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This major contradiction by the Presidency has generated reactions across Nigeria.
Governors of the southern states, in what has come to be known as the ‘Asaba Declaration,’ had banned open grazing in their territories while at the same time insisting on the restructuring of the country.
The position of the 17 southern governors was reached in Asaba, Delta State, on May 11.
Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity Garba Shehu, in a statement on May 24, said the ban on open grazing by the Southern Governors Forum was of ‘questionable’ legality.
“It is equally true that their (Southern governors) announcement is of questionable legality, given the constitutional right of all Nigerians to enjoy the same rights and freedoms within every one of our 36 states (and Federal Capital Territory) – regardless of the state of their birth or residence,” parts of the statement issued by the presidential aide said.
Shehu had gone ahead to state that the action taken by the southern governors did not find solutions to challenges of governance but only served to wash their hands off hard choices by, instead, issuing bans that said, ‘not in my state.’
“It is very clear that there was no solution offered from their resolutions to the herder-farmer clashes that have been continuing in our country for generations,” the presidential spokesman noted in the statement that was widely attributed to Buhari.
Shehu added that the ban on open grazing by the southern governors amounted to mere show of power, noting that Buhari had already approved a number of specific measures recommended by Minister of Agriculture Sabo Nanono to bring a permanent solution to the problem.
The measures, according to Shehu, included an actionable plan of rehabilitating grazing reserves in the states, starting with those whose governments were “truly committed to the solution and compliant with stated requirements.”
Shehu’s comments elicited outrage from a cross section of Nigerians, including southern governors, the Yoruba socio-cultural group Afenifere, and some senior lawyers.
Apparently in response to the misgivings expressed over his earlier statement, the presidential aide on May 25 made clarifications, saying Buhari was actually not in support of open grazing.
Fielding questions on ARISE News Channel, Shehu, who has been making comments that are being directly attributed to Buhari, said the president’s stated opposition to the southern governors’ resolutions was not an endorsement of open grazing.
“The president wants to see an end to open grazing; he wants to see ranching; but he wants it in a way that is organised and he has a plan for it and the plan will take off in June,” Shehu said.
“Did the president say he didn’t support…? (the resolution of the Southern governors). He’s opposed to the way the governors have chosen to do it,” he added.
- Akeredolu wonders whether Shehu actually speaks for Buhari
Meanwhile, Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu has suggested that Shehu may not be getting Buhari’s approval before issuing statements and speaking in his name.
In a statement on May 25, in which he insisted that no land in the South would be ceded to ‘a band of invaders masquerading as herdsmen,’ Akeredolu said Shehu should tell Nigerians who he was speaking for.
The statement signed by Akeredolu’s media aide Doyin Odebowale insinuated that Shehu was a messenger working for an interest outside the Presidency.
Parts of the statement said, “Anyone who has been following the utterances of this man (Shehu), as well as his fellow travellers on the self-deluding, mendacious but potentially dangerous itinerary to anarchy, cannot but conclude that he works, assiduously, for extraneous interests whose game plan stands at variance with the expectations of genuine lovers of peaceful coexistence among all the peoples whose ethnic extractions are indigenous to Nigeria.
“Mr Garba must disclose, this day, the real motive(s) of those he serves, definitely not the President.
“He cannot continue to hide under some opaque, omnibus, and dubious directives to create confusion in the polity. The easy recourse to mendacious uppity in pushing a barely disguised pernicious agendum is well understood.
“The declaration that the recommendations of the Minister of Agriculture, Alhaji Sabo Nanono, a mere political appointee like Garba Shehu, are now the ‘lasting solutions’ which eluded all the elected representatives of the people of the Southern part of the country, exposes this man as a pitiable messenger who does not seem to understand the limits of his relevance and charge.”
Seeming to share Akeredolu’s views, Secretary General of Afenifere Sola Ebiseni observed that the statement issued by Shehu to question the legality of the southern governors’ ban on open grazing, ‘claiming the president’s authority,’ “shows how unorganised the Buhari Government is.”
The ICIR observed that the suggestion that Buhari was not in support of open grazing differs from the publicly expressed views of some of his key aides and appointees.
Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami had opposed the ban on open grazing.
Malami equated southern governors ban on open grazing in the South to northern governors banning spare parts trading in the North. Southerners constitute the majority of spare parts traders in the North.
But while his aides and appointees have weighed in on the current debate over the propriety or otherwise of open grazing, Buhari is yet to personally speak on the matter.