JOLTED out of his reverie by the force of the Southern Governors’ Forum’s decision to ban open cattle grazing in Southern Nigeria, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has summarily dismissed the governors’ resolution.
Toeing the repugnant line of his Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami, Buhari, in a statement entitled, ‘President Buhari okays deep-rooted solutions to herdsmen attacks, clears the way for ranching and revival of forest reserves,’ described the ban as “unconstitutional,” of questionable legality, mere politicking and an attempt to demonstrate their (governors) executive powers.
Asserting that the ban was not the solution to herdsmen’s murderous campaign against farmers, he claimed that the governors pre-empted him in that he was about to revive the abandoned grazing reserves in the states that are willing. All this is superficial.
Once again, Buhari misreads the mood of the citizens; unable to elevate his sinking Presidency above his constricted ethnic cocoon. No deep thought went into this pedestrian statement. Unambiguously, the SGF only reinforced the popular demands of their people.
Moreover, Buhari is aggravating a toxic situation with his narrow interpretation of the security breaches traced to the herdsmen. Fulani herders had cemented their international infamy since 2015 after the Global Terrorism Index classified them as the world’s fourth deadliest terror group. In that wise, even the SGF’s decision is belated. But unjustifiably, Buhari thinks it is all about politics, or ethnic solidarity. He is blatantly wrong.
His defence of open grazing is weak. Note that the governors did not ban anybody from free movement. Unhindered, Nigerians are carrying out their business in every part of the country without molestation or threat of ejection. The only caveat is that open herding be banned because it is a bloody wedge being exploited to kidnap, destroy farmland, rape and kill. There is nothing wrong with this; it is the first duty of every government to protect its human and economic assets.
What will the President say about the 12 states in the North that have added criminal law to the jurisdiction of Shari’a? Since 2000, the implementation of the Islamic Shari’a law has been affecting the lives and businesses of non-Muslims, especially from the South. Hisbah destroys thousands of bottles of beer and other alcoholic beverages seized from non-Muslim Southern traders regularly. The enforcers similarly brazenly violate the rights of non-indigenes on the pretext of implementing the controversial Islamic law. Is there justice in all this?
Cattle breeders cannot and should not be treated differently from beer sellers, vehicle spare parts sellers, or fishermen. Nigeria’s beer market is the second-largest in Africa and about three-quarters of the drinks are produced in the South-West. The National Bureau of Statistics figures show that the market was worth $570 million in 2016. If the alcoholic business can be banned by the 12 Northern states, any state where open grazing of cattle has become a menace reserves the right to legally and courageously do away with it. It is just and fair.
Open grazing is anachronistic, uneconomical, and destructive. To counter this, the SGF proposed ranching. But bizarrely, Buhari wants to revive grazing reserves. There is no logic in this. At the end of the day, the result is similar: deforestation, which will prompt the herders to migrate southward again.
It is disturbing that with all the bloodshed and destruction associated with open herding, Buhari is fixated on nomadism and refuses to see the big picture. With 21.42 million head of cattle, Nigeria can tap this for huge export revenue, but currently lags far behind in beef export income by refusing to adopt the global best practice of ranching. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Brazil (2.7 per cent), the US (1.4 per cent), Australia (1.4 per cent), and India (1.4 per cent) were the top four beef exporting countries in the world in the first quarter of 2021. Combined, they account for 73 per cent of the global cattle head.
In the modern world, open herding has scant value. Cattle-owning countries realised this long ago and converted to ranching. In Nigeria, Buhari is attacking the governors seeking reform. Along with the arrogance of the herders and their principals, who claim weirdly that all land belongs to them, it is partly why there are vociferous separatist agitations around the country.
The President should stop swimming against the tide. He should review his stance on the ban and his proposed revival of grazing reserves. If the government is involved, it will not work, as other state-owned enterprises like the refineries, railways and Ajaokuta Steel have not delivered. It is not the business of the regime to establish grazing forests, but to provide the environment and financial empowerment (cheap loans) the cattle owners need to acquire ranches.
Beyond that, Buhari should seriously consider the other leg of the Asaba Declaration: restructuring Nigeria on the lines of true federalism. Nations are built on justice and equity. It is unjust and dangerous to place one ethnic group above others or to accord special treatment to one form of business above all others.
The Southern governors and some of their counterparts in the North who have resolved and enacted laws to do away with open grazing should follow up with strong enforcement as indeed Northern states have been enforcing their laws.