Katsina State Governor, Aminu Masari, deserves commendation for his forthright stand on open grazing and negotiating with bandits in Nigeria. Denouncing open grazing of cattle, the governor said it was un-Islamic and hinted that there were plans to proscribe it in his state. According to him, once certain structures were put in place for ranching, nomadic herding would be banned in the state.

Masari said: “We intend to ban unnecessary roaming about with cattle. But before we do that, we will make provisions where the animals will stay…Even that is un-Islamic. It says do not have the numbers you cannot feed that you have to stretch over to people’s land or somebody’s farm. I do not think that is right. And certainly, once we put in place ranching for the grazing of all animals, the issue of anybody roaming about will be a past.”   This is an uncommon exhibition of truth and courage. Masari made these statements not minding that he is from the same state with President Muhammadu Buhari.

Incidentally, the presidency had recently expressed some form of support for open grazing. In a recent interview with a national television, Buhari said there was an existing gazette which made provisions for cattle routes and open grazing areas. He promised to reinstate the cattle routes and grazing areas across the country. Last month, the President went further to give approval for the reactivation of about 368 old grazing reserves in 25 states of the federation. It was a furious governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, who lamented that the country had been turned into a cow republic by the present administration.     

No doubt, Masari’s position cannot be faulted. It is in conformity with the 1999 Constitution and the Land Use Act. It is in line with the position of the Northern and Southern Governors Forums as well as the Nigerian Governors Forum. Southern governors had met in Asaba, the Delta State capital, last May and collectively declared their opposition to open grazing. They set September 1 deadline for the various states to enact laws against it. Though not all the states met the deadline, many of them now have laws against the practice. Some others are still in the process of passing the law.

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Open grazing of cattle is anachronistic and problematic. Population growth and development have put pressure on available land. Hence, when cattle roam about, there is the tendency for them to destroy economic crops. This has been happening and has often led to serious conflict between farmers and herdsmen. Ranching remains the best way to rear cattle, which is actually a private business. It is pertinent to note that this present government has devoted much time on grazing of cattle. It is time to focus on more pressing issues such as banditry.  An Islamic Scholar, Sheikh Mahmoud Gumi, and Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State had canvassed granting amnesty to bandits. Matawalle believed negotiating with them had significantly reduced the frequency of their bloody attacks in Zamfara. However, with the renewed attacks of these criminals in his state and elsewhere, the governor appears to have given up on amnesty. In a statement after a Jumat prayer in Gusau last week, he said his administration would no longer grant amnesty to bandits. According to him, the criminals failed to embrace the peace initiative the state government earlier extended to them. “What we are doing to bandits is to send them to God, so they can answer their questions,” he said.

With the benefit of hindsight, Masari said his government should never have negotiated with bandits not to talk of granting them amnesty. According to him, they are not pushing for any ideological or religious view; they are simply bandits and criminals who should be dealt with as such.   

Even when he is Fulani, Masari was categorical that the majority of those involved in banditry in his state are Fulani. As he put it, “they are people we know. They are people who had been living with us for 100 of years. They are also people of the Fulani extraction. Majority of those involved in this banditry are Fulani, whether it is palatable or not, but that is the truth.” He identified the support informants give to bandits as the biggest problem in the efforts to combat criminality, saying it was their responsibility in Katsina and northern Nigeria to be determined to end the spate of insecurity.

Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, had similarly opposed negotiating with bandits saying they deserved death not ransom. Obviously, negotiating and paying ransom to bandits empower them to buy more sophisticated weapons with which they terrorise innocent citizens. It is very unlikely that these criminals will abandon kidnapping for ransom because it has become a lucrative business to them. Empowering them in the name of negotiation will encourage more people to join. Only a serious confrontation with them and good governance will end the menace in Nigeria. This is the time people should stand up for what is right and what they believe in.