A Middle Belt group, Middle Belt Patriots, has urged state governors to reject pressure from the Federal Government to cede lands in their states to herders for grazing, adding that yielding to such demands would worsen the security situation in the region and indeed other parts of the country.

This is coming on the heels President Bola Tinubu’s call – at the flag-off of the agricultural mechanisation revolution for food security in Minna, Niger State, last week – on governors to give parts of the land in their states to Fulani herders for ranching purposes.

In a statement issued on Saturday and signed by its Director of Media and Strategic Communications, Steven Kefas, Middle Belt Patriots expressed concern over the manner the federal government constantly panders to the interests of the pastoralists at the detriment and displacement of the indigenous populations whose lands and lives are being overrun by the armed ethnic militias affiliated with the herders.

Warning that the people of the Middle Belt would resist any attempt to dispossess them of their God-given heritage, the group described the stance of the federal government on grazing land as provocative.

“We vehemently condemn and reject the recent directive from the federal government asking state governors to make land available for grazing by Fulani herdsmen,” the group said.

“This provocative and ill-advised order shows a shocking disregard for the already tenuous security situation in the Middle Belt region that has been under sustained violent attack by armed Fulani ethnic militias.

“We sternly warn the political leaders, monarchs, and youth/community leaders of the Middle Belt region-Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa, Niger, Kwara, Kogi, and sections of Taraba, Adamawa, Bauchi, Southern Kaduna, and Gombe states to outright disregard and defy this reckless federal directive,” it said.

The group warned that “capitulating to these demands and ceding more land for grazers will only fan the flames of the ethnic clashes, further the genocidal massacres, escalate the violent displacement of indigenes from their ancestral lands, and jeopardize the fragile peace in a region that has already suffered immensely”.

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“The grazing of cattle is a private business enterprise; it leaves more questions than answers as to why the federal government is deliberately arrogating farmlands to themselves to be handed over to private herders. We forcefully remind the authorities in Abuja that pig farmers in the core northern Sharia states like Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Kebbi, Jigawa and Sokoto have to struggle, invest and acquire land for their vocations without any such unconstitutional government directives.

“The same should apply to the cattle herders – if they need land for their trade, they should approach willing farmers and residents to lease or purchase lands for grazing through legitimate means. No farmer or landowner should be forcibly dispossessed of their property,” it said.

The Middle Belt Patriots said that in Takum Local Government Area of Taraba State alone, over 200 Kuteb villages have been brutally sacked, with thousands displaced from their homes and ancestral farmlands in a severe humanitarian catastrophe caused by the rampaging herders and their militias.

“The Kuteb people are traditionally renowned farmers whose agricultural lands and means of livelihood have been completely destroyed by the grazing herds and armed militancy.

“It is an absolute travesty that their cries for security, justice, and succour have fallen on deaf ears, while their land grabbers and tormentors are being rewarded with more official edicts to further dispossess them.

“The government should put an immediate stop to these illegal land grabs and acts of impunity. The cattle herders are private business operators and should be compelled to lawfully lease, purchase, or negotiate grazing lands with willing landowners instead of having lands forcibly taken from defenseless indigenous populations at gunpoint,” it said.

The group said it would resist “these unconscionable measures through all legal and legitimate means at our disposal”.