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Beyond Solidarity, Lagos’ Anti-open grazing law is to promote communality, healthy beef consumption culture

By Gbenga Akinfenwa
26 September 2021   |   3:35 am
“We have never at anytime had any conflict or crisis with the herdsmen. Even last year, when we planted rice at Itoikin, we had to warn those operating around the axis not to move close to the farm....

Grazing

• Chiefs, Community Heads Need To Cooperate With Govt — Atto
• I Erected Fence After Invasion Of My 100-acre Plantation — Oyekoya
• We Averted Crisis Due To Our Relationship With Herders — AFAN
• Bulk Of The Cows Are From Niger Republic, Chad, Others
• There’s No Going Back On Law — Omotosho

“We have never at anytime had any conflict or crisis with the herdsmen. Even last year, when we planted rice at Itoikin, we had to warn those operating around the axis not to move close to the farm and they obeyed. We have been able to forestall farmers-herders crisis in the state, due to the relationship we have with them.”

With this submission of the Chairman, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Lagos State Chapter, Dr. Femi Oke, it would be logical to ask, of what value is the anti-open grazing law just enacted in Lagos? But the answer to this is not far fetched.

The Managing Director/CEO of Bama Farms, whose over 100-acre farm in Itoikin, Epe area was invaded recently said the signing of the law is a good move, “because any delay in doing so might worsen the matter, especially when other states in the Southwest are already doing so. Also, the move will boost the state’s economy, if they can practise ranching like it is done in other countries across the world.”

The National Deputy President, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Segun Atto, who has farms in Badagry, also lauded the move. He, however, sounded a note of caution that the necessary will power must be effected; else the law will not be effective in the state.

“The case of farmers/herder crisis is in two ways in Badagry area — the contracted herders and the real herdsmen. The chiefs, community heads and other people in the society are the real owners of the cattle there, not the Fulani herdsmen. They only engage their services to help them graze on people’s farms without orientation.

“There are several cases of infractions that we have taken to the community heads, but they would later tell us that the cows we impounded on the farms are already dead. Crops on several hectares of farms have been destroyed. It is only when Obas, chiefs, high profile people in the society are made to cooperate with the farmers that the law will work.

“Government should ensure that nobody, no matter how highly placed, fumbles with the law. No Fulani can boast of having cows in our area, they are owned by people who fail to caution them not to invade farms. It is when we cooperate with the law that the law will serve us.”

WITH the enactment, Lagos became the 11th southern state to sign the anti-open grazing bill into law, coming after Ebonyi, Abia, Bayelsa, Rivers, Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo, Delta, Akwa Ibom and Osun states.

The law was the offshoot of the bill passed by the state House of Assembly on September 9, 2021, entitled, “A bill for a law to Prohibit Open Cattle Grazing In Lagos State, the Trespass of Cattle Land And For Other Connected Purposes.”

Speaker, Mudashiru Obasa subsequently directed the Acting Clerk of the House, Mr. Olalekan Onafeko, to transmit a clean copy to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu for assent.

Indeed, the signing of the anti-open grazing law by Governor Sanwo-Olu was borne out of the decision of Southern Governors’ Forum last August, which set September deadline to pass the law across member states, the bitter experiences of affected farmers must have also played a big role.

While assenting to the bill during the State’s Executive Council meeting in Alausa, Sanwo-Olu had directed security agencies to immediately swing into action and enforce provisions of the law.

He said by implication, it is now criminal in Lagos for cattle rearers to occupy unapproved public areas and private land with their livestock for grazing.

The law also prohibits the act of moving cattle around public places by herders.

“By the powers vested in me as the Governor of Lagos State, I am signing the bill on Open Cattle Grazing and Trespass of Cattle on Land into law to prohibit issues associated with open grazing of livestock,” Sanwo-Olu said.

SECTOR players in the state were unanimous in their belief that the Governor’s action is not only just and prompt, it is also capable of saving the state from the marauders’ excesses, as well as prevent the spillover of the menace into the state.

One of the farmers with strong conviction on this is Oyekoya, who was a victim of the herders’ invasion. His experience is not only sad but also pathetic, considering the magnitude of damage done to the crops. He said: “The herders have severally invaded my farms and on several occasions, we had verbal altercations, but I always succeeded in driving them away.

“I have over 100 acres of land. I planted cassava on 50 acres; vegetables, groundnut and watermelon were planted on the remaining part of the farm. The cows really feasted on the crops and I recorded huge losses. I was forced to erect a fence around the farm to ward them off from causing further havoc on the plantation. It was the money I proposed for expansion of the farm that I had to divert to construct the fence for security reasons.”

