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Sept 1 deadline on anti-open grazing law: Bureaucracy or lack of political will?

In what seems an interplay of bureaucracy and lack of political will, many Southern Governors failed the September 1 deadline they had collectively set for themselves to promulgate anti-open grazing laws in their individual states.

The 17 Governors in the region had set the deadline during their July 5 meeting in Lagos State, which was a follow up to the announcement of a total ban on open-grazing during an earlier meeting on May 12 in Asaba, Delta State capital.

The decision was considered necessary after unsuccessful individual attempts to address the menace of open grazing in Southern states and the insecurity it breeds.

The Forum also recommended that the Federal Government should support willing states to develop alternative and modern livestock management systems.

In a resolution after the meeting, the forum explained rationale for the ban on open grazing, stressing that, “development and population growth has put pressure on available land and increased the prospects of conflict between migrating herders and local populations in the South. Given this scenario, it becomes imperative to enforce the ban on open grazing in the South, including cattle movement to the South by foot.”

Read Also: Anti-open grazing: Lagos, Ogun, Edo, Anambra, Osun delaying law

However, investigation by BusinessDay Sunday revealed that currently while a number of states have completely signed the bill into law, a few governors have sent the bill to the Houses of Assembly, whereas some have demonstrated a total lack of political will to pursue the project.

About eight states- Ekiti, Ondo, Abia, Oyo, Delta, Enugu, Bayelsa, and Rivers- have enacted laws banning open grazing.

Whereas in Osun and Ogun states, the Houses of Assembly have passed relevant laws awaiting governors’ assent, in Akwa Ibom and Delta, the law is still in the works in parliament.

There is nothing on ground to indicate that anti-open grazing law is underway in Cross River, Ebonyi, Imo and Anambra states.

The Anambra State government had consistently said it had no plan to enact anti-open grazing law in the state because of “the cordial relationship with herders” in the state.

In Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, is yet to send a bill to the Assembly for consideration despite being aware of the deadline. In the last few weeks, the Governor has received criticism among political leaders and stakeholders across the state, some of whom had publicly protested the delay in sending an anti-grazing bill to the state House of Assembly amid the worsening spate of insecurity in Edo.

Similarly, Imo State is said to have opted out of the resolution of the governors of the region.

Read Also: Anti-open grazing law: Afenifere warns FG against frustrating enforcement

Hope Uzodimma, the state governor, was recently reported to have said, after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, that the state has opted for a partnership between farmers and herders. Uzodimma was reported to have said that there was no law forbidding open grazing by cattle rearers in Imo State.

Explaining the position of the bill in Lagos and why the state missed the deadline, Gbenga Omotosho, commissioner for Information and Strategy, told BusinessDay, that the executive had sent the anti-grazing bill to the state House of Assembly and was awaiting its passage.

Omotosho, however, dispelled assumption that the state was no longer committed to the passage of the anti-grazing law in view of the delay.

“The Executive has sent the bill to the Assembly as soon as they send it back, the Governor would sign it into law. If people are speculating, we don’t buy into that; the Assembly is yet to send it back, the Assembly has to do its own part,” Omotosho said.

In Ogun State, Governor Dapo Abiodun is yet to assent the Animal Grazing Regulation and Cattle Ranch Establishment Bill 2020 passed last month by the Ogun State’s House of Assembly.

The bill passed on July 8 puts offenders at the risk of three-year jail term.

Waheed Odusile, commissioner for Information in Ogun State, told BusinessDay that he could not comment on the issue at the moment, adding that he would make further findings.

Similar situation exists in Osun State where Governor Adegboyega Oyetola has not signed the anti-open grazing bill recently passed by the Osun State House of Assembly.

The Osun Animal Grazing Regulation and Cattle Ranches Establishment Bill 2021 was passed by the Assembly after its third reading with stakeholders and political leaders applauding the decision.

The move to ban open-grazing is coming amid plans by President Buhari to recover grazing routes across Nigeria. The President recently approved recommendations of a committee to review 368 grazing sites, across 25 states in the country, and to determine the level of encroachment.

In the last few weeks, several groups and individuals have urged Southern Governors to forge ahead with their plan.

The Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, in a communiqué signed by Jare Ajayi, national publicity secretary, after a meeting at the Ijebu-Ode home of its leader, Ayo Adebanjo, asked Southwest governors to move ahead to enact the anti-open grazing law in their respective states.

The group bemoaned the worsening spate of insecurity in the country and indiscriminate influx of people to the region, calling on the Federal Government to allow the take-off of state police.

