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Buhari courts crisis, moves to revive 368 grazing reserves in 25 states

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DESPITE opposition from several quarters, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has moved to revive 368 grazing reserves in 25 out of the 36 states in the country.

Grazing reserves are areas set aside for  pastoralists, particularly Fulani herdsmen whose activities have been the source of bloody conflicts with farmers in agrarian communities in different parts of Nigeria.

A statement issued by Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity Garba Shehu on August 19 said Buhari approved recommendations of a committee to review ‘with dispatch’ 368 grazing sites, across 25 states in the country, “to determine the levels of encroachment.”

But the statement did not disclose the concerned 25 states where the 368 grazing sites were located.

Buhari gave the directive after approving the recommendations of a committee chaired by his Chief of Staff Ibrahim Gambari.

According to the statement issued by the presidential spokesmen, Gambari’s committee had recommended the collection of field data on 368 grazing reserves across 25 states to assess encroachment and encroachers, stakeholder engagements and sensitisation.

The committee also recommended production of maps and geo-mapping/tagging of sites, analysis of findings and report on preparations, as well as the design of appropriate communication on grazing reserves and operations.

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The statement explained that the number of the grazing reserves and states “were deduced from considerations of existing security concerns and other pre-existing socio-economic conditions.”

“The president directed that the assignment be undertaken with dispatch to bring more understanding on the grazing reserves, and implementation,” the statement added.

The statement disclosed that the Gambari-led committee had its inaugural meeting on May 10.

Members of the committee included: Kebbi State Governor and Vice Chairman National Food Security Council Abubakar Atiku Bagudu; Ebonyi State Governor and Chairman of the National Economic Council 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 Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar, and Deputy Chief of Staff Ade Ipaye.

The technical sub-committee was made up of representatives from the seven members of the main committee, in addition to representatives from the Ministry of Justice, Office of the Surveyor General of the Federation, National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA), and National Space Research Development Agency (NASRDA).

Going by its terms of reference, the committee was mandated to 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 Federal Capital Territory.

The committee was mandated to make recommendations for gazetting of ungazetted grazing reserves and creation of a data base of National Cattle Herders while ensuring that grazing reserves were well communicated to all stakeholders.

Grazing of cattle in farmlands is one of the major reasons for insecurity in Nigeria
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Buhari is moving to revive the grazing reserves despite opposition from some stakeholders, including the Governor of Benue State in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region Samuel Ortom, who accused the Nigerian government of having a hidden agenda in its insistence on grazing reserves.

Ortom, whose state had been among the worst hit in cases of attacks on farming communities by armed herdsmen, had noted that Buhari’s insistence on having grazing reserves in the country was a misplaced priority.

In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary Terver Akase, the governor said, “We read a statement issued by Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, in which he said the Federal Government will commence rehabilitation work on grazing reserves in the country.

“We find the move not only shocking and curious but also a misplaced priority. At a time the country is worried about the worsening security situation and many Nigerians are calling for national dialogue to address the fundamental issues that have led to the present state of affairs, the Federal Government considers the reopening of cattle grazing routes as the only solution available to it.

“It is now clear that there is a hidden agenda which only the presidency knows. Otherwise, all the regions of the country have accepted the fact that open grazing of animals is no longer fashionable and should be banned to pave way for ranching, yet, the government at the centre is insistent that grazing reserves/cattle routes must be created across the country.”

The directive for a review of grazing reserves in 25 states is coming about three months after governors of Nigeria’s Southern states, under the aegis of Southern Governors Forum, at a meeting in Asaba, capital of Delta State, on May 11, unanimously resolved to ban open grazing of cattle in the 17 states in Nigeria’s southern region.

“Development and population growth have put pressure on available land and increased the prospects of conflict between migrating herders and local populations in the South. Given this scenario, it becomes imperative to enforce the ban on open grazing in the South, including cattle movement to the South by foot,” the Southern governors said in a 12-point communique read by their Chairman Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State.

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The 17 Southern states are Delta, Ekiti, Rivers, Edo, Ogun, Oyo, Lagos, Bayelsa, Abia, Enugu, Ondo, Ebonyi, Anambra, Imo, Akwa Ibom, Osun and Cross Rivers.

Reacting to the ban on open grazing by the Southern governors, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami had said the decision was unconstitutional. The AGF said open grazing in Nigeria was backed by law and gazetted.

Subsequently, Buhari, during an interview on ARISE News Television, disclosed that he had directed the AGF to dig up a gazette that delineated cattle grazing routes and reserves in all parts of the country during the First Republic as part of measures to tackle herders/farmers’ clashes.

Buhari said, “What I did was to ask him (AGF) 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) were moving up country, North to South or East to West. They had to go through there.”

But reacting Buhari’s statement while also featuring on an ARISE News Television program, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria Femi Falana said counsel given to the president by the AGF was wrong.

According to Falana, there was never a time grazing routes existed in the southern part of the country.

Many Nigerians say Buhari is trying to court crisis in Nigeria at a point when he should be working hard to resolve incesssant farmer-herder clashes and other security challenges attributed to the Fulani, who are mainly herders.

 

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