Why is NASS denying knowledge of grazing reserve bill?

Fulani herdsmen promise a showdown with Ayo Fayose

Last week, Nigerian Senators said there was no bill seeking to establish national grazing reserves in all states of the federation. This is true. But the House or representatives does have such a bill. In fact, it has passed second reading. President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration seem poised to immediately sign the bill into law once it is adopted by both the Senate and House of Representatives.

Affirming the President’s support for the bill, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Garba Shehu, said “The president took the matter to the National Council of State where the governors sit with the vice president to solve problems of security. Their decision was that they will go back to all the ideas that had been there before, which is to carve out grazing reserves for cattle rearers. With that, there will be a clear difference between farmlands and grazing land, because it is when cattle are driven into farmlands” that the trouble arises.”

The bill is replete with inconsistences and grey areas. Hajiya Zainab Kure pushed for the bill in the 7th National Assembly. It died then, but it has mysteriously resurfaced again. The Bill’s key provisions includes the following:

  1. To establish a National Grazing Reserve Commission, NGRC.
  2. The NGRC may acquire, hold, lease or dispose of any property, moveable or immoveable for the purpose of carrying out its function.
  3. The NGRC shall have a governing Council headed by a Chairman appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.
  4. Lands at the disposal of the Federal Government of Nigeria can be carved out as grazing reserves.
  5. Any lands in respect of which it appears to the Commission that grazing in such land should be practiced will be taken from owners.
  6. State Governments shall be given notice first before land acquisition and gazetting.
  7. The Commission shall pay compensation to persons affected by any land acquisition.
  8. There shall be no improvements, encroachment, bush burning, hunting, use of chemicals and felling of trees by anyone inside lands acquired and demarcated as National Grazing Reserves or Stock Routes.
  9. Contravention of any of the provisions above shall be punishable by a fine of N50, 000 or 5 years of imprisonment or both.
  10. No Court of law shall carry out execution of its judgment or attachment of court process issued against the Commission in any action or suit without obtaining the prior consent of the Attorney General of the Federation.

The bill does not however state who cattle rearers are. The bill does not state whether all Nigerians of all ethnic groups who rear animals will be allowed to use the grazing reserves and stock routes. Again, the bill does not say how grazing reserves and stock routes will be monitored by security agencies. The bill seem to favor two ethnic groups, Hausa-Fulani, at the expense of over 250 other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.

Stock routes linking grazing reserves from North to South with no security provisions may create routes for invaders to infiltrate and traverse the length and breadth of the country at will. Our security will be thoroughly compromised. The Senate had alluded that the rampaging Fulani herdsmen are not Nigerians. So why provide grazing reserves for them? Why give them an express route from North to South?

The Bill is partly built on the premise of the touchy Land Use Act which Obasanjo signed into law in 1978. The NASS was already debating amending certain provisions of the act. To use such faulty act to build another contentious bill stands logic in its head.

Our suggestions for solving incessant clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers are as follows:

  1. Amend the 1978 land use act to reflect current realities first.
  2. Socially restructure the outdated nomadic way of life of Fulani herdsmen and consider ranches instead.
  3. Cattle rearers should purchase lands following all extant laws and use same for grazing.

This country belongs to all of us. It belongs to no one. To even reason that the current National Assembly is debating and considering passing such a law is baffling to say the least.

(Written by By Solomon Adamu).