Senate Okays Bill to Ban Open Grazing, Some Northern Senators Kick

•Passes bill to increase judicial office holders’ salaries 

•Proposed gold reserves law scales second reading

Sunday Aborisade in Abuja

The Senate yesterday passed for second reading a bill which seeks to ban open grazing and establish a national agency for the regulation and management of ranches in Nigeria.

The document was titled: “A Bill to Establish a National Animal Husbandry and Ranches Commission for the Regulation, Management, Preservation and Control of Ranches Throughout Nigeria; and for Connected Purposes, 2024.”

It was sponsored by Senator Titus Zam, an All Progressives Congress (APC) member representing Benue North-West Senatorial District in the National Assembly.

Zam in his lead debate noted  the increasing wave of violent conflicts that erupt from pastoralists and farmers interaction in Nigeria.

He said such conflicts had assumed a war-like dimension “with far reaching negative impact on the people and country as a whole.”

He said the Senate cannot afford to look on while the country burns into ashes as a result of violent clashes between sedentary farmers and nomadic herders.

The Senator said: “As stakeholders in the Nigeria project and elected representatives of the people, doing so would amount to abdication of our statutory and leadership responsibilities.”

He said the menace of farmers and herders crises could easily be cured through a legislative therapy banning open grazing in Nigeria.

Zam lamented that the Nigerian State had continued to pay lips-service to the challenge of farmers and herders altercation without addressing it in concrete terms in line with international best practices of animal husbandry.

He said, “Every effort (was) is laced with manoeuvres that speak to our ethnic and political biases or sentiments, thus resisted by the people.

“This 10th Senate has a date with history. We must rise in one accord to sort out this problem of herders-farmers violent conflicts that would, if allowed to linger longer, consume even more lives and properties than the civil war of 1967-1970.

“Therefore, now is the time to put a permanent stop to the endless circle of attacks and counter attacks by our people and their external collaborators.

“Now is the time to adopt international best practices in animal husbandry. Now is the time to bring about a law to stop open grazing. It is old fashioned, hazardous, burdensome and must be discarded.”

He said the bill proposes ranching as the only viable alternative for cattle breeding in Nigeria and advocates for the urgent need to transit from traditional livestock keeping method to the modern methods which are safer and healthier to both the herds and the herders.

He said the bill further proposes that ranches would be established in the pastoralists state of origin without forcing it upon other states or communities that do not have pastoralists as citizens.

He said interested parties in livestock business must seek and obtain approvals of their host communities to establish ranches for the purpose of peaceful co-existence.

Senators Eyinnaya Abaribe, Danjuma Goje, Senator Garba Musa Maidoki, Senator Barau Jibrin, Senator Adamu Aliero and Kawu Sumaila supported the Bill.

They however objected to a clause in the lead debate which said pastoralists should establish ranches in their state of origin.

Abaribe said he was of  the view that the bill could be a solution to the clashes between farmers and herders if properly managed.

He recommended the amendment of the constitution and the Land Use Act to simplify the management of lands within the respective states.

Abaribe noted that while some herders were peaceful and engaged in legitimate animal business, there were also the criminal elements sponsored to destabilise communities.

“Farmers are under threat, and what that has led to is the food crisis that we face in Nigeria today”, he added.

Making his contribution, Senator Sunday Karimi (Kogi-West), suggested that the best way to go was for every state to establish ranches.

He said, “I appreciate my colleague for introducing this bill. This is a national problem, and we all know this. We can’t just sit and do nothing as responsible parliamentarians.

Before now, the North had cattle routes, which have been taken over by property owners. Now cattles roam the whole country. All states must be ready to establish cattle ranches,” he said

A former Governor of Gombe State, Senator Mohammed Goje, drove the north’s position further when he observed that the bill was discriminatory by proposing to restrict the herders to a particular geographical location.

“There are many angles to this issue of farmers and herders. We have to tackle the problem holistically. These Fulanis are Nigerians,“ he maintained.

The same view was held by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Sports, Senator Suleiman Abdulrahman-Kawu, who said the bill would breach the constitutional rights of the herders.

He said, “The bill is totally against the constitution of Nigeria. The bill will even compound the problem of the herders and the farmers. You can’t propose a law to attend to a particular group or section of the country only. This bill is not holistic and we will fight it till the end,” Kawu stated.

However, the President of the Senate, Sen. Godswill Akpabio, while rounding off the debate, urged all senators to be calm by letting the bill go for a public hearing.

“We must hold a public hearing and bring all the stakeholders to have a say, including cattle ‘rearers’ and the state governments”, Akpabio remarked shortly before he rammed his gavel for the second reading.

Akpabio also assured senators that everything possible would be done to reach a consensus on the proposals contained in the bill, including amending the Land Use Act where necessary.

But Senator Adamu Aliero, any law that would restrict the movement of any Nigeria person and his property would be a direct breach of Section 41 of the Constitution.

