By Saheed Ibrahim
The plan by the Federal Government to reclaim grazing routes in Nigeria has raised concerns and agitations, especially in the Southern part of the country.
The FG claimed that there are grazing routes across 25 states our of the 36 and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT Abuja. Despite the agitations, Punch reported that the exercise had already kick started to reclaim the routes for herders to ply their trade. The report however confirmed that some of the routes had been taken over by human activities.
Earlier, as a result of incessant clashes and ripple effects on social, economic and psychological wellbeing of the people, the 17 Southern Nigerian Governors, led by Ondo Governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), unanimously agreed that open grazing should be outlawed in the region and set September 1,2021 deadline for all the states Houses of Assembly to pass the Anti-Open Grazing bill into law.
“Development and population growth has put pressure on available land and increased the prospects of conflict between migrating herders and local populations in the South. Given this scenario, it becomes imperative to enforce the ban on open grazing in the South, including cattle movement to the South by foot, their communique reads.
The Southern Governors recommended that the Federal Government should support willing states to develop alternative and modern livestock management systems.
They also called on President Muhammadu Buhari, to as a matter of urgency and importance, address Nigerians on the frightening state of insecurity across the nation and convoke a national dialogue.
They stressed that the unity of the country should be “on the basis of justice, fairness, equity, oneness and peaceful co-existence between and among its peoples with a focus on the attainment of shared goals for economic development and prosperity.
Despite the overwhelming outcry against the plan to retrace and recover grazing routes across the country, the Federal Government is not showing signs of relenting, a sign of insensitivity to the plight of the nation and apparent nepotism for one ethnic group over others.
To start with, many lives have been lost while thousands have been displaced due to attacks by herders, which would not have happened if cattle are ranched by individual owners.
According to the Global Terrorism Index, these conflicts resulted in over 800 deaths by 2015. In 2016, the attacks went on unabated, epsecially in Agatu, Benue and Nimbo, Enugu State.
In January 2018 about 10 persons were killed in an attack and reprisal involving herders and local farmers in Numan local council of Adamawa State.
In May 2018 over 400 herdsmen attacked four villages of Lamurde, Bang, Bolk, Zumoso and Gon in Numan and Lamurde local councils of Adamawa State killing 15 people.
In April 2018 Fulani gunmen allegedly killed 19 people during an attack on the church, afterwards they burnt dozens of nearby homes.
The Coalition Against Kajuru killings stated on 18 March 2019 that 130 people have been killed in a series of revenge attacks since the massacre announced by El-Rufai.
Similarly, in June 2018, over 200 people were killed and 50 houses were burnt in clashes between farmers and Fulani cattle herders in Plateau State and 21 people were killed by herdsmen in a village in Demsa local government area of Adamawa State.
In July of same year, a clash erupted between the Fulani settlers and the Yandang community in Lau Local Government Area of Taraba State. About 73 people were killed and 50 villages were razed.
In October 2018, Fulani herdsmen killed at least 19 people in Bassa. In December 16, 2018 during a wedding ceremony, militants believed to be Fulani herdsmen attacked a village in Jena’a, killing 15 people and injuring at least 24 others, On 11 February 2019, an attack on an Adara settlement named Ungwar Bardi by suspected Fulani gunmen killed 11. Reprisal attack by Adara targeted settlements of the Fulani killing at least 141 people with 65 missing. The attacks took place in Kajuru LGA of Kaduna State.
In its 2020 annual report, Amnesty International claims that more than 1,531 people died in inter-communal violence mostly between herdsmen and farming communities, as well as in attacks by bandits, in the North-Central and North-Western regions of Nigeria.
The report says more than 420 civilians died in around 45 attacks launched in Nigeria’s Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states.
The Western Nigerian states have also had their fair share of herders attacks.
In 2021 alone, the daunting attack of Igangan attack in Oyo state by herders, killing about 20 people and destroying property worth millions of naira is still fresh in memory. There are also reports in attacks on farmers in Osun, Kwara, Ekiti, Ondo, Ogun states. South Eastern and South Southern states were not spared.
These killings and many more destructions are products of open grazing in Nigeria, but the FG has turned blind eyes to them.
Economically, open grazing has negatively affected food security in Nigeria. Despite the fact that about 70 per cent of Nigeria’s work force earns an income through agriculture, countless number of farmers have been killed and many aggregarian communities destroyed by herders while crops worth billions of naira ruined by cattle.
