A Surprise Endorsement for Ekiti Grazing Law

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Last week, Ekiti Anti-open Grazing Law received endorsement from a prominent northern emir and herders’ group, writes Victor Olakiitan

 

The incessant killing of innocent Nigerians by suspected herders had compelled some states to enact laws to prohibit the nefarious act. Such laws have been enacted in Ekiti, Benue and Taraba States in quick succession to put the dastardly act under control.

 Though the law came into being in Ekiti by sheer happenstance, it has helped in stemming the tide of wanton destruction of farmlands by herders, whose tendencies for destruction were becoming unbridled in recent time.

While some states have continued to witness carnage in the hands of suspected herders, Ekiti never felt a dose of it in the crazy region. Residents were cohabiting peacefully with the itinerant and resident herdsmen not until the crisis at Oke Ako in Ikole Local Government Area of the state, which caused the death of two people. The midnight killing spurred the governor into action to immediately put up legal framework to swiftly halt the menace of herdsmen.

The enactment of the law was however greeted with mixed feelings. While some applauded the action, those who were directly affected, particularly the Fulani had condemned it, describing it as too lopsided and fashioned to principally favour the farmers.

Again, the law could not be said to have curbed the farmers/herders’ crisis wholesomely, because cases of death involving suspected Fulani herdsmen had been reported in Orin Ekiti and Ipao Ekiti after its enactment.

No matter what the feelings were, it still sent some signals that the governor took a proactive action unlike what were witnessed in Taraba and Benue States, where massacres of monumental proportion had been carried out on innocent people due to governments’ seeming laxity.

 

Ingredients of the Law

The law, titled: “Prohibition of Cattle and Other Ruminants Grazing in Ekiti, 2016,” criminalises grazing in some places within the state and outside certain period in the day. It also prohibited carriage of any kind of weapon by herdsmen.

 

Signing the new law, Fayose had said it 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.

 

The governor said, “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 7am to 6pm allowed for open grazing.”

 

The Legislative Intervention

Giving an overview of the law, Speaker of the Ekiti State House of Assembly, Hon. Kola Oluwawole, said the Assembly gave the bill that culminated into the law an accelerated hearing as part of its collaborative efforts towards maintaining peace and order in the state. He also said in pursuit of the law, 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 7am to 6pm on a daily basis and that the government would allot portions of land to each local government area in that regard. He however said “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 the government cattle ranch at Erifun and Iworoko Ekiti communities 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.”

 

A Balance of Force

To ensure that there was justice and balancing in his action, Governor Fayose took into consideration some of the issues raised by members of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders’ Association of Nigeria that the law was one sided.

 

Fayose quickly sent the law to the state House of Assembly, where further provisions were injected into it. In the amendment, the governor offered some buffers for the herdsmen by protecting their businesses as well. Under the present situation, any farmer who kills cattle or provokes the herders to take criminal action will go to one year jail term.

 

The law also allowed the herders to occupy the state forest reserves and pay a paltry sum of N5,000 as annual registration fee. This was coupled with the leeway given to them to use the state owned ranches located at Iworoko and Erunfun in Ado Ekiti as grazing lands without restriction.

 

In actual fact, this was a major reprieve for the herders going by the mood of the MACBAN National President, Alhaji Muhammadu Kirowa, who described “Governor Fayose as the Sarkin Fulani of Ekiti, because he has shown that he is a father of all the ethnic groups in the state by trying to protect the settlers alongside the hosts, this is commendable,” he said.

 

Now, the Consensus

Considering the level the state is today as regards the business of cattle rearing, all the critical stakeholders have reached a consensus that the law has come to stay.

 

However, determined to ensure that the Ekiti Anti-open Grazing law gains traction, the Emir of Kano, His Royal Majesty, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, has thrown his weight behind it. He branded the law as appropriately patterned to protect the farmers and cattle rearers.

 

The prominent traditional ruler and Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association on Nigeria (MACBAN), sent a delegation, led by former Kano State Governor, Ibrahim Shekarau to attend a stakeholders’ meeting convened by Fayose in Ado Ekiti. He used the avenue to appeal to the marauding Fulani herdsmen to drop their guns and stop senseless killings in the interest of Nigeria’s unity and progress.

Sanusi said the message of peace became imperative in view of disunity being deeply entrenched in the country as a result of series of massacres being carried out in some states of the federation. “My mission is not politics and it is about peace and peaceful coexistence of our people. The Emir mandated me to come over here with the leadership of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association and find out how we can work amicably. He feels that as a patron of the group, he must ensure peace and lauded Fayose for promoting peace.

 

“The law Fayose enacted is the best to defend the rights of farmers and cattle breeders. Whoever crosses the red line should be dealt with as the law provides that breeders should obey the rules of the communities they reside.

