Delta State governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, has berated critics of southern governors on the ban on opening grazing of cattle and the call for national dialogue to restructure Nigeria.
These were part of decisions taken when he hosted his 16 colleagues on 11 May, 2021 in Asaba where they also called for state police and devolution of powers from the Federal Government to the second tier.
In an interview with journalists, he affirmed: “We owe no apologies, because we spoke the truth and we thought that the truth we spoke was in the best interest of this nation.”
Okowa expressed surprise that some elements in the Presidency were still advocating the retention of open grazing of cattle.
“Can we truly at this moment be promoting open grazing? Thank God that the President was misrepresented, because I have seen news headlines that the President is not opposed to the ban on open grazing.
“We need to begin to look into what is best for us. Where we were 50 years ago should not be where we should be today and tomorrow.”
He acknowledged that it might not be a one-day affair. He said: “It may not be but the process has to start and there must be a programme that must become evident, a programme in which we will begin to see actions being taken.”
He warned that Nigeria’s growing food insecurity may soon spiral to a tipping point on account of the threat posed by open grazing of cattle.
“Today, a lot of money is being spent by the Central Bank of Nigeria to encourage farmers to ensure that we are food sufficient but a lot of these efforts are lost, because of insecurity.
Farmers can’t go to farm, their crops are destroyed, they are maimed and raped and some are even killed.
We cannot continue like this, because if you have a programme you are spending billions on, we must secure it and we must ensure the food security of this country.”
Okowa called for wholesale adoption of ranching given that, apart from safety issues, it is more beneficial for both cattle owners and herders.
“Ranching obviously is the only way out as is happening in other climes and it’s not impossible in this place.
In some parts of Taraba State, ranching has been on for so many years and we can actually create those ranches where the cattle will have more meat, more milk and then the children can actually afford to go to school,” he said.
“We may not go into the big ranches, but we can start in some form by acquiring some lands for that purpose and it may not be owned by individuals.
Government can own the ranches where individuals can come and populate and pay some form of token,” the governor stated.
“The voices for restructuring have been very strong out there. Why will somebody even criticise on restructuring?
The only thing you need to know is that restructuring is of various facets, you only have to bring forth your arguments”, Okowa said as he spoke with selected journalists in Asaba.
His stand came against the backdrop of the criticisms of the Asaba Declaration by Abubakar Malami, Federal Attorney and Minister of Justice including Mallam Garba Shehu, presidential spokesman.
“I actually thought that the voices who tend to criticise the meeting failed to have an understanding.
People should learn to approach things after a very deep thought rather than just looking at the surface, picking one thing and speaking about it.
“We actually came in as state governors to reaffirm our belief in the Nigerian state and secondly we do also realise that there are things going on very wrongly and there was a need to address them,” the governor said.
He had earlier called for the writing of a new constitution, not an amendment, to accommodate emerging issues of good governance and greater interest of Nigerians when he received on a courtesy visit, the Senate sub-committee on review of the 1999 Constitution led by Senator James Manager in Asaba.
He told the committee that a new Constitution for the country had become imperative in view of observed inadequacies in the 1999 Constitution and called for the insertion of a clause to allow for the re-writing of the present Constitution while it would continue to be in operation until a new one was ready.
“I believe that the southern governors’ meeting was in the best interest of this nation and not just the southern part of the country, because the voices of our people have continued to ring loud and ours was just to reflect their voice.
“We first proclaimed as a people and as governors who run the various States in Southern Nigeria that we believe in the Federation and unity of this country, because there has been a lot of voices on secession here and there,” Okowa stated.
“There is nobody that has not talked about restructuring. Even the APC government constituted a restructuring committee headed by Nasir el-Rufai and they agreed that restructuring was inevitable.
It has to be done. That is why we asked for the national dialogue so that we can sit down and look at the issues and agree together as a nation, as peoples of same nation on what and what will be needed and I think it is very important.
“It is important and it will help to enhance the peace and recreate hope amongst our people that truly we are in a federation that is united in the best interest of the federating units. I don’t see why people will need to criticise that.”
On state police, Okowa said the way the federal police is structured “is such that they won’t be able to police this nation, it’s impossible. We are not saying that they are incompetent.
“But when the police hierarchy is already calling for vigilantes, they are calling for state police.
So the state police can be organized in such a manner that it assists the federal police, because the level of insecurity in this country now is too high and we need to do something about it.”