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Staccato voices over open grazing ban: Feasibility versus alternatives

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Akeredolu. Photo: TWITTER/ONDOSTATEAPC

Southern Governors’ Stance May Portend Rowdy Senate Session’

How far can the state governors from the former Southern protectorate go in enforcing the ban on open grazing of cattle in the region? That was the general refrain among commentators shortly after state governors from the region made public the resolutions reached their meeting in Government House, Asaba, the Delta State capital.

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In drawing the open grazing line to demarcate the Northern part from the South, the governors from Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Oyo and Rivers states, systematically put a finger on the menace of killer herdsmen, which they saw as feeding the flame of insecurity in the region.

There were other far-reaching decisions taken by the governors, which they disclosed in their communiqué. For instance, the governors called on President Muhammadu Buhari to address the nation in the face of the widespread insecurity in the land as well as convene a national confabulation to discuss the general climate of insecurity engulfing the country, particularly agitation for greater inclusiveness.

While calling for a review of the appointments into Federal Government agencies to reflect the federal character, especially those of the Security Chiefs, the 17 governors declared their support for the restructuring of Nigeria so as to pave way for the evolution of state policing among other security strategies. 

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Perhaps, in an apparent attempt to disabuse the minds of their colleagues from the north that they are charting the path for division of the country into the pre-amalgamation status, the Southern governors affirmed “the commitment of Southern Nigeria to the unity of the nation based on fairness, equity, oneness and peaceful co-existence.” 

In the same breath, they expressed concerns for the financial implication of another lockdown as containment measures, even as they sued for alternative strategies in the battle against the spread of the coronavirus.

But, the unanimous decision of the governors to place a ban on open grazing and movement of cattle on foot to Southern Nigeria, gave a greater moment to the Asaba meeting.

As reactions trailed the governors’ resolve to stop the further application of the antiquated cattle rearing method in the South, the fact that they urged the Federal Government to support  ‘willing’ states to develop alternative and modern livestock management systems, like ranching, was consumed.

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Yet, it was obvious that the Southern governors hit at the core of the problems dogging Nigeria’s socio-economic development, particularly the rising insecurity in the country. Side by side with the ban on open grazing of cattle is the concern the Southern governors raised about the continued gridlock that motorists face along the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, which is being the sole outlet from the Apapa Wharf.  

Reactions, Options
As the resolution of the Forum of Southern Governors to put a ban on open grazing continued to draw diverse reactions, both from state and non-state actors, some observers noted that the ban provides an opportunity to examine alternative options.

The fact that the recommendations grew from protracted skirmishes and untold incidences of loss of lives and property, occasioned by perpetual clashes between farmers and herders, strengthened the governors’ arguments, especially given that they are often referred to as chief security officers of their respective states.

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Those who applaud the governors’ stance, noted that open grazing enabled the herders to desecrate ancient groves in the South, thereby stoking the clashes that have continued to define the farmers and herders cat and mouse relationship.

Some commentators also wondered against the background of the push back from the cattle herders on the ban, whether the Northern region could permit of a piggery in their zone without homicidal incidents.

But, in a statement, the National Secretary of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, Alhassan Saleh, described the governors as confused and mischievous people, stressing: “If they are not confused, then they are mischievous because there is nothing like secret grazing.

“Can they comply with an empty policy? Where are the ranches? Are herdsmen the problem of this country? Are they the ones looting the treasury? They should leave the herders alone. They should stop killing innocent herders.”

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Former National Chairman of the defunct United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie and President Emeritus of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, lampooned critics of the Southern Governors’ resolution. They maintained that if implemented, the resolutions would make for a greater and more united Nigeria, saying that the governors demonstrated that they were fully abreast of issues bedevilling the nation.

Okorie said he was shocked by the level of opposition, especially from some northern leaders over the resolutions, stressing none of the issues reached the meeting undermined the progress of the nation.

He said: “One I find funny is the position canvassed by Senator Ndume, kicking against the ban on open grazing, because the constitution allows for free movement. I started laughing because, at times when you want to defend the indefensible, you end up exposing a high level of ignorance.

