By Shehu Umar, Gusau
GUSAU – Three former Governors of Zamfara State, ex-Commissioners and first-class Emirs stand losing expansive farmlands they acquired on grazing reserves following an order by the state governor, Bello Muhammad Matawalle, revoking all land allocations or titles on grazing reserves and cattle routes.
An official of the state government disclosed to Daily Trust on Sunday that over the years, swathes of the state’s land resource that were set aside for grazing purposes were acquired by powerful and influential people for personal uses.
He listed former governors Abdulaziz Yari, Mahmud Shinkafi, Ahmad Sani Yerima, ex-speaker Sanusi Garba Rikiji, former commissioners, Alhaji Dankande Gamji and Abdulsalam Magami, deposed Emir of Maru and emirs of Dansadau, Bakura and Gummi as some of the “high and mighty” to be affected by the order.
“Each of them acquired not less than 50 hectares of land on grazing reserves, and with this order by Governor Bello Matawalle, all the lands acquired stand revoked.
“For instance, former Governor Abdulaziz Yari acquired more than 200 hectares of land. The land is located just after Talata Mafara town before Lambar Bakura, along Sokoto-Gusau highway.
“Former Governor Ahmad Sani Yarima’s land is opposite Yari’s. Yari’s brother’s land, called Kayaye, is also situated along Sokoto-Gusau road, just after Lambar Bakura,” he added. Government sources further revealed that in Dansadau district, a former commissioner, Muttaka Rini, acquired 400 hectares of land located 20 km north of Dansadau town, while the Emir of Dansadau acquired 200 hectares of grazing reserve and former Governor Yari got 1,000 hectares. A former federal lawmaker, Hussaini Moriki, has 100 hectares.
All the lands are located east of Yargaladima, a village located 20 km north of Dansadau town. They added that Senator Yarima’s land and those of former Governor Shinkafi, ex-Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Muhammad Bawa Gusau, ex-commissioner Muttaka Rini and ex-federal lawmaker, Hussaini Moriki are located adjacent one another, while that of emir of Dansadau is opposite.
Zamfara State, which has seen years of conflict between bandits and vigilantes, leading to hundreds of deaths and sacking of communities, has about 30 grazing reserves, all massively encroached, state government officials revealed.
Only four of grazing reserves were gazetted. Land in the state must fall within three categories – settlement and farming, grazing reserves and forest reserves – officials say.
Ex-governors, lawmakers on cattle routes Findings by our correspondent reveal that two major international cattle routes from neighbouring Niger Republic pass through the state into neighbouring Kaduna and Niger states.
The first one runs from Nelwa in Niger Republic, crossing into Nigeria through Jibia in Katsina State, then passing through Gidan Jaja in Zamfara State, to Birnin Magaji, Nassarawa Mailayi, Gusau, Jangeme, Magami, Tudun Wada, Dan Fasa, Mutunji, Madachi, Sangeku, Dutsen Magaji, Kasuwar Garba, and then into Bobi forest in the neighbouring Niger State.
The second one extends from Bangi, also in Niger Republic through Sabon Birni and Isa in Sokoto State, going into Shinkafi, Jangeru, Dolen Moriki, Boko, Kaura Namoda, Gusau, Marbe, Kekawa, Kabawa, Yargaladima, Ruwan Dawa, Tashar Sahabi, Unguwar Galadima, Dansadau, Madada, Goron Dutse, Gwaska, Doka, and entering Gayan grazing reserve in Kaduna State. However, findings by Daily Trust on Sunday reveal that the cattle routes have been massively encroached by farmers, leaving no traces of their existence in some places.
A source told Daily Trust on Sunday that considerable portions of former Governor Yarima’s farmland and those of the ex-commissioner Rini and ex-federal lawmaker Moriki fell on international cattle routes.
An official in the Directorate of Animal Health and Livestock Development in the state told our correspondent that about 45 per cent of the grazing reserves in the state had been taken over by farmers.
He said that in 2012, four zonal offices of the directorate undertook a tour of all the grazing reserves across the state to ascertain their status, where they found out that there was massive encroachment by farmers.
Part of what they did, he said, was to identify the encroachers and tell them that the lands they were occupying, running into hundreds or thousands of hectares, were illegally acquired.
The official, who craved anonymity, said they wrote a report and submitted it to the state government and made some recommendations to the authorities, with a view to addressing the problem.
