Perhaps, if other state governments could borrow leaf from the Ekiti State Grazing Law recently signed by Governor Ayodele Fayose, the prevailing atmosphere of insecurity across the nation will start to readjust, write Shola Oyeyipo and Segun James
With violent attacks by herdsmen spreading to other parts of Nigeria, many Nigerians have been concerned and have called on the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to urgently find a lasting solution to the situation before it gets out of proportion and escalates to something more terrible than Boko Haram because lives and property are being destroyed nearly on daily basis in Benue, Kogi, Enugu, Taraba, Oyo, Ondo, Nasarawa and other states.
Though there were scanty reports about the scuffles between farmers and herdsmen in the time past, in recent times, the anxiety has been that the former nomadic cattle rearers, who go about with their sticks have metamorphosed into sophisticated weapon-wielding killers and for those who saw the danger ahead, they had already known that there was the need to put in place a legal framework to address the problem.
Senator Zainab Kure, representing Niger Central in the Seventh Senate was perhaps one of the first lawmakers to see it coming. She presented a bill for enactment of an act to provide for the establishment of the national grazing reserve and a commission for the prevention and control of national grazing reserve and stock route for consideration by the Senate, but the bill was rejected.
Also, sharing Kure’s view, a House of Representatives member, Hon. Sadiq Ibrahim, sponsored another bill Titled: ‘National Grazing Reserve (Establishment) Bill 2016’. The bill sought to provide for the establishment of the National Grazing Reserve Commission to be empowered to establish at least one Cattle Reserve in each state of the federation, manage, control and maintain the cattle reserves, prescribe those to be licensed to use the grazing reserves and determine the type and number of stock permitted therein; determine how the reserves are to be used, fix charges for the grazing reserves, maintain and ensure the security of the reserves in collaboration with the Nigerian Police among other things. That also did not see the light of the day.
Not any of the previous bills met with intense antagonism than the one proposed by Hon. Karimi Steve Sunday, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Yagba East/Yagba, Kogi State, apparently because his bill came at the time the activities of the herdsmen peaked and was beginning to assume an irritating dimension among Nigerians.
Though the bill, tagged: ‘The National Grazing Routes and Reserve (Establishment) Bill’, passed the first reading, the opposition it faced, especially from the South, was staggering because it was considered pro-expansionist move for the violent herdsmen, an action seen to also have political undertone.
But explaining the content of the bill in relation to fear expressed by the anti-grazing bill advocates, Karimi, said the bill does not prejudice the right of the state governments to establish and legislate on grazing reserves to be controlled by them or establish ranches and criminalise indiscriminate grazing. He said if his critics looked into the details of the bill and support it to scale through, it will solve the problem of cattle rustling and herdsmen violence.
One particular area of concern among those against the proposal for the establishment of grazing reserve for herdsmen is that by doing so, the states would have been compelled to cede a portion of their land to them. It is actually the basis of introducing the expansionist theory to the whole issue. And some people feel it has political undertone as well.
But the lawmaker explained that contrary to the widespread insinuation that the grazing reserve automatically becomes the property of the herdsmen, the lands to be allocated will be managed by a Grazing Reserves Commission to be established by the bill and that the commission is to have representatives in the 36 states of the federation and the FCT.
“Contrary to the fears expressed in many quarters that communities would lose their lands and ownership of such lands transferred to the herdsmen, Karimi explained that “the Commission cannot compel anybody to give land; lands acquired will be compensated. Grazing Reserves are to crystallise into ranches,” he said, adding that “The membership is to be drawn from the Land Use Allocation Committee of each state and that of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
Another argument by those who are of the opinion is unnecessary is that cattle rearing or any form of animal husbandry and grazing is a private business and as such needs no government intervention or collection of land for the business.
