Open grazing prohibition bill: Why senate must avoid drafting errors

 Open grazing prohibition bill: Why senate must avoid drafting errors

By Ernen Kaanti

The Nigeria senate must be circumspect in the processing of the ranching bill currently going on on the floor of the house to avoid missteps that could result into legislative errors which would have significant consequences, leading to unintended legal or social outcomes.

It is unfortunate that for decades, Nigeria has experienced violent clashes between farmers and herders whereas it is quite interesting that the long awaited bill seeking to establish ranches and prohibit open grazing across the country as a lasting legal solution to the problem has passed the second reading at the Senate though after a heated debate.

While we can agree that arguments help us to view issues from multiple perspectives and come up with informed decisions, what we must hold so dearly as true patriots is the strong will to tell ourselves the truth as anything short of that would give misinformation and propaganda the best climate to infiltrate and flourish breeding injustice, social division and national stagnation.

History has it that there was a very friendly relationship between farmers and herders in Nigeria. Stories are out there about exchange of farm products for cow milk locally referred to as nono between farmers and herders. They even said that if a cow destroyed your crop and you complained to the herder they would compensate you. Questions now looms: Why don’t these things happen again? Where did we start getting it wrong? Who started it?

I am sure the above questions must have been answered somewhere in some quarters in the process of trying to foster solutions to the problem yet the problem persists. It is indeed a welcome development now that the law is about to take its place. As our elders would say, if the rat can’t be fast enough let it give way to the tortoise. Besides, when the music changes, so does the dance. It is no longer time for moral settlement but time for legal intervention to stop gruesome killings and the food insecurity that is even aiming for the global stage.

It is no news that the farmer-herder crisis in Benue State, the worst hit in the North Central region, for instance, has resulted in significant casualties. In April 2023 alone, attacks by armed herders on communities in Apa, Otukpo and Guma local government areas led to the deaths of about 130 people. In February 2024, another wave of violence by suspected herders hit Kwande, Apa and Guma LGAs resulted in stunning fatalities and several injuries. Other states in the Central Nigeria have their staggering data on their atrocious experiences.

In the South East, there has been reports on herders killings. Lamentations over the herders invasion of Nimbo, a community in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State and the killing and maiming of scores were in the lips of the people when yet another calamity struck in Enugu where herdsmen gruesomely massacred about 11 people, including a pregnant woman, in Ebonyi State as reported in the Premium online Newspaper publication of 6th May, this year.

The South West, South-South as well as the Northern regions also have there fair shares of this tsunami. And as terrible and pathetic as it is, these prolonged conflicts that have caused widespread displacement and loss of lives have been seemingly treated with kid gloves on the floor of the national assembly until now.

It is heartbreaking to know that Benue State alone has over seventeen (17) Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDPs) Camps purportly housing about 1.5 million people including those thtat are taking shelter in the host communities.

These are items of evidence to say that the blood letting and hardship occasioned in this country as a result of herders-farmers clashes is unfortunately becoming the new normal and any honest steps towards curbing the situation should be approached without any iotal of ethnic sentiment.

Senator Zam, a senator from the Benue North West, who sponsored the Open Grazing Prohibition Bill emphasized the need to establish ranches in states that have pastoralist communities. However, his argument met with resistance from some northern senators.

One would listen to the argument put up by Danjuma Goje, senator representing Gombe Central, with some level of disillusionment as to how much honesty Nigerians, even the so called elite class, approach serious national issues such as this. Danjuma insisted that ranches should not be limited to states with herders. While this can be seen as fair enough, highlighting the lack of basic services for herders, stating they are Nigerians and don’t benefit from anything and reminding that they don’t benefit from school, hospitals, or anything, has truly complicated his argument to the ear shots of the world. There are both public and private schools all over Nigeria and any one that chooses pasturing over school will explain better why he or she does so and if it requires the enforcement by the community, Danjuma in his status should know who is to be held accountable in that scenario. I understand that Danjuma can use figurative statements to express himself but saying that herders are Nigerians and do not benefit anything, I see it as too much hyperbole because they all have state governors and other representatives at all levels of the government and these people are adjudged to know their responsibilities to their constituents.

Another blunder in that debate is the statements made by Kawu Sumaila, senator representing Kano Central. He opposed the bill by arguing that it fails to address underlying causes of the clashes between farmers and herders. “Let us come up with something more comprehensive that protects the interest of all parties. There are so many reasons why herders go against farmers that we should look at. It is against the constitution, and we will fight it to the end,” he said. Now one may wonder, apart from strong laws, what else does this senator think is right for a set of people who have defied legal means and never brought their plea to the government but rather have been enjoying the luxuries that come with taking laws into their hands and depopulating the nation so brutally and carelesly for so long now?

Maybe we should first of all go and tell the bullets and the matchets in the hands of the hooded herdsmen including the hunger that is biting harder in the stomachs of the people in IDP camps that, look you need to step down your brutality for further consultations just like Barau Jibrin, the deputy senate president, suggested the stepping down of the bill for further consultation. I can’t even imagine the sincerity of national purpose in saying such.

Glory be to God the “ayes” had it when the bill was put to a vote. Now that the Senate moves forward, it is crucial to remember that while herders have the right to movement, they do not have the right to infringe upon the lives and property of farmers. Rights are not absolute, and the farmers’ right to life and livelihood begins where the herders’ freedom of movement stops and must be equally protected.

Yes, the debate over the state of origin for herders sounds beautiful but it is a mere fallacy of appeal to pity to allow the wicked herders to take more liberty. It also shows how lawless we feel our country can be and how we care less about it. Does it mean we don’t even think properly when we are talking about national issues? Well, for me this very issue about herders’ state of origin tells us we need to look into the issue of birth registration in this country because every citizen must have a state of origin. Even if that person was carved from a tree he should be deemed a citizen of the state in which that tree is located and herders cannot claim exemption.

Recognizing a state of origin is not about confinement as senator Danjuma was making it to sound and appear but about establishing a framework for rights and responsibilities within the country.

As a matter of emphasis, the Senate must act with wisdom and caution. The bill’s implementation should aim to foster peace, security, and coexistence between farmers and herders. For any missteps could result into legislative fiasco that will create future problems. Coming up with comprehensive solutions that consider the plights of the Nigeria population is essential.

While the establishment of ranches and prohibition of open grazing must be approached with a balanced perspective that safeguards the interests of all citizens, senators and the general population need to dislodge the feeling that herdsmen are synonymous with Fulanis as anybody from anywhere in the country can be a herdsman.

About the Author

Ernen Kaanti holds B.A Mass Communication from the prestigious University of Nigeria Nsukka. He also holds a diploma in Mass Communication from the Benue State Polytechnic, Ugbokolo. He has interest in both fiction and nonfiction writing. He has interest in sociopolitical, economic and human rights protection. He has been publishing with media platforms including

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