Buhari’s obnoxious open grazing routes
President Muhammadu Buhari’s insistence on the controversial open grazing routes does not post a healthy agenda for peace and unity of this country. While the president funds cattle ranching in his home state of Katsina, he orchestrates malfeasance in others by promoting retrogressive open grazing that has no place in law or civilised society. Beleaguered Nigerians have had too-many bloodsheds and killings from avoidable herder-farmers’ clashes, which have degenerated into ethnic violence, claiming thousands of innocent lives. Away from double-standard zealotry and backward model, the Nigerian people deserve from the president more of empathetic leadership that respects rights to life, land ownership and rule of law. The president should rather perish the idea of open-grazing, synonymous with open-conflict; and focus more on measures that promote peace, unity and progress of the country.
Nigeria’s cattle-crisis dated back to the colonial era. That it has festered to earn a dominant space in 21st Century national discourse beats imagination. Buhari’s glaring aloofness has emboldened murderous elements that are pretending to be Fulani herders to perpetuate killing sprees in the Middle Belt and Southern regions with impunity. In disregard of allegations of ethnic bigotry for his kinsmen, Buhari’s administration has not shown any pretense in the grund plan to legitimise open grazing that will amount to land-grabbing in the agrarian communities. The escalating bloodbath in those areas comes as no surprise. Following government’s failed attempt to introduce cattle colonies and Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) policy in 2017, which was vehemently rebuffed for good measures; a more reasonable National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) in 2019 provides for ranching. That has further been modified into Livestock Intervention Programme (LIP) for wider acceptance.
But the crux of the problem remains the freedom given herdsmen to roam freely on farmlands; and Buhari’s determination in planting Fulani settlements beyond the North thus provoking conflicts with farmers. Why is the president not concerned by the worsening crisis, killings and attendant food insecurity in the land? In an Arise TV interview, the president drew attention to the open grazing gazette of 1965, as a justification for the controversial practice. The latest was setting up a committee led by his Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari and immediate approval of their recommendations to “with dispatch” review 368 grazing routes, across 25 states in the country, and more specifically determine level of encroachment.
Buhari refuses to accept that the 1965 gazette is a poor choice to enthrone open grazing. For a fact, the First Republic gazette was for the Northern region, after the then Northern Nigeria Legislative Assembly in 1965 enacted the Grazing Reserve Law to provide grazing rights and land titles to pastoralists, particularly Fulani herdsmen. Besides, Justice Adewale Thompson in Suit AB/26/66 of April 1969 in the Abeokuta Division of the High Court described the grazing of cows as “repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience.” That ruling has not yet been set aside 52 years after. Are Buhari and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN) deliberately going against the rule of law and logic?
Modern provisions of the law, state policies and 21st century development in cities have no place for cattle grazing routes. Though the 1999 Constitution (as amended) guarantees freedom of movement, it is for citizens; not cattle. Under the Land Use Act, Sections 1 and 2, every state government is vested with the right to the title of the land under the ownership and control of the governor, who holds it in trust for the people. Therefore, the governors and indigenes are at liberty to reject open grazing and prohibit open conflicts, as many of them, particularly17 Southern governments, have collectively done. That was after they had been compelled to set up a community police structure to tackle the menace of terrorists masquerading as herders. What is strange is that the federal government has quietly opted for the more popular National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) and its ranching option for Katsina, with an approval of N6.25 billion for its execution.
It is confounding that the president, of all persons, is bent on pitching the herders against farmers through outdated open grazing that will further disrupt peaceful coexistence. What is his interest in herding that is all private business concerns, or in state-owned lands that belong to the people? Why disburse public funds for private ranching in selected states and who approved the disbursement? Why the hypocrisy that prompted human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) to rightly solicit equal measures for other states?
State governors need to stand resolute against provocative autocracy and violation of fundamental rights of their people. The land belongs to the people, not the Federal Government; and states should not hesitate to deploy instruments of the law to rebuff abnormalities. Open grazing leads to cattle encroachments of private farmlands, attendant economic deprivation, conflicts and therefore should be vehemently opposed. As the president and the father of all, Buhari owes the people succor and compassion, which he has not shown in the entire cattle narrative.
Indeed, the president’s desire for open grazing routes is repulsive and completely out of tune with modernity. If by reason of open grazing, residents and herders are always at daggers drawn, then it is only appropriate to explore alternatives in ranching. A parochial insistence on open grazing will only inflame passion as it is already doing in parts of the South. A president’s word will either make or mar his country. Pitching tent with an obnoxious open grazing agenda is not the way to salvage what is left of a troubled Nigeria; nor characteristic of a president wary of ending a failure.