Controversy over grazing reserves not new – Shagaya
A former minister of internal affairs and a member of the 6thSenate, retired BrigadierGeneral John Shagaya, speaks on why some states are against the proposed grazing reserve bill and President Muhammadu Buhari’s leadership so far. Excerpt:
How would you rate the performance of APCled administration?
The APC-led government, which I am part of, has done well, considering the overwhelming challenges that it inherited. It is more difficult to pick the pieces of a robot and build than to destroy. This is a rebuilding stage. Almost every aspect of our economic sector had turned to pieces. Even the most disciplined organ of a country, which is its armed forces, became morally bankrupt. You find generals, marshals and admirals stocking millions of dollars of public funds in their homes, as if it were nothing. So, we were morally derailing as a nation.
Many people complain of suffering in the country, is there hope for some respite?
I think the government has severally said that there are provisions in the budget to reduce the pains. It has also said that money recovered will be returned to those areas from where they were stolen.
Many people have faulted the president’s frequent traveling, what is your view?
Many Nigerians will not understand the reasons for the traveling of the president, but, you have to repair some of the damages around you first. Certain things have gone wrong, especially considering the fact that we are not a producing nation. Now, confidence is beginning to return to Nigeria. Almost every country is rushing to visit Nigeria, and to say to Muhammadu Buhari, ‘you are doing something right.’ That tells you that the etiquet of diplomacy did not allow them, few years back, to say something was going wrong.
Some people say that the threats posed by some herdsmen overshadow the Boko Haram menace. Do you think the government is doing enough in this area?
I think the first thing to be done is what the president has doneauthorising security agencies, with the understanding of traditional institutions and state governors, to curb the menace. I am suspecting that the activities are being sponsored by the detractors of Buhari, being a Fulani man and a president from the northern part of Nigeria, haven taken over from someone from the South-south. If you go back to write-ups in the media and read the statements of some people who acquired billions of naira, it wouldn’t be out of place to think that such people could sponsor perpetration of illegal activities within some particular communities. What we are seeing is something that has never happened before. I know, from my 70 years on earth, that there were dedicated grazing routes and that Umuahia was the major cow and ram market between 1937 and 1943 in the East. Then, anybody in Port Harcourt, and parts of the East, that wanted to buy cow, went to Umuahia. For Lagos, the only area that they went to was Malo Street, off Island, very close to Ajegunle. The major trading centre for the northern cow drivers was Ibadan. And to say today that people will drive cows to certain place and kill people, I don’t believe that because it takes sons of the soil, who know the place and vulnerabilities of their communities, to commit such crime. So, it requires investigations, we should find out who is behind it. The only time that this country was faced with a threat of massive movement of livestock from some West African countries was in 1984, from Ghana and Togo, where they called it trans-human movement. That was when Fulani herders were sacked from Ghana and Togo and I happened to be the chairman of the Nigerian government committee that received those Fulani. We established them around Niger, Benin Republic, Kwara and Kamba, and since then, discussions have been ongoing to look for grazing areas. But, at a point, we dropped the idea and today it has become an issue that members of the National Assembly are interested in. There is a bill that has gone through second reading on the need to establish grazing reserves in the six geopolitical zones of the country. That is something that has been discussed, starting from 1984 up to the tenure of Jonathan’s administration. But, it is also something some states say they are not interested in. Some states may say they don’t want and they will be right to say so.
The East has never been an area for grazing. It was only a market to sell-within Umuahia. The East does not have such luxury of land as we have in the North to sacrifice for grazing. So, the attitudes are bound to be different.
But it shouldn’t be seen to be related to the grazing requirements alone, the response of people in areas south of rivers Benue and Niger, in terms of establishing government institution, has always been ‘we don’t have land.’ That is why you find most training institutions of security organisations located in the North.
The northern administrators will say ‘come, we will give you land.’ So, I don’t think they should be blamed for it. But, we must understand that in terms of livestock production, we have been depending on migrant Fulanis that come from Niger and Chad. Hence, if you look at the migration and seasonal movement, when the Sahelian desert is dry, it is the only time you witness the mass movement of cows into the Savanah grass land of Nigeria.
And as at the time they hit River Benue and slightly below, raining season would have started, and then the migration route reverses itself. In August and September, we begin to have rains and they go back to Niger. So, the day they refuse to supply us cows and rams, you will know that ours cannot match what comes from there. If you read the statistics of livestock production, we produce just about one third to complement what comes from Niger. The rams you see during Sallah, Easter and Christmas are mostly not bred in Nigeria, they come from Niger. So, if the East says they don’t need it, why not create the grazing reserves in places that can provide the land? I suggest that any subregion that says they don’t have land, then, it is the right of those who do the animal business to say come to our domain and buy it. Go to Wase (in Plateau State), if you want one million cows, you will get, despite all the harassments.
Retired General John Shagaya