“If the constitution provided for freedom of movement, does it also provide for freedom of animals or is he trying to equate human beings with animals? It is sad”

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Okorie urged the governors not to relent in the meeting, stressing that they would not only be helping to unify the country, but also providing solutions to certain challenges confronting the Southern part of the country.

“They are supposed to meet regularly because some of the problems in the south are things they can handle if they have synergy. I also like the fact that they proposed to meet with the senators and members of the House of Representatives from the south and they have shown concern about it that they are prepared to go to Abuja to meet with them to interface with them. It should be done more regularly because it will help to bring national unity”, he added.

Similarly, Uwazuruike, expressed happiness that the meeting held after several oppositions to it, stressing that while the northern governors had always met on issues concerning their people, it had been difficult for their southern counterparts to do the same.

“The outcome is desirable. The communiqué is good. There must be a time when a man will sit up. The northern governors usually meet quarterly, at times six times a year and nobody raises an eyebrow. The communiqué is apt and I am glad they went through the whole thing.

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Now telling the government to restructure is what everybody has been saying. So it was a meeting that came out with more than we expected because most of those governors have been known to be timid and for the first time, they decided to stand up. We commend them. What those criticizing them are doing is just shaking the table. Anybody saying they did not consult them is being mischievous”, he stated.

Uwazuruike, who also stated that opposition to the resolutions, was an indication that something was wrong somewhere, added that governors of the northern part had earlier agreed on a ban for open grazing, adding that what the southern governors did was to endorse it.

Rowdy Senate Session Underway

THE purported ban on open grazing in the South portends a rowdy session ahead of Senate’s sitting. The two regional pressure groups in the Senate-the Southern and Northern Senators Fora, may clash when the Senate resumes from Sallah break on Tuesday. 

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According to a lawmaker, the call for total prohibition of open grazing particularly in the Southern part of the country may destroy the already fragile “unity” that had existed in the Ahmad Lawan-led 9th Senate.

In February 2021, the lawmakers resorted to regional sentiments during the debate on the deplorable state of security across the country. Senator Ajayi Boroffice and 105 other Senators had sponsored a motion seeking serious measures to tackle terrorism, banditry and kidnapping in the country.

Presenting the motion, Borroffice feared that worsening insecurity might result in ethnoreligious war, famine and related crises. Debate on the motion, which lasted over two hours, became tense when a former Nasarawa State governor, Abdullahi Adamu, condemned the threat to ejecting Fulani herdsmen from any state in the country.

In a veiled reference to the quit notice to unregistered herdsmen in Ondo forest reserves by the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, the lawmaker expressed shock that a governor, who should protect the rights of every citizen, issued quit notice to his citizens.

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As soon as the Southern governors rose from a meeting in Asaba (Delta State) and resolved to seek a ban on open grazing, many lawmakers across the Southern and Northern divides could no wait till the Eid-el Fitr break to pour out their reactions.

Some Senators across the two divides are already seeking an immediate meeting of members to strengthen their position ahead of the Tuesday sitting. 

Prominent Northern Senators, including the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, former Nasarawa State governor, Abdullahi Adamu, former Senate Majority leader, Mohammed Ali Ndume have already rejected the position of the Southern governors ahead of the formal position of the Northern Senators Forum. 

Former chairman of the Northern Senators’ Forum and ex Nasarawa State governor, Abdullahi Adamu, could not hold back his feelings when he seized the opportunity of the Sallah celebrations to vent his anger towards the Southern governors’ stance. 

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Reacting to The Guardian’s enquiry, Adamu said the governors betrayed the trust their people had in them. He stated: “Each governor swore to an oath and they emphasized loyalty to the sovereignty of this country. They had pledged their loyalty to the President of the country. That’s their oath of office. While we accept the fact that we have various forms of association and freedom of expression as citizens, they have failed to express their views through the right channel.”

The lawmaker believes that because the Southern governors are members of the National Council of State, they ought to have channelled their issues through the Council, adding: “Every governor is a member of the NCS. There is no better forum at their level to take a joint decision than such a forum. The fact that they have taken a decision as a divisive move, does not speak well of their intention. I feel it is a betrayal of trust.  I think they are just playing to the gallery.” 

Senator Adamu also expressed dismay that the Southern governors didn’t come to the National Assembly to project their ideas.  

