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10 Sep 2016

Grazing Reserves: Federal Government and States In Secret Pact

There are strong indications that the Federal Government might have entered into a secret pact with some state governors in order to create grazing reserves in states across the country as a way out of the perennial clashes between herdsmen and farmers.
Investigations by Saturday Telegraph revealed that some ministers were mandated to approach their state governors and persuade them to key into the project, by wooing them with the Lake Chad Basin Fund and other emergency supports funds which would be paid in millions of dollars for those willing to create grazing reserves within their territories.
Highly placed sources within government circles confided in Saturday Telegraph that some state governors that entered into the pact, will have to cede part of their lands to the central government for the purpose of the project.
It was however gathered that thousands of hectares of land, forcefully taken over, had already been earmarked by some interested states, and in return, the Federal Government will not only boost the economy of the states with agricultural supports, it will also handpick indigenes of those states to be among commissioners in the yetto- be inaugurated Grazing Reserve Commission.
The issued had not only sparked reactions from notable Nigerians, it has also led to a sharp division among the political class, who were hitherto in the process of mending fences since falling apart after the April 2015 general elections, which saw to the exit of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government.
While the All Progressives Congress (APC) government led by President Muhammadu Buhari believes that it is worthwhile for states to cede land to the Federal Government for grazing purposes, most stakeholders are against the proposed National Grazing Reserve, a project that the Federal Government is bent on seeing to success.
The Federal Government had conceptualised the idea to end the frequent clashes between farmers and herdsmen in some parts of the country, but many citizens, groups and organisations as well as analysts have opposed the initiative, citing likely breach of citizens’ rights when implemented.
The 2014 National Conference organised by the Goodluck Jonathan administration had also kicked against the grazing reserves idea and called for the adoption of modern rearing techniques by individual herders against the usual wandering style of grazing.
One of our sources, who is a friend to some of the governors and a frequent caller to the Aso Villa seat of government, said it is a worthy venture that would stop the current frequent clashes between herdsmen and farmers. “This largesse and financial support from the government is in return for land.
The states will enjoy the benefits of the Lake Chad Basin Fund and they would be supported with other funds that are domiciled within the agricultural sector. “Already, some governors have keyed into the project, because they need the assistance. You know what some of them are going through, they cannot even pay salaries.
So, this is an opportunity for them to revamp their economy. “And in any case, the land is just there in most states, lying fallow. Since they have no need for it, it is better to give to the Federal Government.
The project is a good idea, it will stop all these herdsmen attacks and everyone will live in peace, even the farmers complaining now, will have cause to be happy, because there will be no cow to trespass on their farms.
“Are you aware of the Central Emergency Response Fund? The CERF alone gave out about $ 13 million in June to over 200 people in the North-East? The money was to help them start their lives all over again after the Boko Haram carnage in the area.
So, there are many of such monetary gains that will come the way of any state that agree to support the Buhari administration in stopping this Fulani herdsmen crisis. And the only way is the grazing reserves, which we hope the Senate will look into.
Notwithstanding the seemingly positive outlook of the project, some states in the southern part of the country, such as Ekiti, have opposed the idea and have vowed to do everything humanly possible to stop the project in their states.
The state governor, Ayodele Fayose, had even gone ahead to sign into law, a bill prohibiting grazing in the state. In Plateau State for instance, Saturday Telegraph reliably gathered that state government had earmarked 55, 000 hectares of land for the purpose, an issue that had not only generated tension, but also pitted notable stakeholders against one another.
In its wisdom, the state government had argued that the project is a welcomed idea, as it would afford the state to benefit from some money, such as the Lake Chad Basin Fund, which the Muhammadu Buhari administration is said to be prepared to use in assisting cooperating state to meet the challenges of the economic meltdown.
While Governor Simon Lalong believes that the project should be cited in his state, a group of notable individuals led by the immediate past governor, Senator Jonah Jang, and some members of the national and state assemblies, have said that the monetary reward is a Greek gift, calling for a total rejection of the proposed project. But despite the outcry against the idea, Lalong said grazing reserves and ranches are a blessing and an opportunity that the state could not afford to miss.
The governor had recently confirmed the benefits accruable to the state during a chat with newsmen, saying that, “it is something that is very good, because when we are talking of agriculture, when we are talking of huge sums of money lying in the bank, when we are talking of opportunities for people to access loans at very low interest rates for the purpose of agriculture, if we take our eyes away from it, others will take advantage of it and by the time we realise it, we will say ‘oh, if we had known, we would have gone into it”.
Lalong added that the state had benefitted from similar projects in the past and was billed to benefit from the Lake Chad Basin fund among others, which was enough reason to expect the best from the programme. However, Jang, who opposed his successor on the issue, condemned the moves by Lalong to agree with the Federal Government to implement the policy in the state, noting that, he did not and would not support the implementation of any such programme either on the floor of the Senate or at any forum where the issue is discussed.
“The issue has generated a lot of controversy among Plateau people because the government has decided to play politics with issues that affect the very fabric which defines the heritage of our people, their culture and their land.
“Why would a government which claims that its greatest achievement in the last one year has been in the area of peace, be courting a policy that has the capacity to reverse all that gain. The clear message Plateau people want to send to those within and outside the state is that, Plateau people say no to grazing reserves”, Jang had said.
Also, a former Minister of Sports, who is now the Plateau State PDP chairman, Damishi Sango, described the policy as a time bomb that should be carefully studied, urging state governors not to rush into an agreement with the Federal Government without due consultations with all stakeholders.
On their parts, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) called for caution. COCIN president, Rev. Dr. Dachollom Datiri, had during a recent church service to mark Lalong’s first year in office at the Rayfield Government House chapel in Jos, condemned and opposed the bill, while calling on the National Assembly to uphold the trust and responsibility bestowed on it by avoiding the ‘colonisation’ the bill intends to give herdsmen over other citizens.
The Plateau State chairman of CAN, Rev. Dr. Soja Bewarang, had equally call for wisdom in the pursuit of the bill in order not to further complicate issues in the country. The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, had earlier at a news conference confirmed that 11 states have provided 55,000 hectares each, to establish the project. The states include Plateau, Kaduna, Kano, Gombe, Katsina, Taraba, Niger, Adamawa, Jigawa, Sokoto and the FCT.
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