Many indigenes of Kogi State are up in arms against Governor Yahaya Bello over what they describe as his style of governance. The governor has also incurred the wrath of his people for supporting the proposal for the creation of cattle colonies by the Federal Government. JAMES AZANIA reports.
Less than a week after the killing of 73 people and the maiming of others in Benue State by suspected Fulani herdsmen, Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello, along with a handful of his colleagues, were at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja, ostensibly to endorse President Muhammadu Buhari for a second term in office. The development drew the ire of some people, who condemned the purpose and timing of their visit.
A week later, Bello announced that Kogi will support the establishment of cattle colonies in its domain, as announced by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh.
The minister stated.that work will commence next week on cattle colonies in states that have indicated interest to establish them.
He disclosed this during a visit to the Agriculture and Veterinary Complex of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
He stated that the National Economic Council has set up a 10-member committee, comprising the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, as chairman and nine governors to facilitate the commencement of the colonies.
He said: “One of the most topical issues we have today is that of farmers and herdsmen clashes. If we do not deal with it quickly, we run the risk of damaging the harmony and the co-existence of Nigeria as a country. The killings are getting too many.
“In our attempt to solve the problem, we have proffered certain solutions but perhaps we were not sensitive enough to Nigeria’s fragile sensitivities and suspicions. When we spoke of colonies, we were immediately greeted with reactions that this was an attempt to cease Nigeria’s land and give to the Fulanis to colonise. The intention is not for Fulanis or anyone to colonise any territory. It is to provide a haven for cattle to graze in peace under controlled environments to prevent the conflicts between farmers and herdsmen.
“Only yesterday, a committee was set up by the Vice President with members, most of them, state governors discussing this matter and resolving that states that are interested will begin work on this matter as soon as next week.”
While some other states, including Benue, have outrightly rejected the idea, Bello, who had in the past stated.that the Fulanis, including the herdsmen were welcome in Kogi, agreed to it.
Despite his explanation for the open arms policy towards the Fulanis, some of the stakeholders in the state, kicked against it.
Throwing his weight behind the initiative, Governor Bello stated.that it is being wrongly perceived by segments of the society. As stated by him, the initiative would benefit farmers, herdsmen and the citizens.
In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Petra Onyegbule, the governor stated.the President decided to take the measure to curb the incessant bloody clashes between farmers and herdsmen across the nation.
He added: “This move will also enhance the security of lives and property of the people of Kogi State”.
He allayed the fears of residents that communally-owned land would be handed over to Fulanis, saying the policy is not an indirect attempt by the Federal Government to parcel their land to the herdsmen.
He continued: “To ensure that everybody is carried along, Kogi State through the Ministry of Agriculture will soon be embarking on a series of stakeholders’ engagements to sensitise the people, farmers, cattle breeders and other stakeholders on the implementation of the new policy.
“Traditional rulers, leaders of various communities, opinion leaders, religious leaders and the entire citizens will be carried along in the course of the engagement, so that we can collectively study the merits and demerits of the policy. The insinuations and speculations from various quarters nationwide that the Federal Government is conspiring to take over communal land and give it to herdsmen are far from true. The planned cattle colonies are for the interest of our people.”
Worried by the prounancement, the people of the nine local government areas in Kogi-East petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari, saying that they have rejected the idea of a Fulani cattle colony in Igala land.
In the petition by the President of the Igala Project, Mr. Atayi Babs, and the Secretary-General, Mallam Musa Haruna, they outlined their oppositiin to the idea, stating that it will lead to the breakdown of law and order.“Our people, who are largely farmers, are not prepared to host Fulani herdsmen or cattle colony masters in our land,” they stated.
It reads: “Our position is further reinforced by the multiple acts of war and mayhem being unleashed daily on our innocent farmers and hapless law-abiding citizens in their villages, homes and farmlands by rampaging Fulani herdsmen.
