The Federal government yesterday met six state governors and heads of security agencies over the continuous crisis between herdsmen and farmers in some states of the federation.
Hundreds of people, including women and children, have been killed in repeated clashes in at least six states.
The latest clashes in Benue, Taraba, Adamawa and Kaduna as well as deadly gang violence in Rivers State had put the nation on edge necessitating yesterday's meeting.
Governors present at the meeting were Nasiru Ahmed El-Rufai (Kaduna), Darius Ishaku (Taraba), Tanko Al'makura (Nasarawa), Samuel Ortom (Benue) Mohammed Jibrilla (Adamawa), and Abubakar Bello (Niger).
The ministers in attendance were Chief Audu Ogbeh, Agriculture and Rural Development and his Permanent Secretary, Dr Bukar Hassan and the Minister of Interior, Lt Gen. Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau (rtd).
Heads of security agencies at the meeting included the Commandant General of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Abdullahi Gana Mohammadu, Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris and Director General, Department of Security Services, Lawal Daura.
The meeting, which held at the Ministry of Interior, lasted over five hours.
Daily Trust gathered from a source that debate over ranching laws passed by the governors of Benue and Taraba was the most contentious during the meeting.
The source, who prefers not to be named, told Daily Trust that a particular governor faulted the legality of the law, noting that it could be challenged in court and could in the long run be overturned.
The meeting discussed strategies and measures to end the crisis rocking the states in which hundreds of people have lost their lives.
The minister of interior, while speaking earlier before the meeting went into a closed door session, condemned the recent spate of killings involving farmers and herdsmen especially in Taraba and Benue states.
Dambazau said this must stop, warning that government would not tolerate insecurity in any part of the country.
He said "the current situation is very bad for the North and Nigeria in general", adding that it will result to food insecurity in the country if not quickly dealt with.
Herdsmen deserve more from government - Ogbeh
Speaking before the meeting went into closed door session, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural development Audu Ogbe said the long term neglect of cattle rearers in the country was responsible for the lingering crisis between herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria.
He said: "Over the years, we have not done much to look seriously into the issue of livestock development in the country.
"I am sad to tell you that in the last 50 years until recently, we may have done enough for the rice farmer, the cassava farmer, the maize farmer, the cocoa farmer, but we have not done much for herdsman and that inability and omission on our part is resulting in the crises we are witnessing today.
"In Europe, every cow that is farmed gets a subsidy of 6 Euros per day, we have done next to nothing for the cattle rearers and as a result, their operations have become threats to other farmers," he said.
Ogbeh disclosed that the government was planning a programme called "cattle colonies" as part of efforts to end the crisis."
"At least, five thousand hectares of land would be made available, adequate water; adequate pasture would be made available.
Ogbeh explained that security would also be provided for the colony by Agro-rangers, noting that these measures would be speedily implemented to curb the killings.
"We also want to stop cattle rearers from roaming about. The cattle will be provided with water and adequate security by the Agro Rangers," the minister added.
Ogbeh said Cattle colonies had been adopted successfully in India, Ethiopia and Brazil.
Governor Samuel Otorm of Benue state reading from a prepared text said the meeting was a continuous one and security strategies are not for public consumption.
He said the meeting agreed that lives of herdsmen and farmers as well as their properties must be protected.
It was also agreed, according to Otorm, that there must be synergy between the federal and states governments in dealing with the crisis.
He noted that hate speeches should be discouraged, adding that the crisis should be seen as a national challenge.
Otorm, Ishaku say ranching is the way out
Speaking with newsmen after the meeting the governors of Taraba and Benue states insisted that their ranching programmes will continue.
Benue state governor, who spoke first, said the federal government must convince him that the cattle colonies programme it is introducing is better than ranching.
"At the end, if he [Ogbeh] is able to convince us, we will look at it [Cattle colonies programme]. What we have now is ranches and we are continuing with them."
Otorm debunked the insinuations that the ranching policy in Benue was meant to chase herders out of the state, insisting that "herdsmen are allowed to stay in Benue state but you must have a ranch."
He added that "if we see cows roaming the street, we know that they are rustled and will be dealt with."
For his part, the Taraba State governor disclosed that the law on ranching had already been promulgated in the state.
He insisted that ranching was still the best option available in order to deal with the continuous crisis between farmers and herders.
"Nigerian population has increased from around 35 million to about 200 million and the space available to everyone has decreased. That is why we must look at ways to make our lives better," Ishaku pointed out.
Speaking with Daily Trust on the meeting, the Special Assistant to Minister of Agriculture on Media, Dr Olukayode Oyeleye said the meeting was to find strategic solutions to the spate of killings in rural communities across the country.
He noted that the recent bloodbaths in some state were worrisome adding that government was determined to finding lasting solutions to the lingering problem.
Earlier, Chief Audu Ogbeh who in statement called the recent upsurge as "harvest of deaths in new year " expressed hope that "as the economy grows and people gets busier, this degree of desperation and anger and venom will definitely decline."
FG to launch 'cattle colonies' as panacea to crisis
At another meeting, Chief Audu Ogbeh said the federal government was establishing Cattle Colonies as a solution to recent surge of hostilities in rural communities across the country.
The minister stated this yesterday at a Strategy Retreat for Civil Servants and political appointees of the ministry in Abuja.
"We are talking of cattle colonies, not ranches. We are talking of massive cattle breed improvement through artificial insemination, we have to start immediately. We want to handle the issue of cattle rearing and crisis between farmers and herdsmen and actually bring it to a halt," he said.
Chief Ogbeh noted that 16 states have so far donated land for the purpose stressing that "the programme is not going to be cheap but Mr President has personally informed me that if we seek help from him, he will give it to us over and above the budget we have."
Speaking on the open grazing system, the minister stated that "I know that some people argued that open grazing is our culture, once a culture begins to develop very dangerous trends, leading to warfare between people, bloody clashes and death, that culture is due for re-examination."
He argued that since the open system is now becoming harmful, the federal government will not relent in reforming it.
"A culture must not be left because it is a culture, if it is harmful, we reform it," the minister reiterated.
The minister will today launch the first cattle colony in Abuja.