The National Assembly should be circumspect about this polarising bill

Despite the persistent denial by some lawmakers, including the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, that there was no National Grazing Reserve Bill before the National Assembly for its consideration, documented evidence reveals the existence of two bills: the National Grazing Reserve (Establishment & Development) Bill, 2008, introduced and sponsored by Senator Zainab Kure from Niger State in the Sixth National Assembly (2007-2011) and the National Grazing Route and Reserve Commission, 2015, sponsored by Hon. Karimi Sunday, before the National Assembly.

According to the framers of the two bills, they were designed to create grazing reserves, ranches, routes and cattle reserves across the 36 states, including Abuja, to be funded with public funds through the establishment of a National Grazing Reserve Commission, under the direct control of the president. Besides, the lawmakers can no longer deny the existence of the controversial bills because they have been published in the official National Assembly Gazette of February 1, 2016, and in the March 16, 2016, edition of the National Assembly Journal. There are also moves to consolidate the two bills into one.

First, let us deal with the tangential issues concerning this controversial bill. For it to be passed into an Act, it must originate from the two or either of the two chambers of the National Assembly. If such bill originates from the House of Representatives, for instance, much of its ground work, including third reading and passage, will be done at the same chamber, after which it will be transmitted to the Senate for concurrent passage. If the bill is passed and transmitted to the Senate, it undergoes less legislative work and requires harmonisation, especially if there are grey areas. This means that regardless of the particular chambers from where the bill is located or rooted, the two chambers (Senate and the House of Representatives) must pass or reject it concurrently at the end of the day.

Although the bill was originally sponsored by a House member during the 2011 to 2015 session and was at the committee stage when the 2015 general election was held, a senator had dusted it up and it has now passed the second reading. If at the end, it is passed at the Senate, surely it will be transmitted to the House of Representatives for concurrent passage before it can be signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari.
However, from public reactions, it is obvious that Nigerians are divided along ethnic and regional lines over the proposed law. While a majority of critical stakeholders in the Southern part of the country are stoutly against the bill, many in the North are at home with it. And this is why the National Assembly should exercise caution in determining how to proceed on the issue.

Already, Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti has stirred up a major controversy concerning the bill. He recently banned grazing and cattle rearing in the state following the recent attack on the people of Oke-Ako in Ikole-Ekiti Local Government Area of the state by suspected herdsmen, instructuring anyone interested in the cattle business to build a ranch. He also warned that any cattle found wandering in the state would be confiscated, adding that a bill to make the movement of cattle from one location in Ekiti to another criminal would soon be sent to the state House of Assembly.

Accordingly, whatever may be the merits of the argument of the proponents of the bill, we advise them to feel the pulse of the people by conducting a nationwide public hearing so as to avoid compounding the ethno-religious challenges facing the country. As things stand today, we already have enough troubles on our hands.