vests the control of the land in the states in the governors of the respective states.
“If this is the case, how would the pronouncement by these governors on the steps they intend to take to ensure security in their respective states be deemed to be ‘legally questionable?’
“Mr. Garba Shehu also talked about rehabilitating ‘grazing reserves’. Is it the Federal Government-initiated grazing reserves that most states have rejected? It is a big pity that a man of Mr. Shehu’s professional standing, who was not only an editor but also a former President, Nigerian Guild of Editors, could come out with this type of statement trying to pull wool on our collective eyes.
“To us in Afenifere, everything about agriculture, like many other sectors, belongs to the states and local governments. The Federal Government has no control over it and should not dabble into what it has no constitutional power over.
“It is in order to let each tier of government fully understand its bounds that makes us to keep insisting that we should quickly restructure and go back a Regional Constitution. “What Garba Shehu is saying should hold no water. We stand by the position of the Southern governors, which incidentally, is what their counterparts in other parts of the country are embracing.”
It’s insult to Southerners— Ohanaeze
In its reaction, Ohanaeze Ndigbo in a statement by its spokesman, Chidozie Alex Ogbonnia, stated: “It is highly inconceivable that a group of people, herders in Nigeria, would prefer open grazing to the global practice of cattle ranching.
“Open grazing exposes the herders to the risks of the wild forests, denies herders’ children the basic education and retards their intellectual growth.
“Above all, the major cause of conflicts between the Fulani and other ethnic groups is the herders-farmers clashes.
“The clashes have assumed an intolerable dimension. Only today, over one hundred indigenes of Benue State were alleged to have been killed by herders. It has been like this on a daily basis.
How can Nigeria survive with this trend?
“It is in the interest of the corporate existence and peace in Nigeria that open grazing is abolished. Any attack on the resolution on open grazing by the Southern governors is an insult to the sensibilities of the whole Southerners.”
Irrational comments — PANDEF
Reacting in a similar manner, the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, lambasted the spokesman of President, Garba Shehu,over the comment.
PANDEF described the comment by Shehu as irrational, adding that the decision of the governors was in consonance with the people of the South.
National Publicity Secretary of PANDEF, Ken Robinson, noted in Port Harcourt that the comment by Shehu was the height of irrationality.
Robinson said: “Our position is clear. When the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, in his comment, condemned the position of the governors of the South on open grazing, we clearly said such position was clearly inconsistent and irrational.
“For the spokesman of the President to come up and say that decisions taken by democratically-elected officials of 17 states of the country, should be discountenanced is the height of irresponsibility.
“It is idiotic and deserves all the negatives that we can find to qualify it. And this attitude of Garba Shehu, has shown obviously that he is not the spokesman of the President. Garba Shehu is now the spokesman of the Fulani ethnic nationality. That is what he has reduced himself to.
“It’s very unfortunate that Mr. President will still allow Garba Shehu to be in the Presidency. The decision of the governors of the South is a settled matter. The people of Southern Nigeria are in full support of what the governors have done.
“The governors only gave voice to the position of the people. They were elected by the people, so they will always stand by the people.
“What they did was to give voice to what their people wanted them to say. We are solidly behind them. If anybody should be discountenanced, it is the likes of Shehu and their bias.
“They think that they own this country. Nobody owns this country. We stand by the governors and we encourage them to go ahead and implement the ban on open grazing. Open grazing is outdated, it is archaic and has no place in a modern society like ours.”
FG stylishly stoking insecurity — Okowa
Also reacting last night, the Chairman of South-South Governors Forum, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, who spoke through his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Olisa Ifeajika, said: “That the Federal Government is opposed to the ban on open grazing does not mean the governors cannot go ahead to do what they want to do.
“Remember it was the same way the Federal Government was opposed to Amotekun when the South-West governors came up with it. And when they saw the futility of the attempt to muscle those governors to stop it, they retreated.
“This is about governance; it means the Federal Government is stylishly telling Nigerians that they are the ones stoking the fire of insecurity. If the governors of the Southern states have said one way to secure the country, is to go the way of ranching and stop open grazing, it should be embraced.
“They came together as patriotic Nigerians. By the way, Southern Governors Forum is a mixed group; there is APC, there is PDP, there is APGA, so it is not partisanship and I am surprised that the Federal Government is looking at it like that.
“What they said was that every state should go and implement it. It means that the states should go and make laws and it is within the rights of the states to make laws to govern their environment.
“The law is already existing in some states. Ekiti already has it under Fayose before he left office; Benue already has it and one or two other states. It is for good governance of the place. If the Federal Government is saying governors don’t have right, then it is unfortunate.
“What is government all about? Government is about protecting lives and properties; that’s fundamental — the welfare of people. And one fundamental thing about giving your people welfare is to protect their lives and properties.
“If the Federal Government is saying what the governors are trying to do to ensure that lives and properties is wrong, then is unfortunate.
I don’t want to believe that that the Federal Government can come and say that. That your children are saying this is the way we think we should do things to help us and the father is somewhere saying it’s not right; is unfortunate.
“What are the Governors saying? They are saying that this thing about open grazing is causing so much strife between herders and communities.
You are grazing and you are destroying farms.
“You have gone from destroying farms to attacking human beings, raping women, killing, kidnapping and all of that! Not just destroying crops which is one way of making us not to have enough food; you have now gone beyond destruction of farm lands and crops to attack on human beings.”
Southern govs’ position mere declaration of intent — Sagay
The Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC, Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, has tasked the Southern governors to solidify resolution on open grazing by asking each state Assembly in the South to apply the Benue State approach passing a law banning open grazing in their individual state.
Fielding questions in a monitored programme yesterday on Channels Television, ‘Politics Today’ Sagay maintained that mere declaration won’t be as impactful as a law from each Southern state prohibiting open grazing.
“I have been advocating ranching for cattle herding since 2011 as the only way-out. I was the first to talk about it until it became an existential threat to many communities particularly in the South.
Frankly, I don’t think a declaration is sufficient, governors have to go back to their individual houses of assemblies and introduce motions , the way Benue state did and actually pass a law on banning open grazing and instituting ranching.
“So a proclamation is not enough unless they already have laws which give powers to each governor which I don’t think is the case. There is a need for each state assembly to actually pass a law against open grazing.
This is for me legally a declaration of intent but it should be followed up by legislation in the individual state of assembly of the Southern states. They have to pass laws prohibiting open grazing” Sagay stated.