Toxic request on anti-grazing bill
Many Nigerians were greatly disturbed by the hasty decision suggesting that anti-grazing bills, as operational in some states in the country, should be repealed. The Minister of Defence, Brig-Gen. Mansur Dan-Ali (rtd) had spear-headed the abrogation move, arguing that laws enacted by states prohibiting open grazing should be suspended. Dan-Ali had called for the suspension of the implementation of anti-grazing laws in some states while instead negotiating safe routes for herders. For the Defence Minister, suspension of the law would reduce tension and restore peace in the country.
The Anti-Open Grazing Law seeks to outlaw open rearing and grazing of livestock and provides for the establishment of ranches and livestock administration, wherever the law is operational. It is currently being used in Benue, Ekiti and Taraba states. Abia is working on the passage of the bill. In Ekiti, the law prohibits open grazing between the hours of 6pm and 7am. In Benue, it enforces an absolute ban on open-grazing throughout the state and in Taraba, there is a proviso that it would be implemented gradually after massive enlightenment and awareness campaigns across the state. The legislation further prohibits movement of livestock and requires livestock owners to ranch them by criminalising free grazing and movement of livestock by foot. The implication of this is that the law seeks to end the age-long practice of nomadism, particularly, among the Fulani herders, whose activities in recent times have heightened violent clashes with farmers in many states across the country.
Already, the National Assembly and many Nigerians have decried the call. According to the Senate, the defence minister should withdraw his statement because the said laws were duly enacted in accordance with the respective state houses of assembly. The House of Representatives has also urged the Federal Government to rescind the decision that compels states to suspend ranching and open grazing law. The Reps said that, government by such action was ignoring the laws of the land in view of the fact that, governors already possess the powers over land in their states by virtue of the Land Use Act, which allows them to hold landed property in trust for the people.
In the past few months, there has been monumental tension between state governments and cattle herders, as represented by the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), most especially, in Benue State that had experienced untold carnage and killings. The siege has continued to bring about wanton murder of innocent persons and destruction of enormous property. Since the bill was signed into law, there have been hot exchanges of words and protracted conflicts between the Benue State government and the association. While the group wants the state government to drop the idea of enforcing the law, the governor insisted that there was no going back on its implementation.
Herders’ clashes have become a recurring decimal and national security problem in various parts of the country; premised on rising population and less available land. Some states share more of the hostility because of their very rich vegetation and pasture, which make the land appealing to both farmers and herdsmen. Benue is one of such states. No doubt, there is ample justification for the law to stay, no matter what anybody may feel. On the other hand, the herdsmen are resisting the implementation of the law on the grounds that the law violates their fundamental right to freedom of movement within the country and that, the restriction is at variance with international protocols that established grazing routes across the Sub-Saharan Africa. They also complained that there is not enough time for them to comply with the law, calling for more time to comprehend the law and abide by its provisions!
The truth is that, ranching, rather than continuing with open grazing is the enduring solution, as it allows for a more coordinated transition from nomadism to ranching. To make this a reality, there should be better awareness on the part of farmers on the need to jettison their traditional practice and embrace a more acceptable option. Furthermore, there should be access to soft loans, land, training, technical support and inputs for the herders in order to facilitate the transition and acceptance, among others. More importantly, the farmers should see why they need to embrace ranching. Apart from the reduction of conflicts, the animals would tend to be healthier; handlers would earn decent incomes; farm diseases would reduce; herdsmen would have decent accommodation, live in peace with their neighbours, own property and have schools for their young ones.
For emphasis, under the provisions of the law, it is an offence for anybody to openly graze cattle and other animals. Those engaged in the livestock production are expected to apply and obtain land from government at the already designated places for the establishment of ranches. Since its enactment, the law has come under fierce criticism, mostly from Fulani herders whose open grazing activities have been a major source of incessant bloody clashes with farmers. Rather than calling for the abrogation of the law, the Federal Government should encourage its enforcement. Other states should consider enacting their own versions of the open grazing prohibition law, to be more proactive.
The issue of herdsmen-farmers clashes has remained controversial because of the belief by many people that the herders appear to be getting preferential treatment from the state. Not only do they carry arms without caution by the relevant security agencies, those found committing the offences are hardly apprehended. And when caught, they are never punished or sanctioned. Hence, the general feeling is that herdsmen are untouchable in our country. Based on these insinuations, the call by the defence minister could be misinterpreted to mean an official endorsement of the illegality being unleashed on the Nigerian state. To forestall further bloodshed and perceived bias, open grazing should be discouraged while ranching should rather be supported and promoted. In view of this, the minister should either withdraw his statement, or the Federal Government should dissociate itself from the jaundiced call.
On a final note, it should be stressed that under the political structure that we are operating in the country, which is federalism, the Federal Government lacks the power to suspend or abrogate the anti-grazing law, duly enacted by state governments to prohibit open grazing of cattle in the state or any duly enacted legislation. We should be more concerned with how to restore peace in our nation beyond any tribal, ethnic and parochial interests of some people, as they have played out. Therefore, the defence minister’s call should never be allowed to stand. It should not.
Kupoluyi wrote from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.
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