EditorialThat Anti-Open Grazing Bill

That Anti-Open Grazing Bill

June 10, (THEWILL)- The clash of views among senators over the anti-open grazing bill has once again shown in bold relief the sensitive nature of this issue that has lingered for too long and resulted in deaths, broken limbs, communal mistrust, displaced communities, pervasive insecurity and lingering herder/ farmer conflicts, leading to huge losses in human lives and property.

It is against this background of threat to life and property posed by this matter that Senator Titus Tartenger Zam, representing Benue North-West, sponsored the bill, arguing that establishing ranches in the home states of pastoralists would prevent conflicts.

The National Animal Husbandry and Ranches Commission Establishment Bill passed the second reading in the Senate, following a heated debate on Wednesday. The bill proposes the creation of ranches for herders within their home states, which would replace the traditional method of open grazing.

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According to Senator Zam, the lack of a regulatory framework or legislation for pastoralism and livestock movement has led to a disorderly struggle between settled farmers and wandering herders in Nigeria. Should the bill become law, a commission will manage, preserve and oversee ranches across the country.

Understandably, many Senators from the North opposed the bill on the ground that it contravenes provisions in the Constitution which allows freedom of movements, a fundamental human right, rather than seeking to confine herders to their state of origin. To quote the Deputy President of the Senate, Barau Jibrin, a representative voices that opposed the contents of the bill:   “Mr President, I will tell you some of these Fulanis; if you ask them where their states of origin are, they have even forgotten; they look at themselves as Nigerians. We should address the issue to reflect where someone is, it’s his place and he can do his business there.” Thankfully, the opposition only asked that the bill be reworked to align with the Constitutional provision on freedom of movement and residence.

Still, senators had unanimously agreed to a form of restriction for roaming herders only recently. That was when Senator Isah Jibrin, representing Kogi East moved and secured passage of a motion on the attack and killing of residents of Omala Local Government Area in Kogi state by herdsmen on May 20, 2024.

On that day, he lamented that Agojeju Odo, Ajokpachi Odo, Bagaji, and Bagana communities in the North-Central state had been ravaged by gunmen, rendering over 30,000 inhabitants of the communities homeless and causing the exodus of these inhabitants to other parts of the state.

Upon hearing the heart rending story, many of the lawmakers fell over themselves in grieving with their counterpart from Kogi and unanimously kicked against prayers by Mohammed Tahir Monguno, representing Borno North) and seconded by Kaka Shehu Lawan, representing Borno Central, which called on the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security to create new grazing routes in the country as a solution to solve farmer/herder crisis.

Instead, the senators all agreed that the killings linked to herders were too far gone to be treated with kid gloves any longer. After the back and forth arguments for and against either ban on open grazing or encouraging the setting up of cattle ranching, former President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan intervened, thus, “Let’s say here that the Fulani herders are behind these attacks. I mean the bad ones among them. This is a security issue as much as it is an economic issue. We should say it as it is because we are looking for solutions.

“It is very important for the Senate President to lead the Senate to have a national summit on livestock development. I believe that we have to be very decisive with our security agencies to make sure that they protect our people.”

We support the former Senate President and all the Senators who agreed with him on that May 20, 2024 debate to consider and price the life of Nigerians first in making decisions about the current bill.

For emphasis, it is not targeted at breaching the rights of the Fulani to live anywhere in Nigeria, but to control the roaming of cattle either on farmlands or across facilities and infrastructures in the country.

As Senator Musa Garba, drawing from his experience in maintaining a ranch with N80 million monthly, rightly noted during that May 20, 2024 debate about Kogi killing, the average pastoralist will not be able to maintain a ranch. Ultimately, the cost can only be handled by the government and big time investors. Research has confirmed that 20.9 million cattle population in Nigeria are concentrated in Sokoto, Kebbi, Kano, Jigawa, Katsina, Borno, Adamawa, Kaduna and Taraba and Cross River.

We urge the Senate to take a critical and non-sentimental stand on this issue that has literally turned Nigerians against themselves.

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