The passing and signing into law of the Taraba State Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Bill signify the triumph of the people of the state, writes Wole Ayodele

After weeks of intrigues, threats and melodramas, Taraba State Governor, Darius Dickson Ishaku, last Monday, signed the Taraba State Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Bill into law. The signing however ceremony followed the adoption of the report of the Mark Useni committee, which conducted a public hearing across the three senatorial districts on the subject matter.

Prior to the passing of the bill and its eventual signing into law, there had been series of violent clashes between farmers and herdsmen in almost all the local government areas, with concentration in Bali, Ardo-Kola, Gassol, Wukari, Gashaka, Lau, Karim-Lamido, Donga, Ussa, Takum, and Ibbi.

The attacks had claimed hundreds of lives and loss of properties worth billions of naira while over two hundred and fifty thousand people had been rendered homeless, most of who are currently living in the internally displaced persons’ camp in Bali and Gassol. Several others have also relocated to stay with friends and relations outside the state.

Signing the bill into law at the executive chamber of the Government House, Jalingo, Ishaku revealed that the introduction of the bill was necessitated by the dangerous trend open grazing had assumed in the state and the entire country in recent years.

“Today marks yet another milestone in the history of my administration, and indeed that of Taraba State as you witness my signing into law, the Taraba State Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Bill recently passed by the Taraba State House of Assembly. The law is historic and unique, because it is my humble belief that it will turn a new leaf in the socio-economic lives of my dear people of Taraba State.

“As we are all aware, the introduction of this Executive Bill was necessitated by the dangerous trend open grazing had assumed in Taraba State, and indeed the whole Nigeria in recent years. Within the past two years, Nigeria has woken up to battle with a strange practice of grazing by herdsmen, who are strangers to our state. These herdsmen have within this short period of time turned our traditional farmers’ herdsmen complementary practices fatal and sorrowful.

“The activities of these herdsmen have not only resulted in total destruction of farmlands, but also heartless killing of farmers using sophisticated AK47 automatic guns, and, in most cases, destruction of settlements, rustling of cattle belonging to our indigenous herdsmen and other cattle rearers. To make matters worse, these killer herdsmen seem to have defied all solutions by security agencies nationwide. To date, none of them, to our knowledge, has ever been arrested.

“The primary responsibility of any government anywhere in the world is to ensure the security, safety and wellbeing of her citizens. It is only by so doing that citizens can effectively acknowledge the value of leadership and contribute their quota to the progress of society as a whole. The fact that the activities of these strange herdsmen had seemingly defied all solutions by the Nigerian security system is no excuse for the state government to just sit back and resign to fate.

“As the head of this government, the responsibility lies squarely on me to do all I can to find a lasting solution to this situation that has consumed hundreds of lives, farm produce, cattle and complete destruction of several communities. With this burden in my heart, I felt the best this government needed to do was to enact a law that would regulate the movement of herdsmen and their cattle within Taraba State.”

The governor, however, commended the Speaker and the entire members of the State House of Assembly for their commitment and patriotism and for enduring all the pressures and propaganda aimed at weakening their resolve, saying their action would have a positive place in history.

The signing of the bill was the climax of a process that commenced on 17th May, 2017, when Ishaku forwarded the executive bill to the State Assembly, which triggered series of activities by proponents and opponents of the bill, particularly farmers and herders. While debate on the bill was ongoing in the House, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association in the state mobilized Fulani herders in their thousands to the Assembly to stage a peaceful protest to ventilate their opposition to the bill.

In the same manner, the All Farmers Association of Nigeria followed suit by equally mobilizing thousands of farmers to the Assembly on a solidarity rally in demonstration of their total support to the bill, which they described as the only panacea to the incessant violent clashes between farmers and herders in the state.

But in his separate addresses, the Speaker of the House, Hon. Abel Peter Diah, told the groups to present their positions to the ad-hoc committee on public hearing even as he commended them for conducting themselves in a peaceful and orderly manner. In the midst of the dust already raised by the development, the Useni committee commenced sitting on 4th of July, 2017 in Jalingo, headquarters of Taraba North before proceeding to Wukari and Bali, South and Central zonal headquarters. Fulani groups in the state, under the umbrella body, ‘Kawtal Fulbe Nigeria’ boycotted the exercise. In a statement by its North East Zonal Chairman, Alhaji Mafindi Umar Danburam, the group said they are boycotting the public hearing on the grounds that they are being treated as second class citizens in the state.
But despite of the boycott, a total of 92 written and oral memoranda were received by the committee, 54 of which came from the Southern senatorial zone, while 15 and 23 memoranda were received by the committee from the North and Central zones.

