Herdsmen on Thursday threw their weight behind President Muhammadu Buhari who for the first time expressed his support for the recovery of designated grazing routes as one of the ways of resolving the protracted farmers/herders clashes.
Buhari spoke while fielding questions during an exclusive interview broadcast Thursday on Arise Television.
But the Afenifere sociocultural group in the South West, Ohanaeze in the South East and PAN Niger-Delta Forum (PANDEF) in the South South kicked against the move, insisting that the power to allocate land is vested on governors and not the president.
Analysts said if Buhari pursued the recovery of the grazing routes vigorously, prominent buildings in many states across Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) would be pulled down.
They said there were hundreds of kilometres of grazing routes from Maiduguri that passed through Bauchi, Plateau, Nasarawa, Benue, Cross River and the Delta region; and then from Sokoto to Kwara and many states in the South West and South East.
It would be recalled that the 17 southern governors had banned open grazing after a meeting held in Asaba, the capital of Delta State.
Buhari, who expressed his opposition to the decision, directed the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to kick-start the process of recovering land from people who had used the cattle grazing routes for other purposes.
Malami, who had earlier spoken against the decision of the southern governors to ban open grazing, likened it to northern governors banning spare part business synonymous with southerners, especially the South East people.
Asked if he agreed with the AGF’s position, a 2 was Buhari responded: “You want me to contradict my attorney-general?
“What I did was ask him 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) are moving up country, North to South or East to West, they had to go through there.
“If you allow your cattle to stray into any farm, you are arrested. The farmer is invited to submit his claims. The Khadi or the judge will say pay this amount and if you can’t, the cattle is sold. And if there is any benefit, you are given and people were behaving themselves and in the grazing areas, they built dams, put windmills. In some places, there were even veterinary departments so that the herders are limited. Their route is known, their grazing area is known.
“I asked for the gazette to make sure that those who encroached on these cattle routes and grazing areas will be dispossessed in law and try to bring some order back into the cattle grazing,” he said.
Buhari also protested against the utterances of Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom who had accused him of failing to take actions against herdsmen because he is also a member of the Fulani herders.
He said the Tivs, which form the majority in Benue and the Fulanis had been engaged in cultural conflicts for a long time.
“The governor of Benue said I am not disciplining the cattle rearers because I am one of them. I cannot say I am not one of them but he is being very unfair to me and I told him that the Nigerian cattle rearer was not carrying anything more than a stick, sometimes with a machete to cut some trees and feed his cattle but those sophisticated ones move with AK 47.”
Buhari also challenged the 36 governors to tackle security challenges in their state saying they have “very effective traditional institutions and security system at the state and local levels.”
He said instead of rushing to Abuja to tell him to solve their security challenges, the president said they should confront the matter head-on by engaging the critical stakeholders like traditional rulers.
When asked about his view on state police, the President said: “I have been reading it in the newspapers. Those of us who are old enough to know the old NA (Native Authority) police and so on, that time the traditional institutions’ leaders were very effective in each community. I will give you an example of recent.
“Two governors from the South West came to tell me that the cattle rearers in some of the forests there had killed farmers while their cattle were eating their crops. So, I told them you campaigned to be elected and you are elected, he said yes. I said go back and sort out yourself because there has been a system, as all of us here can recall, even in your local government, when there is security at each level at the local government and state.
“It consists of the traditional leader in that area, who had been there for generations. So, they know all the crooks in the locality. Then the police, then those who would come, whether they are cattle rearers or influential traders, they are part of it. They meet either monthly or quarterly and discuss the security at that level. If it is above them, they pass it on.
“So, I told those governors to go back to the older system so that they will have intelligence; you will know what is happening in your constituency. You just can’t go round winning elections and then sit tight and think somebody will do their job for them. I just sent them back.”
On the secessionist agenda of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the president promised to go after the group.
“In any case, we say we will talk to them in the language that they understand. We will organise the police and the military to pursue them,” he said.
Pan-Yoruba sociocultural organisation, Afenifere, said Thursday that the president’s statement on plans to revive cattle routes and grazing areas was unpresidential and a big disappointment.
The group stated that the president has violated the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which he swore to uphold by the statement as the constitution vests the authority over land in a state on the governor.
Publicity Secretary of the group, Comrade Jare Ajayi, in a chat with Daily Trust, said, “ Who designated specific routes as exclusively belonging to those who would be grazing cows? If you are doing this kind of thing in their own areas, it is understandable, that is their own area.
“I have not read anywhere that our forefathers sat down and agreed that these particular routes, maybe from Ogbomosho, to Saki or Badagry, for grazing.
“For us in Afenifere, the statement is unacceptable. We are solidly behind the governors from the South who banned open grazing,” he said.
Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State and Chairman of Southern Governors’ Forum could not be reached for a reaction yesterday as his commissioner for information, Mr Donald Ojogo, declined comment on the president’s statement.
Vice President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo worldwide, Chief Damian Ogene Okeke stated that there was no grazing route in the South East.
He regretted that instead of President Buhari concentrating on restoring the glory of the country, he wanted to revive grazing routes.
“I was expecting the president to call for a meeting of elders of various nationalities to discuss and proffer solutions to the nation’s insecurity. We need to meet ourselves and discuss the way forward for the country. It does not necessarily mean a national conference but we can have an elder meeting,” he said.