The Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, has withdrawn a statement he made recently, which gave the impression that his administration was now willing to provide grazing land for herders.
Edo, like some other Nigerian states, has been struggling with deadly clashes between herders and farmers.
Mr Obaseki, while on a fact-finding tour to Udo, Ovia South-West Local Government Area of the state to assess the impact of the herders-farmers conflict, a few days ago, said, “We will create an area where the cattle will go regularly to eat, as they must not go to peoples’ farms.
“This will stop cattle from moving around the community, including in farmlands.”
The governor’s remark was clearly a reversal of his tough stance in 2019 during the now suspended controversial RUGA programme of the federal government.
“We assure Edo people that Governor Obaseki will not cede their rights and land to anybody, as our programmes as a sovereign state do not run on the back of any external entity,” the Edo Government House said in a statement at the time.
“In all the agricultural programmes being executed by the Obaseki administration, the safety, security and prosperity of our people are the top priority and non-negotiable,” the statement added.
‘No, we aren’t ceding any land to herders’
The Edo State Government, on Thursday, however, issued a fresh statement, denying that Mr Obaseki’s administration was planning to give land to herders.
“Our position on the matter of grazing land is clear and has not shifted, which is that there is no free land for grazing in Edo State,” the Secretary to the Edo State Government, Osarodion Ogie, said in the statement.
“Grazing is an economic activity just like poultry and piggery or any other agricultural enterprise. The Edo State Government will not cede any land in the state for grazing,” Mr Ogie added.
Mr Obaseki himself later offered some explanation to what he meant when he said “We will create an area where the cattle will go regularly to eat”.
“I said (the) state government is not in the business of ranching or of providing grazing lands. However, there are communities that have lands, which have, as at today, accommodated herders under some arrangements,” the governor said, Friday, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja when reporters asked why he “reneged” on his promise to make land available for grazing in his state.
“What I suggested was that these communities should look at making lands available where – when herdsmen come in, they can grow grass and charge them to herd in specific areas and avoid getting the herdsmen to trespass into other people’s farmlands because that is what causes the crisis.”
Mr Obaseki reiterated that some herders do have a private arrangement with some communities in Edo.
“What we found is that in most communities, when the pastoralists come in, they usually have an arrangement or an agreement with community leaders before they can graze in those communities.
“That is what exists today, but in some cases, that arrangement breaks down when some very young herders are not able to control their cows and they stray into other people’s farmlands.
“That is the situation in many communities today and we are saying why not formalise it properly by designating areas with water and grass so that when they come, you’ll ask them to go into those areas, charge them whatever you need to charge them, by that we’ll restrict them there so that they will not go and trespass into other people’s farmlands and eat up their crops.”
The governor said he was at the Presidential Villa to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Ibrahim Gambari, over the security challenges in Edo.
The government statement and Mr Obaseki’s remark coincided with Wednesday’s killing of seven farmers by suspected herdsmen at Ugboke, Oshodi, Okokodo, Ariyan, and Yoruba camp situated in Ovia North-East Local Government Area of the state.
Some residents, Thursday, carried the corpse of one of the slain farmers to the Edo Government House to protest the killing.
The state Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu, who received the protesters, assured them that the government would intensify efforts at providing adequate security to check the rising spate of insecurity in the state.
Mr Shaibu said, “As a state, we had made up our mind not to lament but look for solutions on how to protect our country and our state.
“There was also an attack in the early hours of today in Niger State, it is a national problem. As we speak now, Governor Godwin Obaseki and other governors are in Abuja to discuss this insecurity issue in our country.
“You will remember that we are bringing in local vigilantes to collaborate with law enforcement agencies; we are strengthening our system and will still need your support.”
The deputy governor added, “We don’t want to take laws into our hands but at the same time, we cannot fold our hands and watch the people kill us. Take it easy. Some of the bodies are yet to be found. I have discussed with the security agencies.
“They will move into that area, I can assure you that they will recover their bodies and we will intensify the security in that area. We will categorise that area as one of the flashpoints so that you can sleep with your eyes closed.
“At the same time, for the young men, we need you not to sleep with your eyes closed so that you can understand what is going on in your areas. We want you to give us information that will be useful to us.”