However, to Karimi “This is not so. Though cattle rearing is a private business, but the violence occasioned has become a threat to national security and thus must be legislated upon. The only way out is to stop indiscriminate grazing and encourage ranching. Before we can commence ranching, we need to earmark dedicated grazing areas in at least one geo-political zone of the country where animal-cattle will be grazed and avoid the conflicts occasioned as a result of indiscriminate grazing.
“Every Nigerian of every tribe is allowed to graze in the established grazing reserves. Cattle rearing in the reserve are not just for Fulani herdsmen; the Nupes, the Ebira, Igbo, Yoruba are also allowed to graze therein if they want.”
Going back the memory lane, he said: “You will recall in the 1960s, when the Grazing Reserves were established in the North, the Obudu Cattle Ranch was established so that nobody grazed in Eastern Nigeria, you only bring cattle to the South-south and South-east by road, offload and sell. The Obudu Cattle Ranch was for grazing or rearing cattle within the ranch, whilst other farming activities can be undertaken there.”
He added that with his bill “Indiscriminate grazing is criminalised, a commission is established with representatives from all the states and that grazing reserves are to be established in states (at least one per geo-political zone) with the co-operation or consent of the governor. The commission cannot compel anybody to give land, land acquired will be compensated. Grazing Reserves are to crystallise into ranches.”
The Fear of Herdsmen…
The consideration for grazing bill is to quell the incessant wrangling between farmers and herdsmen, leading to unnecessary waste of precious lives. Though there is no reliable statistics to actually evaluate the havoc wreaked by the herdsmen, available records show that hundreds of Nigerians have been inhumanly killed across the country.
On July 8, 2012, for instance, Senator Gyang Dantong and the Majority Leader of the Plateau State House of Assembly, Mr. Gyang Fulani died in the stampede that ensued during the mass burial of about 50 victims of attack by Fulani herdsmen at Maseh village in Riyom LGA. Also, on September 30, same year, a Fulani herdsman was accused of murdering the Director of Personal Management in Isoko North local government council, Delta State
The following year, on April 23, 2013, 10 farmers were killed in an attack in Mbasenge community, Guma L.G.A, Benue State; on May 7, 2013, 47 mourners were gunned down in Agatu, Benue State while burying two policemen, on May 14, 2013, over 200 herdsmen surround Ekwo-Okpanchenyi, Agatu LGA killing 40 people. On July 5, 2013, 20 people were killed in a conflict between Tiv farmers and herdsmen at Nzorov, Guma LGA, Benue State and July 28, 2013, in retaliation of an alleged killing of 112 cows, herdsmen invade two villages in Agatu LGA killing eight villagers.
On November 7, 2013, herdsmen struck at Ikpele and Okpopolo communities, killing seven and displacing an estimated 6000 inhabitants; on November 9, 2013, 36 people were killed and seven villages overrun during a fight between herdsmen and locals in Agatu L.G.A, while on April 5, 2014, assailants believed to be herdsmen opened fire on community leaders and residents that were meeting in Galadima village, Zamfara State. At least, 200 people were killed and scores wounded in the daring attack.
Early June 2015, herdsmen attacked the sleepy Motokun village, Patigi local government area, Kwara State. Though the casualty figure was not ascertained, many lives were lost, others wounded and property destroyed. Oro-Ago community in Ifelodun local government area of the state was also attacked and likewise, the herdsmen visited Ninji and Ropp villages in Plateau State and killed 27 persons. The same group reportedly murdered about 70 others believed to be Christians.
An attack by some herdsmen on Onitsha Ukwuani in Ndokwa West local government area of Delta State in September 2015 left about three persons dead. There is also the story of a middle-aged woman, who was raped and later killed by three herdsmen in Edo State. And on October 2, 2015, herdsmen raped, killed Ogun residents and farmers. Generally, Ogun State has seen some attacks from the herdsmen lately.
In November of 2015, herdsmen attacked Ulaja and Ojeh communities in Dekina local government area, Kogi State and killed about 22 men and women, while on December 1, 2015, herdsmen reportedly killed a man in Ofagbe community, Isoko North council area of Delta State.