The Guardian investigation showed that Oyekoya is not the only victim of herders’ onslaught in the state, though they are usually not brought to public domain. Stories abound of incidences of herders’ attack around Ikorodu, Epe axis, Badagry area and other fringe communities in the state.

The AFAN boss, Oke, who also had a taste of their excesses, said: “Though the occurrence has been minimal in the state, but we don’t wait until it escalates. The cattle have been eating crops around farms, and we cannot continue that way.

“I have also experienced their onslaught on my farms in Pemu, Epe, especially whenever I travel out of the country. Since I know them and their settlement around the area very well, I usually report them to their boss. On several occasions, they have always shown remorse over it.”

HOWEVER, some have expressed fears that the state’s economy might be negatively affected by the development, considering its position as the largest market for cattle in the country.

It has been reported that Lagos consumes over 1.8 million heads of cattle yearly and an average of over 8,000 heads of cattle on a daily basis, with transactional value of over N328b.

If the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria’s (MACBAN) threat to stop supplying cows to the state, if the law is signed is to be taken seriously, Lagos will be hugely affected.

Already, there is fear of imminent beef scarcity and price hike since the law was signed. Lagosians, especially butchers, food sellers, operators of eateries and many more are in trepidation, entertaining anxiety of being thrown out of business.

Weeks ago, the cattle breeders had threatened that a cow could cost up to N2m in Lagos, if the anti-grazing bill is passed into law.
  
Zonal Secretary of MACBAN in the Southwest, Maikudi Usman had appealed to the state government for assistance, noting that ranching is more expensive than open grazing.

Usman, who agreed that there were some criminally minded herders, argued that raising a cow in one location would drastically increase the price of a cow.

  
He also pleaded with the government to subsidise the cost of raising cattle in one location. He said: “If cattle are bred in one place, the price could go up to about N2m each. We agreed with some local chiefs in other states that anyone who wants to rear cows in a location should register and should indicate when he is leaving.
  
“A Fulani man moves from one place to another to ply his trade, but we have some bad eggs that are causing trouble. The government should allow us to tell our people that they don’t want our cows to destroy people’s farmland.”

But Oyekoya, who was the Chairman, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI)’s agriculture sector, describes the MACBAN’s threat as a mere lie. “You have to understand that these herders will be willing to sell their livestock by all means, so the threat will not hold. It should also be remembered that most of these cows are not from Nigeria, but from Niger Republic, Chad and other neighbouring countries.

“We are not really rearing much of the cattle we consume. To me, its nothing but empty threat, who will buy a cow for N2m? Is it gold? If they actualise their threat, people can turn to chicken, fish, snail or any other animal product…”

To Atto, if they actualise their threat, the state will look for alternatives to beef. “If you close your cows to me in the North, I will fish in the ocean. You need my rice to eat your cow; I need your rice to eat my cow.

“If Lagos is consuming 60 per cent of cows in Nigeria and you make it a marketable hub, why can’t you cooperate and stop threatening? Nobody hates anyone; we must sit down and reason together. In developed countries, you don’t see anyone parading cows around. They should stop the drum of war, and respect the culture wherever they operate.” Oke, who also allayed fears over the threat, said it is a mere joke that cannot work. “It’s just a marketing strategy.”

The Commissioner for Information, Gbenga Omotosho told The Guardian that the innovation would make cattle business better for whoever is in the occupation but opposed to the policy by the time they realise what it is all about.

He said: “They’ll know it’s for the good of everybody to stay in a peaceful atmosphere. It’s for the good of everybody to have beef that is healthy without negative impression in your mind on your table.

“The fact that some people are saying that the price of a cow might become N2m will not make government go back on the law because if they are saying a cow will be N2m, it’s a mere speculation and unscientific.

“They are acting this way because Lagos is asking them to go the civilized way of the 21st century economy that the state is desperately fighting to become and now saying there’ll be price increase because of that. It doesn’t work that way, it’s a question of law of supply and demand.”

When asked if the state has alternatives to bridge the demand gap, if the herdsmen make true their threat, he said: “When we get to that bridge, we’ll cross it. This law is going to be valuable in the implementation of our plan for the red meat supply chain. We don’t even want people to bring cattle into Lagos and throw them into the market and just sell it. We’ll like ranching of such a cattle and make them bigger, make them fitter and healthier for Lagosians to consume.

“They are brought in now in terrible conditions and the way they are kept is not so good. That’s not the way it is in other parts of the world. So, Lagos State is trying to lead the way by showing people how it should be done, by showing that the cows can be made bigger and healthier and better for Lagosians to have value for their money.”