Anti-open grazing laws: Police mum over enforcement

 
Sat Sep 25th, 2021 - Abia
 

As more southern states move to stem the herders-farmers crisis with the enactment of anti-open grazing law, there is palpable silence from the police hierarchy over its willingness to prosecute violators of the law.

Attempts to reach the police high command through the Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), CP Frank Mba, to clarify the Force’s position on the matter proved abortive, as his phone was not reachable.
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When The Guardian got through to the police spokesman in Delta State, DSP Bright Edafe, he promised to clear from his Commissioner of Police before he could speak on the subject and declined to comment further on the subject. Delta is one of the states where the bill has been passed.

Also, the Lagos State police spokesman, CSP Adekunle Ajisebutu, declined to speak on the subject when reached.

However, a source at the Force Headquarters in Abuja told The Guardian that any policeman that enforces that law might earn the wrath of the Federal Government.

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“Policemen are careful over these new state laws. That is all I can say,” he said.

Meanwhile, findings by The Guardian showed that herders still graze their animals openly in many states that have enacted the anti-open grazing law without being intercepted by law enforcement agents.

In Abia State where Governor Okezie Ikpeazu signed the anti-open grazing law on June 29, 2018, open grazing of cattle, sheep and goats were still practiced following its poor implementation.

The Commissioner for Information, Chief John Okiyi Kalu, however, stated that the enforcement of the law is vested in the hands of security agencies, particularly the police.

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It could be recalled that on May 11, 2021, governors of the 17 southern states, after a meeting in Asaba, the Delta State capital, resolved to ban open grazing and the movement of cattle by foot in order to curb clashes between farmers and herders in the region.

The governors had observed that the incursion of armed herders, criminals and bandits in the southern part of the country has created a severe security challenge, such that citizens were no longer able to live their normal lives, including pursuing various productive activities, leading to threats to the food supply, general security and sometimes death.

Consequently, they resolved that open grazing of cattle should be banned across southern Nigeria via a law enacted by the state Houses of Assembly not later than September 1, this year.

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Before the resolution was made, five southern states comprising Ekiti, Ebonyi, Abia, Oyo and Bayelsa had enacted anti-open grazing laws. However, the resolution prompted six more states in the region to follow suit. These include Rivers, Ondo, Enugu, Akwa-Ibom, Osun and Lagos states. This brings the total number of states in the South that has so far prohibited open grazing in their jurisdictions via legislation to 11.

The Guardian gathered that Delta and Ogun states Houses of Assembly have passed the bill but their governors were yet to give their assent, while in Anambra State, the bill has scaled through the first reading.

Reacting to the development, last Tuesday, Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State chided his southern counterparts that have signed the anti-open grazing bill into law, declaring that it was “not implementable.”

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But the Governor of Ondo State and Chairman of Southern Governors Forum, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, had in his quick response to the statement, accused El-Rufai of plotting to externalise banditry.

However, in an interview with The Guardian, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mallam Yusuf Ali, advised governors of states that have enacted the anti-open grazing law to be “scientific” in its implementation, adding that the politicisation of the issue was not good for the country.

Ali said: “Sometimes, we look at the symptoms and not the causes. My problem is all these furore, hews and cries; we have been living with ourselves for long on this thing. I think what we should look at is why suddenly, the problem of cattle herding has taken this dangerous dimension that now leads to banditry and kidnapping.

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“We will not rather look at that; where did we get to this point and how did we start addressing it in a holistic manner? The average herder you see on most of the roads don’t understand this quarrel. You see those young boys, at what level did they start carrying AK-47? That’s the point we should look at! But we seem not to be addressing that.

“Even when you say you are creating ranches, when you go to places like the U.S. and UK, what they call ranches is exceedingly capital intensive. It means you confine the animals in one place, which means you must be able to graze enough grass and given the landmass that will sustain them come rain and shine. It’s not as simple as that. And then, what do you mean by creating grazing routes?”

The senior lawyer continued: “For the average Bororo person who believes the whole of the forest is their passable places, and with Nigeria having no borders, we don’t know herders who are from Nigeria or Niger, even those ones as far as Senegal who come through River Niger and Benue. It’s enough now to start commissioning people who are knowledgeable because we shouldn’t just look at now, we should look at the future.

