Samuel Ortom caricature
Ortom's cartoon caricature


Though beset by irreconcilable worldviews, Nigeria has maintained fragile unity, defying previous predictions of impending breakup or possible implosion. But the country’s president, Muhammadu Buhari’s insistent on imposing grazing reserves for the benefit of herders of his Fulani ethnic group in different states of the federation, despite spirited opposition by various groups in the country, is threatening to be the tipping point of the fragile polity.

Piqued by Buhari’s latest quest to force down the reserves, governors and cultural leaders of the various groups in the country have gone up arms, vowing to resist it, while maintaining that the president’s persistence is another evidence of an ethnic agenda.

Recall that President Buhari, through his spokesperson, Mallam Garba Shehu, had last Thursday, announced to the surprise of many Nigerians, that he has approved review of 368 grazing sites across 25 states of the federation “to determine the levels of encroachment.”

According to Shehu’s statement, “The President’s directive followed his approval of the recommendations of a committee chaired by the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari.
According to him, the committee made up of Governor of Kebbi State and Vice Chairman, National Food Security Council, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu; Governor of Ebonyi State and Chairman of NEC Sub-Committee for National Livestock Transformation Plan, David Umahi; Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu; Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono; Minister of Environment, Dr. Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar and Deputy Chief of Staff, Ade Ipaye, had recommended the collection of field data collection on 368 Grazing Reserves across 25 states to assess encroachment and encroachers, stakeholder engagements and sensitization.

The statement further said that the committee, which held its inaugural meeting on May 10, 2021, will, among its terms of reference, “collate from states and confirm the status of all Grazing Reserves, assess the percentage of available land and those with existing encroachment complications for case-by-case resolution in partnership with state governments and the FCT.

“The Committee will also make recommendations for gazetting of ungazetted Grazing Reserves and create a data base of National Cattle Herders and ensure that Grazing Reserves are well communicated to all stakeholders.”

The announcement – coming after previous attempts to introduce grazing reserves for herders through legislation; plot to create Ruga settlements for the herders in every local government of the country, and yet another attempt to create cattle colonies in all states, were, at every point, met with spirited resistance by political and cultural leaders of various states and groups in the country – triggered umbrage, with many dismissing it as still another attempt by the president to appropriate lands of indigenous Nigerians for the benefit of his Fulani ethnic group, in what has been described as an ethnic and religious conquest push.
For many observers, the move is particularly strange, given that grazing reserves never existed in Southern Nigeria, even as the current constitution of the country vests ownership of all lands within states under the control of state governments, and not the federal government.

“Nigerians are disturbed by President Muhammadu Buhari’s kind of leadership; his divisive pattern of leadership is a major blow to national integration,” said Chief Abia Onyike, spokesperson for Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF).

Onyike who expressed dismay at the latest announcement by the president, insisted that, “Cattle herding is a business which people do for profit and like every other business, those into the business of cattle herding should acquire land to ranch their cattle. I don’t know why President Buhari should hijack the Nigerian state apparatus and use it to solve the problem of his ethnic nationality. It is very very dangerous.”

Onyike alleged that the grazing reserves project is an attempt to impose an ethnic agenda, which according to him must be resisted by all Nigerians.

“There are real fears that the federal government of Nigeria as presently constituted maybe working in concert with jihadists who want to impose jihad on Nigeria, because each time this matter is broached and discussed and it goes down, they will try to raise it up again,” he said.

“And we have seen what is happening from the point of view of the law, where the attorney general of the federation has always tried to manifest that tendency of Fulani supremacist ideology; that Nigerian state can now be reduced to being a mere instrument in the hands of an ethnic nationality that wants to impose its will on the entire country of Nigeria.

“They have this idea that they want to dominate the country. So, these are the fears and these fears are genuine, because I don’t see why an elected president like Buhari cannot listen to to the views and aspirations of the of the Nigerian people that elected him into office. He is behaving like a military tyrant; like a dictator. If he continues that way, the only thing open to the Nigerian people is for the national assembly to prepare to impeach him from that office before he allows Nigeria to be taken over by religious extremists.”

The ADF spokesperson maintained that Nigeria is a multi ethnic and multi religious country that cannot be overrun by any group, noting that if those bent on imposing their will on the rest of the country don’t desist, other Nigerians cannot be expected to fold their arms and allow themselves to be decimated.

“Nigeria is a multi-religious nation state. It is also a multi-ethnic nation state. Apart that, the major major ethnic nationalities like the Igbo, Yoruba and others, are capable of remaining on their own as independent republics, so they should respect the views and opinions of these major ethnic nationalities and stop taking us for a ride, because people are fed up with all the schemes,” he said.
“We cannot fold our hands and allow them to prepare the ground for Nigeria to be taken over by Islamic fundamentalists. These Fulani herdsmen, United Nations has labelled them the 4th most deadly terrorist group in the world. Yet the federal government of Nigeria under President Buhari has been pampering them. And in spite of the killings taking place in the Southeast, in the southwest in the middle belt… everywhere they are murdering people killing people, they don’t want to care.

