John Ameh,Femi Atoyebi, Sunday Aborisade,Kamarudeen Ogundele, Jude Owuamanam, Mudiaga Affe,Femi Makinde, Gibson Achonu and Peter Dada
About 350 federal and state lawmakers from the Southern part of Nigeria have vowed to resist any move by the Federal Government to acquire land by force from their territories for grazing reserves.
The lawmakers said they would rather support the establishment of private ranches for cattle owners in the Northern parts of the country.
They spoke against the backdrop of the N940m provided in the 2016 budget for grazing reserves.
The South-West lawmakers said that grazing reserves could be created in the North so long as doing so did not include forcing land owners to relinquish their property for grazing purposes.
The most ranked lawmaker from the South-West, who also doubles as the Leader of the House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, spoke on behalf of the 71 lawmakers from the region.
He told Saturday PUNCH that much depended on the details of the Federal Government’s policy on grazing.
Gbajabiamila said, “It depends on where the reserves are located. We don’t know the details yet. The Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, did not mention this, but said there was a lot of fallow land up North where reserves or ranches would be located.
“Please, remember that no one has any issue with grazing reserves. The issue raised by Nigerians is whether or not the Federal Government can forcefully acquire individual or state land for that purpose.”
The South-South lawmakers in the House of Representatives were more direct in their opposition to reserves.
Their Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, who spoke on behalf of 51 other lawmakers from the South-South, called for the enactment of legislation to criminalise grazing outside ranches as the permanent solution to herdsmen/farmers’ clashes.
Ogor, who is also the Minority Leader of the House, said, “The conflicts created by cattle rearers in this country have become a major issue and we must find a permanent solution to such crises.
“Creating grazing reserves cannot be the permanent solution. We should be talking of creating ranches, which limit the cattle to a locality where they are supposed to be catered for by the owners.
“The solution lies in coming up with legislation that will criminalise grazing outside the ranches.
“We live in a modern society and the cost of moving cattle from place to place is there for us all to see in the lives being lost and the property being destroyed.
“Until we wake up and do the right thing, we will continue to chase shadows.”
The forty-three lawmakers representing the South-East in the House of Representatives are already set to protest against the N940m budgeted for the grazing reserves.
One of the senior members from the zone, Mr. Pat Asadu, told Saturday PUNCH that the members were ready to organise a protest if it was proven that the Federal Government planned to create grazing reserves in any part of the South-East.
Asadu, who is from Enugu State, said, “It is a no go area for us and we have said so several times.
“Grazing reserves is not the way to go. I am surprised to hear that N940m is in the budget for grazing reserves. I have called for a copy of the budget and I am going through it.
“We will oppose anything on grazing reserves in the budget. Again, the problem with this 2016 budget is that you hardly know which version anyone is using.
“But, I can assure you that we won’t accept any grazing reserves.”
Similarly, no fewer than 185 lawmakers from some state Houses of Assembly are bitter that the issue of controversial grazing reserve was included in the national budget.
The 27-member Imo State House of Assembly also opposed the idea of creating grazing reserves for the herdsmen in the state.
One of the House’s officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue had yet to be officially deliberated upon on the floor of the House, said his colleagues would not support any move to allocate any portion of the land in the state for grazing reserve.
He said, “The amount budgeted for the grazing reserve is even on the high side, considering the economic condition of the country.
“What the Federal Government should have done is to earmark some amount of money to enlighten Fulani herdsmen on why they should embrace ranching.”
The spokesperson for the 26-member Osun State House of Assembly, Mr. Olatubosun Oyintiloye, urged the Federal Government to review the N940m budget for the grazing reserves to avoid creating a bigger problem while attempting to solve a smaller one.
He said though the national budget had been signed into law, it could still be reviewed by the National Assembly.
Oyintiloye explained that Nigerians, especially those in the Southern parts of the country, were worried over the establishment of grazing reserves in the zone because of the incessant attacks on their people by the herdsmen.
He said, “While the Federal Government might have very good intention of creating the reserves, which is believed to be a strategy to ending Fulani herdsmen attacks on farmers and residents of their host communities in the country, the southerners who are believed to be major victims of the herdsmen attacks believe that the creation of these reserves will compound the problem.
“The Federal Government must listen to the voices of experts; facts should be sieved from sentiments and we must consider best practices in countries like Holland and Brazil.
“For instance, virtually all the milk we consume in Nigeria come from Holland, but you will never see their cattle along the road for grazing and so, we can consider their knowledge useful in that regard.
“While we think this is necessary is that by Land Use Act of 1978, governors are the ones empowered by law to give land for such purpose and no governor will want to joke with the security of his people.
“That is why you hear some governors in the Southern part of the country kicking against it.”
According to the 25 members of the Cross River State House of Assembly, the N940m budgeted for grazing reserves is a misplaced priority by the Federal Government.
While speaking on behalf of his colleagues, the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Mr. John Gaul-Lebo, stated that the Federal Government had no right to forcefully acquire any land from the state government for grazing reserve.
He recalled that the oldest grazing reserve in Nigeria, the Obudu Cattle Ranch, was bought by the then regional colonial government in 1842, adding that if the Federal Government was desirous of establishing grazing reserves in the state, it would have to pay for it.
Gaul-Lebo said, “Grazing is business and not a government venture. If government wants to establish grazing reserves for herdsmen, it is a different ball game, but it cannot force people to surrender their land for grazing.
