The authorities must enforce the law banning cattle grazing within the FCT

On the front page of a national newspaper last week was a photograph which painted a pathetic picture of the level to which the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) has degenerated. In the photograph, herds of cattle could be seen grazing within the precincts of the multi-billion naira National Stadium. “The herdsmen come into the stadium with their cattle almost every day. They come through the collapsed portion of the fence and we can’t stop them because we are not armed,” said an official who claimed that the management was quite aware of the situation without doing anything about it.

The ugly development probably would have been of less concern if it were an isolated incident. It was not. From Asokoro to Maitama and Jabi, the common sight within the FCT nowadays is that of herds of cattle blocking major access roads, including within the city centre, even in broad daylight. This is clearly unacceptable.

Given the impact of climate change, ecological factors, population growth, increased cattle rustling, banditry, terrorism and insurgency, we can understand the problem that is pushing the herders from their natural habitat. But that still does not excuse a situation in which for instance, at the University of Abuja, cows now compete with students on the campus. Indeed, the nation’s capital city has in the last one year or so been swarming with herds of cattle in search of grass for grazing.

Although the Abuja city centre and environs do not have farms that could precipitate the kind of violent clash between pastoralists and farmers that defines this season in several states of the country, the destruction to ornamental flowers and grasses grown with huge resources is an economic waste that ought not to be condoned any further. Besides, as we warned recently over the same issue, the inconvenience caused commuters using the nation’s capital highways could, if not curtailed, precipitate a protest by a populace over their worsening socio-economic conditions.

Surely, herding cattle along the streets and highways of the FCT is as much an offence as street trading, begging and hawking, all of which have been outlawed by the federal government. It is therefore baffling that in spite of the clear charge by the FCT Minister, Mr. Muhammad Bello, to the security agencies to enforce the law prohibiting cattle grazing in Abuja, the herdsmen have continued to operate without hindrance and with a sense of entitlement. Yet to allow them to persist in utter disregard for the law prohibiting cattle grazing within the precincts of the federal capital is to suggest to other citizens that the possibility exists that they too could do as they wish. That certainly will not augur well for the nation.

To the extent that pastoral production system is a main source of livelihood for large populations in our country, we understand the desperation of shepherds pushing their flocks to any and everywhere they can find grass for grazing. But the main issue here goes beyond the aggravating challenges associated with transhumance, resource use and management to that of law and order without which any society is endangered.

We must remind the authorities that Abuja was intended to be Nigeria’s pride and joy: a city with limitless possibilities and our people’s convergence point for commerce, business, innovation, ingenuity, creativity and social development. That is why we call on the FCT administration and the security agencies to enforce the law by keeping the herdsmen and their cattle off the city and its streets, roads and highways without further delay. If the authorities do not curb the brazen acts of these herdsmen who, in turning Abuja to their grazing field, act as though above the law, they are unwittingly sowing the seed of a serious crisis.