Akpabio, however said that offensive clauses not in line with the constitution should be expunged from the bill during public hearing and national summit on security already agreed by the Senate.

The division among senators on the bill centred  around  infractions on relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution , protocols of the Economic Community of West African States ( ECOWAS ) as regards free movements of persons and their property from state to state and country to country .

Garba Musa Maidoki (PDP Kebbi South),  Abba Moro (PDP Benue South) , supported the bill. Others like Aliero ( PDP Kebbi Central) , Kawu ( NNPP Kano South) , Goje ( APC Gombe Central ), kicked against the bill .

Aliero in opposing the bill, raised constitutional point of order by quoting section 41 of the 1999 Constitution which gives all Nigerians free movement into any state with their property.

He specifically told the Senate that it was wrong for the sponsor of the bill , to propose establishment of ranches in the state of origin of pastoralists alone .

Kawu in his own opposition to the bill, said it was totally against provisions of Nigeria Constitution.

“This  bill is against provisions of the constitution and in fact, will compound the crisis of herders / farmers in Nigeria , if allowed to become law,” he said .

 As a way of shutting down the bill, the Deputy President of the Senate , Senator Jibrin Barau ( APC Kano North) ,  said he had advised the sponsor to step it down for limiting establishment of ranches to states of origin of pastoralists .

The bill however scaled second reading when put to voice votes  by the President of the Senate , Godswill Akpabio after refusal of the sponsor to step it down.

It was thereafter forwarded to the Senate Committees on Agriculture, Trade and Investment , Judiciary and Legal Matters for more legislative inputs within the next four weeks.

Also yesterday, the Senate passed a bill seeking to prescribe improved salaries, allowances, and fringe benefits for  judicial office holders in Nigeria.

The development followed the adoption of report  of Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters presented by the Chairman of the committee  Senator Mohammed Monguno (Borno North).

Monguno said  stakeholders at the public hearing of the bill were unanimous in their support for its passage. He said the purpose  of the bill was sacrosanct to the justice sector reform initiative of the present administration.

He added that the bill  was in consonance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the standing rules of the Senate.

He said: “The proposed legislation is apt and timely as the increase in remuneration of judicial office holders is long overdue in light of the present economic realities and high inflation in the country”.

Monguno said the  bill  was  “quite innovative,” aside from the increment in the basic salary, it also took cognisance of certain peculiarities of the administrative structure and operation of the judiciary.”

He said: “Generally the bill, if passed will birth an appropriate and commensurate remuneration that will ensure judicial independence and integrity.

“That no doubt adequate remuneration will allow judicial officers to focus on their professional development without worrying about financial constraint; hence it will improve their professionalism and decision making skills.

“That fair compensation for judicial officers is crucial for maintaining public trust in judiciary’s impartiality and integrity. When judges are adequately compensated, it demonstrates a commitment by society towards  the important role they play in upholding justice”.

He said  the  increase in remuneration for judicial office holders was  essential to attract and retain highly qualified and experienced professionals who possess the necessary skills, knowledge and integrity to serve on the bench.

“That certainly, the bill if passed will give financial security to retired judicial Officers after years of dedication in the profession and allowing them to remain comfortable  during their retirement,” he added.

He said the  increment under consideration had been captured in the  2024  Appropriation Act.

Meanwhile, the  Senate yesterday passed for second reading a bill for an Act to make provision for Nigeria Gold Reserve Industry. The bill was  sponsored by Senator Natasha Akpoti – Uduaghan (PDP Kogi Central).

The bill seeks a robust framework for the harnessing, exploitation and marketing of gold which is about 600,000 tonnes in reserves in the country worth $45 billion.

Natasha in her lead debate said: ” The proposed legislation presents a significant opportunity to drive economic growth and diversification by creating a conducive environment for investment in the gold sector, that can attract both domestic and foreign investors, stimulate job creation, and boost revenue streams for the government.

“It incorporates stringent regulations to minimise the ecological footprint of gold mining and processing activities.

“By adhering to international best practices in gold mining and trading, the Nigerian Gold Reserve Bill positions Nigeria as a reliable and responsible player in the global gold market which will enhance our competitiveness on the international stage and strengthens investor confidence in our gold industry.

” Specifically , the bill seeks to establish the Nigeria Gold Authority ( NGA) that will be charged among other things, with the administration of Nigerian Mining Act with regards to our gold resources”

Most of the senators who contributed to debate on the bill, supported it as required legislation  that would unlock the full value of Nigeria’s Gold Reserve for the benefit of all Nigerians .

Senator Solomon Adeola (APC Ogun West) in particular, said the bill when passed into law, would shore up the value of Naira which according to him, could even appreciate tremendously without foreign investment.

The Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, who presided over the plenary, referred the bill to the Senate Committee on Mineral Resources.

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