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Open grazing in the FCT: Nine months on, herders defy Wike

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As the President Bola Tinubu administration marks its eventful first year in power, residents of Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT), have continued to live with the menace of herders and their cows plying some major roads and streets.

On August 22, 2023, the FCT Minister, Nyesom Wike, made resounding promises to end open grazing in Abuja.

The minister’s pledge
Wike, on assumption of office as the FCT Minister, expressed his willingness and readiness to interface with herdsmen to bring an end to open grazing, insisting that no cows should be allowed inside the city.

He asserts that cows can exist outside the city due to the presence of grasses, clarifying that the purpose of planting grass in the city is to enhance its beauty like other capital cities in the world.

“So, we will discuss. It is important. Let us say it: You’re driving inside the Presidential Villa, for example, and you see about 20,000 to 40,000 goats.How would foreigners feel if they see that? We will not accept that.”

Unfortunately, nine months after this statement, headers are still seen with their cattle in virtually some parts of the country’s pride. In areas such as Apo and Lugbe, even in Wuse, blocking of major roads and disruption of vehicular movement by cows is a normal occurrence.

Minister’s security apparatus’ enhancement in the FCT
Meanwhile, the FCT Minister has received accolades for his contributions to enhancing security and making the Federal Capital a safer place.

To ensure public safety, Wike, in October 2023, ordered the immediate clearance of criminal hideouts in Mabushi and Katampe. In the same vein, the minister in February 2024 vowed to leave no stone unturned in the quest to make the nation’s seat of power secure.

Persecondnews recalls that in recent months, the FCT has witnessed a surge in criminalities and banditry, with daredevils perpetrating killings and kidnappings in parts of the FCT.

To give a fillip to the new security architecture, the FCT Police Command carried out raids on notorious hotspots and blackspots in Durumi on April 8 and Dei-Dei, Abuja, known to be criminals’ dens, successfully apprehended 85 suspects, seizing counterfeit currencies, drugs, and weapons.

Also, on May 23, 2024, the police command conducted another round of raids, busting over 300 suspects.

Meanwhile, on April 16, the Minister took a significant step towards boosting security in the FCT by distributing 100 motorcycles to security agencies in the six area councils.

The six area councils received a total of 60 motorcycles, with 10 allocated to each council, to be utilized by their respective vigilance groups.

For instance, the police received 30 motorcycles, while the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) each received five, totaling 40 motorcycles allocated to the security agencies.

AEPB actions so far – mobile courts inaugurated to try offenders
The Public Relations Officer of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), Mrs. Janet Peni, told Persecondnews that they have been apprehending people moving around the FCT with cows and that they have set up mobile courts to try offenders.

“Our office in Area 3 Abuja is where we keep all the cows we confiscated from offenders,’’ she told Persecondnews in an interview.

She said AEPB, established by the 1997 AEPB Act, remains the authority responsible for protecting and managing the FCT’s environment.

“We enforce environmental laws, prevent degradation, and regulate physical development’s ecological impact. Our services include waste management, sanitation, pollution control, and environmental health services, aiming to preserve biodiversity and improve air, water, land, forest, and wildlife quality in the FCT.”

Health hazards of smelly cow faeces
Long-term exposure to cow faeces has been associated with a number of health problems, including trachoma, parasitic infections, diarrhoea, and environmental enteropathy and stunted growth in addition to hindering movement, according to health experts.

Additionally, the pungent smell and unsightly presence of animal waste scattered on the roads pose health hazards, attract houseflies, and constitute a nuisance, according to Abdulahi Sule, a resident who claims to be from Kogi State.

Stakeholders’ reactions
In response to the minister’s decision, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), represented by its National President, Baba Othman Ngelzarma, on August 24, 2023, sought a meeting with the FCT Minister to discuss challenges, including dysfunctional grazing reserves.

However, Ngelzarma, who acknowledged that cows should not be allowed on a free range in the city, called for the setting up of grazing reserves, commending Wike’s disposition and asking for his help in resolving the issues—developing grazing lands and addressing pastoralists’ needs.

However, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, a sister organization to MACBAN, disagreed with the minister’s stance on the cow movement in FCT, insisting that the minister “can’t chase away cows, and Miyetti Allah won’t engage with him.”

The group maintained that cows can’t be driven away, advising the minister to focus more on developing Abuja instead. They claim that most cows in Abuja belong to the city elite while acknowledging that there is no grazing land in the city.

Narrating his experience with free-range cows in the city, a motorist, Mr. Timothy Ameh, told PersecondNews how he nearly killed a schoolboy while trying to avoid hitting a cow on the road.

“Last year (2023), around June, while trying to navigate through the Ministry of Works headquarters in Mabushi and in a bid to avoid running into the cows, I nearly knock down a boy waiting for a bus at the bus stop.

Titilayo Odunsi, a civil servant, complained that the staff bus always encounters cows anytime they are going to work, causing obstruction and halting traffic.

Previous efforts to outlaw open grazing in the FCT unsuccessful
Persecondnews recalls that on September 16, 2016, Sen. Dino Melaye, the former Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Federal Capital Territory, issued an order for the arrest and slaughtering of any cow found loitering within the Abuja metropolis, while the then Minister of the FCT, Muhammed Bello, in 2016 also banned open grazing.

Bello had provided alternative locations for cattle grazing in the Kwali, Kuje, and Abaji areas.

Mr. Muktar Ibrahim, a one-time spokesperson for the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, gave reasons why the ban on open grazing has not been effective.

He observed that there are no extant laws to deter and punish the practice in the FCT.

For now, some residents of Abuja appear to have resigned to fate as they struggle daily with cattle in their neighbourhood and on the roads.

However, observers have expressed concern about the herders’ continued impunity in violating the executive orders, arguing that this could potentially harm the reputation of the country to international visitors.

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