By Emmanuel Onwubiko
The bill on grazing reserve is generating furore in the country. The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) is worried by the dangerous precedent that the current Federal Government is on the verge of setting by seeking to pass a legislation that would out rightly deprive other Nigerians, especially farming communities, of their constitutional rights to own landed property as enshrined in Section 44(1) of the constitution.
The decision of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to ensure the passage of the grazing reserves bill into law is an imminent national security threat and must be discarded. The grazing reserves bill, if passed, will undermine the concept of law and order because of its inherent destabilizing consequences.
Nigeria has over the years witnessed confrontations in various parts of the country between Fulani herdsmen and farmers/settlers of different communities. This is besides the incessant threats posed to lives on our transport routes including the airports which have even become free grazing routes. The solution to this problem will enhance the development of Nigeria or at least ensure peace in many communities and save many lives. However, the road to this end is even more of a challenge occasioned by many reasons. A National Grazing and Routes Commission Bill is now being proposed. This work is a review of that bill.
There have been at least three grazing reserves bills in Nigeria with essentially the same provisions as if it were the first bill that is being reproduced afterwards with slight modification. The first was presented in 2008 by the wife of the former Niger State Governor, Mrs Zainab Kure, representing Niger Central at the Senate. The second was presented at the 7th Senate in 2011 and the third and most recent is the one presented earlier this year at the 8th Senate by Hon. Karim S. Sunday. This last bill is the one prominently considered herein.
Although a Press Statement released by the 8th Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria dated April 19, 2016 and signed by Senator Babajide Omoworare, Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, denies that there is currently before the Senate a “National Grazing Bill” in the following words:
“Several Distinguished Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria have been inundated with requests by members of the public concerning the pendency of a National Grazing Bill in the Senate.
This is to clarify that no such bill has been presented by the Executive Arm of Government and none has so far been filed by any Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of the 8th Senate.
For the avoidance of doubt, “A National Grazing Reserve Establishment and development Commission Bill” (SB.60) was presented by Senator Zaynab Kure (Niger Central) during the 7th Senate (2011-2015) which has now expired by the operations of law on 6th June 2015 in furtherance to Section 64(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).”
Our attention is not the debate of whether the bill is still pending at the National Assembly or not but a critical evaluation of the proposed law to the extent of its consistency with extant laws and practicability. It is apposite to point out that laws are not made for fun or in vain.
The legislative duty is one serious business which should not be taken lightly. Every proposed bill should be carefully analyzed and scrutinized against public policy, legal status and practicability.
The long title of the bill was, ‘An Act To Provide For The Establishment Of The National Grazing Reserve (Establishment And Development) Commission For The Preservation And Control Of National Grazing Reserves And Stock Routes And Other Matters Connected Therewith’.
The last paragraph of the bill: “The essence of this Bill is to establish a National Grazing Routes and Reserve Commission which shall acquire lands in all the thirty-six (36) states of the Federation for the purpose of grazing and ranching. This is to curb incessant conflicts between nomadic herdsmen and Livestock Farmers and settlers in Nigeria. The central objective is to foster national cohesion and reduce/eliminate intra-state conflicts.”
First, the bill provides for the establishment of the National Grazing Reserve Commission as the regulatory authority with enormous powers to ensure the enforcement of grazing reserve laws across the country. The Establishment Section provides thus: “There is hereby established a body corporate to be known as the National Grazing Reserve Establishment and Development Commission (hereinafter referred to as “the Commission”). “The Commission shall be a body Corporate with perpetual succession and a common seal and may sue and be sued in its corporate name.”
The Commission is made up of a Chairman appointed by the President and subject to confirmation by the Senate; a secretary; a representative each from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, a representative from the National Boundary Commission and the Border Committee Development Agency.
The duties of the commission include: Designating, acquiring, controlling, managing and maintaining the National Grazing Reserves and Stock Routes established under this Bill. Constructing dams, roads, bridges fences and such other infrastructure the Commission may consider necessary for the purpose of the National Grazing Reserves and Stock Routes.
Identification, retracing, demarcating, monumenting, and surveying of primary, secondary and tertiary stock routes. Conserving and preserving in its natural state the National Grazing Reserves and Stock Routes.
It has to be stated from the outset that the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 is the country’s grund norm from which all other laws derive their lives. To that extent any law inconsistent with it dies to the extent of the inconsistency as stated in Section 1(3) of the Constitution. Very remarkable and worthy of note in the foregoing provisions is the repeated use of the term “practical application”.
Who will deny the fact that the bill is intended to give the Fulani access to lands throughout Nigeria. The motive may be lofty, it is unrealistic and to say the least, illegal.
Provision of grazing reserves across the country and criminalization of contravening acts seem to indirectly redefine the concept of overriding public interest in Nigeria. Cattle rearing is essential but just like any kind of trade.
No trade qualifies for overriding public interest. It is a private sector driven enterprise and therefore using governmental and/or legal instrument to favor just one type of privately run business venture such as cattle rearing is unconstitutional, illegal, null and void.
Dr Ismail Iro, Founder of Gamji.com, in making a case for grazing reserve outlines a number of things about the grazing reserve which are helpful as to whom the intended beneficiaries are. According to him:“Grazing reserve is a piece of land that the government acquires, develops and releases to the pastoral Fulani.
•Onwubiko, National Coordinator of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) blogs @ www.huriwa.blogspot.com.