“We recommended that there should a re-demarcation of the grazing reserves and effective monitoring and supervision through provision of adequate rangers and other forestry officers to tame the tide of encroachments and land racketeering.
“We further said where a grazing reserve is encroached by more than 40 per cent, be it for settlement or farming, a portion of forest reserve should be taken as a replacement for the encroached land.
There should be promulgation of law to ensure strict compliance with procedures governing land allocations in the state.
“The major problem is land racketeers; they flout the laws governing land allocations for financial gains.
“The process of acquiring land is simple. All you should do is to write to your district head, who will notify the emir, and the emir will inform the local government, then the local government will seek the consent of state government.
“The state government will find out if the land sought for is not a cattle route or grazing reserve or is not owned by someone else, they will then give the nod for allocation. But this process is not duly followed and the whole protocols are being violated by some forestry officers, in connivance with some traditional rulers,” he added.
‘Land racketeers to blame’
However, farmers in the state support Governor Matawalle’s decision to revoke land allocations, saying racketeers breached law in giving out state’s land resources.
Farmers who spoke to Daily Trust on Sunday on the matter said land racketeers were part of the major contributors to the deadly herders/farmers conflict that bedeviled the state for many years, adding that the state government intervention came at the right time.
A farmer in Dansadau, Alhaji Ya’u Muhammad, said a lot of cattle routes and grazing reserves in that district were taken over by farmers, to the extent that herders sometimes would have no option than to take their cows into people’s farmlands, whether the crops had been harvested or not.
“There are many hectares of lands that were allocated to farmers on the order of the state government. The demands for the allocation of the farmlands by the farmers is most of the times coming up as result of pressure on existing farmlands.
“This is because the population is growing; hence the pressure on the available lands by the residents. Racketeers are part of the problem. This is because whenever the state government orders for such allocations, say 200 hectares, forestry officers and some traditional rulers would connive to add 800 hectares on the 200 already earmarked by the government.
“I can tell you that in this district, wherever the state government approves land allocations, if the government instructed that 100 hectares be allocated, additional 400 hectares would be added, and where 200 hectares were to be titled, additional 800 hectares would be added, and most of the times without the prior knowledge of state authorities.
“Still in Dansadau district, one university professor from Zuru was allocated 1,000 hectares of land by the Emirate Council. The land is along the Zamfara-Kebbi border. After he sensed that the state government was planning to revoke all land titles, he demanded that his money be paid back to him to cede the land,” he said.
However, the secretary of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Alhaji Sa’idu Garkuwa, said they were in support of anything that would bring peace or ease tension between farming and herding communities in the state.
“A lot of farmers will be affected by government’s decision because many of them acquired the lands over 20 years ago. So for them to lose these farmlands overnight, it will really affect them, even though the government said they would review the land allocation using another parameter,” he said.
Alhaji Bachiri S. Fulani, the executive director of Fulani Initiative for the Protection of Environment and the Less Privileged, said the decision to revoke land allocations is a good step in the right direction.
He, however, noted that reclaiming the grazing reserves only would not solve the problem. He said the grazing reserves must be developed because of the effect of desertification that rendered most of them without water and needed grasses. Governor Matawalle issued an order revoking all farmland titles/allocations made in the state from 1999 till date.
He said the action became necessary to address the issues of insecurity arising from farmers/herders conflicts strongly believed to be connected with the allocations of farmlands on grazing reserves, along cattle routes and in forest reserves.
The governor also approved the constitution of an investigation committee, with a view to resolving the conflicts caused directly or indirectly by farmlands allocations in the state. The revocation of the farmland titles/allocations came into effect on Friday, November 29, 2019. Reacting, former Governor Yari, who spoke through his former commissioner for budget and economic planning, Alhaji Ibrahim Muhammad Birnin Magaji, said he had no quarrels with the government policy and would wait and see what would play out during the implementation of the order.
In the same vein, the affected emirs, through the spokesman of the State Council of Chiefs, Alhaji Sanusi Danbuga Gummi, said they had no objection to the government pronouncement on land allocations.
However, when contacted, a former commissioner for local government and chieftaincy affairs, Alhaji Muttaka Rini, said he would not speak to the press for now.
Former governors Yarima and Shinkafi could not be reached for comments at the time of filing this report. Shinkafi did not return multiple calls to his mobile telephone by our correspondent. (Daily Trust)