PRESS BRIEFING ON THE PROPOSED BAN ON OPEN GRAZING IN EDO STATE AND RELATED MATTERS DELIVERED BY BISHOP (DR) OSADOLOR OCHEI, THE INTERIM CHAIRMAN OF THE EXTENDED COUNCIL (TEC) OF EDO CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS HELD ON THE 21ST OCTOBER, 2021.
Gentlemen of the press, stakeholders, members of Edo Civil Society Organisations and everyone present in today’s press briefing are all welcomed and appreciated.
We the above named coalition of civil rights groups in Edo state with a huge membership strength within Nigeria and in the Diaspora, having our structures in the 18 local government councils of the state do hereby deliver our positions and recommendations on the proposed ban on open grazing by Edo state government.
There is no gainsaying that herders/farmers clash has become a national discourse in the past few years. This had led to several deaths and food scarcity in the country. It has also created insecurity in our communities hence some state governments have taken steps in the prevention and mitigation against its ugly outcome.
We all must first agree that pastoral farming is a private venture and must be conducted in a manner that other citizens’ rights are not infringed on. The movement of cattle to openly graze on farm lands or to constitute nuisance should be prohibited in the 21st century.
Flowing from above, Edo state governor on the 11th of May, 2021 alongside other 15 out of 17 governors under the aegis of Governors of Southern Nigeria met in Asaba to issue a communiqué on open grazing ban. It was a unanimous decision by the governors in order to address the high rate of insecurity open grazing had posed in the region. To that extent, Edo state cannot unilaterally dissociates itself from such unified agreement. It amounts to betrayal of confidence and would lead to inertia on the part of other southern states for future collaboration geared towards mutual and collective benefits in the region.
Furthermore, Edo state government decided to hold a town hall meeting on the 11th of October, 2021 for the deliberation on the proposed anti-open grazing law after pressures from citizens and critical stakeholders. It was agreed by all that, the ban on open grazing is a prerequisite to putting a total end to the herders/farmers clash and other criminal activities associated with it. Never during the meeting did the governor informed participants of his intention to meet with President Mohammadu Buhari for Edo state to key into the National Livestock Transformation Plan which was initially code named Rural Grazing Area (RUGA).
The concept is for the federal government to create reserves as ranches for pastoralists that will serve as settlements for herders in states that subscribes to the plan. Several states have rejected the plan because they felt cattle rearing is a private business venture and should be left for the private investors to build ranches themselves instead of creating another community or colony of herders in states. They fear for future claims to such colonies which could lead to communal clash.
Edo state governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki should give Edo people details of his meeting with Mr. President as it touches on the following questions below:
1. Does Edo state government have data of owners of the cattle that grazes the state?
2. Is the federal government releasing funds to individuals that own cattle to build ranches or the federal government intends to acquire reserves for them?
3. Has Edo state government trained or plans to train indigenes on the practice of managing and tendering cattle in ranches or same crop of occupational herders are still going to be engaged?
4. Did the cattle owners complained of not having the financial wherewithal to build a modest ranch to keep their cattle?
5. Has Edo state government held a meeting with the cattle owners to identify their constraints and challenges?
6. Why is so much priority given to cattle owners above every other agricultural venture in Edo state?
7. Why is Edo people demand on ban on open grazing not given its due place first before any other steps taken?
8. Can we conveniently conclude that there is a political twist to the reason the demands of Edo people on the proposed law to ban open grazing not considered?
Our positions and recommendations are contained herein under:
1. Edo state should promulgate a law to prohibit open grazing of cattle with stiff punishment for violators.
2. All cattle owners must ranch their cattle.
3. It is not the business of government to provide lands for cattle owners.
4. A unit of the Edo state vigilante network should be duly trained, paid and deployed in the enforcement of the law with support from the Nigeria Police Force.
5. Any cattle owner that allows his cattle to graze on a farmer’s land or destroy any property should be made to serve a jail term not less than six months and pay compensation to the farmer whose farm is destroyed. He should also stand the chance of forfeiting the cattle to the state government.
6. The provision of colony to cattle owners should be discouraged. Every cattle owner should purchase/lease land for the purpose of ranching and/or any other farming operations.
7. Edo state government as a matter of urgency facilitates training on cattle husbandry with startup capital for our teeming unemployed youths, graduates and non graduates respectively. The trained youths should be formed into clusters to operate the ranches that will be built in all the local government councils.
8. Implementation of number 7 above will create chains of employment which will lead to drastic reduction in crime, tax generation increment. With a projection of 16 months of consistency it will cover for the high demands for beef by our people.
9. There is also need for the government to seek for security assistance with countries with technology to combat crimes like kidnapping and banditry that has crept into Edo state.
10. Edo state governor should halt further discussion on the National Livestock Transformation Plan with the federal government irrespective of the monetary benefits as that was not the resolutions from the Governors of Southern Nigeria forum and the town hall meeting held in Asaba and Benin City respectively.
We believe the adoption of the above recommendations would address the worries and challenges open grazing has brought to our dear state. The issue of food security would be addressed and government should also make deliberate efforts in investing in the agricultural sector. Edo people will not be a party to ceding their lands to the federal government plan in whatever disguise. There is no going back on the ban on open grazing in Edo state which is the yearnings of Edo people. Owners of cattle should build their ranches to carry out their legitimate business.
I want to thank you all for taking out your valuable time to be part of this press brieing today.
God bless us all, God bless Edo state and God bless Nigeria.
Bishop Dr. Osadolor Ochei (JP)
Interim TEC Chairman