Reactivate open pasture reserves
The recent approval given by President Muhammadu Buhari for the reactivation of approximately 368 former grazing reserves in 25 states of the federation is illegal. The approval follows recommendations from a committee headed by the Chief of Staff (COS) to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, to diligently review grazing routes to determine levels of encroachment, parties’ engagement stakeholders and awareness. This exercise will certainly cause more harm than good, as 17 southern states have already banned open grazing in the region.
In addition, there is a widespread suspicion that what the president intends to do is seize the lands of the states and give them to the Fulani herders. It is therefore not surprising that harsh critics followed his directive. Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State described the move as an invitation to crisis and lawlessness. According to him, “the country has been transformed into a cow republic by the current administration and the basic principles of equality, justice, justice and fairness which engender peace and suppress anarchy are non-existent”. The governor threatened to take Buhari to court if he insisted on going ahead with the policy.
Nigeria (SAN) human rights lawyer and senior lawyer Femi Falana recalled that the federal government has given naira 6.25 billion to Buhari home state, Katsina, for the establishment from a ranch in the state. Claiming that the government does not have to revive the grazing reserves, Falana urged the president to give a similar special allocation of 6.25 billion naira to other states like the one given to Katsina.
Groups such as Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Coalition of Yoruba Self-Determination Groups have also opposed the revival of pasture reserves. In a statement, the Yoruba group urged the international community to hold the federal government accountable if the policy ultimately leads to lawlessness in Nigeria. The government should be careful not to send the wrong signals from time to time. When Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu called on unregistered herders to leave Ondo Forest Reserves a few months ago, the presidency objected, warning Akeredolu to retrace his steps. When the Forum of Southern Governors banned open grazing of cattle after their meeting in Asaba last May, Federation Attorney General and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami called the ban unconstitutional. According to him, banning open grazing “perhaps amounts to saying that the governors of the north are coming together to say that they are banning the trade in spare parts in the north”.
All this gives the impression that the FG seeks to unduly favor certain individuals or part of the country over others.
Plus, cattle farming is like any other private business. Every business man or woman rents or builds offices and stores. The government is not helping it in any way.
Grazing shouldn’t be any different. Incidentally, the government brought up the idea of a project called Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) in 2017. The project involved securing plots of state land to settle nomadic herders. It was to have schools, hospitals, veterinary clinics, road networks, electricity, markets and manufacturing entities that would process animal products. The idea behind this, according to the presidency, was to curb open grazing and reduce conflicts between pastoralists and farmers, among others. Many Nigerians opposed it. Therefore, the government was forced to suspend it in 2019. Prior to RUGA, the government had considered reopening grazing roads, establishing a cattle colony and a Fulani radio. The radio was to communicate with the Fulani wherever they are in the world in order to help curb the incessant clashes between herders and farmers.
Apparently, recent federal government action is also aimed at stemming the conflicts that usually arise between farmers and herders. But reactivating cloudy open pastures cannot be the answer. Most of the time, the pastoralist / farmer conflict has led to the indiscriminate destruction of crops and the murder of farmers.
Nonetheless, there are well-meaning northerners who oppose open grazing. The national boss of the Miyetti Allah Cattlemen’s Association of Nigeria, Senator Walid Jibrin, for example, is said to have said that the pasture opened by the shepherds is outdated. He praised the governors in the south for banning it. In addition, the Northern Governors Forum and the Nigerian Governors Forum have all rejected open grazing in the country.
Undoubtedly, by approving the reactivation of grazing reserves, the president went against the 1999 Constitution and the Land Use Act which entrusts all state land to the governor. Already, anti-open grazing laws are operational in states like Abia, Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo and Rivers.
Ranching remains the best way to raise livestock. It exists on all continents except Antarctica. Breeders should strive to learn modern breeding methods. The Pampas region of South America, the Australian Outback, the Prairie provinces of Canada and the western United States are good examples. Pastoralists must also comply with laws governing business operations or land acquisition in any state in which they operate.
Overall, Buhari should focus on tackling insecurity, unemployment, hunger and poverty and not on parochial things like non-existent open grazing roads. That the southern states which have not prohibited free grazing enact laws to this effect. The National Assembly should speak out against the attempt to violate the constitution by opening up what are called the old grazing reserves. That the President immediately stop the exercise in the interest of peace and the unity of the country.