The Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Taraba State, Mr. Yusufu Akirikwen, tells JUSTIN TYOPUUSU in Jalingo that arrangements have been perfected for the implementation of the anti-grazing law billed to start in the state on Wednesday.
The implementation of the Taraba State Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law is expected to commence on Wednesday, January 24. How prepared is your government for the smooth take off of the law?
I am happy to tell you that immediately the bill was signed into law on June 24, 2017, Governor Darius Ishaku constituted two separate committees. The first one was meant to sensitise the cattle owners while the other one was to sensitise the farmers to the importance of the law. The two committees went round each of the 16 local government areas of the state and explained the importance of the law to the people.
What is the importance of the sensitisation?
It is just to advise them not to buy into the kind of instigation that could come from highly placed people like (Emir) Sanusi. This was apart from the public hearing conducted during the process of enacting the law by the Taraba State House of Assembly. The House sat in the three senatorial zones of the state. The essence of conducting the public hearing in the three zones was to accommodate the inputs of residents in the law. Groups and individuals submitted memoranda in support of the law and it was eventually passed. Now that it has become law, the government has also taken steps to implement the law to its fullest.
What are the steps?
One of the steps is that government has put in place implementation committees at various levels and we are also going to recruit marshals who will equally work at various levels to help in the successful implementation of the law.
What will your government do differently to avoid a repeat of the attacks in Benue when the law fully comes into effect?
If anybody says that what happened in Benue was as a result of the implementation of the law, such a person is telling a lie. The law in Benue came about to solve the problem of persistent attacks on the farming communities in Benue. So, when people come out to say that the crisis in Benue was as a result of the herdsmen’s resistance to the law, I don’t agree with them. The herdsmen had decided to take the law of the land into their hands even before the open grazing prohibition law came into place. So, the killings and maiming of people have been there. The laws are part of the solutions to the incessant killings of innocent Nigerians. I am sorry to say this, but Nigerians should watch the Federal Government closely regarding the attacks and killings.
What do you mean ‘the Federal Government should be watched closely’?
How many people were killed in Benue and how many arrests have been made? To me, any crisis of such magnitude that does not attract arrests is a government-approved crisis. So, since no arrest was made, it can be deduced that the attackers are being protected by the Federal Government. The first thing to do in a crisis situation is for the police to go after the attackers, arrest them and stop a recurrence or prevent them from attacking more communities. But as I speak, the attackers are still killing people in Benue. How do you reconcile that?
What is the position of the Taraba State Government on the issue of cattle colonies?
There was no resolution reached between the Federal Government and the state governors on the issue of cattle colonies during a meeting in Abuja. The Federal Government called the governors and told them what they wanted to do but there wasn’t any agreement.
Will Taraba State give out land for cattle colonies?
What is a cattle colony, if I may ask? The Benue State Governor has asked that question before. We have been colonised by the colonial masters, and now, you want us to be colonised by cows? Where will the Federal Government get land for cattle colonies? Will they sit there in Abuja and acquire land across the states of the federation for cattle colonies? Whose land will they acquire?
But the Federal Government has made it clear that it will not force people to give out land for cattle colonies.
Well, the truth of the matter is that the land in Taraba belongs to the state government. Therefore, no individual or group can just come here and say they want to create a cattle colony. Taraba State Government has enacted a law for the establishment of ranches; let them support us in the implementation of the law. The Federal Government has a lot of responsibilities at the federal level. So, what is bringing them to the states in the name of cattle colonies? We have enacted a law for ranching, but we are not acquiring land for people. Herdsmen are going to buy land for their ranches. It’s not going to be the responsibility of government to acquire land for people to do their private business. Just like farmers buy land to do their farming business, people are going to buy land and do their ranching business, and that is what the constitution has guaranteed; that people are entitled to own property. I was baffled by the pronouncement of the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, when he said the Federal Government has not done enough for herders in the country. I don’t know what he meant by that. But I think just like the Federal Government sometimes buys fertilisers for farmers, they should buy vaccines for herders, rather than taking peoples’ land and giving it to herders as compensation for the failure of Federal Government to take care of cows, because land is not equivalent to fertilisers.
The Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi II, alleged that over 800 Fulani were killed on the Mambilla Plateau in the Sardauna Local Government Area of Taraba State. What is your reaction to his allegation?
Well, I think as an emir up there in Kano, Sanusi presides over the rights of other ethnic groups, but I think for him to come down and speak for only the Fulani in Taraba shows the background from which he is speaking. For me, before he thinks that other people are not doing well, one should know that he is even worse than the people he is trying to accuse. I don’t know how he arrived at the figure of 800 Fulani killed during the communal crisis on the Mambilla Plateau that lasted for barely three days. He also came out with a laughable figure of cows killed and houses destroyed, but unfortunately, he presented a one-sided story and I think a highly placed person like Sanusi should rise above this kind of petty tribal sentiment. When that crisis broke out, the government, within a record amount of time, brought the crisis under control and immediately constituted a commission of inquiry to, among other things, look into the remote and immediate causes of the crisis and ascertain the level of destruction caused by the crisis. It is on record that during the committee’s sitting, individuals and groups on the Mambilla Plateau, where the crisis occurred, submitted oral and written memoranda, but at no time did anyone or group submit that 800 Fulani were slaughtered during the crisis. So, if I may ask, where did Emir Sanusi get his figure from? Did he also set up his own commission of inquiry on the crisis that submitted a report to him? That is the danger of a one-sided story. I think as leaders in this country, we should guard our comments so as not to instigate crisis. We should also respect ourselves so that we would not subject our reputation to public ridicule. We should be problem solvers and not problem instigators.
Can you please talk more on the report of the commission of inquiry that investigated the crisis?
The committee submitted its report and the government, within a reasonable time, constituted a White Paper drafting committee to study the report; and until the White Paper drafting committee submits its report, the government cannot say anything about the report.
The Emir of Kano in that interview also talked about how he advised Governor Ishaku to suspend action on the open grazing prohibition law, but that his advice fell on deaf ears. What’s your take on that?
Whether a law is right to be implemented in the state does not lie in the domain of the Emir of Kano. I say so because we have a functional government in Taraba State and under the rule of law, we have separation of powers and if the executive arm of government in Taraba State feels that it has a particular problem and can address it, it can do so. And in trying to do that, all relevant arms of government would play their part for the good governance of the state. Remember that under the provisions of the constitution, the power to make laws is vested in the legislature and the Taraba State House of Assembly followed due diligence and has now put together a piece of legislation that would solve a problem. I don’t think it is in the purview of the Emir of Kano to complain about it or to advise the governor on how to govern the state. Each state in Nigeria has its own peculiarity and the law came about as a result of our peculiar challenge which the law is to address. In fact, the Emir even lied in his claim that he called and advised the governor over the law.
What is your thought on the herdsmen menace, going forward?
The best solution to this issue going forward is for every state in Nigeria to embrace ranching for peace in the country. Within one week, we had killings in Benue; Numan in Adamawa State; Lau here in Taraba; Edo, Ekiti and other parts of the country and Sanusi has the guts to accuse others? He is instigating crisis across the country with his false claims. That tells you the type of leadership we have in this country. Sanusi feels the people of Numan are wrong, Lau, Edo, Ondo and other places, where the Fulani are killing people are all wrong. It is the Fulani that are right and everybody should accept what he is saying. What we are playing with in this country is terrible. This was how Boko Haram started and today, we all know what it has done to our social and economic life. Nigeria should check its borders and know who and who is coming into the country, most times illegally, riding on the back of ECOWAS protocol of free movement. But I tell you, that protocol does not allow free entry for everybody. You cannot allow criminals or people without identity into your country. Why is (Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman) Dambazzau running up and down when he knows that immigration is under him? What has he done to stop illegal entry into the country? As a citizen of Nigeria, I am not allowed to have a gun unless I am licensed, but we have foreigners who come into the country with guns and kill people anyhow, and you want to tell me we have a government in this country? This is a conspiracy; but whatever conspiracy they think they are doing, it will bounce back on them one day. As leaders, we should all work for peace and rise up above sentiments. Nigeria belongs to all of us and we must work for the unity and progress of Nigeria.