While declaring the public hearing open, Diah said the bill was initiated to halt the incessant bloody clashes between grazers and farmers as well as frequent introduction of animal diseases by migrant cattle coming into the state from other states and countries.

Part of the objectives of the bill, according to the Speaker is the promotion of modern techniques of animal husbandry particularly rearing of livestock as well as to promote job and investment opportunities in livestock farming and expansion of the value chain.

Diah further listed the benefits of the bill to include regulation and support for the growth of livestock farming, management of environmental impact of open livestock grazing and to create a more robust method of addressing the rising livestock density, particularly cattle in an efficient manner as well as prevent destruction of crop farms, community ponds and settlements including promotion of greater productivity and profitability in the livestock business.

Also, speaking on the bill, the PDP Chairman in the state, Victor Bala Kona said though the bill was necessitated by the current activities of killer herdsmen as stated by the governor, establishment of ranches across the state formed part of the ‘Rescue Agenda’ initiated by the governor upon assumption of office.
Reading copiously from page 8 of the Rescue Agenda booklet under the heading ‘Beef and Dairy Production’ which read thus: “We shall develop the existing gazetted grazing reserves and facilitate the establishment of cattle ranches within the reserves to discourage transhumance activities as a strategy to mitigate the incessant farmers and herders conflicts.

“The cattle ranches will be integrated with breed improvement, animal husbandry, feeds and feeding, peri-urban and small holder schemes to boost dairy and beef production. The objective is to substantially increase beef and dairy products for intra and inter-state commerce as well as supply livestock based on agro allied industries with raw materials. We shall facilitate the development of enterprises and value chains around the by-products of increased livestock production such as hides, skins, hooves, horns, blood and bone meals”. Bala Kona said.

The transition period before the law becomes operative, according to the governor, is six months from July 24, and that the law is expected to usher in a new dawn in the annals of the state. Before then, Ishaku stated that a sensitisation committee that would be set up to educate cattlemen and farmers on the symbiotic relationship that will be developed between them just as he disclosed that pilot ranches would be established in the three Senatorial zones of the state as referral centers while farmers would be organised to cultivate special grass that would be sold as feeds to cattlemen in their ranches.

“Ranches shall be properly registered and policies developed to ensure that cattle rearers are properly organised in their various ranches, which they shall acquire through government land acquisition processes. By these measures, cattle-rearing will soon be a universal business venture that will eventually place Taraba State in its rightful position as the largest single producer of cattle beef and milk in Nigeria, and also for export. This has been one of the visions of this administration,” the governor declared.

Ishaku therefore appealed to Nigerians, especially elites to eschew the temptation of playing politics with the security and economic wellbeing of the masses, which he believes constitutes over 85 per cent of the population, saying “It is very sad that none of the elites, who went about fanning the embers of discord amongst our people concerning this law could proffer an alternative solution to the challenges posed by the rampaging killer herdsmen against our farmers and indigenous herdsmen.

“I have taken an oath to defend the people of Taraba State, irrespective of their ethnic coloration or creed. I will never be deterred by any attempt to make me renege on this oath. This is because for every decision I take on this seat, I am conscious of this oath and believe that God willing, the people of Taraba State will testify to my sincerity of purpose.”

But reacting to the passage of the bill into law, chairman of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association in the state, Sahabi Mahmud, said the law would not see the light of the day as the association has concluded plans to drag the Assembly and the state government to court to seek redress.

He however appealed to his people to remain calm, assuring them that the association would do everything within the ambits of the law to ensure that the rights of Fulanis are not trampled upon in the state.

Meanwhile, the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice in the state, Yusufu Nya Akirikwen has debunked insinuations that the bill contravenes the 1999 constitution as amended. He stated that though section 41(1) of the constitution, which is being quoted and made reference to by those opposed to the bill, permits all Nigerians to reside in any part of the country; it is limited by section 41(2).

According to him “Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection 1, any law that is being made by the state for good governance, the provisions of subsection 1 does not take away the powers of making such a law”, adding that where one citizens rights end, another’s begins and stressed that everybody has equal rights just as he cautioned all citizens to be conscious of the limits of their rights.

With the signing of the bill into law by the governor, Taraba has become the third state in Nigeria to pass a law prohibiting open grazing after Ekiti and Benue States. And indeed, there is no better way to taming the menace and excesses of the herdsmen than the force of law. It is however yet to be seen how much guts the herders would have to disregard the laws of the state.