President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the country’s return to open grazing as obtained during the First Republic where herdsmen used designated grazing routes to move their cattle to all parts of the country.
To this end, the president said he had asked the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), to begin the process of recovering land from persons who have converted cattle grazing routes for their personal use.
Buhari said this during an interview with Arise Television aired Thursday.
He said the grazing routes were designated in the 1st Republic when “Nigerians used to obey laws.”
Buhari was reacting to a question on the decision by 17 southern governors to ban open grazing.
The AGF had kicked against the declaration by the governors, saying it was like northern governors banning spare part trading, a job synonymous with the south easterners.
When asked if he agreed with the AGF’s position, Buhari laughingly responded: “You want me to contradict my attorney-general? What I did was ask him to go and dig the gazette of the 1st Republic when people were obeying laws. There were cattle routes and grazing areas. Cattle routes were for when they (herdsmen) are moving up country, north to south or east to west, they had to go through there.
“If you allow your cattle to stray into any farm, you are arrested. The farmer is invited to submit his claims. The khadi or the judge will say pay this amount and if you can’t the cattle is sold. And if there is any benefit, you are given and people were behaving themselves and in the grazing areas, they built dams, put windmills in some places. There were even veterinary departments so that the herders are limited. Their route is known, their grazing area is known.
“But I am telling you, this rushing to the centre (sic) so I asked for the gazette to make sure that those who encroached on these cattle routes and grazing areas will be dispossessed in law and try to bring some order back into the cattle grazing.”
He also lamented the style and utterances of Benue state Governor Samuel Ortom, who had not only implemented an aggressive anti-open grazing law but had accused Buhari of failing to take actions against herdsmen because he is also a member of the Fulani herders.
Buhari said indeed, he is a Fulani man but Ortom was being unfair to him.
The president said he had told Ortom that the herdsmen perpetrating the attacks were not the Nigerian ones.
The president further explained that the Tiv, who form the majority in Benue, and the Fulani had been engaged in cultural conflicts for a long time.
“The problem is trying to understand the culture of the cattle rearers. There is a cultural difference between the Tivs and the Fulanis. So, the governor of Benue said I am not disciplining the cattle rearers because I am one of them.
“I cannot say I am not one of them but he is being very unfair to me and I told him that the Nigerian cattle rearer was not carrying anything more than a stick sometime with a machete to cut some trees and feed his cattle but those sophisticated ones move with AK 47.
“So, from other areas, people rush to Nigeria you know and Fulanis from Mauritania and Central Africa look the same, so they feel they are the Nigerian ones and I assure you that we are trying to resuscitate these cattle routes, grazing areas and make them accountable,” Buhari said.
$1.9bn Nigeria-Niger Republic railway project
On the $1.9billion Nigeria-Niger railway project, the president justified the decision, saying it would further strengthen the bond of friendship between the two countries.
He said borders were arbitrarily drawn by the French colonialists without taking into cognisance the cultural similarities of the people of Niger and Nigeria, pointing out he has first cousins in Niger Republic just like some people in the South-West similarly have cousins in neighbouring Benin Republic.
Besides, the president said the Nigerian government embarked on the project to further boost the friendly relationship with Niger which has helped Nigeria in the insurgency fight.
“If you recall, when I came, I went to Chad, I went to Niger, I went to Cameroon. Look at what happened with Boko Haram. If we were not in a good relationship with Niger, Chad and Cameroon, Boko Haram would have done worse things to us and you say I am going to Niger.
“I told you the border between us and Niger is 1,500km. And Niger (sic). I spoke to one French man and I had to tell him this. He spoke nonsense and I told him look, in 1885, you sat down and drew lines (boundaries). I said I have first cousins in Niger. There are Kanuris, there are Hausas, there are Fulanis in Niger Republic just as there are Yorubas in Benin. You can’t absolutely cut them off,” the president explained.
Buhari said the new rail would help Nigeria compete with Benin Republic which has cornered entrepot trade in the region.