The current high cost of living, increasing cost of food items and famine are tied to herders attack on farmers and farm lands.
There are psychological effects to all these as well. Yet, the FG wants open grazing to continue.
As a point of emphasis, grazing is a private business, not a government initiative. The people of Benue, Kogi, Ekiti, Kano and many other states are predominantly farmers; the Riverine settlers are predominantly fishermen and water transporters. Every tribe has its major preoccupation and never has any of them threatened the lives and wellbeing of other people.
It seems Fulani herders have been prioritised over other tribes by the FG, charged with protecting the lives and property of all Nigerians without any form of bias or sentiment.
Aside its negative effects on lives and general wellbeing, open grazing is archaic and a sign of backwardness. As a legal luminary, Cyril Akinola Gbogi stated, “open grazing reserve is an old system which could not be sustained and should not be encouraged in Nigeria because by the time these people are moving from one place to the other, they will continue to destroy people’s farms and from there, there will be disagreement.
“Grazing is and archaic method which should be stopped in Nigeria because it as been stopped all over the world but I do not know why the President is hammering on that; maybe probably to satisfy his Fulani kinsmen”.
From the legal perspective, the FG has no right over any land, as provided in the Land Use Act of 1978. As the Head of Commercial Law Department, Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba Akoko, Dr Victor Ayeni stated, “the land use Act is very clear, the control and administration of land is vested in the Governor of each state and the federal government has exclusive control and any portion of land where federal government infrastructure or federal government secretariat is located.
“The control of land is essentially vested on the Governor, President Buhari cannot order the Governor and can not dictate to the Governor on what they should do with the land and the law is very clear on that because Governor has primary control over the land within their domain.
Backing him up, a lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Aborisade said there was no justifiable legal basis for the plan of the Federal Government to recover or create grazing reserves across Nigeria.
“There is no way the Federal Government can force its grazing reserves creation or recovery on the state Governments. That would be unconstitutional and unlawful. That would be arbitrary. By the combined provisions of the Land Use Act, particularly section 1 of the Act earlier referred to, and section 4(7) (a) of the Constitution, which vests the power to make laws on items not expressly included in the Exclusive legislative list, in the State Government, land administration in the territory of each state is vested in the State Government, for the benefit of all Nigerians, in manners provided by law.”
“I do not see how the Federal Government can achieve it’s project of creating or recovering grazing reserves across Nigeria. The Grazing Reserves Act of 1964 was limited to the Northern Region; it was not applicable to the other regions. Section 1 of the Land Use Act vests land ownership in the territory of the state in the Governor for the benefit of all Nigerians. Therefore, administration of land in the territory of a state is in the control of the state government, not the Federal Government.”
He added that according to the 1999 constitution, the Federal Government has to approach, beg or request for land outside the Federal Capital Territory from the State Government and it is at the discretion of the state government to grant or refuse such requests by the Federal Government because the Federal Government lacks the power to compulsorily acquire land not granted by the consent of a state government.
He revealed that the plan would create and fan embers of mutual ethnic hatred, conflict and avoidable bloodshed and called on ordinary people to reject and resist the grazing reserves project of the Federal Government while also throwing his weight behind state governors opposing the plan.
Barrister Aborisade concluded that “based on the foregoing, I support the governors who have declared their opposition to grazing reserves creation or recovery. I support the ban on open grazing. It should be enacted into law and enforced. Ordinary people must insist that Nigeria is governed according to predetermined laws and not the whims and caprices of those in control of the Federal Government.
Rather than spending millions of naira on reclaiming illegal grazing routes, the FG should divert attention to the ten year National Livestock Transformation Plan launched in 2019 to curtail the movement of cattle, boost livestock production and quell the country’s lethal herder-farmer conflict.
As reported by International Crisis Group, “The new Plan represents Nigeria’s most comprehensive strategy yet to encourage pastoralists to switch to ranching and other sedentary livestock production systems. Modernising the livestock sector is key to resolving the herder-farmer conflict, which threatens Nigeria’s political stability and food security”.
The Group notes that among other factors, political leadership and funding have been the ban of the plan.
It however warns that “if the Plan fails – as previous initiatives to modernise livestock management did – herder-farmer violence could escalate”.
The FG needs to reconsider its stance and listen to the people. Pastoralists and cattle business owners should find land and ranch their cattle. That is the practice in modern and sane climes.