President Muhammadu Buhari is opposed to open grazing of cattle, the presidency said Tuesday in an apparent effort to douse the rising critique of its statement on Monday, quoting the president as querying the legality of Southern governors’ ban on open grazing.
Presidential spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, while fielding questions on ARISE NEWS CHANNEL said many people misconstrued Buhari’s views on the Southern governors’ resolutions at their May 11 meeting in Asaba, Delta State as an endorsement of open grazing.
Hours before the clarification from the presidency, the Monday statement had drawn flak from the Southern governors; the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere; and some senior lawyers.
The presidency statement by Shehu had questioned the legality of the Southern governors’ resolutions, in which they, among others, banned open grazing of cattle in the South.
The statement quoted Buhari as dismissing the ban, while accusing the 17 Southern governors of not proffering any solution to the intractable farmer-herder conflicts, largely driven by open grazing of cattle.
The presidency announced Buhari’s approval for ranching and revival of grazing reserves nationwide.
But the Chairman of the Southern Governors’ Forum and Ondo State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, yesterday fired back at the presidency, warning that no land in the South will be ceded to those he described “as a band of invaders masquerading as herdsmen under any guise.”
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) also maintained its earlier stance that the ban on open grazing was in the best interest of all Nigerians.
But Benue State Governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom, yesterday kicked against the presidential decision to revive grazing reserves, saying that the reserves, created when Nigeria had a population of 50 million have since been taken over by airports, schools, roads, hospitals and other infrastructure.
Some senior lawyers also faulted Buhari’s opposition to the open grazing ban, alleging ethnic bias.
However, in an effort to douse tension generated by his statement, Shehu told ARISE NEWS Channel that Buhari would want to see an end to the archaic practice of open grazing of cattle.
He added that the objective of the president and that of the governors fully align.
However, he stated that the only difference between the positions of both parties is the approach to achieving the aim, adding that the president is insistent that it should be done in an organised manner.
He said: “The president wants to see an end to open grazing; he wants to see ranching; but he wants it in a way that’s organised and he has a plan for it and the plan will take off in June.”
According to him, all the ongoing attacks on the president are from people who are in the mood for a public fight.
He said states that were able to meet the minimum requirements would be encouraged to embark on ranching, and expressed optimism that those opposed to ranching will change their minds when it becomes fully functional.
Shehu said the president viewed open grazing as old-fashioned and was looking forward to a replacement for the medieval practice.
But he reiterated that banning open grazing without an alternative is not a good approach to the issue.
He said the president was worried about the crisis generated by the matter, adding that the generalisation of every herder as criminals is not the right thing to do.
While admitting that the ranks of the nomads had been infiltrated with people now bearing AK-47 rifles to kill and maim, Shehu called for calm as the issue won’t be solved by public show of strength.
“Let us stop this shadow boxing. You just brought one or two people here who said things that nobody said from our own end. Did the president say he didn’t support…? He’s opposed to the way the governors have chosen to do it,” he said.
On state policing, Shehu said the president was initially concerned that governors who are unable to pay salaries to their workers want to give guns to police set up by them, adding that if it is what Nigerians want, the president would have no option but to support it.
“You hire a policeman. Give him a gun and for one year, you don’t pay salaries, like you are doing to your teachers, that’s a problem,” Shehu stated.
Besides, he added that to implement state policing will require amending the 1999 Constitution, and Buhari has never rejected constitution amendments.
On restructuring, he stated that the All Progressives Congress (APC) wasn’t against devolution of power, as that is the work of the legislature to do.
He also dismissed speculations that Buhari was interested in extending his tenure, saying that those raising doubts over whether or not elections will hold in 2023 are doing so because they are unelectable.
Shehu also said he was not aware of any shoot-on-sight order against Igbo, adding that the rumour is meant to provoke unnecessary public anger.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Southern Governors’ Forum and Ondo State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, on Tuesday faulted Monday’s presidential statement querying the legality of the governors’ ban on open grazing.
Akeredolu, in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant, Special Duties and Strategies, Dr. Doyin Odebowale, said Shehu could not be representing the presidency with his positions on issues of national concern.
