Anger over Buhari’s plan to reclaim cow grazing routes

From Johnson Babajide, Isaac Shobayo, Muhammad Sabiu, Segun Kasali, Bola Badmus

 THE decision of the Federal Government to reactivate old grazing routes across the country as part of measures to end herders-farmers clashes has sparked angry reactions from the governors, ethnic groups and bodies which condemn the decision as divisive and one that can lead to anarchy.

Sunday Tribune also authoritatively gathered on Saturday that the decision is not on the table of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) though the president claimed he held discussions with state governors.

An authoritative source privy to the operations of the NGF, who spoke to Sunday Tribune on the directive issued by President Muhammadu Buhari on fresh plans to recover the grazing routes observed that at no time did the Governors’ Forum deliberate on the subject matter, urging that the forum should not be dragged into such controversy.

According to the source who pleaded anonymity, since the power on Land Use as encapsulated in the 1999 Constitution is vested in the state governors, the NGF is insulated from taking any decision on how each state should run its affairs.

He, however, stressed that the onus is on the presidency to give details of the “recovery” of grazing routes in order to allay fears of Nigerians.

The source further observed that the forum is a platform where collective decision is taken on behalf of subnational government rather than individual issue.

Reacting to development, Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, on Saturday, restated the opposition of the state to RUGA settlement or similar policy proposed by the Federal Government.

Speaking to Sunday Tribune, the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Terver Akase, said there is no need to have a discussion with the Federal Government over its renewed determination to trace old grazing routes and hand them over the Fulani herdsmen.

According to him, the people and government of Benue State a long time ago rejected RUGA and their opposition to the programme stands.

“The people and Benue State government rejected RUGA a long time ago. So, we don’t see ourselves embracing it. There is no going back on that,” he said.

On the money voted for RUGA, the governor reiterated his call for the antigraft agency to probe the RUGA contract. According to the governor, contracts were awarded and money was appropriated for it. “Is it not in order that questions be asked regarding how the funds were spent? Benue is not part of states to rediscover grazing route,” he said.

He said that there is no gazetted grazing route in Benue, adding that the president could not be referring to the state if he actually gave such directive.

Elder statesman and Afenifere chieftain, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, says the Federal Government’s renewed interest in RUGA system has shown President Buhari has not abandoned his quest to take over people’s land for cattle herders rather than ending clashes between cattle owners and farmers.

“Does this not show that the Federal Government has not abandoned its quest to take over land in states as routes for cattle herders?

Is RUGA policy, which has taken off in some states, not about taking care of the cattle herders rather than ending their clashes with farmers?

“We know. It is only those who are stubborn that will not know. All we are saying is that, has he got the constitutional right to do so? It is just going to cause constitutional crisis.

“Under the Land Use Act, he cannot. The governor of a state has the power. When we say the man is desperate to rule as a dictator, Nigerians think we are joking. All he is doing now is the plan made under the military regime by the section of the country controlling the country.

“That is why we are doing all the hue and cry. He is imposing a constitution written by some section of the country for the country. This is not our constitution but an imposed constitution.

“Unless they restructure the country now, the country will break. He is being defiant. He cannot get that done solely because it has to pass through the legislative arm. Secondly, he has to change the constitution.

“What happens to the money the Federal Government is spending on RUGA if they are still working on routes for the cattle to graze?

“The moment he still has the power, that is what he is doing. That is why most of us are saying they must change the constitution now. He wants to commit the nation.

“We say oil is no longer profitable, but he is using the money to explore oil in the North. He is spending the money they have not got. And that is part of restructuring.

“If we restructure the country and we share the money according to derivation, he can’t use all these monies. So, when we are talking about restructuring, people don’t understand.

“We are saying go back to federalism, go back to the constitution the founding fathers agreed to before Independence and I could mention the constitution agreed to by Sardauna Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa.

“We cannot deny it because the constitution we use now is imposed on us by the military in 1966. It is a military constitution. That is why he is allowing the Fulani herdsmen going to every nook and cranny of the South armed.”

Plan, invitation to anarchy —Middle Belt Forum

Also reacting, the Middle Belt Forum (MBF) has described the directive as retrogression and an invitation to anarchy. This is just as the Berom Educational and Cultural Organisation (BECO) says such decision would trigger more problems and further create more routes for terrorists to flood the country.

MBF’s national president, Dr Bitrus Pogu, said the government was not realistic in its directive, nothing that rather than move the country forward, it would engender retrogression.

“This government is not always realistic in anything it does and this is unfortunate. Where are the cattle routes today? Even the Central Business District of Abuja may be a cattle route. Instead of moving forward, this government is retrogressive.

“Instead of cattle ranch, they want to create cattle routes so that cattle from all over West Africa will be traversing Nigeria. Does the government want to take people to the medieval age?