According to the group, “It is a known fact that Afenifere strongly stands by the Southern Governors in their resolution on anti-grazing laws. We commend the steps taken by governors of the South West on the establishment of security networks like Amotekun. We urge them to continue to forge ahead.”

“Afenifere noted with serious concern the unprecedented security problems accentuated by the influx of people even from outside Nigeria. Some of them are disguised as Okada riders. We call on the government and security agencies to put a halt to the unbridled influx of people with questionable intentions,” part of the statement read.

Observers have commended the governors for the decision to ban open-grazing in the region, they say such an idea was not feasible in view of the population of Nigeria and security challenges bedevilling Nigeria.

Meanwhile, amid insinuations in some quarters that the passing of such law was a violation of the fundamental human rights of herders to move freely and associate within Nigeria, Martin Ogunleye, a former Lagos State chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), dismissed such insinuations, saying that the anti-open grazing law does not stop individuals or herders from moving, associating within Nigeria, but saying that anyone engage in cattle rearing should confine them in certain location.

Ogunleye noted that the idea of open cattle rearing was obsolete, unpratisable in the modern era, and should be discarded in view of the population of Nigeria and the security challenges bedevilling the country.

According to him, “Agriculture is not under the exclusive list; so, the state and Federal Government can make law on it. The responsibility of any government is to make law that would benefit the people. If the state feels open-grazing is no longer invoked and dangerous, they can make such a law.

“Almost all the governors are buying into the idea that open grazing is no more feasible in this modern time. If some governors pass a law against that it cannot be seen to be an exercise in illegality; because they have an obligation to protect the people.

“The law does not violate anybody’s fundamental rights, because it is not saying you cannot move; they are saying do ranch to protect your animal like other countries of the world.”

Ogunleye further said: “It is not a violation of human rights. For example, we have a law now, that no one should move from 12am; is that a violation of Nigerians rights? It is because of Covid-19, and the government does that for public interest. So that people would not party late and spread it.

“Open grazing was popular then, not now; what was our population then? I mean in this modern age, it is insane to still be talking about that. In view of this, the spate of insecurity is not desirable.”

Other senior Nigerians have consistently spoken in support of the ban on open-grazing.

Mike Ozekhome, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said the idea of open-grazing was old-fashioned that must be discarded in Nigeria.

He welcomed the enactment of a law banning open-grazing across the Southern states, while condemning those opposed to the law.

“They may probably be afraid that the South has finally woken up and shaken off its Stockholm syndrome,” Ozekhome had said.

His Eminence, Emmanuel Josiah Udofia, Primate of the African Church, frowned at the idea of reviving open grazing at this time, saying those in cattle rearing business should bother about how to take care of their cattle.

“The national grazing routes, I think, is what most Nigerians have been talking about. I think this open grazing should not be a Federal Government issue because I believe taking care of the cows and others – these animals- are owned by individuals; they are not owned by the Federal Government. A situation where the Federal Government now decides to take it as a policy, which is what many people are talking about – it’s as if the whole country is rearing cows. So, I think our President should lead us and know that he is a father to all Nigerians. Our President should see himself as a father to all, irrespective of where anybody comes from as far as the person is a Nigerian, and have deep interest and concern for what each Nigerian is doing,” Udofia said.

‘Some governors are chickening out’

Some analysts have also expressed disappointment over the decision of some governors to step back from the agreement.

A man, who simply identified himself as Jude for security reasons, said he was appalled at the behavior of some governors in the South East towards the law.

“I am not surprised at the behaviours of governors of Imo, Anambra and Ebonyi states. They brought politics into the whole thing. Look at Imo and Ebonyi where the killings have been intense, one should have expected that the governors would be the first to promulgate the law to check the orgy of killing, but look at what is coming from there. It is evident that these are not leaders. They sacrifice the lives of their people for selfish reasons,” Jude said.

Public Affairs Analyst, Kunle Okunade has flatly condemned the refusal of some states to pass the anti-grazing law, stressing that such governors were only working to impress the President and not the people they pledge to serve and protect.

“There is no doubt about how important a law to check open-grazing has become in view of the frequent clashes between farmers and herders across Nigeria, but because in Nigeria, we shy away from the real issues to pursue unnecessary things.

“And it is even surprising that some governors are with the President who supports open grazing. Look at the killings in Ebonyi, are you not surprised that the governor is opposed to the idea because he wants to please the President?” Okunade said.

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