President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, expressed a strong resolve to address the conflicts of herders and farmers permanently, but not without chiding the Southern Governors’ Forum for their recent ban on open grazing, which he described as an act of questionable legality. The president further accused the governors of politicking with serious security issues and an attempt at a show of power.
The presidency’s position was contained in a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, insisting that the governors’ resolution during their meeting, which held on May 11 in Asaba, Delta State, is a violation of the constitutional right of Nigerians to live and do business in any part of the country, irrespective of such citizen’s state of origin.
An inkling into the president’s mindset came to light last week Wednesday when the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, compared selling of spare parts in the North to open grazing of cattle in Southern Nigeria, which drew the ire of Southern governors, senior lawyers and other socio-political organizations.
Weighing in on the matter for the first time yesterday since the resolution was made two weeks ago, President Buhari, however, assured that the associated problem of the gun-wielding “killer herdsmen” would be tackled.
Shehu, in the statement, recalled that Buhari approved measures to bring an end to the skirmishes as recommended by Sabo Nanono, the Minister of Agriculture, in April.
President Buhari had according to Shehu approved a number of specific measures to permanently end the frequent skirmishes as recommended by the Agric Minister in a report he submitted and the President signed off on it back in April, well before the actions of the Southern Governors’ Forum.
The president’s spokesman alleged that the Asaba Declaration, which moved to place a ban on open grazing “and other acts of politicking were intended by its signatories to demonstrate their power.
“It is very clear that there was no solution offered from their resolutions to the herder-farmer clashes that have been continuing in our country for generations,” he said.
However, the President noted that “citizens of the southern states – indeed citizens of all states of Nigeria – have a right to expect their elected leaders and representatives to find answers to challenges of governance and rights, and not to wash their hands off hard choices by, instead, issuing bans that say: ‘not in my state.’
“It is equally true that their announcement is of questionable legality, given the Constitutional right of all Nigerians to enjoy the same rights and freedoms within every one of our 36 states (and FCT) -regardless of the state of their birth or residence.
“Fortunately, this declaration has been preempted, for whatever it is intended to achieve and Mr. President, who has rightly been worried about these problems more than any other citizen in consultation with farmers and herders alike, commissioned and approved an actionable plan of rehabilitating grazing reserves in the states, starting with those that are truly committed to the solution and compliant with stated requirements.
“With veterinary clinics, water points for animals, and facilities for herders and their families, including schooling – through these rehabilitated reserves, the Federal Government is making far-reaching and practical changes, allowing for different communities to co-exist side-by-side: supporting farmers to till their fields, herders to rear their livestock and Nigerians everywhere to be safe.
“The entire country is acutely aware of the strain the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on public finances, for both Federal and States. Still, given the pressing urgency of addressing the perennial challenges, the federal funding for the project that has been delayed is now being partly unlocked. Actual work for the full actualisation of the modern reserve system in a few of the consenting states should take off in June,” he said.
This is coming after at least 100 people were killed in four council wards of Kastina-Ala Local Government Area of Benue State at the weekend after gunmen unleashed terror on communities. A spokesman for the Kastina-Ala council chairman, Tertsea Benga, disclosed this in a statement yesterday.
Benga said over 100 dead bodies had been recovered from many villages in the four council wards. He alleged that the gunmen stormed the communities on Saturday and burnt down houses.
Benga listed the initially affected villages to include Vingir, Tse Nyipila and Tse Guji all in Mbayongo ward, adding that the attackers proceeded to Kenvanger in Mbatyula council ward on Sunday afternoon.
He blamed the attack on the collaboration between suspected armed herders and ‘Gana boys’ (loyalists of the slain Benue criminal kingpin, Terwase Akwaza, popularly known as ‘Gana’.
In Plateau State, 16 persons reported killed in two separate attacks in Jos North and Riyom Local Council of Plateau State by men suspected to be herders. The attack in Dong village of Jos North occurred on Sunday night as the village came under siege with sporadic gunshots.
The Village Head, Daniel Choji told newsmen yesterday that the attackers came under the cover of darkness to unleash terror on the community. He said the attack left eight persons dead comprising five females, two males and an infant.
In another attack in Kwi village of Riyom Council just about a kilometre distance to the Yakubu Gowon Airport, the attackers invaded the community on Sunday night leaving eight people dead and one injured.
The member representing the constituency in the Plateau State House of Assembly, Timothy Dantong, confirmed to newsmen that four males and four females were killed in the attack. He described the attack as barbaric, senseless and inhuman. He also called on security operatives to live up to their responsibilities by responding to distress calls earlier and ensure that perpetrators of the heinous acts are apprehended accordingly.