“None of the people perpetrating these killings has been brought to book; none of them has been brought to court. The Nigerian legal system has been watered down.

“For how long will these thing’s continue?” he wondered. “It is an affront on the natural rights of the citizens of Nigeria what is happening in Afghanistan should be an eye-opener to Nigeria and is particularly the Christians because before you know it, they will surrender the sovereignty of the country to these elements.

“And that is why many ethnic nationalities in the federation are now asking for self determination. You cannot force free citizens to embrace a religion that they do not want; you cannot try to impose your will on other people and you want to dominate them in the 21st century. You are going after the lands of their ancestors. This is not acceptable.”

Also reacting to the announcement, Akogun Tola Adeniyi, former MD of the Daily Times of Nigeria and convener of national think tank group, the Gravitas Group for Good Governance (GGGG), described it as an extreme provocation, while emphasising that world has moved beyond open grazing.

Chief Adeniyi regretted that Buhari and those working with him are determined to set the country ablaze.

“Apparently, Buhari cannot be alone in all of these,” he said. “It’s either that he is not in charge or some people are hellbent to set the restive country ablaze.

“This is an ugly act of unmitigated provocation. The whole world has moved on beyond open grazing. There is hardly any country in the world where under age children are deliberately deprived basic education and instead sent on bare feet following cows in bushes and forests for distances stretching to hundreds of kilometers in inclement weather.

“These over exploited children and even their equally deprived fathers and mothers don’t own a single cow and yet those who sentence them to this Stone Age lifestyle live in luxury and enjoy all attributes of conveniences of modern living. It is just not fair.”

Adeniyi equally made the point that cattle herding is a business, and cannot be the preoccupation of the government.
“Cattle business, like fishing, pig farming, poultry farming is a private business,” he said. “Governments don’t own these cows, why should Federal Government under President Buhari insist on raising the temperature of the polity all the time.

“And this has nothing to do with being Fulani. Not all Fulanis are cattle herders. All the cows roaming the forests and destroying other people’s livelihood on their farms do not belong to only Fulani.

“And in any case, Gentleman Shehu Shagari and Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua were Fulanis who ruled this same country before. They did not put the country or the people or state governors through all these agonies and antagonisms.”
He encouraged prominent Nigerians to call Buhari to order, warning that he should not be allowed to provoke anarchy because nobody knows the outcome.

“Elders in the four corners of the country should as a matter of urgency come together and call Mr President to order. They should have the courage to tell the multitudes of unelected power mongers and influence peddlers who have hijacked Buhari’s government to back off.

“Members of the Council of State and the National Assembly should be alive to their responsibilities and be mindful of the judgement of history. Nobody can predict the end of anarchy, so no one should provoke one. Nigerians have suffered enough untold hardship. Deliberate provocation and open invitation to ‘Afghanistanisation’ and ‘Somalianisation’ should not be allowed to compound their woes,” Adeniyi concluded.

On his part, Lagos based constitutional lawyer, Bob Okoroji argued that the move to create grazing reserves is unconstitutional, noting that it’s simply an ethnic agenda, which according to him, Nigerians will not accept.

“The Fulani expansionist agenda has been decoded. They should understand that nobody is going to tolerate it. People have become conscious. The open grazing policy should be thrown into the dustbin. It will never work. It is actually the cause of insecurity,” Okoroji said.

“It is important that those who are into private business should be the ones financing their businesses, not government seeking to seize and acquire indigenous peoples lands four vandals from Sahel who call themselves herdsmen.”

Meanwhile, governors of the South-South geopolitical zone at the weekend, vehemently rejected the move by President Buhari, maintaining that the law had given governors the control of land in their states and it is the governor who “gives the Certificate of Occupancy to every individual and allows them to have full ownership of the land.”

Chairman of the South-South Governors’ Forum and Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa who conveyed the position of the governors in a statement through the state Commissioner for Information, Mr Charles Aniagwu, said the state House of Assembly had already passed into law the anti-open grazing bill into law.

“We are in a country of law and the law has given governors the control of land in their states. The governor is the one who gives the Certificate of Occupancy to every individual and allows them to have full ownership of the land,” he said.
“We are convinced that very soon, the Federal Government will begin to have a rethink, knowing well that it is not legal for Mr President to be the one to map out land in the states.”

Previously, 17 southern governors, under the aegis of the Southern Governors’ Forum, had on May 11 met in Asaba, Delta State capital and resolved that open grazing of cattle be banned across Southern Nigeria.

The governors, had in the meeting chaired by Rotimi Akeredolu, governor of Ondo State and chairman of the forum, said the incursion of armed herders and bandits into the southern part of the country had presented a severe security challenge such that citizens were no longer able to live their normal lives.

Eight weeks after their meeting, the 17 state governors again met in Lagos on July 5 to reaffirm their stance on the Asaba Declaration after a wave of criticisms by the Presidency, Senate President Ahmad Lawan, and the Attorney General of the Federation/Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.