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“Today, we are battling with herders; tomorrow, we may start battling with fishermen. For instance, part of the problem that has exacerbated banditry is the drying up of Lake Chad. Lake Chad has lost almost 90 per cent of its waters. What do we do to address that? What do we do to ensure that there is a level of control at creating proper borders? And one of the easiest ways is these National Identity Cards. At least, let’s know those who are Nigerians so that we can also know those who are not Nigerians. But as it is now, everything is in flux.”

When asked about the enforceability of the anti-open grazing law, he added: “I have not said it will not work, but let’s wait. How do we even police these guys? If for example there are some people who are herding cows somewhere in Ife South or Oke-Ila that are the most extreme local councils in Osun State, how do you even know that they are inside the forest except farmers see them? I think we should be a little scientific about the way we attack the matter; I don’t like us turning all issues into political issues. Serious national issues, we just turn it to North and South; turning serious matters to tribal matters. That was why Yoruba people lost the June 12, 1993 struggle because it just became a Yoruba problem whereas it started out as a national problem. When you start to ethnicise and tribalise issues, you are on your own.”

Nevertheless, the Director-General of the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission, Mr. Seye Oyeleye, has urged the southern governors to implement the anti-open grazing law to the letter to avoid being perceived by their people as mere toothless bulldogs.

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Oyeleye urged other governors in the region to emulate Ondo State where Governor Akeredolu has been using the new security outfit of the state, Amotekun, to implement the law.

His words: “On the implementation of the law, I would refer you to what is happening in Ondo State, where the Amotekun is taking full charge of the implementation of the anti-open grazing law and thankfully the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, which is the recognised organisation of the herders have keyed into the law and has also agreed with the state government.

“I will be surprised if the Federal Government now says because it doesn’t agree with the law it would be using the police to lead the cattle herders. It wouldn’t do that unless it wants to lead us back to a state of anarchy.

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“If the Federal Government is not happy with a recognised law passed by the House of Assembly of any state, what it can do is to go to court and allow the court to interpret the law. It is within the purview of a state governor, who is the chief security officer to ensure the security of his state. The governors have taken the bill to the Assembly and it has been passed into law.

“If the Federal Government goes to court and the court rules in its favour that is a different thing. If otherwise, it is the duty of the Federal Government to ensure that the herders comply with the laws.

“If the state governments are saying the activities of the herders are interfering with the livelihood of the people, then the Federal Government cannot stop whatever law passed to address the situation. After all they are not saying the herders shouldn’t rear their cattle but that they must operate within the ambit of the law.”

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On the situation where some herders graze their animals openly in many states in the South despite the existence of the law, Oyeleye said: “One of the things we have advised the governors is to ensure that the law is implemented otherwise the people will see them as a toothless bulldog.

“Ondo passed the law and is now backing it up with its own security outfit and I am sure other states will emulate Ondo. To me, it is still early to say the law is not effective.

“For instance, in Osun State, herders are keying into the law. We need to be patience because a lot of information would still need to be passed across to the herders and so on. I expect the Federal Government to encourage the herders to obey the anti open grazing law.”

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The Chairman, House Committee on Information, Lagos State House of Assembly, David Setonji, allayed the fear that the Federal Government might discountenance the implementation of the law, saying the country has a constitution, which is supreme.

In Osun State, the government has said that arrangements would be made to ensure that the anti-open grazing law is not breached.

Speaking in an interview, the Special Adviser to Governor Gboyega Oyetola on Civic Engagement, Olatunbosun Oyintiloye, said the law banning grazing would be effective in the state, adding that the state had convoked a meeting to sensitise herders on the existence of the law so that no one would feign ignorance of it.

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“The government is preparing a soft landing for them (Fulani-Bororo herders) in terms of where they will be grazing their cattle because there is a portion of the law that gives them the opportunity to acquire land certified by government for them to graze,” he said.

Also speaking, Special Adviser to Oyetola on Security, Mrs. Abiodun Ige, said: “Ranching is a process. We have met with them (herders); we will continue with the process because it has to be stage by stage.”

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source: Guardian