From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Elder statesman Edwin Clark has described the statement credited to President Muhammadu Buhari dismissing the ban on open grazing by Southern governors in their respective states at their recent meeting in Asaba, Delta State, as provocative.
Clark, who just turned 94, spoke to reporters after his birthday celebration service in his Abuja home.
The elder statesman, who reiterated that he was against calls for secession, urged President Buhari to withdraw the statement, saying it is capable of triggering a national breakup.
Clark noted that the President has never hidden his interest in championing the cause of Fulani herdsmen.
The elder statesman, reacting to Buhari’s statement on the ban of open grazing by southern governments, said:
‘I didn’t want to comment on such issues that will make me speak in a provocative way. However, I will advise Mr President. As I said this morning, on Arise, he is the residents of Nigeria, he is not the President of the North. We all voted for him and under the Constitution, section two, I think, he has a duty to protect all Nigerians and at the same time to provide for their welfare.
‘But a situation now where we have herdsmen carrying AK-47… first of all, he said they were not Nigerians, that they were coming from Tripoli after Gaddafi’s fall, he allowed them to come in killing our people, they are in the South, they are everywhere, they are even killing our people, including people in the North. I do not understand.
‘I remember in those days… when he led a delegation to Ibadan to meet the governor of Western Nigeria at that time, and told him that the Westerners killed about 65 Fulanis whereas only about two of them were really killed. And so, he has been promoting the affairs of cattle herdsmen over the years, and he said is a farmer, he has cattle ranch.
‘But being the President of Nigeria, it is very unfair and provocative for him to say that what the 17 southern governors declared was illegal or does not carry the weight of law. I think that’s a very bad statement, uncharitable, very unfortunate. Because, the constitution which his Attorney General is quoting from time to time, provides only for freedom of human beings, freedom of Nigerian citizens to move from place to place. Not freedom of cattle or goats or sheep that they can come into your house, they can do whatever think they like, no.
‘When I was young, over 80 years ago, we lived with the Fulani herdsmen at home, nothing happened, we all lived together. But what governors are saying is that herdsmen that carry guns, that rape our women, kill our people, kidnap our people must leave, should not be allowed. Open grazing is very archaic. These were the practice 80 years ago in this country.
‘In all other parts of the world. like Malaysia, everywhere they have changed. We now have modern ranching. So, that’s the position.
‘Mr President’s statement is very uncalled for. And, as I said, I remember the Vice President of Nigeria, who is the number two to him, is the leader of the Economic Council that is provided for in the Constitution. All governors are members, the Minister of Finance is a member, the Attorney General is a member. They met some time ago, I don’t know the date now, and passed a resolution that open grazing is archaic, dangerous and should be set aside and let us embrace ranching, modern ranching. The 19 governors of the North also met and took similar decisions, particularly the Governor of Kano State. He said that he has enough land for ranching for all the herdsmen.
‘So, for him (Buhari) not to condemn any of those ones, for him now to say for the first time, southern governors met he is worried. When the 19 northern governors meet from time to time, he’s not worried. He has never criticized them.
‘So, I appeal to him to withdraw that statement and make peace with all Nigerians, we have no other country to go to. I do not believe in secession. I do not believe in the breakup of Nigeria. But these are huge issues that may break up this country. You can’t force your will on people. The governors were elected in the same way he was elected. And they are the chief security officers of their state, they control the Land Use Act, which is embedded in the Constitution.
‘The federal government cannot go to any state to acquire land. So, if he issued such a statement what does it mean?…
Also speaking, former Governor of Bayelsa State, Senator Seriake Dickson, while congratulating Clark at 94, said the Ijaw nation aligned with his views on a fair, just and equitable country for all.
‘I have heard a little bit of his admonition to the country, and his repeated call for a fair Nigeria, for a just Nigeria which he has said time and time again and that is our Ijaw position. We do not believe in any secessionist agenda. We have none of that. But we will not relent in talking about the ideals of a free and just Nigeria,’ Senator Dickson said.
‘We will not hold back in fighting and pushing, working with friends and allies and all Nigerians from all walks of life from all religious backgrounds and all corners of our country, pushing and working together as brothers and as friends and as allies for a better Nigeria, an equal and just Nigeria for a greater and more prosperous Nigeria. And that is what he has wished all of us, and we support him in that prayer.’