A ray of hope for peace in Benue State emerged on Tuesday as Ebonyi State Governor David Umahi, leading the National Economic Council (NEC) sub-committee on a fact finding mission to states troubled by herders/farmers violence, said herders in the state and its neighbouring Nasarawa had agreed to obey the law prohibiting open grazing by livestock.
He, however, said the herders requested more time to commence ranching as required by the law or move to states with grazing reserves even as they pleaded with the federal government to come to their aid.
The development coincided with the call by Nobel Laurette, Prof. Wole Soyinka, on states to raise volunteers to counter the menace of the herders.
Umahi, who spoke with reporters in Makurdi after consultations with the representatives of the herders, said herdsmen in Benue and Nasarawa States said they were ready to abide by the law but that they would need more time for ranching and support from the federal government.
“The herders requested for more time for them to move to grazing reserves with the support of the federal government,” he said.
The development, the governor said, was a good one, noting that given the willingness of the herders to obey the law, it had become easier for the conflict to be resolved.
The governor said existing laws and provisions for grazing reserves in the 19 states in the North would assist in finding a lasting solution to the problem.
He said: “We as a committee noted that there are over two million hectares of land across 19 Northern states, and over one million of them have already been gazetted as grazing reserves. This one million is already developed.
“There is a place in Gombe State that about 375 hectares is developed as grazing reserve. We have 74,000 hectares in Kaduna and there is another location that has over 150,000 hectares of land that have already been developed.”
Umahi said that there was need for the federal government to help in the development of the grazing reserves and to accept animal husbandry as an economic venture it could invest in by giving soft loans to owners.
According to him, “The federal government should begin development of grazing reserves. The CBN anchor borrower scheme that has succeeded in the agricultural sector should be extended to animal husbandry; animal husbandry should be seen as economic venture for government to invest in by giving soft loans.”
He noted that the federal government through NEMA needs to come to the aid of both states, saying no amount of the states’ resources that could assist the people in the IDP camps.
While stating that there were over 110,000 displaced persons in the seven designated camps in Benue State, the governor said children between the ages of four and eight constituted 70 per cent of the population, adding that the conditions they saw them in were not palatable.
“We owe it a duty to give better lives to these people,” he said.
Umahi said that the committee observed that both governors of Nasarawa and Benue States were committed to peace as identified by the security agencies.
Soyinka Asks States to Set Up Volunteers
Meanwhile, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, on Tuesday, in Lagos called for the creation of volunteer groups in states to monitor the activities of armed herdsmen.
He made the call at a press-briefing entitled: “Nomads and Nation: Valentine Card or Valedictory Rites.”
Soyinka also came down hard on President Muhammadu Buhari, saying given the president’s handling of a number of national issues, he (the president) appeared to be under a trance.
He said if he had the opportunity to discuss with Buhari, he would tell the president that he had lost touch with reality.
He spoke about “unforced errors” of the Buhari administration, including farmers/herdsmen violence and the reinstatement of Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof Usman Yusuf, adding that they were evidence that the president might no longer be in control of the government.
“I would say: Mr President, I think you are under a trance… the sooner he gets out of it, the better. So many unforced errors are going on,” he said.
According to him, since the security agencies are displaying ‘a kind of paralysis’ in dealing with armed herdsmen, the people have to organise some kind of internal resistance.
He said: “They (the volunteer groups) need to ensure that anytime they see armed herdsmen they should report to the nearest police station. But if at a certain point the herdsmen are not disarmed, then these groups should move and disarm them.”
He, however, explained that his call for the groups to disarm the herdsmen was not a call for violence.
Soyinka clarified: “I mentioned this deliberately because I don’t want anybody to get an impression that war is being declared. I hope we will not get to that stage.
“These hunter associations will now intensify their surveillance anytime they see armed herdsmen. These associations: OPC, vigilante, hunters, if at certain time the police have not disarmed the herdsmen, these volunteer associations should move into these places.”
Soyinka illustrated his position with a fable from his primary school textbook, about ”an ungrateful carmel, which kicked its benevolent owner, Bedouin, out of his tent after allowing the animal to share his tent with it”.
He pointed out that in Nigeria cows are now competing for space with people.
He also called on the federal government to set a deadline for herdsmen to be disarmed.