Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper
The case has been made for the benefit of Nigeria’s peace, unity and prosperity: There is nothing wrong with grazing reserves. But it should be a business for the private sector to handle on the basis of a dual agricultural venture in which all participants win. Canvassing for the establishment of grazing reserves in the country, as is the case of recent, therefore, should not mean that the Federal Government would go out of its way to set up reserves indiscriminately for herdsmen using public funds and appropriating people’s land. The herdsmen should buy land or lease same to establish private ranches for their livestock as is done in other parts of the world. Anything else would be unfair to indigenous farmers and other types of businesses. Government could even create the enabling environment by earmarking money to be loaned to the herdsmen who want to establish such ranches.
Against this backdrop, the proposal by the Federal Government to build ranches and grazing reserves for herdsmen is wrong-headed and should be stopped forthwith; otherwise, the impression would be created that government is giving special preference to a certain category of Nigerian agricultural entrepreneurs over others.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir David Lawal, had while receiving a delegation of Tabital Pulako Njode Jam Foundation, recently, in Abuja, disclosed that the Federal Government would soon establish ranches and grazing reserves for herdsmen in order to stave off further violent altercations between the pastoralists and sedentary farmers. The Foundation was set up to look into the problem of clashes between herdsmen and farmers.
Lawal was supposedly reiterating the decision of the present administration to establish ranches and grazing reserves across the country. In an attempt to exonerate the herdsmen from the dastardly acts they have committed against innocent citizens in different parts of the country, the SGF had earlier said that nomads from outside Nigeria who migrated into the country were those perpetrating most of the crimes on farmlands. This is unbelievable.
The insinuation that foreign herdsmen are responsible for the killing of innocent people in different communities across Nigeria is , indeed, an afterthought that needs to be proved if the government would not be guilty of sensitivity. Where were the country’s security agencies when the hordes of migrant herdsmen from neighbouring countries invaded Nigeria with their livestock? Living in denial will not help Nigeria solve this potentially turbulent issue of herdsmen.
Livestock rearing in Nigeria is entirely a private business. And like all other private businesses, the herdsmen should take full responsibility for their business. The establishment of grazing reserves is absolutely their responsibility and not that of the government. Farmers, for example, are not being handed free hectares of farmland on which to plant their crops. Except where a state decides to establish grazing reserves, every other private business owner should take full responsibility for that business.
People, not necessarily livestock owners, could buy land and create such grazing reserves which is a business that thrives in other climes. In the United States, Mexico and Canada, for example, private businessmen set up such reserves which are leased out to livestock farmers. It works excellently well as both parties benefit.
Building such a grazing field is not a public utility like school, hospital and such other social service facilities, which is why all the states in Southern Nigeria are resisting it.
Already, the Ekiti State Government has enacted a law outlawing herding of cattle indiscriminately in the state except in designated places and at appointed time. And to show that it is serious, one herdsman has been sentenced to two years in prison for contravening the law. Other states like Oyo and Plateau have also set up and armed vigilantes to deal with herdsmen found grazing without care in their states.
The Federal Government should not pretend to be insensitive to the outrage that has greeted the activities of the herdsmen. Land remains an inalienable asset to any community. That explains why people are ready to shed their blood to protect their land.
It needs to be pointed out that the move to establish grazing reserves is seen as part of territorial aggression and conquest by a section of the country which is unacceptable to other parts.
The Federal Government should avoid doing anything that could potentially set the country on fire.