“Governors are the custodian of the land upon which grazing can be carried on in states. I do not see how the Federal Government can force Cross River State to allocate land for grazing, it will not happen.”
To the 25-member Ondo State House of Assembly, it makes no economic sense to create grazing reserves for herdsmen, let alone budgeting N940m for the purpose.
The Chairman of the state House of Assembly Committee on Information, Mr. Olamide George, said the Federal Government should have used the money for other agricultural purposes.
He said, “The idea of creating or budgeting money for grazing reserves is not good for the country when you look at it critically. If the money is spent on other agricultural purposes, it will go a long way in developing the sector. So, I don’t see the reason the Federal Government wants to spend such money on the grazing reserves which can cause violence.
“The people of the South-West are already seeing the herdsmen as being violent and creating grazing reserves for them in the zone will cause more violence.
“We should develop our agricultural sector in such a way that people will be able to practise animal husbandry in enclosed areas so that the animals would not be destroying other people’s farmlands or crops.”
The Ekiti State House of Assembly flayed the Federal Government for not consulting enough before voting money for the grazing reserves.
The state Assembly, however, vowed to work against creation of grazing reserves in the state.
The Chairman, the House Committee on Information, Mr. Gboyega Aribisogan, who spoke on behalf of 25 other members of the House, said, “The Federal Ministry of Agriculture should have consulted widely before voting the money for the grazing reserves. The money should be diverted to other interests.
“We will never support the creation of the grazing reserves. It is wrong. It is a booby trap; we will not allow that.”
The Edo State House of Assembly comprises 24 members. One of the Assembly’s principal officers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Saturday PUNCH that the issue of grazing reserves would not be mentioned on the floor of the House let alone being discussed. According to him, creating grazing reserves will provoke a bigger problem that will be difficult to address.
Also, a member of the Oyo State House of Assembly, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the state governor, Abiola Ajimobi, had expressed the mind of the people of the state when he said recently that he would not surrender any land in the state for grazing reserves.
“Ajimobi has spoken the mind of the Oyo State people,” the lawmaker said.
According to the lawmaker, the 32-member of the Oyo State House of Assembly supports the governor’s position.
He said, “The House of Assembly is aware of the importance of the matter because many communities have experienced attacks in the hands of Fulani herdsmen.
“The House has been in recess and members were supposed to meet on Thursday, but with the nationwide strike declared by labour union in the country, the session did not hold.”
In the same vein, the Chairman, Federation of Middle Belt People, Mr. Manasseh Watyil, and President of the Berom Youths Movement, Mr. Choji Chuwang, have condemned the N940m allocated to grazing reserves in the 2016 budget.
They described the action as stoking more trouble than the government could handle.
Speaking in separate interviews with one of our correspondents on Thursday in Jos, the duo vowed to oppose the creation of grazing reserves in any part of the Middle Belt.
Watyil said, “The Middle Belt is never in any way in support of grazing reserves. It is all targeted at disrupting the peace of the region. The questions are: whose farmland will be given for that? And who is ready to forgo his farmland? Which area is the grass fit for the grazing? Where is the Savannah? Is it the Middle Belt? Can they graze in the desert or the swampy area such as the South-South or the South-East? The issue of grazing reserve is unacceptable and we are not ready to release our land.”
The BYM president advised the Federal Government to forget the idea of grazing reserve in any part of Beromland.
He said, “They (the Fulani) inherited cows from their fathers and we inherited land. So, we are not going to sit by and watch anybody take over our land. Cattle rearing is a private business. So, why should the government be involved in somebody’s private business? Why should the government take our land and give to somebody else to do his private business? The government is stoking more trouble and we will resist that with the last drop of our blood.”
However, the Special Adviser on Media to the Plateau State Governor, Mr. Samuel Nanle, said that the purpose for the allocation was misunderstood.
According to him, “The provision is for the importation of improved cattle feeds and hay to enhance the ranching option to nomadic cattle rearing.
“It is an agro support provision like it is done for fertilisers and other farm implements in the different value chain programmes in the agricultural sector.”
He said that government would support any measure that could reduce the violent clashes associated with the movement of nomads within the state and country.
Meanwhile, a cross-section of senators from the Southern part of the country explained that the N940m in the 2016 budget was not meant for the controversial grazing reserves.
Rather, the senators, who spoke with one of our correspondents off and on the record, said the money was for “strategic grazing reserves.”
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Information, Enyinnaya Abaribe, said the executive could not vote money for the controversial grazing reserve routes without sending a bill for its creation.
Abaribe said there was no bill before the National Assembly on the establishment of grazing reserves.
He said, “The Federal Ministry of Agriculture wants to use the N940m in its budget to purchase land, in any part of the country and create grazing reserves which will act as last option in case of any emergency.
“The executive needs the approval of the National Assembly to create grazing reserve routes by sending a bill to the federal parliament.”
Also, the senator representing Oyo South, Adesoji Akanbi, said the executive could not allocate resources to a project that was not backed by necessary legislation.
He stated that the executive was, however, free to purchase land in any part of the country and experiment any agricultural practice.
Akanbi said, “We don’t have any problem with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture buying lands to carry out any project, but we are opposed to forceful takeover of state lands to create routes exclusively for herdsmen.”