As part of his avowed commitment to restore the status of Abuja as the Federal Capital Territory, the FCT Minister, Nyesom Wike, recently announced an end to open-grazing of cattle.
There have been several efforts in the past to reposition Abuja and put it on the world map.
Difficult to contend with is the bad odour and the ugly sight of dung from animals, dropped at every corner of the city which attract flies, putting residents at risk of contracting diseases.
The dangers attached to open and unrestricted grazing, not only in the Federal Capital Territory, cannot be overemphasised.
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SKYBLAST TV reports that a former Chairman, Senate Committee on FCT, Dino Melaye, had vowed to end the movement of animals in the FCT and had once directed the Minister of Federal Capital Territory, Alhaji Mohammed Bello, to slaughter cows found in the city centre.
Melaye had noted that the herdsmen have continued to move their cattle in the Abuja metropolis despite several warnings to their owners by the authorities.
“Honourable Minister, the Senate as an institution is not happy at how Fulani herdsmen continue to move their cows across the city centre, which we are aware you have given directive against some time ago.
“From now, get knives and ask your men to slaughter cows found in the capital city or prosecute herdsmen seen with cows in the city centre with a fine of N50, 000 per cow. This order must be carried out,” Melaye said.
However, whatever effort the former Kogi Senator and others put to end open grazing in the FCT did not come to fruition.
But Wike has now taken the gauntlet.
Few hours after his swearing in, he declared, “I will step on toes, the big and mighty; I will step on your toes if you are doing something wrong,” insisting that herders can move their cattle outside the city but would no longer be allowed to graze on the grasses used for the beautification of the city.
Now the question is, how does the Minister intend to drive the herdsmen out of the city centre without putting in place measures that would ensure they continue doing their business and earning their livelihood as legitimate citizens.
And experts suggest that it would create a similar situation to the ban on Okada, street hawking, and demolishing of shops in Abuja without providing alternative measures to the affected people.
It could also be compared to the removal of fuel subsidies without proper consultations and preparation to cushion the effect.
A concerned citizen remarked that stopping herdsmen from moving their cows around the FCT could be a herculean task for the new FCT Administration and so, it requires that serious planning and proper consultation with the appropriate stakeholders are made.
The Minister was rather more subtle when he talked about the issues last weekend.
Wike said, “We will consult with the herdsmen to see how we will stop [open grazing] because we cannot allow cows inside the city.
“They can be outside the city because the grasses are outside the city. The grass in the city was planted to beautify the city. It is not that one that they would eat. so, we will discuss…”
Speaking with SKYBLAST TV, the National President of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Baba Othman Ngelzarma, said they are looking forward to meeting the FCT Minister in order to table before him some of their challenges, which among them are the large dysfunctional grazing reserves.
“The minister has said that he would invite the cattle owners before making a decision. That he would not do something that someone will come out to say they were not contacted.
“So this is the situation that we always want. We know Abuja is a city and cows are not supposed to move around or roam about the city. It’s very embarrassing. We are all civilised people.
“Even during the era of the former Minister, we had a series of discussions on this. We had an agreement that no cows should move in the central city area. But in the periphery, in the sahel they can move because all the grazing reserves they have have been taken over from them by the farmers.
“We have grazing reserves in Abuja here that have been taken over by farmers. So we need someone of Wike’s disposition to come and settle this once and for all.
“We have about four grazing reserves around Abuja here but they require development, they require other things in them before you stop these guys from moving around.
“Because the whole of Abuja is a grazing reserve that was taken over by the Federal Capital. But this does not mean they have the right to move because it is Federal Capital Territory and the pride of every Nigerian; it is so embarrassing in the central city area.
“This is the agreement we have with the former Minister. But they can go around in the rural areas because the grazing reserves are not developed and there’s no pasture in it and farmers are gradually encroaching on them.
“This is why we want to have interaction with Wike himself because we know he is a gentle man and that he understands the dynamics and that this will give us the opportunity for the grazing reserves to be developed.
“And we know Wike will develop them. He will recollect our grazing lands and develop them. We are yearning to interact with him. We want to have a discussion with him on how we can seek out these problems. It’s very wrong for cows to roam in the city, we know.
“But mind you, not all the cows roaming the city belong to the local pastoralists. Some of these cows are owned by big men in the city who are employing the pastoralists to graze for them but that’s notwithstanding, whatever it is, cows are not supposed to roam in the central city area.
“But because the grazing reserves are not developed we have to consider the pastoralists too. There are places reserved for them to graze their cows but those places are not developed.
“No water, grazes or any form of infrastructure. They deserve to be developed for the interest of pastoralists and for the sake of justice and fairness.
‘We know Wike. He is the one to do this job for us because he’s the aggressive type and with his disposition, he’ll return and develop our grazing land for us. Whenever he invites us, we’re ready to come and meet him and sort out this problem once and for all,” he declared.
However, a sister organisation to MACBAN, the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, has a slightly different view about the movement of cows in the FCT or any other city in the country.