“Their members in the National Assembly are representing them, if they have an issue as important as that, which borders on the constitution of the country, they should go there and express their grievances. We would sit, debate it and see how best we can come out of it. There can’t be Nigeria if everyone wants to have things happen in his or her own way.”

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However, as the Northern Senators were expressing strong resentment against the Southern governors’ resolution, the Southern Senators Forum came out strong in commendation.

Chairman of the Southern Senators Forum, Opeyemi Bamidele, said his colleagues in the Forum were full of commendations for the governors from the region for out rightly taking a firm position on burning national issues, including the ban on open grazing of cattle.

The Southern Senators,  he said, were of the view that “such deft and unanimous policy would help in reining in those hiding under cattle grazing to unleash the terror of kidnapping and killing on residents of the region.”

He lamented that Southern farmers were losing hundreds of millions of naira to the plundering of food crops through encroachments on farmlands and exposing the region to famine and acute food scarcity.

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Earlier, the Southern Senators Forum had in a statement encouraged the Southern governors to swiftly follow up on their resolutions by immediately approaching the leadership of the National Assembly to work with the two arms of the parliament.

They stressed that this would ensure that their well-articulated positions on the state of the nation, especially restructuring, state policing and the jettisoning of archaic traditional grazing methods, which fall short of global best practice standard and a potential threat to our national cohesion and peace, are thoroughly and decisively addressed through the ongoing constitutional review exercise.

The Southern Senators noted: “At this critical point of our national life when the economy was being bedeviled by galloping inflation, youth unemployment and insecurity, food security is very crucial to mitigate the effects of these diverse evils on the citizens.

“Available records have shown that attaining food security status would remain a mirage in the south owing to ravaging effect of outdated livestock grazing policy being unleashed on farmlands by some unscrupulous herders.”

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Also, the House of Representatives threw their weight behind the resolutions of the Southern Governors’ Forum on the immediate ban on open cattle grazing across Southern Nigeria.

“We hold that such is a sure step towards checking the infiltration of bandits, armed herders and terrorist elements which has heightened security challenges with escalated killings and bloody attacks on innocent citizens, while crippling social life, economic activities and food production in the region,” they declared.

Besides, the members supported the call on the Federal Government to provide an alternative and modern livestock management system that does not constitute a security and economic challenge to the nation.

This is just as Northern minority members of the Lower chamber, endorsed the anti-open grazing stance of the Southern governors.

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Members of the minority parties from the 19 northern states in the House of Representatives, in a statement signed by Amos Gwamna, (Kaduna); Solomon Maren (Plateau); Rimande Shawulu (Taraba); Mark Gbillah (Benue); Tajudeen Yusuf (Kogi) and  Usman Sokodabo (FCT), said the decision of the Southern governors was apt and the only solution to the worsening insecurity and general discontent among ethnic nationalities in the country.

The group advised President Muhammadu Buhari to heed the counsel of the southern governors and immediately commence the process of restructuring and “enacting a national law against open grazing.”

The caucus said it was happy that the southern governors have finally come to terms with the negative effects of open grazing, which states in the north-central and other parts of the north have been battling with for decades.

“We commend the governors for taking the bold move to speak against open grazing and other ills bedeviling the nation. Benue State had the foresight and enacted a law banning open grazing and was closely followed by Taraba State.

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“Unfortunately, these states have not gotten the desired support from the federal government thereby creating room for some elements to undermine the implementation of the law.

“It is disheartening that in the 21st century, Nigeria still allows pastoralists to move with cattle on foot. This is an anachronistic and archaic practice that has been phased out in all civilised societies and Nigeria must not be left out in endorsing ranching and modern farming techniques.”

Also, the South-South Study Group (3SG), while commending the Southern Governors’ Forum for their “epochal consensus emphasizing the imperatives of restructuring and ban on open grazing, said the timely intervention is a watershed in the annals of the country.

In a statement signed by Otoks Dan Princewill, 3SG urged the Southern Governors to go one step further to initiate collective action to make restructuring a concrete reality.

