The lobby against anti-open grazing
Resolve by the Miyetti Allah cattle breeders to appease Southern governors against anti-open grazing law seems a commonsense approach in negotiation among stakeholders. But the spirit and letters of the law demands compliance of all and sundry. Ab initio, the anti-open grazing law is a child of necessity of the 17 Southern Governors who have identified cattle breeding as a private business concern that should not infringe on rights to life and property of land owners. As much as lives of citizens and legitimate landowners are threatened by herders, the basis of lobbying for soft-pedal in the enforcement of anti-grazing law is defeated.
In reaction to the governors’ action, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) in the South-East recently rallied governors in the zone to reconsider the ban “in the interest of the less privileged.” Zonal Chairman, Gidado Siddiki, noted that within the short period of the enforcement of the law, the prices of cows had gone up and pushed beef beyond the appetite of the poor. “If they are asking the cattle breeders to stop moving around with their cows,” Siddiki said, “it means indirectly that they are asking us to leave their land and that we are not Nigerians.” He added: “Because of the law, a lot of herders have relocated to other countries like Chad, Cameroon, Sierra Leone and they have vowed not to import their cows to Nigeria again.” Their branch in Lagos spoke in similar tone though admitted that Fulani bandits have infiltrated herders in the Southwest to hatchet terrorism and paint genuine herders black. In Ondo, the group claimed to have jettisoned open grazing in exchange for a feedlot operational system, as part of moves to end fatal acrimony.
The approach to peaceful resolution of conflicts by the MACBAN faction of cattle herders in the South is in sharp contrast to that of the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore and their defenders in the presidency, who appear bent on outdated open grazing and perpetually stoking the embers of discord. Indeed, the path of peace and reconciliation of MACBAN is the way to go. But beyond mediation and lobbying, it is expedient of all parties to recognise that the anti-open grazing law is a clear consequence of pervasive lawlessness across the states, which has led to unnecessary killings of farmers in particular, herders and wanton loss of properties on all sides. Though cattle conflict in the Saharan region has a long history, the menace worsened in the last couple of years.
Nigeria has experienced the highest number of farmer-herder fatalities in West and Central Africa. As at 2018, the crisis in the Middle Belt was adjudged to be six times deadlier than the Boko Haram insurgency with over 2000 deaths recorded. Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) recently estimated that Nigeria has lost no fewer than 8, 343 persons to farmers-herders conflict since 2005. The organisation noted that the casualties were as a result of 1,350 attacks spread across 16 states of the federation. That is a gory statistic and a shame on the Nigerian State to warrant a paradigm shift in law enforcement and modality of cattle business – if the leadership means well for the country.
Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, clearly placed security of lives and welfare of the people as the primary responsibility of government, which takes precedence over private or sectional interests. Obviously, the lot of the larger responsibility falls on the state governors to enforce the law in unison and all parties should comply in the interest of collective well-being. There is no doubt that all citizens of Nigeria are constitutionally entitled to settle, live and move freely anywhere and everywhere in Nigeria without any fear of rejection or discrimination. However, the rights to freedom of movement and personal liberty are not absolute. Section 45 of the Constitution provides that there could be a legal instrument providing for the derogation to these rights in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons.
Besides, by virtue of Section 1 of the Land Use Act, 1978, all lands within the geographical territory of a state in Nigeria are vested in the governor. Section 12(1) of the Act empowers the governor to grant licence or permits to anyone entering or using land. Interestingly, Section 12(5) of the Act vests upon the governor the power to cancel any such licence if it fails to comply with the conditions of the licence. Also, Section 28 of the Act provides that “it shall be lawful for the governor to revoke a right of occupancy for overriding public interest.” The law is clearly on the side of the state governors. The state government and others across the region should ensure the full implementation of the anti-open grazing laws, exercise their right on occupancy and prosecute violators.
To end terrorism and anarchy is not to be a party to the old status quo that created the problem. The Southern governors are on course and their policy should be supported by all, including genuine herders, irrespective of religion, ethnicity and status. All Nigerians are at liberty to live and do their private businesses in the South but within the rules on ranching as drawn by the host communities to keep everyone safe and secured. It is the turn of herders to understand that open grazing is bad for agricultural settlements – they don’t mix without conflicts. Modern ranching is the sustainable global best practice for all to embrace and live in peace.