He said: “Anyone who has been following the utterances of this man (Shehu), as well as his fellow travellers on the self-deluding, mendacious but potentially dangerous itinerary to anarchy cannot but conclude that he works, assiduously, for extraneous interests whose game plan stands at variance with the expectations of genuine lovers of peaceful coexistence among all the peoples whose ethnic extractions are indigenous to Nigeria.”
He added: “Shehu cannot continue to hide under some opaque, omnibus and dubious directives to create confusion in the polity.
“The declaration that the recommendations of the Minister of Agriculture, Alhaji Sabo Nanono, a mere political appointee like Garba Shehu, are now the ‘lasting solutions,’ which eluded all the elected representatives of the people of the Southern part of the country, exposes this man as a pitiable messenger who does not seem to understand the limits of his relevance and charge.
“Mr. Garba contends that ‘their announcement is of questionable legality’, referring to the 17 governors of the Southern states, but the decision of certain elements to take the ancestral lands of other people to settle their kinsmen, including the ‘gun-wielding ‘killer herdsmen’ and their families, and provide ‘veterinary clinics, water points for animals, and facilities for herders and their families, including schooling through these rehabilitated reserves’ for which ‘the federal government is making far-reaching and practical changes allowing for different communities to co-exist side-by-side’, does not appear to him as a comprehensive plan for land grabbing, a precursor to internal colonialism.”
Akeredolu said Shehu wanted to revive forest reserves “but seems particularly uninterested in the current position of the same law that he and his cohorts often misinterpret to serve parochialism and greed.”
“Governors no longer have powers over the lands in their territories. They must take instructions from appointees of the federal government on such matters,” he stated.
While noting the rights of all Nigerians to move freely in all parts of the country as guaranteed by the constitution, Akeredolu said it was clear that Shehu seemed to have issues understanding the difference between licentious criminality and qualified rights under the law.
He said: “It is our duty to continually nudge him off his current state of cognitive dissonance. His pronouncement betrays dubiousness and mischief.
“Most traditional families in Nigeria have occupations. Pastoralism is not an exception. Any ethnic group still trapped in anachronism may be assisted to embrace modernity.
“Dispossessing communities of their ancestral lands, encouraging denizens of the forests to overrun lands belonging to other people and forcing alien bands of migrants on the local populace to live ‘side-by-side’ with other communities cannot be for the purpose of animal husbandry.
“It raises suspicion on a grand, deliberate, persistent and insidious design to use naked force to subjugate the real owners of the land. Mr. Garba Shehu is a major supporter of the current pervasive anarchy in the land.
“May, we warn Mr. Garba Shehu and his cohorts to desist from hurling insults at the elected representatives of the people. He lacks the authority to make policy statements for the federal government, unless directed, expressly. His acts are clearly those of an agent provocateur.
“No inch of the space delineated and known, currently, as South-west, and indeed the whole South, will be ceded to a band of invaders masquerading as herdsmen under any guise.”
In a related development, Benue State Governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom, has condemned the moves by the presidency to reopen grazing reserves.
The governor said in a statement by his Press Secretary, Mr. Terver Akase, that he read with concern a statement issued by Shehu in which he said the federal government would commence rehabilitation work on grazing reserves in the country next month.
“It is now clear that there is a hidden agenda, which only the presidency knows. Otherwise, all the regions of the country have accepted the fact that open grazing of animals is no longer fashionable and should be banned to pave the way for ranching, yet, the government at the centre is insistent that grazing reserves/cattle routes must be created across the country,” he stated.
Ortom added that the Northern States Governors’ Forum (NSGF) had on February 9 agreed that open grazing was no longer sustainable, in view of growing urbanisation and population of the country.
He accused the presidency of pushing for the continuation of open grazing and the return of cattle routes of the 1950s and 60s, adding that the presidency’s endorsement of open grazing has emboldened armed herders who lay claim to all land in Nigeria as belonging to Fulani, hence their invasion of farming communities and killing of original landowners.
“At present, the routes have been taken over by airports, roads, schools, hospitals, as well as markets, houses and other human activities,” he added.