Despite the outcry across the country, the killing spree neither ceased nor subsided. On January 24, 2016, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in charge of Vunokilang Police Station in Girei local government area of Adamawa State and 29 others were killed by suspected herdsmen. Note that Adamawa State has also witnessed several herdsmen attacks.
In February, 2016, some herdsmen reportedly killed about 10 persons in Tom-Anyiin, Tom-Ataan, Mbaya and Tombu in the Buruku Local Government Area of Benue State; on February 8, 2016, 10 people were again killed in the same place while over 300 were displaced. Three days later, on February 11, 2016, the herdsmen attacked Abbi community in Uzo-Uwani LGA, Enugu, killing two siblings and burnt houses and motorcycles.
On February 29, 2016, over 500 locals were killed and 7000 displaced in an attack in Agatu LGA by herdsmen, on March 9, 2016, eight residents were killed during herdsmen attacks in Ngorukgan, Tse Chia, Deghkia and Nhumbe, Logo LGA, Benue State. On April 5, 2016, APC youth leader, Mr. Aondohemba Kasa and three others were killed in fresh herdsmen, farmers’ clash in Benue. On April 8, 2016, herdsmen kidnapped and killed Falae’s security guard at his Ondo State farm and on April 9, 2016, a camp was razed following the killing of a 64-year old farmer identified as Alex in Edo State.
Less than 10 days after the Falae abduction, gunmen numbering about five also abducted Oba Adebisi Obademi, the traditional ruler of Apaa-Bunu community in Kabba-Bunu local government area of Kogi State. The traditional ruler was picked up at about 7.30 a.m. on his way to Odo-Ape, a suburb community close to his domain and was whisked to an unknown destination on a motorcycle. Even before the issue started to assume a national threat, residents and travelers between Ondo and Kogi State who have had encounters with the hoodlums, who carry out random attacks and retire to the bushes, where they reside would have sour tales to tell.
On April 12, 2016, there was an attack by the herdsmen on Dori and Mesuma villages in Taraba, killing at least 15; on April 19, 2016, a member of about 18 suspected herdsmen gang that invaded farms in Lagun village, Lagelu local council Oyo State shot Mr. Jimmy Aido dead. On April 25, 2016, 48 people were killed and 60 injured by herdsmen in Ukpabi Nimbo community, Enugu State.
Forty people were also reported dead after an attack by suspected Fulani herdsmen in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State on Monday, April 25, 2016 and as the killing continues herdsmen unleashed terror in Obiaruku community, Ukwani local government area, Delta State on Wednesday, April 27, 2016. The herdsmen reportedly harassed farmers and held eight of them hostage for several hours.
Thus, between 2011 and 2014, suspected herdsmen attacked dozens of communities across Nigeria, with Benue being the worst hit. The hometown of the late Tor Tiv IV, Alfred Akawe Torkula, in Guma was razed, similarly, houses, food barns and farmlands were burnt and scores killed in communities like Tse-Aderogo, Tse-Akenyi, Umenger, Angyom, Aondona, Anyiase, Adaka, Gbajimba, Tyoughtee, Gbaange, Chembe, Abeda, Mbachoon, Tongov and Mbapuu.
Deaths arising from attacks by herdsmen in Benue State alone are estimated at 1,269 persons and out of the 23 local government areas in the state, the rampaging herdsmen have invaded and occupied 14.
Fayose’s Exemplary Initiative
Governors are generally referred to as the Chief Security Officers of their states. But the title is merely ceremonial. The present structure of the system does not guarantee any exercise of such powers. Yet, the responsibility of protecting the people rests solely with them. This is why a majority of them have been unable to properly deal with some of the threats to the security of their states, including the rampaging herdsmen.
