About 350 federal and state lawmakers from the Southern part of Nigeria have vowed to resist any move by the Federal Government to acquire land by force from their territories for grazing reserves.
The lawmakers said they would rather support the establishment of private ranches for cattle owners in the Northern parts of the country.
They spoke against the backdrop of the N940m provided in the 2016 budget for grazing reserves.
The South-West lawmakers said that grazing reserves could be created in the North so long as doing so did not include forcing land owners to relinquish their property for grazing purposes.
The most ranked lawmaker from the South-West, who also doubles as the Leader of the House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, spoke on behalf of the 71 lawmakers from the region.
He said that much depended on the details of the Federal Government’s policy on grazing.
Gbajabiamila said, “It depends on where the reserves are located. We don’t know the details yet. The Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, did not mention this, but said there was a lot of fallow land up North where reserves or ranches would be located.
“Please, remember that no one has any issue with grazing reserves. The issue raised by Nigerians is whether or not the Federal Government can forcefully acquire individual or state land for that purpose.”
The South-South lawmakers in the House of Representatives were more direct in their opposition to reserves.
Their Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, who spoke on behalf of 51 other lawmakers from the South-South, called for the enactment of legislation to criminalise grazing outside ranches as the permanent solution to herdsmen/farmers’ clashes.
Ogor, who is also the Minority Leader of the House, said, “The conflicts created by cattle rearers in this country have become a major issue and we must find a permanent solution to such crises.
“Creating grazing reserves cannot be the permanent solution. We should be talking of creating ranches, which limit the cattle to a locality where they are supposed to be catered for by the owners.
“The solution lies in coming up with legislation that will criminalise grazing outside the ranches.
“We live in a modern society and the cost of moving cattle from place to place is there for us all to see in the lives being lost and the property being destroyed.
“Until we wake up and do the right thing, we will continue to chase shadows.”
The forty-three lawmakers representing the South-East in the House of Representatives are already set to protest against the N940m budgeted for the grazing reserves.
One of the senior members from the zone, Mr. Pat Asadu, said that the members were ready to organise a protest if it was proven that the Federal Government planned to create grazing reserves in any part of the South-East.
Asadu, who is from Enugu State, said, “It is a no go area for us and we have said so several times.
“Grazing reserves is not the way to go. I am surprised to hear that N940m is in the budget for grazing reserves. I have called for a copy of the budget and I am going through it.
“We will oppose anything on grazing reserves in the budget. Again, the problem with this 2016 budget is that you hardly know which version anyone is using.
“But, I can assure you that we won’t accept any grazing reserves.”
Similarly, no fewer than 185 lawmakers from some state Houses of Assembly are bitter that the issue of controversial grazing reserve was included in the national budget.
The 27-member Imo State House of Assembly also opposed the idea of creating grazing reserves for the herdsmen in the state.
One of the House’s officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue had yet to be officially deliberated upon on the floor of the House, said his colleagues would not support any move to allocate any portion of the land in the state for grazing reserve.
He said, “The amount budgeted for the grazing reserve is even on the high side, considering the economic condition of the country.
“What the Federal Government should have done is to earmark some amount of money to enlighten Fulani herdsmen on why they should embrace ranching.”
The spokesperson for the 26-member Osun State House of Assembly, Mr. Olatubosun Oyintiloye, urged the Federal Government to review the N940m budget for the grazing reserves to avoid creating a bigger problem while attempting to solve a smaller one.
He said though the national budget had been signed into law, it could still be reviewed by the National Assembly.
Oyintiloye explained that Nigerians, especially those in the Southern parts of the country, were worried over the establishment of grazing reserves in the zone because of the incessant attacks on their people by the herdsmen.
He said, “While the Federal Government might have very good intention of creating the reserves, which is believed to be a strategy to ending Fulani herdsmen attacks on farmers and residents of their host communities in the country, the southerners who are believed to be major victims of the herdsmen attacks believe that the creation of these reserves will compound the problem.
“The Federal Government must listen to the voices of experts; facts should be sieved from sentiments and we must consider best practices in countries like Holland and Brazil.
“For instance, virtually all the milk we consume in Nigeria come from Holland, but you will never see their cattle along the road for grazing and so, we can consider their knowledge useful in that regard.
“While we think this is necessary is that by Land Use Act of 1978, governors are the ones empowered by law to give land for such purpose and no governor will want to joke with the security of his people.
“That is why you hear some governors in the Southern part of the country kicking against it.”
According to the 25 members of the Cross River State House of Assembly, the N940m budgeted for grazing reserves is a misplaced priority by the Federal Government.
While speaking on behalf of his colleagues, the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Mr. John Gaul-Lebo, stated that the Federal Government had no right to forcefully acquire any land from the state government for grazing reserve.
He recalled that the oldest grazing reserve in Nigeria, the Obudu Cattle Ranch, was bought by the then regional colonial government in 1842, adding that if the Federal Government was desirous of establishing grazing reserves in the state, it would have to pay for it.
Gaul-Lebo said, “Grazing is business and not a government venture. If government wants to establish grazing reserves for herdsmen, it is a different ball game, but it cannot force people to surrender their land for grazing.