Thursday, 21st September 2023

Grazing reserve controversy quakes Plateau

By Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos
22 July 2016   |   2:45 am
This has unwittingly encouraged the herdsmen into claiming inalienable rights to graze their cattle anywhere in the country, with the farmers whose major occupation involved the cultivation of ancestral lands having to contend with their crops and farmlands being destroyed.
Gov. Simon Lalong of Plateau state.

Gov. Simon Lalong of Plateau state.

No doubt there has been fracas between cattle herdsmen and farmers across the country on a high scale resulting in fatalities. It is also an obvious fact that the Federal Government has not taken decisive measures to stop the carnage in the same vein as the challenges of Boko Haram, militancy in Niger Delta and agitations from the South East.

This has unwittingly encouraged the herdsmen into claiming inalienable rights to graze their cattle anywhere in the country, with the farmers whose major occupation involved the cultivation of ancestral lands having to contend with their crops and farmlands being destroyed.

In the midst of the unending bloodshed and destruction as well as the public outcry and criticism of the government inaction, the grazing Bill surfaced in the National Assembly.

The Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh has been passionate about government’s determination to put an end to the herdsmen/farmers clash by creating grazing lands across the country, while at the same time, preserving land for farming particularly in areas where they live on tilling the soil.

Ogbeh had disclosed that 11 states of the federation have volunteered land for grazing and appealed to other states to support the plan. But this has generated negative reaction from most states in the southern part of the country, which insisted that they were opposed to grazing corridors and grazing reserves.

Many Nigerians particularly from the southern part however have their reservation about the policy. Those opposed to the introduction wanted the programme to be limited to the northern part.Only recently the South East and South South Houses of Assembly, jointly met in Owerri, the Imo State capital and among other decisions taken, was that they were opposed to any form of grazing reserves or grazing corridors for cattle. They also rejected the Federal Government proposed grazing bill to that effect.

Governors of the All Progressives Congress (APC) controlled states met few days back in Benin City, Edo State and expressed concern over the violence, killings and destruction of property resulting from herdsmen/farmers clash across the country.

They enjoined governors in various states, where there have been clashes between the people and suspected Fulani herdsmen, to meet with the herdsmen with a view to stemming the occurrences.

“We also deliberated on the issues of Fulani herdsmen and the crisis we have had as a result of some of their activities and we have requested that all governors should engage the Fulani in their areas with a view to finding a lasting solution and avoid further clashes from now henceforth,” the APC governors stated at the end of the meeting.

Earlier, some states including Oyo, Benue, Kwara, Enugu and Plateau have kicked against the planned grazing corridor or reserve insisting on ranches that could be managed and controlled.It has been a problematic issue in Plateau State, which has had a long history of violence arising from frequent clashes between farmers and cattle herders.

Last Monday, suspected cattle herdsmen murdered the Saf Ron Kulere, the traditional ruler of Bokkos and Chairman, Bokkos Traditional Council in Bokkos Local Government Area of the State, Lazarus Agai, in his home village of Sha.Bokkos is the ancestral home of former governor of the state and Senator representing Plateau Central district, Chief Joshua Dariye.

A previous move by the state government through a committee to fashion out a proper way to resolve the issue generated tension threatening to breach the peace of the state, as it was seen as a ploy to introduce grazing through the back door.

A youth group named Plateau G-17 Youths for Peace and Progress, rejected it and appealed to the state government to rescind its decision.The Berom Educational and Cultural Organistion (BECO) reinforced the G-17 position arguing that grazing reserves was not welcomed and would not be tolerated in the state.

According to them, the grazing reserve was a surreptitious way to take their ancestral land and give it to ‘strangers’ whom they dubbed as land speculators and ‘special Nigerian.’ “We will not succumb to deceitful devices of territorial expansion for the benefits of ‘special Nigerian.’ We will, however, lend encouragement to any individual or group that is predisposed to the idea of ranching on his ancestral or acquired land.”

As this controversy raged, another group staged a peaceful protest in favour of the government’s position of adopting a ranching policy. The group, acting under the aegis of Plateau Peace Vanguard, said in various placards that they were peace lovers and stressed that since the governor’s intention was to bring peace and economic development to the state, they stand by the Governor, Simon Lalong.

During the protest, which some persons alleged was stage-managed by government, their Spokesman, Mr. Timdi Nkat, said: “The government has in several instances, made it clear that the ranching policy is part of a plan to boost the agricultural potential of the state by providing livelihood opportunities to our teeming youth and at the same time, addressing some of the underlying causes of violent conflicts yet from the events that have been unfolding in recent times.”

However, the people were still apprehensive given what they have suffered in the hands of the so-called unknown gunmen on their farmland where many lives were lost, particularly in Riyom and Barkin Ladi councils, dominated predominantly by farmers.In particular, these two local governments are insisting and remained opposed to ceding their land for grazing or ranching.

The state government has actually been very cautious because of the religious dimension to the problem. The herdsmen are known to be pastoral Muslims while the natives are mostly Christians.

The immediate past governor of the state, Senator Jonah David Jang, added his voice to those opposed to the planned grazing policy. “Plateau people must rise against any subtle attempt or otherwise to cede their land for the purpose of satisfying the selfish and egotistical whims of a few who are hell bent on disturbing the peace of the state,” he said in a statement issued by his media aide, Comrade Clinton Garuba.

But clarifying the state government position on the ranching policy, Lalong explained that it was meant to be voluntary designed to benefit all ethnic nationalities in the state and not for a particular ethnic group.

The governor, who has embarked on consultative meetings since the controversy to douse tension, added that when his government came on board, it promised to work with the over 50 ethnic nationalities on the Plateau and not a section of it. “It is in the light of the importance of the ranching policy that I have been convening consultative meetings.

“On assumption of office, I promised that anything that would bring in conflicts in the state, government would always go into consultation with a view to bringing an amicable settlement for peace to reign.”

Also, Provost, College of Animal Health Technology, Vwang, Plateau State, Prof. Garba Sha’arubutu, endeavoured to convinced the people on the Federal Government’s ranching policy of modern livestock production. He noted that it was conceived to set up a centre of grazing across Nigeria as well as resolve the contentions between the herdsmen and farmers in rural communities.

Sha’arubutu disclosed this during a dinner organised by Governor Lalong, the state legislators and members of the committee set up by government to investigate issues related to the policy.Sha’arubutu contended that the committee set up by the government to investigate the pros and cons of the ranching policy recommended the adoption of the policy in the state because of its economic and security benefits.