From Magnus Eze, Enugu and Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri
There is anxiety in the South East over allegation of renewed plot to create cattle colony or RUGA in the region under whatever guise, in line with the Federal Government’s National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP). The fears heightened recently following President Muhammadu Buhari’s insistence on reviewing grazing routes in 25 states of the federation.
People also said that the body language of three governors in the zone, Hope Uzodimma (Imo), David Umahi (Ebonyi) and Willie Obiano (Anambra) indicates that they are not inclined to carry out the anti-open grazing ban of the Southern Governors’ Forum expected to take effect in respective states from September 1. Addressing State House Correspondents in Abuja after a meeting with the President, Uzodimma distanced the state from any law banning open grazing. He argued that though there is, at present no anti-grazing law in the state, he added that his government was trying to regulate grazing activities through collaboration between the farmers and herders.
“They have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in my office and agreed to work together,” he said. “And both parties are going about their businesses without interfering or causing any grievance or anger to each other.”
But reacting to his statement, the Coalition of South East Youth Leaders (COSEYL) and Igbo National Council (INC) asked Uzodimma to retrace his steps on open grazing. Goodluck Ibem, President General of COSEYL, said on Friday that Uzodimma was on his own because Imo people had made their position known that open grazing was not accepted in the region. “Any Governor or person who dares to move against the popular will of the people will have Ndigbo to contend with,” he said.
“We are not in a military junta were the governor will override the popular will of the people. We warn all governors of South East to be very careful of their stance and what they go to Abuja to say or do.” Stating its position, INC gave the governor a 14-day ultimatum to reverse his decision or face the wrath of the people of the state. National President of the group, Chilos Godsent in a statement he released to Saturday Sun urged the governor to consult with his people before taking such decisions. “Imo State cannot afford to stand against the decision of Southern Governors’ Forum that was applauded by the masses,” he added.
But a document sent to Saturday Sun seems to contradict Uzodimma’s claim about Imo not having law banning open grazing. Signed by Emmanuel Ngozi Ibekwe, the then Clerk of the Imo House of Assembly, it was signed into law on January 19, 2007, by the then civilian of the state, Chief Achike Udenwa. Coded as the I.S.N. Law No.9 of 2006 of Imo State, it was entitled “Prohibition of Grazing of Cattle.”
Among other things, it read: “3. Rearing of Cattle on the streets, main roads, residential and commercial places in Owerri Capital Territory and cultivated areas identified as Restricted Areas in Imo State is hereby prohibited. “Restricted Areas” means Areas within Imo State that are cultivated, residential and commercial.
“4. A cattle rearer shall not take his cattle into cultivated farms within Imo State. 5. Any person who contravenes section 3 and 4 of this Law is guilty of an offence and on summary conviction shall, in the case of Section 3, be liable to a fine not less than N50, 000, and, in the case of Section 4, pay compensations to the crop owner to cover the total cost of crops destroyed or eaten by the cattle in addition to a fine which may be prescribed by the Magistrate Court.”
But Governor Uzodimma later issued a statement acknowledging the existence of such a law while insisting that he was quoted by the Press For Obiano, Saturday Sun gathered that there was no sign of effort by both the Anambra State government and the State House of Assembly to enact a law banning open grazing in the state, a situation people said was ominous given the carnage by Fulani herders in parts of Anambra. Though Ebonyi State Government claims to have anti-open grazing law in operation, many said it was a fluke as people insist they neither knew when it was passed nor laid hand on it.
A statement by Malam Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant on Media to the President, to the end that four states including Ebonyi had received N24 billion grant for ranching, though later debunked by the state government has further heightened the feeling that there was actually plot to institutionalize cattle programme in Ebonyi. The governor has, in a statement signed by Francis Nwaze, his Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, on Thursday, August 26, 2021, insisted that the state does not have and would not yield any piece of its land for RUGA, ranching or whatever name it is called. He also denied that his state has received N6 billion from the Federal Government for the development of ranching in the area.
Confirming the Ebonyi government’s position, Shehu said that the state was correct that it did not receive the sum of N6billion for ranching, but indicated that it got money for “associated projects”. But not a few persons believe that the Ebonyi State Government has not come clean on the ranching issue, arguing that there must be something that was being covered up.
Reacting on the issue, Linus Okorie, former House of Representatives member for Ohaozara/Onich/Ivo Federal Constituency, said that Umahi’s statement denied receiving money for ranching, but did not state what the money it received was for. According to him, to douse the public rage and avoid unnecessary controversies, the state government should make that further clarification.
Many Igbo groups and indigenes of Ebonyi State said that it would amount to a sellout if actually the governor clandestinely dragged the state into the ranching imbroglio given what the South East had passed through in the hands of marauding Fulani herders in recent times.
Abia Onyike, spokesman of Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF), Abia Onyike noted that the governor’s romance with the powers that be in Abuja could be detrimental to Ndigbo. “Gov. Umahi has no mandate to establish any cattle ranches in connivance with the Federal Government,” he said. On the enactment of anti-open grazing law, ADF said that Gov. Uzodimma has not behaved as a true Igbo with his plan to accommodate killer Fulani herders in the state with the signing of mere memorandum of understanding.
Similarly, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Wing and Igbo National Movement (INM) have declared that the South-East zone has no grazing routes for herdsmen. INM Executive Director, Anthony Olisa Okolo, who addressed newsmen alongside other leaders in Owerri, stated that they would resist such attempt by the President and his amenable South East governors.