The National Secretary of the body, Saleh Alhassan Kubah, who spoke to our correspondent, said nobody can drive the cows away or stop them from grazing anywhere in the north.
According to him, the former Rivers State Governor should rather focus on how to develop the city of Abuja instead of talking about cows.
He said that until the government is able to make available grazing areas for cattle, it would be a futile move to uproot herders from the FCT, adding that most of the cows seen around Abuja belong to the city elites.
“Where is the grazing land in Abuja? Is it inside the building they will graze? The thing is, Wike is not consequential. We have seen Ortom come and go.
“So we don’t want to engage Wike, who has to take ‘Ogogoro’ [Alcoholic drink] before he goes to the office every morning.
“You’ve not heard it before? He said it himself. Let him deliver services in the FCT. We are waiting to see the good works he will do. You know he’s working for our party, so I can’t criticise him.
“He’s our minister. So I don’t want to start fighting our minister. It’s not consequential because there’s no grazing area in Abuja.
“All those cattle you see there belong to the elite there, so he’ll find a way for them. Wike doesn’t merit our responses. Let him deal with the massive abandoned buildings.
“Let him collect tax from all those houses nobody is occupying. Let him develop the city. Let him take care of the indigenous people that have been neglected, the Gwari people.
“He’s from Port Harcourt, an Ikwerre man. He knows how they behave in Port Harcourt. If the Gwari people give him 10 percent of how Ikwerre people behave in Port Harcourt, he will know how to deal with them. Let him develop the rural areas, the satellite towns and give them amenities. Power is transient.
“No matter how it is, he will leave very soon. We can’t engage him. He can’t get new information from us. He’s an attention seeker. Is there any grazing land around the Villa?
“Or, is it the sight of cows that people don’t want to see? Are cows not the beauty of the Northern geography? You want to eat cows but you don’t want to see them, is it not contradictory?
“If there are no cows in the northern geography what you will be seeing is a crisis caused by the spirits of the land. The land won’t be stable [because the cows need to move for the spirits to be happy]. It is their environment.
“He can’t chase the cows away. Who will chase the cows away in the northern territory? Nobody can chase them. We’re going nowhere.
“Let him revoke the lands in the FCT, why is giving them more time? I thought he would just revoke them at once.
“In the Abuja development plan, there’s no grazing area in the FCT or AMAC area council…
“Let him handle the issues of insecurity in Abuja. We’re not and will never be his problem.”
And in an interview with SKYBLAST TV, the Director, Animal Husbandry Services in the Agricultural and Rural Development, FCT, Hajiya Umma Abubakar, outlined the plans already in place to settle the herders in comfortable zones.
According to her, the establishment of the Grazing Reserves is not only aimed at resettling the Fulani pastoralists but to provide the enabling environment for them to engage in livestock activities that are comparable to the best anywhere in the world.
According to her, plans are already in place to not only develop the four grazing reserves in Abuja, but turn them into economic hubs for both the herders and their communities.
She said that the Minister of the FCT and the Minister of State for the FCT are all very much interested in settlement of herders in the nation’s capital city.
She explained that, “To address the issues of compensation and bringing an end to the incessant clashes between the Fulani and the local communities, the Secretariat embarked on a comprehensive enumeration exercise to identify the genuine inhabitants that will be compensated to ensure that no member of the community is left out.
“The plan of the FCT Administration in development of the grazing reserves will no doubt be complimented by the Special Agricultural Processing Zone (SAPZ) Project which the Africa Development Bank (AfDB & the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) are co-funding.
“I can assure you that the SAPZ Project is going to address the issue of open grazing because one of its components which is called Agriculture Transformation Centres (ATC) focuses on building the capacities of all the groups in different aspect of the Livestock value chains, such as production of quality feeds, milk processing etc.
“Water will also be provided at the centres to ensure that they are able to conveniently fatten their animals without them moving outside the reserves.”
Speaking on how the government intends to identify and differentiate between indigenous herders from migrant herders, especially those from outside the country, she added that, “The profiling that we are conducting on a regular basis is to help us to identify new and old Fulani herdsmen.
“We are working with security agencies, as well as the communities who know those that are engaged in genuine activities without constituting any form of threat to the society.”
On the issue of continued resistance from some host communities who are against the establishment of the grazing reserves, the director said, “We are working closely with the host communities on the need for peaceful co-existence.
“We equally have been engaging the groups to sensitise them on what they all stand to benefit from the development of the reserves.
“Livestock activities do not only involve the Fulani. Even the crop farmers can engage in numerous production activities such as livestock feed while they can equally benefit from the byproducts of the cattle as manures.
“The plan by the Honourable Minister of the FCT to meet with all the stakeholders will give an impetus to achieving the desired objective.
“In the same vein, the minister of State for FCT has assured that she will provide the necessary support in making sure that the development plans for the four grazing reserves in Abuja are implemented and improved upon.”