Nigerians back private ranches, Oyo rejects open grazing

Seyi Makinde

• New bill gives conditions to herders
• ‘Ghana is faced with similar cattlemen’s crisis’

Nigerians have urged the Federal and State Governments to facilitate the establishment of private ranches as part of solutions to frequent clashes and loss of lives and property associated with the open grazing of cattle.

This is as lawmakers in Oyo State are working on a bill that seeks to ban open grazing, RUGA establishments and farm encroachment by herders.The bill, entitled “Open Rearing and Grazing Regulation Bill, 2019”, which originated from the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Adebo Ogundoyin, and is co-sponsored by his deputy, Abiodun Fadeyi, is at the second reading stage in the parliament.

Ogundoyin told The Guardian that the proposed law would make it a punishable offence for anyone to engage in open rearing and grazing outside the permitted ranches. He said the bill, when passed into law, would provide opportunities for private investors to own ranches in the state.Open grazing of cattle, it is argued, has become outdated, dangerous and environmentally hazardous in the 21st century world. The modern century’s ways of profitably rearing cattle include ranching, feed lots and kraals.

Fadeyi said reports of violent attacks by herdsmen had become a daily occurrence, and the state could not fold its hands while herdsmen continue to wreak havoc on innocent farmers.“The essence of the bill is to regulate open rearing or open grazing, as the case may be, so that we can have a uniformed method of rearing cattle, goats, sheep and what have you, being mindful of encroachments into farmlands and clashes between herders and farmers, with loss of lives,” he said.

Specifically, Section 16, paragraph (1) says: “Any person who engages in open rearing or herding or grazing of livestock is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to imprisonment for 7 years or a fine of N200,00 or both.”Section 8, paragraph (1) stipulates that “A herdsman shall submit himself for registration to the ministry and shall pay the specified in scheduled 1 to this bill.

“Every registered herdsman shall be issued an identification card and shall wear such a card at all times. Any herdsman who contravenes subsection (1) of section 8 is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to imprisonment for two (2) years or a fine of N100,000.00 or both.“Any herdsman who contravenes subsection (3) of section 8 is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to imprisonment for 6 months or a fine N50,000.00 or both.”

A 2017 report by SBM Intelligence had indicated that the death toll in the herders-farmers clashes had reached 5000.The Ekiti State House of Assembly, under former Governor Ayo Fayose, had passed an anti-open grazing bill, which was signed into law in 2016. Benue State followed suit and its anti-open grazing law became effective on November 1, 2017.

Reacting to this, a farm empowerment entrepreneur in Eruwa, Oyo State, Mrs. Bola Adeyemo, said: “Private sector-led ranches are the only way to peace. Cattle-rearing is a very lucrative business. I once had cattle on my farm. I constructed a wire fence and did not have issues with my farmer neighbours.”

Also, an agro-allied consultant based in Ilorin, Kwara State, Mr. David Ayodele, said “the issue of RUGA should not generate any serious national discourse as the concept is apparently ill-conceived, archaic, one-sided, illogical and unsustainable.”He added that comparatively, the concept of RUGA seemed to put Nigeria at the elementary stage of civilisation in view of global technological advancements. “To any unbiased Nigerian, there is no justifiable reason to commit national treasure to building ranches to settle cattle herders.”

Another industry professional, Dr. Akin Oloniruha, a former provost of Ahmadu Bello University College of Agriculture, said open grazing was already causing violent conflicts and it should be discouraged as much as possible.Ruga or cattle colony as currently conceived, he added, would create more problems than those it wanted to solve.

“Private sector-led ranching is the best way to go for now. The Fulani herdsmen can key into this by forming cooperatives through which they can access intervention funds to acquire land, upgrade their cattle breeds and be in good business,” Oloniruha said.As the herders-farmers crisis escalates in Nigeria, so it is in Ghana. A retired lecturer from the University of Ghana Medical School, Accra, Prof. Frederick Kwaku Addai, told The Guardian that “ open grazing is becoming a problem in some parts of Ghana.

“It appears in two forms. One, nomadic Fulani herdsmen move their cattle into Ghana and attempt to claim ‘right to graze’ by indulging in armed conflicts with local farmers whose crops the cattle destroy. Two, local cattle owners hire herdsmen to graze their cattle which often destroy food crops.“I have a very strong view that open grazing should be banned because currently, open (uncultivated) land is now available only in small parcels. Hence, cattle will always stray into food crops and destroy them. The time has come for those who raise cattle to invest in cultivating fodder and/or buying hay for their cattle which must be confined to kraals. I do not accept that it is possible to encourage open grazing with present-day pressure on land for cultivation and habitation.”

The President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Mr. Ibrahim Kabir, however, insisted that though every state had its peculiarities, the Livestock Transformation Plan (LTP), apparently incorporating RUGA settlement, was a good vehicle to explore “because it has many value-added components.”

Tope Temokun, a Lagos-based lawyer and activist, said the state laws would override the Federal Government’s agenda because the Land Use Act 1978 places ownership of land in every state on the governor. The only land under the control of the Federal Government is the one in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

“So, if the state governors refuse to release or donate land, the Federal Government cannot implement RUGA. But refusal may not be enough, using the instrument of state law to reject RUGA or even forbid open grazing is in order,” Temokun said.The lawyer noted that “the importance attached to land has led to wars among townships, kingdoms, families, even kinsmen. And generations after generations, people have killed people, in thousands, over land or land boundaries.“So, introducing RUGA with a mission to take over the land that belongs to natives and for creating settlements for cowmen from another tribe is to create settlements of wars in Nigeria and to lay the foundation for genocides in years to come.”

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