“Mr. President, between June 2015 and December 2017, Igala land has witnessed several incidences of killings as a result of herdsmen violence in several areas, including Ebeje where eight people were killed and farms set ablaze; Agbada/Agojeju, where 19 people were slaughtered; Edede two persons were killed; six people killed in Oganenigu; three people killed in Ojapata; five people killed in Ojuwo Anawo. All these happened in Dekina Local Government Area.
“The story is not different in Ofu Local Government Area, at Ojuwo Omachi and Akpagidigbo, where the incessant attacks of herdsmen have claimed the lives of over 20 persons. In Abejukolo and Bagana in Omala local government areas, the reign of terror resonates loudly, so much that our people no longer move freely, to and from their farmlands, because of the fear of killings, maiming and rape, with some villages like Ebakume wholly sacked and entire farm produce granaries/silos completely burnt.
“Despite the brazen nature of the aforementioned acts of criminality by these would-be occupants of the so-called cattle colony, none of them has been arrested or made to account for these crimes, as these heavily armed cattle herders terrorise our land, flaunting their prowess in the handling of AK 47 rifles and double barrel guns.
“Mr. President, our opposition to this move and the hasty approval given by the Kogi State Governor is further reinforced by the inescapable fact that under your Presidency, murderous Fulani herdsmen have enjoyed subtle protection and favouritism to the extent that these herdsmen, who now treat Nigeria as a conquered territory, will eventually go beyond the purview of the so-called colony to destroy farmlands, maim and kill under the slightest provocation.
“In view of the above and many more, we the undersigned concerned people of Kogi-East, Kogi State, North-Central, Nigeria state as follows:
“We do not want cattle colony or grazing reserve in our land. We reject any attempt to convert or transfer the ownership of ancestral lands in Igala land to cattle colony master or owners who operate by killing people, destroying communities wholesale, and destroying farmlands while enjoying government protection from counter attack, arrest or prosecution. We reject attempts to turn Igala land into the next killing field of marauding Fulani herdsmen.”
In a similar petition titled: “Kogi West Rejects Establishment Of Cattle Colonies”, Senator Dino Melaye, the lawmaker representing the district at the National Assembly, condemned the governor for embracing the idea.
He stated: “It is not surprising that the governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, will quickly but strangely meet with the Minister of Agriculture in order to make our dear Confluence State as a pilot state for the proposed cattle colonies in the country. The governor’s latest shenanigans is not surprising in the sense that money is involved. The Federal Government will definitely make funds available to Bello to kick-start the pilot scheme in Kogi State.
“Therefore, as a true representative of the people of Kogi West senatorial zone and on behalf of my constituents, we warn in strong terms that our soil, land, water and air cannot be used for cattle colonies. Let it be clear to all the insensitive people behind the idea that Kogi West will resist the establishment of any cattle colony within our domain politically, spiritually, traditionally and with any means available within the ambit of the law”.
A community leader from the Kogi East, Chief Alhassan Ejike, called on the governor to jettison the idea, saying it is an invitation to breakdown of law and order, warning the governor not to venture into the establishment of cattle colonies in any part of the state in order to avoid any looming disaster that will follow such an open invitation to herdsmen.
“You are not the owner of Kogi and you cannot allocate a land that doesn’t belong to you to foreigners,” he stated.
While the governor is being criticised at home, commendation has come from outside, with Governor Tanko Almakura of Nassarawa State described him as a good ambassador of President Muhammadu Buhari.
He hailed his Kogi State counterpart for upholding the leadership ideals of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Kingsley Fanwo, the media aide to the governor, stated.that Almakura gave the commendation while receiving Bello at the Government House, Lafia, saying Bello has been an advocate of a united Nigeria.
Almakura said: “The visit of Bello and others to Benue to sympathize with the people, was a loud testimony of the unity and peace that exists among the APC governors.
“Let me use this opportunity to thank Governor Yahaya Bello for standing up for a united Nigeria. He is a governor that possesses the leadership qualities of Mr. President.
“We are keeping track of the achievements of your administration in Kogi State. Let me tell you that you have made our party proud. You are promoting the core ideals of our great party.”
– The Nation