“What is wrong with ranching? This government invested a lot in providing facilities for Fulani to change their style to ranching and stay in one place and provide folders for their animals,” he said.

Pogu strongly advised government to rather retrace its step and move with modern ways of doing things.

Also speaking, a university lecturer and secretary of the Plateau State Ranching Committee, Professor John Wade, said the decision was welcomed, but called for dialogues among stakeholders.

According to him, what will make the directive an uphill task to accomplish is that most of the routes are no longer in existence since they have been overtaken by development.

“The other impossibility is that some of the routes are already overtaken by development. For example most of the gigantic structures you are seeing today like Aso Rock, Sheraton Hotel might have been built on old cattle routes. So, it will be impossible to reclaim them.

“Where the problem can escalate is where the old route is already overtaken by development. It will be difficult to just go and override them. But those routes that are still intact and fall within gazetted grazing reserve, these ones can be properly utilized, developed and integrated into the ranching programme. It is a question of socio-economic conflict,” he said.

He further warned that there must be consultation with the stakeholders at the different levels to avoid problem because many of the routes pass through one indigenous routes or the other. BECO, through its leader, Mr Gyang Dudu, said the directive would not see the light of day.

 “The truth is that government is not being sincere; they are directing their energy to protect one section of the country against the other. This will only favour the Fulani and that is all. The cattle business is individual business, why is government concerned about private business? Government should avoid what will trigger more problems; they should think beyond old standard,” he said.

Afenifere flays Buhari’s govt

While condemning the decision, pan-Yoruba sociopolitical group, Afenifere, described such move as an agenda to which President Muhammadu Buhari’s is “incorrigibly committed.”

National publicity secretary of Afenifere, Mr Yinka Odumakin, told Sunday Tribune, that Buhari had not, in the five years he has been in office, shown commitment to anything that can unite Nigerians, except playing the interest of one ethnic group against the other.

According to Afenifere’s spokesperson, the new move to revive the grazing routes and reserves in pursuant of RUGA is an agenda in Buhari’s government’s “we” and “them” order to which it is “incorrigibly committed.”

This was just as he said that the Southern and Middle- Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) was already in court to challenge the move to foist on the people of Nigeria such an order having to do with grazing routes and reserves.

Speaking further, Odumakin said the money so far committed to RUGA meant nothing, being proceeds from oil and gas.

“The money they are spending on RUGA means nothing as it is proceeds of oil and gas. It is the agenda they are running that matters,” he said.

Nobody has contacted us for discussion on grazing route —Lagos govt

The Lagos State government has said that it is yet to be contacted by the Federal Government for any discussion in respect of reviving the grazing routes and reserves across the country as indicated in the statement issued by the presidency.

The state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, made this known while speaking to Sunday Tribune by telephone, saying that no message has been received so far whether from the minister or any other source.

Omotoso, however, said the state government would know what to say when such contact was eventually made.

“No message has been sent to Lagos, whether from the ministers or any other source, Lagos hasn’t got anything yet. So, I mean if they come to Lagos, come to us, we know what to say. But nobody has come to discuss anything with us,” he said.

Buhari’s directive political —Gan Allah

In his own reaction, the national secretary of Gan Allah Fulani Development Association (GAFDA), Ibrahim Abdullahi, has described the directive by President Buhari on RUGA as a political statement.

Speaking in an interview on Saturday, Abdullahi noted that no government, previous or current, has taken real measure to end the issue of grazing in the country.

According to him, “some people in government will just coin phrases like RUGA, colony and so on purportedly to bring confusion in the land and make it look as if these policies are meant to benefit the Fulani alone.

“We are always at the receiving end. But no government official has contacted us about the recent statement made by President Buhari that he wants to reclaim grazing routes that had been taken or destroyed.”

The Fulani leader noted that what the country needed is a livestock development programme which would involve every Nigerian since animal husbandry is now a business and not the sole right of a particular tribe.

He alleged that the last Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, compounded the whole thing by demanding that every state should give 500 hectares of land for the RUGA.

“You see this is a political statement. If you are demanding such land from the state governments, no governor will agree to this demand. Whose land will the governor take for this project?

“Ogbeh should have known that there are some grazing reserves that were created by the colonial masters. So, we all know that these reserves were made to serve for the rearing of animals.

“When Sardauna came, he paid compensation to all the people whose land was  taken and converted them to grazing reserves. The 1965 grazing reserves laws provided for that.

“Now, for you to come and say governors should give 500 hectares while the grazing reserves that are supposed to be the property of the pastorialists were not developed or gazetted, it is just politics or any attempt to create confusion.

“So, all these grazing reserves should be gazetted and then handed over to the Fulani. Then those who have not benefitted, it is then you think of additional land,” he said.

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