Godwin Obaseki, Governor of Edo State, on Tuesday, January 9, has submitted to the threats of fulani herdsmen, due to the issue of insecurity, fight between farmers and fulani herdsmen in the state.
Obaseki, in 2019, during the now suspended controversial RUGA programme of the federal government, was among the governors who rejected the idea of the state government providing land for herders to build a settlement and grazing area for their cattle.
“We assure Edo people that Governor Obaseki will not cede their rights and land to anybody, as our programmes as a sovereign state do not run on the back of any external entity,” a Government House statement quoted the Edo governor as saying then, in July 2019.
“In all the agricultural programmes being executed by the Obaseki administration, the safety, security and prosperity of our people are the top priority and non-negotiable,” the statement added.
Mr Obaseki, however, reversed himself on Tuesday, saying Edo State would create a grazing area for herders to curb clashes with farmers.
The governor said this while on a fact-finding tour to Udo, Ovia South West Local Government Area of the state to assess the impact of the herders-farmers conflict in the state.
“We will create an area where the cattle will go regularly to eat, as they must not go to peoples’ farms. This will stop cattle from moving around the community, including in farmlands,” a statement by Crusoe Osagie, the governor’s spokesperson, quoted Mr Obaseki as saying so at a town hall meeting during the tour.
Mr Obaseki also visited a traditional leader, the Iyase of Udo, Patrick Igbinidu, in his palace.
The governor, who was accompanied on the tour by the head of security agencies in the state, warned against “policising” the herder-farmer conflict in Nigeria.
“As a government, we do not believe that we should politicise security. It is important that we get the facts right and understand what exactly is going on. We had reports about the crisis or impending crisis around this axis.
“We have also had all sorts of anxieties. Well, I will call them speculations on social media about herdsmen being pushed off from neighboring states into this area and the escalating crisis or impending crisis.
“Our position is that we have to manage this crisis carefully. Like I said, we should not politicise the issues of herdsmen in our society.”
Mr Obaseki attributed the herdsmen crisis to “environmental changes” and called for a collective approach to solving it, rather than “take it out of context because of cheap political gains to create crisis in the country.”
The governor, however, said it was unacceptable for herders to carry weapons in Edo.
“We do not accept the situation whereby anybody will be herding cattle with AK-47 rifles and other dangerous weapons. We also understand that there are bandits and criminals who pretend to be herders but undertake criminal activities such as kidnapping in the name and guise of being herdsmen.
“I have always argued that we should separate these people and deal with each one accordingly. Today, we are here to undertake assessments ourselves and to assure the people of Ovia South West of adequate security being provided by the government to protect the people.”
The Iyase of Udo, Mr Igbinidu, told Mr Obaseki the security challenges in his community have been on for a very long time.
“Farmers always complain about the activities of the herdsmen. When I received such reports, I had to call both parties to resolve the issues immediately. We have been on it for a very long time,” the traditional leader said.
The leader of the Fulani Community in the area, Muhammad Buhari, thanked the governor for the fact-finding tour to the area.
Mr Buhari said the Fulani community in the area are peace-loving people who have lived in the community for years. He said his people will always support peace.
In a visit to another community, Odighi community in Uhiere Ward of Ovia-North East Local Government Area of the state, Governor Obaseki said bandits, who disguise as herders to perpetrate violence, kidnapping and robbery, will be treated as criminals.
“We must separate the issues of security and politics and never accept the issue of criminality. We have always lived with herders and those we know act responsibly. The ones we see today are different and act otherwise. These ones that cause violence, kidnapping, robbery are criminals and must be treated as such,” he said.