Also reacting to the presidency’s rejection of the ban on open grazing by the Southern governors, spokesman of the ACF, Mr. Emmanuel Yawe, said the Chairman of the forum, Chief Audu Ogbe, had earlier made the position of the forum known.
“Our stand on the issue was already made known by our Chairman, Audu Ogbe, in a statement he issued on May 17, 2021,” he said while responding to THISDAY’s inquiry.
Ogbe, in the statement, had said that the decision to ban open grazing was in the best interest of all Nigerians.
He said: “ACF does not see any reason to object to a decision taken in the best interest of all.
“The fact of the matter is that the crisis emanates from the belief by most herdsmen that they are free to enter any farm, eat up the crops, and rape or kill anyone raising objections. Nobody or society can accept that.”
Afenifere said the presidential statement opposing the ban on open grazing showed that Buhari’s government was not organised.
The Secretary-General of Afenifere, Chief Sola Ebiseni, said reacting to Shehu’s statement again would amount to dignifying him.
He said: “Having reacted to the statement of the Attorney-General, I consider it infra dignitatem to still countenance Garba Shehu whose statement, claiming the president’s authority, on the same ban on open grazing does not only show how unorganised the Buhari government is, but also a vote of no confidence on the AGF, who should save the honour of his office and the legal profession by resigning pronto.”
Some senior lawyers have faulted the position of the presidency on the open grazing ban in the South.
Some of them described the president’s statement as parochial, sectional and one that is capable of further tearing the country apart.
Mr. John Baiyesea (SAN), who described the statement as part of the bizarre situation the country is dealing with, wondered if such could ever emanate from Buhari.
According to him, such statements are often made under the cover of the presidency.
He said: “It is doubtful if the president knows about such annoying statements, which seem to suggest that he has narrowed his office to the North. I don’t believe that the president will personally support one ethnic group against another or wilfully diminish the scope of his authority. I don’t think he will make himself so irrelevant as president of Nigeria.”
He, however, stated that if the president’s silence to such tribalistic and ethnic posturing of his appointees means acquiescence or approval, then the country is endangered.
“How many times are they to be told (for them to understand), that freedom of movement guaranteed by the constitution is for human beings and not for cows, or animals?
“As long as Fulani herdsmen stay within the law, their freedom of movement is guaranteed. But their cows do not enjoy the same constitutional rights or protections.
“Except for the mischievous intentions of these government officials who are bent on dividing this country, it is too elementary that the constitutional system does not give the rights of people to animals,” he said.
He, however, advised the federal government to be careful not to allow the horrors experienced in Rwanda and Burundi to happen in Nigeria.
Also speaking, Mr. Dayo Akinlaja (SAN), faulted the presidency, saying that the Southern governors acted within the ambit of the law.
He added: “I do not agree with him for the simple reason that it is not in tandem with my previously expressed view that the governors were right in their decision to ban open grazing.
“In a constitutional setting as ours, the issue may have to be referred to the judicial arm of government for resolution. Until that is done, the governors are at liberty to stick to their position.”
Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), also faulted the presidency and advised the government to study the Grazing Reserves Act of 1964, which provides for the establishment and operation of grazing reserves in the North.
He said since there was a popular demand for the proscription of open grazing, efforts should be made to immediately establish ranches.
“It smacks of brazen official impunity on the part of the presidency to have said that the ban on open grazing is of doubtful legality. Last Friday, the Federal High Court ruled that state governments have the power to enact anti-grazing laws,” he stated.
Constitutional lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), accused Malami of ill-advising the president against the stance of the Southern governors.
He challenged the federal government to sue the governors if it is convinced that their position is legally flawed
He said: “President Buhari has obviously been ill-advised on the well thought out Southern governors’ stance against open grazing by the attorney-general whose views were made known only two days ago. Buhari, with all humility, is quite wrong to say the Southern governors’ stance is an act of questionable legality.
“If the federal government feels strongly and sure about its puritanical, but legally flawed stance, I challenge the federal government to challenge the governors’ resolutions by suing all the state governors of Nigeria, through the invocation of the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under section 232(1) of the 1999 Constitution.”
Alex Enumah, Emma Addeh in Abuja, John Shiklam in Kaduna, George Okoh in Makurdi and James Sowole in Akure