By Simon Imobo-Tswam
It is no longer news that Southern Governors met on Tuesday, May 11, 2021, in Asaba, the Delta capital. What is news is the communique they issued after the meeting, with its basketful of prescriptions for peace, unity and national stability.
On face value, there is nothing new that the governors said: calls for restructuring, state police, a ban on open grazing and a state-of-the-nation address have all been made by others before. The same thing can be said about their call for a review of the revenue formula, a balance in key federal appointments as well as their call on the presidency to urgently convoke a national dialogue. All these calls have been made by a cross section of Nigerians at one time or the other.
For instance, before now, the South-West governors had banned open grazing in their states. The decision was taken at the enlarged stakeholders meeting in Akure, the Ondo State capital on January 25, 2021. It is worth pointing out that the leadership of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, MACBAN, was part of that meeting.
About the same time, Governor Dave Umahi and Chairman, South-East Governors’ Conference, SEGC, announced at the Christian Ecumenical Centre, Abakaliki, on February 1, 2021, that the Forum had banned open grazing in the South-East. To underscore the worsening security in the area arising from the herdsmen menace, the SEGC followed this up with the first-ever South-East Security Summit in Owerri, the Imo state capital, on April 11, 2021. At that summit, the governors reiterated the earlier ban on open grazing, and went further to set-up a joint security outfit, code-named Ebube Agu (The Glory of a Lion).
The climax of all these came on February 11, 2021, when the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, at its 25th Virtual Meeting, banned open grazing in the country, saying it had reached a consensus on the “need for the country to transition into modern systems of animal husbandry that will replace open, night, and under-age grazing.”
Although Nigeria has often heard calls for a national conference or restructuring, the unending menace of herdsmen and their potent threats to social harmony has taken the calls to a new and worrisome level.
But what is significant about Tuesday May 11th call is that this is the first time that the entire 17 Southern states of the federation, comprising three geo-political zones, have come together to raise a common voice against a common challenge, and proffer common solutions to same.
The significance of this is even more accentuated by the fact the 17 Southern Governors spoke with a common voice irrespective of party, religious and tribal differences. At a time when politicians are increasingly taking fixed positions on issues based majorly on political partisanship, the consensus of APC, PDP and APGA governors on issues bordering on national stability is significantingly unprecedented.
Gradually, but unstoppably, there has been the steady building of a national consensus over the non-workability of continued open grazing in this age, especially with its consequential disruptions to national stability. The real danger here can be seen: first, in the recent blockade by Northern traders of some food items to Southern Nigeria; and second, by yesterday’s wake-up call by governors of the 17 Southern states!
It may be belated, but it is better late than never. What Nigeria is seeing today or what governors are coming to grips with today is what Governor Samuel Ortom foresaw in 2014/2015, and readied himself for upon assumption of office.
This was why on May 29, 2015, as he took his oath of office at IBB Square, he declared: “We will do everything possible to contain attacks on our people by criminal gangs and herdsmen. We will, through appropriate legislation, encourage those with livestock in the state to keep them on ranches.” This means long before his colleagues woke up to the reality, Ortom knew that if the menace of marauding herdsmen and bandits was not checked early in the day, it was capable of bringing Nigeria to her knees!
When he kept his campaign promise in 2017 by signing the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Bill into law, it was neither an afterthought nor was he playing to the gallery. It was sad that his colleagues, who didn’t have his foresight or the political will, rejected the law and even mocked him for “politicizing insecurity” and “engaging in needless propaganda”. Today, Nigeria knows better.
With the ban on open grazing now effective in the entire South, Nigeria’s half, it is time for Northern Governors, under the auspices of the Northern Governors Forum, NGF, to do same. This is more so as Benue and Taraba have blazed the trail in the region.
And given the national consensus on the issue, with Ortom’s lone voice having been amplified now into a national chorus, the Federal Government too is invited to give ranching a second thought, and initiate the appropriate legal-cum-administrative frameworks that will pull Nigeria’s cattle farming into the digital era, with its win-win outcomes.
It is time for Nigeria, with her 20 million cows, to look at the success-stories of the ranching models in Brazil, India and China, with cow-populations of 212 million, 189 million and 114 million, respectively.
•Imobo-Tswam, a retired newspaper editor and public affairs commentator, wrote from Abuja.