One critical issue that is sorely deserving of the immediate attention and action of the Federal Government and all well meaning Nigerians is the National Grazing Reserves Bill that is said to have already passed second reading in the two chambers of the National Assembly, and is already generating ripples in the southern part of the country.
The bill, which may become law when it passes the last and third reading in the National Assembly and is assented to by the president, seeks to establish grazing reserves and stock routes for cattle rearers in all the states of the country.
In addition, the Agriculture Minister, Chief Audu Ogbe, says he has already been charged by the Federal Government to establish 50,000 hectares of land across the nation within six months for the grazing of cattle owned by Fulani herdsmen.
The Grazing Reserves Bill, which is sponsored by Senator Zainab Kure, proposes to establish a National Grazing Reserve Commission which will be charged with the responsibility of using funds received from the Federal Government to acquire lands in all states of the country and develop them through the provision of boreholes, water reservoirs and other necessities for the use cattle rearers. The official view of this initiative is that it will help to end the recurring conflicts between nomadic Fulani herdsmen and farming communities in different parts of the country.
In the past few years, the menace of Fulani herdsmen who graze their cattle on farm products in farming communities in different parts of the country has become a veritable threat to peace in the country. There is hardly any part of the country that has not suffered from the action of these herdsmen. Apart from the regular attacks of the herdsmen on farming communities in Jos, Plateau State, that have claimed thousands of lives over the years, the Agatus in Benue State have become the latest victims of the massive attacks of the herdsmen as many villages were devastated and hundreds of their residents killed by the herdsmen over conflicts relating to the grazing of their cattle on the communities’ farms. Apart from the Agatu incident, many other communities down south have not been spared from the attacks of the herdsmen. Whether in the South or the East, reports emerge everyday on how the herdsmen drive their cattle into farming settlements to devastate their farm products. Worse still, the herdsmen roam around the country with sophisticated weapons which they unleash on anyone that challenges their rights to allow their cattle to feed on their farm products. Apart from the onslaught of the herdsmen on communities in Plateau, Ondo, Edo, Delta, Rivers, Ogun, Abia, Imo, Osun, Oyo, some institutional farms are beginning to suffer from the ravages of the herdsmen. Last Wednesday, April 13, about 2000 roving cattle were reported to have been driven into the Experimental Research Farm of the Adekunle Ajasin University in Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State, where they destroyed the bread wheat and other agricultural items being used for agricultural research in the university. About 80 armed herdsmen were also recently arrested in Abuja on what they claimed to be a mission to search for their stolen cattle in nearby Nasarawa State. In Awgu, Enugu State, the protest of the community over the abduction of two women by the herdsmen led to the arrest of 76 people who were held for two weeks before they were released on bail following public outcry. In Ondo State, Chief Olu Falae has been having a running battle with the herdsmen who once kidnapped him and also recently attacked his farm and killed his security guard.
These attacks of the herdsmen have become a big problem that is now threatening the peace and unity of the Nigerian people, especially as they carry out their attacks with impunity and the government does not appear to have the political will to stop them. Already, insinuations are being made in some quarters that the herdsmen’s onslaught on the southern parts of the country is a part of the plan to eventually dominate this part of the country.
Even the National Grazing Bill is seen in some quarters as a part of this plan, as it would excise for the Fulani herdsmen/businessmen portions of land throughout the country, in spite of the protestations of the land owners.
The matter of the grazing bill is one on which the federal government will do well to tread softly. This is more so as President Muhammadu Buhari is of the same Fulani stock as the private herdsmen/businessmen for whom free grazing land is being sought all over the country. This bill may easily be interpreted as an attempt by the president and northerners in the National Assembly to forcibly take portions of land for private Fulani businessmen in different parts of the country.
There are many questions that the proponents of this bill and the legislators supporting it unwittingly must ask themselves. First, are the cattle rearers not private businessmen who have a responsibility to develop ranches to rear their cattle as is done in all serious countries, and by all serious businessmen? Is cattle rearing now a national business for which public funds have to be expended to develop cattle ranches? Do the cattle to be raised in these ranches not belong to private businessmen and will they be required to share their profit to the national treasury for the government sponsorship of their private businesses? Will the government be prepared to purchase land in the northern states of the country for Yoruba and Igbo farmers who want to go into poultry farming, tomato and beans farming there, and also equip those farms as it wants to do for Fulani cattle rearers all over the country?
The best way out of this problem is for the cattle rearers and their state governments to develop ranches in the northern states that have the cattle rearing tradition, and the financial institutions are there to give them credit facilities for this. Forcibly acquiring massive lands down South for Fulani cattle rearers and rushing the Fulani down south as cattle farmers and okada riders cannot solve the problem of endless clashes between these herdsmen and the local communities. It will only worsen it as they will begin to see themselves as “untouchables” who can chance on land that is not theirs and have the full support of the government in oppressing the traditional owners of these lands.
The whole scenario also portends a time bomb as there is no portion of land that is given to the cattle rearers that will be sufficient for their multiplying population and that of their cattle in the years ahead. The implication is that the federal government may only be setting a time bomb for the coming generation of Nigerians with this initiative as the explosion of the population of the violent, gun totting cattle rearers down south can only spell disaster now and in the future.
The solution? Let the governments of the northern states support the cattle farmers to establish ranches in their states where they will not pose a cultural, security and religious threat to their communities. Nigeria, according to Minister Ogbeh, is already trying to import “improved grass seeds” to “green up” land to be given to cattle rearers to feed their cattle”, as if these cattle are the property of all Nigerians. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and all well meaning Nigerians should be in the vanguard of the battle to stop this bill from becoming law.
The controversial grazing reserves bill
Reviewed by Link Naija