Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State has blamed the tension in the state over the idea of grazing lands on those he described as the same political opponents he defeated in the last gubernatorial poll in the state.
Recall that the governor had been reported to have promised to establish grazing lands for herders, but while speaking to State House correspondents after meeting with the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, at the presidential villa, Abuja, weekend, he said his government was only encouraging private citizens to do business with herders for profit.
He accused the political opponents of deliberately misrepresenting the position of government for selfish reasons.
According to him, “If you will just go through some blogs and some of the narratives and messages sent around online and on social media, you can see a correlation. For instance, the people who are pushing the message that I have given grazing land in Edo, if you see them, they are the same blogs, the same people who were sponsoring opposition messages throughout election. So, clearly, if you were in my position, what will be your conclusion?
“Apart from that, the people who have been pushing the narrative are just trying to create scare, trying to create trouble. These are people who we defeated during the last election.
“So, clearly, we are not saying we don’t have challenges, we have security challenges, but leadership or people who have aspired to leadership, should not be irresponsible. You don’t inflame already tensed situation. That’s what we are saying.”
Governor Obaseki affirmed that he did not renege on his promise to provide grazing lands, saying: “I said a 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.
“What I suggested was that these communities should look at making lands available where and 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 farm lands because that is what causes crisis.
“These are all commercial transactions between either individuals, communities and pastoralists. That is the point we made, that herding cattle is a business and it’s not the state’s responsibility to get into that business.
“They actually do it now because 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.
“I think it is a reasonable thing to do and these are relationships that have spanned hundreds of years. So, we can’t wake up today and say all of you go away, we don’t want you. How are you going to get the protein?”
On why he was at the Presidential Villa, the governor said he was at the presidential villa to request President Muhammadu Buhari to deploy the military to help in protecting the state forest reserves now being depleted by illegal armed loggers.
He said the loggers activities have reached troubling proportions recently, putting wide life at risk.
He said, “I actually came to rub minds with the Chief of Staff. We’ve been having challenges with, not just only bandits in our forests, but illegal loggers. It’s been an invasion of our forests, with armed loggers coming in to indiscriminately cut logs from our forests.
“I’m sure you would have seen this news about the Okomu National Park, it’s one of the last pristine rain forests we have left and the amount of logging by armed loggers in the last couple of months have been really troubling.
“They are also affecting the wildlife. You know that reserve hosts some very rare species of animals and with this avalanche of loggers, we are losing them and it’s something of concern.
“So, I’ve come to rub minds with the Chief of Staff to see how the federal government can assist with the National Parks Guards, with our local guards and see if the military can give them backup.”
He said the presidency gave a response to the request.