Herders and some farmers on Thursday throw their weight behind President Muhammadu Buhari who for the first time expressed his support for the recovery of designated grazing routes as one of the ways of resolving the protracted farmers/herders clashes.
President Buhari spoke while fielding questions during an exclusive interview broadcast Thursday on Arise Television.
But the Afenifere sociocultural group in the South West, Ohanaeze in the South East and PAN Niger-Delta Forum (PANDEF) in the South South kicked against the move, insisting that the power to allocate land is vested on governors and not the president.
Analysts noted that if President Buhari pursued the recovery of the grazing routes vigorously, prominent buildings in many states across Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) would be pulled down.
They said there were hundreds of kilometres of grazing routes from Maiduguri that passed through Bauchi, Plateau, Nasarawa, Benue, Cross River and the Delta region; and then from Sokoto to Kwara and many states in the South West and South East.
It would be recalled that the 17 southern governors had banned open grazing after a meeting held in Asaba, the capital of Delta State.
President Buhari, who expressed his opposition to the decision, directed the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to kick-start the process of recovering land from people who had used the cattle grazing routes for other purposes.
Malami, who had earlier spoken against the decision of the southern governors to ban open grazing, likened it to northern governors banning spare part business synonymous with southerners, especially the South East people.
Asked if he agreed with the AGF’s position, President Buhari responded: “You want me to contradict my attorney-general?
“What I did was ask him to go and dig the gazette of the First Republic when people were obeying laws. There were cattle routes and grazing areas. Cattle routes were for when they (herdsmen) are moving up country, North to South or East to West, they had to go through there.
“If you allow your cattle to stray into any farm, you are arrested. The farmer is invited to submit his claims. The Khadi or the judge will say pay this amount and if you can’t, the cattle is sold. And if there is any benefit, you are given and people were behaving themselves and in the grazing areas, they built dams, put windmills. In some places, there were even veterinary departments so that the herders are limited. Their route is known, their grazing area is known.
“I asked for the gazette to make sure that those who encroached on these cattle routes and grazing areas will be dispossessed in law and try to bring some order back into the cattle grazing,” he said.
Pan-Yoruba sociocultural organisation, Afenifere, said Thursday that the president’s statement on plans to revive cattle routes and grazing areas was unpresidential and a big disappointment.
The group stated that the president has violated the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which he swore to uphold by the statement as the constitution vests the authority over land in a state on the governor.
Publicity Secretary of the group, Comrade Jare Ajayi, said, “ Who designated specific routes as exclusively belonging to those who would be grazing cows? If you are doing this kind of thing in their own areas, it is understandable, that is their own area.
“I have not read anywhere that our forefathers sat down and agreed that these particular routes, maybe from Ogbomosho, to Saki or Badagry, for grazing.
“For us in Afenifere, the statement is unacceptable. We are solidly behind the governors from the South who banned open grazing,” he said.
Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State and Chairman of Southern Governors’ Forum could not be reached for a reaction as his commissioner for information, Mr Donald Ojogo, declined comment on the president’s statement.
Vice President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo worldwide, Chief Damian Ogene Okeke stated that there was no grazing route in the South East.
He regretted that instead of President Buhari concentrating on restoring the glory of the country, he wanted to revive grazing routes.
“I was expecting the president to call for a meeting of elders of various nationalities to discuss and proffer solutions to the nation’s insecurity. We need to meet ourselves and discuss the way forward for the country. It does not necessarily mean a national conference but we can have an elder meeting,” he said.
The Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) said that President Buhari’s comments throughout the entire interview were a disaster.
The spokesman of the group, Ken Robinson said PANDEF was not utterly surprised at the president’s ostensibly declaration of support for open grazing.
“Everything about this presidency indicates that it is not nationalistic. The conduct and actions of this administration have been largely parochial and sectional.”
When contacted for a reaction, the Head, Media and Public Affairs, NGF Secretariat, Mr Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, said that there was no need to join issues with President Muhammadu Buhari.