Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Plateau State Governor Simon Lalong has disclosed that he had advised his Benue counterpart, Sam Ortom, against implementing the anti-grazing law.
Lalong, who was in the Presidential Villa to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari to seek postponement of the state visit to February as well as other security issues, said in an interview with State House Correspondents, it was wrong to start implementing the law without proper alternatives.
Herdsmen had on New Year’s Day killed scores of people in Benue State and injured several others, a move that has been linked to the passage of the anti-grazing law.
According to Lalong, it is not only Fulani that engage in cattle rearing, as agriculture is now an aspect of diversification of the economy of the current administration.
The governor said Plateau was enjoying peace at the moment because his government brought everyone, including farmers and herdsmen, together and consulted on the need to embrace ranching.
He also said he was convinced about the plan by the Federal Government to establish cattle colonies in states as a way of addressing the perennial crises between farmers and herdsmen and he will give it his full support.
According to Lalong, “I just returned from my vacation and I felt I should come and see Mr. President, especially as my state celebrated Christmas and New Year peacefully. I wished him a Happy New Year and briefed him on the happenings in the state in the last one year. With the support I am getting from Mr. President, we are having relative peace. So I came to brief him, especially when you see insecurity in neighbouring states; so that if there are areas for improvement, we will do the improvements so that we don’t have cases like we are saying.”
On the secret to the relative peace the state was enjoying, the Governor said, “I have said it a number of times that it is a matter of accommodating interests, you take everybody as your own. In Plateau state I did that because when I came I inherited a protracted crisis in the state and so my first priority was how to handle these crisis and ensure we have peace in Plateau State. Within three months we were able to achieve peace. Most of the lingering crisis were between farmers and herdsmen on the Plateau. But today in most parts of the state you will see beautiful relationships between herdsmen and farmers .
“At the end of last year something small happened but I’m not saying it was between herdsmen and farmers. It was as a result of criminal activities. And so we focused on fishing-out those criminals. Most of the crisis that happened was not on the farms. It was just pockets of people, Christians and Muslims killing one another; and so we addressed those issues.
“Let me also say that plateau was one of those [states] that embraced ranching. I had a lot of opposition initially when I said Plateau was keying into ranching. Some states said they don’t have land but I said whether I have land or not we have to provide land for ranching because that is where I see as solution to the conflicts. In Plateau, we have gone far; we have donated land voluntarily. Many people donated land for ranching.
“Last year, I sent a 12-man team to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. They spent almost a week there to study. The team was headed by former Vice Chancellor of University of Jos, Professor Onazi. We went round all the communities in Plateau. It took three months and Plateau people, including the Fulanis, accepted that we must embrace ranching.
“Ranching as a concept is a policy and there are states realizing the importance of the policy. I cannot wake up like some people said last year that I should go and do anti-grazing Law. And I asked ‘anti-grazing law for what?’ We are talking about ranching, we are talking about development of livestock business and I cannot use the word ‘anti’ to start driving people out who are interested. It is for those who are interested to come and get involved in it.
“Secondly, I can’t implement anti-grazing law. There are levels of implementation which will require government intervention, provision [to] ranchers. Thirdly, when you are talking of ranching, it is a component of agriculture business [that] will also require subsidy. Subsidy must come from federal and state governments, and by the time we develop it and put every structure on ground, then we can bring laws to regulate the implementation. So, I don’t want to jump one step before the other,” the governor said.
On why he did not extend the same advise to his colleagues, Lalong said, “To be honest with you I did. I told the governor of Benue, ‘why don’t you tread softly, just be careful, take other steps before you start implementation.’ But you see states are different. His own concept is different [from ours] on the Plateau. I said I will not do the law before implementation. I have not developed the ranching areas, so I cannot go and and put up a law. To stop who? If I stop the people, what is the alternative?”
“So I said: do consultations, allow the people to understand and buy into the concept.”
Asked for his opinion on ranching versus colonies, the governor said, “Anytime I hear anything about agriculture I don’t jump into conclusions. I go and study it. Yesterday (Wednesday) I was at the Federal Ministry with my agricultural team, commissioner and others. We spent almost five hours because I said they must convince me and explain to me what colony is. So that when I go back just like I did with ranching I will go and tell my people that this is the concept. When I had the briefing with them I was convinced about colony.
“They said the difference between colony and ranching is that one is bigger than the other. You get a very big field, you get investors, you demarcate the area. Somebody will ranch bees, somebody will ranch goats, somebody will ranch cattle but government will develop the place, put grasses, water and anybody who is coming in must pay. And you cannot go and force any land; it is voluntary land that government has. In Plateau we have two large areas already.
“So, they are saying they are going to visit the place as part of the solution to farmers/herdsmen clashes in my state.
“When Plateau wanted [an] anti-grazing law I asked ‘against who?’ And they said against a particular tribe. And I said, ‘tell me who in Plateau is not into open grazing.’ Seventeen local government we are all into open grazing. It is either you are grazing cattle, goat, sheep, or even chicken. The law will protect and restrict the movement of the all these animals; these are general livestock. If you are talking of this, we will take a holistic approach in preparing for implementation. And when you do that with a lot of consultation like we have done in Plateau. When I got back, I heard the Fulanis were moving from state to state sensitizing their people on the need to embrace ranching.”
On concerns that providing colonies is a way of appeasing the herdsmen, Lalong said, “Let me tell you, nobody said ranching is only for Fulani herdsmen. Like I said in Plateau, ranching is everybody’s business. Many youths, thousands of graduates are ready to go into that business. It is everybody’s business.
“We must help the federal government to find ways of addressing issues, because agriculture is is now a means of diversification. And if you have to diversify it is serious business for everyone, not [just] for a tribe.”
On the coming local government election in the state and plans on ground to prevent a crisis, the governor said, “When you see conflicts or problems in an election is when there are no primaries.
“In Plateau when you go and ask of the best primaries, they will tell you it was the last primaries organised by the APC. So if we had good primaries definitely you can be rest assured that you are looking forward to the best of local government elections.”
On the President’s response, he said, “He was very happy. Of course the president is always happy when he hears that number one, your state is peaceful and two that you are paying salaries up to date. For me salary is no longer an issue. Last December I started paying gratuities. So I came to tell him that, through his efforts, you can see what bailout is doing to compliment the efforts of what some state governors are doing, so that we don’t start condemning governors.
“In my state I inherited 11 months arrears and eight months of pensions, and today I have cleared them. I am now into payment of arrears of gratuities and development projects. Part of the visit was to ask for a shift of date in the president’s visit to the state from January to February. And he has agreed and said, ‘I will come any time you want me to come,’” Lalong concluded.