President Muhammadu Buhari recently disclosed that the Federal Government will excavate the First Republic gazette that mapped out cattle grazing routes across the country to enable herders have access to them. The president’s directive to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), during his recent interview with Arise Television to reclaim the grazing routes has been criticised by many Nigerians and ethnic organisations.
While some of the critics, who opposed it, noted that the untoward move will escalate the herders/famers crisis and worsen the general insecurity in the country, others, who supported it, claim that such a gazette exists in some states in the North. Social cultural groups such as Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere and others in the Middle Belt have lampooned the plan to open non-existing open grazing routes and considered it as a provocative agenda to further throw the country into avoidable national crisis of unimaginable proportion.
It is unfortunate that President Buhari’s intention to reopen the grazing routes came on the heels of the recent ban on open grazing by the 17 southern governors after their meeting in Asaba, Delta State. While the Federal Government claims that there is a gazette on open grazing routes across the country, notable Nigerians, including renowned lawyers and opinion leaders have faulted the claim.
Prominent Nigerian lawyers, Femi Falana (SAN), Afe Babalola (SAN) Mike Ozekhome (SAN) and Aloy Ejimakor have maintained that no such law exists. Moreover, they have separately opined that the Land Use Act of 1978, which empowers every state governor the right to control the land in his state, has overtaken the so-called grazing gazette if it exists. According to Ozekhome, “there is no such gazette that operates or operated across the entire length and breadth of Nigeria. Even if there was, the Land Use Act overrides it because it has constitutional flavour and imprimatur in Section 315.
The plan to reopen grazing routes is seen by many Nigerians as a deliberate ploy by the Buhari administration to entrench Fulani hegemony across the country and thereby usurp other peoples’ lands. The move clearly shows that the government is insensitive to the plight of farmers who are the major victims of the activities of AK-47 wielding killer herdsmen. There is no doubt that the plan to carve out grazing routes at this point in time for a private business is not only primitive but also disingenuous and anachronistic to national peace, unity and stability. It will not bode well for the country. Therefore, the national interest must not be sacrificed on the altar of narrow ethnic agenda.
We see the government’s plan on open grazing as an attempt to cause division and rubbish the sacrifices of our founding fathers, who envisioned a peaceful and united Nigerian nation. And since animal husbandry, which includes cattle rearing, is a private business, we urge the government to exercise extreme caution in its unbridled haste to resurrect the so-called open grazing routes. Resurrecting the open grazing routes, as the government has insisted it would, will further widen our fault lines and exacerbate the herders/farmers clashes.
Alternatively, the government can map out concrete plans to encourage cattle breeders to embrace ranching, which is the best method to rear cattle without destroying framers’ crops. We also believe that ranching, as it is practiced in the civilized world, is a suitable alternative to grazing routes and grazing reserves because it offers a veritable platform to run cattle business without harming others and their businesses. The government should not be seen to be decrying the mounting insecurity in the land and at the same time fueling it by its hard stance on open grazing. Modern animal husbandry practices remain the panacea to the herdsmen violence.
Overtime, many farmers have lost their crops and farmlands to cattle herders’ encroachment and some have paid the supreme price in defence of their farmlands. Early in 2016, herdsmen killed over 400 people in Agatu, Benue State, and confiscated their land. In April 2016, herdsmen slaughtered over 40 people in Ukpabi-Nimbo, Enugu State. The herders/farmers crisis in Southern Kaduna claimed hundreds of lives and destruction of property in early 2017. These are just some of the cases. The Global Terrorism Index (GTI), an Australia based Non- Governmental Organisation (NGO), placed Fulani herdsmen as the fourth deadliest terror group in the world in its 2015 Global Terrorism Index. It estimated that they killed 1,229 Nigerians the previous year.
Considering the mounting criticisms against open grazing across the country, we think that the best thing the Buhari administration should do now is to immediately drop the idea of resurrecting the open grazing routes and encourage the cattle farmers to urgently embrace ranching, which is still the best option to rear cattle in the modern world.