But the controversial Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose recently took an initiative that was generally acknowledged as timely and well thought out. Fayose, on Monday last week, signed into law, the “Anti Grazing Bill 2016” passed by the state House of Assembly. The bill was sponsored by the executive after the killing of two persons by suspected herdsmen in Oke Ako community in Ikole Local Government Area of the state. The new law criminalises grazing in some places and certain time limit in the state.
Fayose, while signing the law, said the new law would check cases of incessant attacks or killings of local residents and destruction of farmlands by herdsmen and their cattle. He said the law would also strengthen security in various communities across the state, adding that anyone that fouled the law stood the risk of being treated as a terrorist.
“With the signing into law of this bill today, anyone caught grazing with arms or any weapon in Ekiti would now be charged with terrorism and be made to face the law according to certain sections of it. The same goes for those who graze in prohibited areas or go against the time frame of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. allowed for open grazing.”
Speaker of the House of Assembly, Kolawole Oluwawole, while giving an overview of the bill, said the assembly gave it accelerated hearing as part of its collaborative efforts towards maintaining peace and order in the state.
According to Oluwawole, the state government was already working with local government authorities to allocate portions of land for grazing in their areas. He explained that grazing must henceforth be from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on daily basis and that the government would allot portions of land to each local government area in that regard.
“Anyone caught grazing on portions of land or any farmland not allotted by government shall be apprehended and made to face the law.
“Any herdsman caught with firearms and any weapons whatsoever during grazing shall be charged with terrorism.
“Any cattle confiscated shall be taken to government cattle ranch at Erifun and Iworoko Ekiti community in the state.
“Any farm crop destroyed by the activities of any apprehended herdsman shall be estimated by agricultural officers and the expenses of the estimate shall be borne by the culprit.
“Any herdsman, who violates any of these rules shall be imprisoned for six months without option of fine,” the speaker hinted.
It is no wonder that most Nigerians believe that for the first time, Fayose might have done something right and commended him for the action taken to rein in the Fulani herdsmen.
Alhaji Kunle Akangbe thought the days when cattle were reared through the roads in city centres were over. He said while he believed that grazing estates should be built to stop these activities, states in the south must not be forced to provide such land as being propounded in certain quarters in the country as it will most certainly backfire.
Alhaji KAbir Subair also supported the establishment of the estate, but lamented that the grazing rights bill of the Ekiti government would further divide the country along ethnic and political divide.
But this position was dismissed by Mr. Gbenga Ahmed, a Warri-based journalist, who insisted that the bill was a reaction to the activities of the herdsmen. He warned that most states in the middle belt where the native people are predominately farmers may be forced to enact the same law.
According to him, this may ignite an ethnic war as they are next door neighbours to the Fulani, who are traditionally nomadic.
Mr. Bodise Igoni too saw the action from an ethnic and tribal point of view. He contended that the Fulani herdsmen became daring after Buhari became the president and noted that the presidential body language was the one encouraging the herdsmen in their activities. He advised that except the president stopped promoting religious and ethnic sentiments, the nation might collapse on his head.
Given the spate of killing by persons suspected to be herdsmen, the Fayose initiative has become inevitable and should be replicated in other parts of the country, where the activities of these cattle rustlers had become somewhat unstoppable. And since the federal government has refused to live up to billings in its responsibility to protect lives and property, state governments must seize the initiative and for once, live their title as the chief security officers of their states.
One thing is certain though. There would be no magic in the taming of the excesses of the herdsmen. Whatever is bolstering their audacity, they seem to be sure it is an assurance that would not fail. And whether or not their rank had been infiltrated, the perpetrators of these heinous crimes are having a swell time at the collective expense of the people. This is why the path toed by Fayose is not only commendable, but must also be embraced by the others if they truly desire to protect their people.
Given the spate of killing by persons suspected to be herdsmen, the Fayose initiative has become inevitable and should be replicated in other parts of the country, where the activities of these cattle rustlers had become somewhat unstoppable. And since the federal government has refused to live up to billings in its responsibility to protect lives and property, state governments must seize the initiative and for once, live their title as the chief security officers of their states