The governor also set September 1, 2021 deadline for all the states of the south to pass legislation banning open grazing, ahead of which states like Ogun, Abia, Oyo, Ekiti, Ebonyi, Rivers, Osun, Bayelsa and Ondo have signed legislations, while Delta, Akwa Ibom and Enugu have sent bills to their state Assemblies. However, a few of the states like Anambra, Cross River, Imo, Edo and Lagos are yet to begin legislative process on the bill.

The president’s move had come in total disregard for the position of the governors who have powers over land in their respective states, and many like governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom who state has been hit hard by the carnage of herdsmen, have vowed to resist the move.

Ortom who was the first governor to sign anti open grazing bill into law, and has at forefront of the resistance against the push by Buhari, yesterday, again restated his disagreement with the President’s directive, threatening to drag the president to court should he insist on going ahead with any policy that will support open grazing or grazing reserve in the country.

Ortom, who spoke with newsmen after arriving Makurdi from Asaba, where he attended the burial of the father of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, insisted that under his watch, the state will never accept open grazing.

While maintaining that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria supercedes the Northern Nigeria Law that provided for grazing reserves, the Governor said the state government will not accept the policy, insisting that he would rather stand with the NLTP.

Governor Ortom wondered why the President has continued to insist on open grazing, which had been banned in Benue since 2017.

He said, “The truth is that if the entire country had accepted ranching, why is Mr. President insisting on open grazing when there is no land for such.

“In the 50s, when this policy was initiated, what was the population of Nigeria, it was less that 40 million, but today we are more than 200 million. The 923 square kilometer is not even enough to cater for the population. The reason Mr. President is insisting on this, to some of us, I think shows there is a hidden agenda.

“Under my watch, Benue State will not accept open grazing. I have already briefed my lawyers should Mr. President insist on going ahead with the policy,” Ortom stated.

Ortom emphasized that the Land Use Act is clear on the issue of land ownership and management, stressing that any attempt to subvert his right as a Governor through creation of nonexistent cattle routes would be resisted with a legal action.

He called on aides of the President to advise him properly on issues so that things would work better for the country, pointing out that insisting on cattle routes in the 21st century when states are enacting ranching laws was retrogressive.

“Farmers have been chased into IDP camps by herders and children are dying of starvation in addition to being denied education, yet what is more important to the central government is the wellbeing of cows. We expected the pitiable condition of displaced people to be the preoccupation of the Federal Government but it is sad that what the Presidency is interested in is grabbing land for cows,’’ the governor maintained.

Ohanaeze, Afenifere, others oppose move

Similarly, sociocultural groups such as apex Igbo sociocultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo; leading Yoruba organisation, Afenifere, among others, have kicked against the grazing policy.

Ohanaeze in a statement yesterday, urged Southeast governors to actualize their resolve to ban on open grazing.

In the statement in Abakaliki, the Secretary-General of Chidi Ibeh-led faction, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, noted that no governor would take the risk of donating lands for grazing reserves in Igboland to Fulani herdsmen without facing curses of Ndigbo.

“We beseech the Southeast governors to suppress the temptation of giving up their stance on open grazing ban for President Buhari’s approval of the 368 grazing reserves in 25 states. We hope that no Igbo governor will sabotage this verdict, as it won’t go without sanctions,” the statement said.

On its part, Afenifere, yesterday, in a statement by its acting Leader and National Publicity Secretary, Chief Ayo Adebanjo and Comrade Jare Ajayi noted that the dictatorial tendency of the President could be seen in his insistence to go ahead with re-opening grazing routes and establishment of ranches in the country when the preponderance of opinions across the country is to do away with open grazing.

The group regretted that on several occasions, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has taken measures that were totally against the interests of the people.

“Contrary to the promises made during the electoral campaigns by the President and his party, All Progressives Congress (APC), the prices of commodities and services have skyrocketed, while social services delivery and infrastructure kept receding. The worst aspect of all is the level of insecurity in the country today.

“Unfortunately, those who should act are expressing their helpless as exemplified by the call of Katsina State Governor, Bello Masari on the people of the state to find the means of securing themselves against bandits who have literally taken control in many parts of the state.”

Afenifere said rather than confronting the challenges having direct bearings on the people, the FG preferred to go for the less impactful things such as regulating the media, going after those who are peacefully expressing displeasure over what is going on in the country and concerning itself with where and how cows are to be grazed.

Similarly, a Coalition of Yoruba Self-determination Groups have called on the international community to hold the Federal Government responsible if anarchy breaks out in Nigeria over the approval of the grazing sites.

In a statement its Secretary-General Steve Abioye, the coalition said the development is part of the agenda of Buhari-led administration to allow the Fulani dominate other parts of the country.

“They first started with cattle colony it was widely condemned, later they introduced RUGA, we said it was not proper, now the contention is about grazing route. Even if there will be anything of such, let it be restricted to the North. Our governors in the South have met and spoken, setting September as the takeoff of anti-open grazing law and we stand by them. The international community should hold the Federal Government responsible if this position eventually leads to anarchy in Nigeria.”



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