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The group noted that the immediate consequence of restructuring is security and job creation, which Nigerians sorely need at this point. It added: “The collective words outlined by the Southern Governors as spelled out in the communiqué carry the weight of the will and shared the disappointment of the southern people at the moribund state of federal governance conveyed principally by the catastrophic state of insecurity and disastrous economic condition nationwide. 

“The timely intervention by the Southern Governors presents a watershed moment as the nation becomes a contested arena between the progressive will of the people and the regressive whims and caprices of a few. 

“It is for this reason that the commendable display of astutely effective diplomatic effort by the Southern Governors across party lines belies the urgency and need for relief as demanded by southerners of all affiliation.”

3SG reminded the Southern Governors that now more than ever, “regardless of party affiliation, the citizens of Southern Nigeria look up to this collective body of Southern Governors to protect them from rampaging marauders and bandits.”

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The group noted that by so doing the governors would push forward the collective interests of their people and hold many more positive conferences that also involve other southern stakeholders in the immediate future for the sake of the rapidly deteriorating national state of affairs.

“Nigerians at home and in the diaspora are waiting on edge with bated breath in expectation that this presents hope for a new beginning. The communiqué of the Southern Governors explicitly explains what restructuring entails; review of resource control, revenue allocation formula, strict adherence to federal character principles in appointments and the shared interests of the federating states. 

“South-South Study Group (3SG) calls for immediate implementation by Southern Governors of principles of restructuring within its collective will as it has done with the ban of open grazing. 

“South-South Study Group (3SG) calls for a national referendum preceding any elections to settle these fundamental national issues that will inform the drafting of a new Federal Constitution. All well-meaning Nigerians can then put hands together to build a new Nigeria of our collective dreams,” the group stated. 
Caution, Parity

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HOWEVER, a chieftain of All Progressives Congress (APC), Osita Okechukwu, has appealed for caution over the Southern Governors’ resolution, stressing that there is a need to canvass a dual approach to the issues.

Okechukwu, who is also the Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), urged Nigerians to look beyond the frenzy of restructuring as canvassed by the Southern Governors summit in Asaba, noting that conceding more powers to the governors would put the country’s democracy into grave danger.

In a statement, the VON boss pleaded with Nigerians to tread carefully and not to see the socio-economic and security challenges facing the country as a reason to give more powers to the governors, who he said are already mismanaging their powers as emperors.   

Corroborating Myetti Allah, Okechukwu said Nigerians couldn’t expect good governance when the governors, by acting as emperors, locked up all democratic institutions in their states.

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While agreeing with the southern governors that the progress of nation-building requires that urgent and bold steps be taken to restructure the federation, Okechukwu said the process would lead to the evolution of state police, review of revenue allocation formula in favour of the sub-national governments.

His words: “First, we need Dual-Restructuring to restructure democratic state institutions so as to unlock State Judiciary, State Legislatures and Local Government Councils. It would be paradoxical for us to expect good governance at the sub-national level when the governors have locked up democratic institutions.

“Nigerians must tread carefully, they should not because of the palpable insecurity, despondency and despair in the land hand over more powers to governors, who are already mismanaging powers as emperors. Doing so would by omission or commission, create Frankenstein Monsters, which will put our democracy in harm’s way.

“Let us introspect and come to the reality that all is not well at the grassroots. For instance, in 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari endorsed the amendment of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, where the State Judiciary and State Legislatures were granted financial autonomy, as the foundation for real restructuring.

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“Two years down the line, the governors breached this amendment by refusing to implement Section 121(3). By this flagrant infraction of our Constitution, the governors painfully demonstrated their phobia to an independent judiciary and legislative oversight functions – planks in which good governance is rested in all successful liberal democracies.

“To give life to Section 121(3) two years down the line, Mr. President signed Executive Order 10 in 2020 and the governors in uncommon bi-partisanship headed to the Supreme Court to block the Executive Order 10. The outcome is the paralysis of activities at the judiciary nationwide by JUSUN.

“Earlier on Parliamentary Workers nationwide were on strike, at huge collateral damage to national development. The question is why didn’t the governors implement the amendment of Section 121(3)?

“Can the rights of the citizenry be guaranteed if State Police is enacted under Emperor Governors without an independent judiciary and legislative oversight functions?”

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