“Governor Fayose’s anti-open grazing law is the best of its kind for peaceful co-existence among Nigerians. Anybody, who studies the law will know that it protects all parties. While farmers must protect their farms, I advise the Fulani herdsmen to stop night grazing. This law must be strictly observed and whoever fails to comply must face the full weight of the law.

“But we won’t tolerate criminals, thieves, hoodlums who may want to hide under the name of a certain ethnic group to cause trouble, this is unacceptable and we won’t tolerate it. I want to tell the Miyetti Allah to ensure that their members comply with the law.

“We want to assure Governor Fayose that we are with him and we shall continue to support him. We have lived peacefully with Yoruba in the last 200 years and we shall do everything to ensure that no killing is witnessed any longer in the state,” he said.

 

Confidence Building

For the two sides, farmers and herders not to betray each other in the alliance, the governor organised for the administration of traditional oath on them to assure the host communities in Ekiti, and by extension, the South-west Nigeria, that they would no longer behave imperiously, kill or allow their cows to stray into farms.

The traditional oath, deemed to be an efficacious in African setting and conveyed a strong cultural sanction on herders as its violation is believed to bring tragedy on the culprit was administered by Alhaji Ardo Mairero, the Sarkin Fulani of Kwara State.

Commenting on the trust-building action, Fayose said “Of most significance of the peace meeting of February 19 by the stakeholders was the traditional oath taken with kolanuts as agreement that  the herdsmen in Ekiti will not behave unruly any longer, kill or allow their cows to stray into farms.

“It was administered with kola and sharing of the kola, which is a Fulani tradition that is binding on the initiators. With this oath, issues of robbery, killing, damaging of farms and kidnapping among others being allegedly perpetuated by Fulani herders are over in the state.

The meeting and signing of the memorandum by all parties lasted for two hours between 11pm on Monday 19 to 1am of Tuesday, February 20,” he said.

The communique, released to newsmen in Ado Ekiti, the state capital,  read in part: “A truce meeting,  initiated by the Emir of Kano and the Governor of Ekiti State over pastoralists menace was held on Monday, February 19, the Governor, His Excellency, Prof. Kolapo Olusola, deputy Governor; His Excellency, Alhaji Ibrahim Shekarau, former Governor of Kano State representing the Emir of Kano HRH Muhammed Sanusi 11; Traditional rulers in Ekiti State, President and leadership of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (both National and South west). Members of Ekiti State Executive Council, Members, Ekiti State House of Assembly, Security Chiefs and all key stakeholders in Ekiti State.

“The representatives of Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ibrahim Shekarau, conveyed the concern of the Emir over broken down relationship between herdsmen and host communities that has led to loss of lives in Ekiti State and other parts of the country. The Emir commiserated with the families of those whose lives have been cut short due to the attacks, and reprisals of herders and associated consequences. Similarly, the leadership of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association and patrons condemned in strong terms any form of killing that has taken place.”

The Emir, through his representative stated and it was unanimously agreed that henceforth, “all herders must obey the anti-grazing and relevant laws of the land.”

The communique further gave the following resolutions: “That herdsmen must stop attacks on any member of the host communities, that any herder that breaches the peace should be prepared to face the wrath of the law, and Ekiti people should not provoke the herdsman or kill their cattle.

“It is therefore agreed that pastoralists/farmers crisis and killings, under any guise must stop immediately. The meeting supports the anti-night grazing stand of the law, because it protects the interest of all parties, and the law taken its course in the violation of letters of these resolutions. Similarly, the meeting describes Governor Fayose as a peaceful leader, who represents hope for all.”

 

Basis for Discordant Tunes

The MACBAN leader, Kirowa said the body opposed the Benue State anti-open grazing law because it failed to address pastoralists’ interests. He called for modification of the law to make it fair for all parties. Kirowa, who was full of praises for Fayose for giving his law a human face, said such didn’t happen in Benue and Taraba, which he said accounted for that stiff opposition to the laws in those states.

The statement became imperative owing to double standards being allegedly played by the group to anti-open grazing law. It was widely believed that it sounded so unfathomable that MACBAN could accept the law in Ekiti and maintain a hard stand in Benue and Taraba.

Kirowa, who appealed to interested Nigerians to interface with the state government on the necessary amendment, said Miyetti Allah was not invited for all the public hearings held before the bill were signed into law in Benue, for instance.

“We could not contribute. It was after the signing that the Benue State government called the association to inform us that the implementation of the law will start on November 1, 2017. We went through the law and advised the government on areas that do not do justice to the pastoralists. I told the governor that temporal grazing reserves should be allocated to the Fulanis pending the full implementation of the law but my advice was ignored by the government,” he clarified.