President Muhammadu Buhari has hinted at his government’s plan to revive cattle grazing routes and grazing areas set across the country in the 1960s, suggesting an opposition to the open grazing ban announced by the 17 southern governors.
The southern governors had in May declared a ban on open grazing, asking the mainly Fulani herders to practise a settled form of livestock production to control their incessant violent conflicts with farmers and host communities over resources.
But in the wake of that declaration, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami, controversially challenged the governors and set an equivalence between banning open grazing and banning auto parts trading in the north.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how Mr Malami’s comparison was seen as a false equivalence and disguisedly targeting the Igbo group, who are known for auto parts trading, prompting protests on the social media.
After Mr Malami, Garba Shehu, presidential spokesperson, also said the ban by the southern governors was lawless and his principal had a better plan.
“I have asked to dig up gazettes of the First Republic,” Mr Buhari said in his Arise TV interview aired on Thursday morning, referring to the documents that in the 1960s set hundreds of routes and areas for free range cattle grazing across the country.
The routes traverse Nigeria’s states and neighbouring countries, thereby allowing foreign herders to seasonally explore Nigeria for pasture. But the foreigners have been blamed for being particularly violent, a point the president also made in his interview. However, indigenous herders also fight with farmers over access to shrinking resources amid growing population and need for land.
“There are cattle routes and grazing areas,” the president further said. “You have to stay there and if you allow your cattle to stray into another person’s farm you will be arrested.”
He added that “the routes and the areas are known,” and warned that encroachers “will be dispossessed.”
Cattle routes, as well as grazing areas, are facilities to enable nomadic pastoralism and open grazing, instead of a settled form of animal production that allows the herders to be sedentary and practise within a defined property to avoid frictions with farmers.
The farmer-herder conflict has killed thousands and forcibly displaced communities. It threatens Nigeria’s unity and stability largely because the two sides are often of different ethno-religious divides with a history of tension and distrust.
Mr Buhari, in the interview, said the nomadic culture of the Fulani herders was not understood. But many observers have said culture is not static and many pastoral families have settled over the years. Mr Buhari practices a settled form of cattle production in his native Daura.
The president further said that a community-level conflict resolution system would be helpful in addressing the farmer-herder conflict. He said he had to ask two southwest governors to resolve the problem locally using existing traditional institutions.
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