He said, Niger, as a landlocked nation, has discovered oil, and “we want them to come through Nigeria. We want them to send their exports through Nigeria.”
Concerning the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and their activities, the president said the group is like a dot in a circle that has nowhere to go.
He said: “That IPOB is just like a dot in a circle. Even if they want to exit, they will have no access to anywhere. And the way they are spread all over the country, having businesses and properties, I don’t think IPOB knows what they are talking about.
“In any case, we say we’ll talk to them in the language that they understand. We’ll organise the police and the military to pursue them.”
He also said “the elderly people” and “the youths” from the South-South part of the country had assured their region had no intention to seceding.
Buhari said IPOB would not have “access to anywhere” even if they eventually secede from the country.
“I was encouraged by what I heard, nobody told me. Two statements from the south-south. One by the elderly people, they said this time around there would be no (secession). And again the youth made the same statement; such encouragement,” Buhari said.
On the local government administration in the country, the president frowned at the way the tier of government was being run, saying it had become almost non-existent in the country.
He said state governors continued to starve the local governments of funds, saying “in a situation where N300 million is allocated to local government and they are given N100 million is not fair.”
Speaking on the spate of activities by bandits and kidnappers, particularly in the North West and North Central zones, the president said he had given the police and armed forces the instructions to be ruthless with bandits and vandals terrorising innocent citizens across the country.
“Problem in the North-west; you have people over there stealing each other’s cattle and burning each other’s villages. Like I said, we are going to treat them in the language they understand.
“We have given the police and the military the power to be ruthless. You watch it in a few weeks’ time there will be (a) difference.
“Because we told them if we keep people away from their farm, we are going to starve. And the government can’t control the public.
“If you allow hunger, the government is going to be in trouble and we don’t want to be in trouble. We are already in enough trouble. So we warned them, sooner than later, you’ll see the difference,” he said.
He also dismissed the assertion that majority of Boko Haram members were foreigners, saying his administration had done a lot to fight the terrorists and insurgents but the problem in the “North-East is very difficult.”
Speaking on last year’s #EndSARS protest against police brutality, the president said it was targeted at removing him from office, even as he said the protest was responsible for the dwindling inflow of foreign direct investment to the country.
“This question was answered last year when there was the #EndSARS protest. You remember the young people that wanted to march here and remove me?
“Tell the young people to behave themselves and make the country safe, then we can attract real investors to the country.”
PDP faults claims on rail project
But the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) berated President Buhari for allegedly laying claims to projects done by the PDP-led governments.
PDP National Publicity Secretary Kola Ologbondiyan started this while briefing journalists Thursday in Abuja.
He said rather than “addressing issues and providing direction for our nation, President Buhari allegedly made very provocative comments that could embolden terrorists as well as serve as recipe for further division and violence in the country.”
The party’s spokesman said: “On Infrastructure, it is ludicrous to us in the PDP that Mr. President can disingenuously seek to subtract the deliverables achieved by past PDP administration from his so-called achievement on infrastructure.”
Ologbondiyan said Nigerians were also aware that President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was elected on the party’s platform of the PDP, introduced a 25 years national development plan upon assumption of office in 1999.
“This included the massive construction and expansion of road network, power plants, railways projects, inland and coastal waterways, airports, housing, agricultural and health projects as well as establishment of new universities and other legacy projects in various parts of our country,” he added.
Ologbondiyan further said: “We want to inform President Buhari, since he is not always aware, that successive governments elected on the platform of the PDP built on these development plans leading to the expansion of major trunk roads across our country, railways and other legacy projects which, probably, his handlers are making him to believe are his.
“It is on record that President Goodluck Jonathan also took on a massive expansion of our international and domestic airports, across the country, built and commissioned railway stations.
“It is instructive to state that where projects were yet to be completed, it is only a natural occurrence for any Nigerian elected as President to proceed, in the national interest, to complete such projects.
“The PDP therefore considers it tacky for Mr. President to seek to claim any credit for projects he never conceptualized, commenced or built to near completion, just because he found himself in office at the point of completion.”