Except for one or two renegade states, virtually all the states of southern Nigeria have put in place an anti-open grazing law. The law, wherever applicable, forbids open grazing of cattle. Sanctions will apply whenever there is a breach of the provisions of the law.
The states, as we already know, were constrained to adopt this measure to curtail the activities of killer herdsmen who hide under the guise of cattle-rearing to commit all manner of atrocities. Anybody who knows anything about Nigeria is familiar with what the country has become in recent years. The land is no longer what it used to be. It has been infested with blood. Armed herdsmen have become the lords of the land. They occupy farms and forests at will. Those who challenge them do so at a very grave risk.
The situation is anything but normal. It was, therefore, expected that the Federal Government would take interest in the matter and end the carnage that the armed herder is unleashing across the country. It was also expected that government would bring the culprits to justice. Regrettably, the expectations were dashed. Rather, government has pussyfooted over the matter. It has looked the other way while the country burns. The situation has thrown up a certain monster called Miyetti Allah. It has constituted itself into an alternate government. It challenges state governments and ethnic nationalities to combat. It takes responsibility for killings and arson and nothing happens thereafter. It threatens states, which complain about the menace of open grazing, with sorrow and bloodshed. It tells Benue, the state that first embraced the anti-open grazing legislation, that there will be no peace in the state unless the law banning open grazing is repealed. That is part of the audaciousness that Miyetti Allah has been operating with. The organisation is above the laws of the land.
This state of affairs has been of immense concern to those who thought in 2015 that Nigeria was about to instal a government that would bring sanity to bear on the security situation in the country. They thought that the retired General possessed some magic wand needed to turn the country around for the better, particularly in the area of security. Sadly, those who romanticized about the coming of the tough-looking, tough-talking former military ruler are reaping the opposite of their infertile imaginings. Their mental flights about a new Nigeria have come to nought. They are moaning and groaning. They do not seem to understand how they came to the crossroads.
In the circumstance that Nigerians find themselves, the killer herdsman does not just have the license to kill and maim at will, his victims have no right to protest against their degradation. They are expected to accept the situation with utter resignation and surrender. Those who try to confront the killer herder are arm-twisted by the law. They do not have the right to carry weapons. Those who act outside the law are quickly rounded up and brought to justice. On the contrary, their attacker is licensed to wield the most sophisticated of arms and ammunition. The law is never an ass whenever the killer herder is involved.
It was this state of affairs that led the states, particularly the southern states, to begin to seek ways out of the ugly situation. This has led to the enactment of the anti-open grazing law across the states of the South. But that is one leg of the solution being sought. The other is the implementation of the law. This second leg of the issue is most crucial. Our experience as a people tells us that Nigerians, ordinarily, will not obey any law unless it is enforced.
We are aware, for instance, that the herders have, so far, not respected the anti-open grazing arrangement put in place by the states we are talking about here. Perhaps, it is too early in the day to begin to access the level of compliance. But the fact of the matter is that the law will end up as a paper tiger, if it is not enforced. Ondo State, one of the states that the armed herder has given sufficient trouble, realizes this fact too well. To this end, the state has begun the mobilization of its Amotekun Corps to ensure that the law on open grazing is not flouted. A few days ago, reports filtered in that Amotekun operatives arrested a good number of cattle and their herders for grazing openly, contrary to the provisions of the law banning open grazing in the state. We are told that the offenders will be prosecuted. This is what makes sense. If we adopt the Ondo example as a model, it could be taken for granted that South West states, where the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN) is in place, already have a mechanism with which to deal with perpetrators of impunity as far as open grazing is concerned.
In the South South, I am aware that some states such as Delta have their own security outfits, which they are using to ensure that their states are not overrun by armed marauders from the Sahel. But what about the South East? This region, months back, established what it called Ebubeagu. The security outfit was modelled after WNSN. Ebubeagu, we must recall, was long in coming. The governors of the zone dilly-dallied over it. They moved forward and backward. Today they would announce that the security network was coming. The next day, they would say that they have adopted the Federal Government’s community policing initiative. The governors were simply indecisive. They were caught between their personal interests and the collective interest of the people.
It was in the face of their indecision that the Indigenous People of Biafra stepped in with Eastern Security Network. ESN was, therefore, a child of circumstance. But the Federal Government’s security forces would not let them be. The South East governors connived and colluded with the country’s security agencies to ensure that ESN is rendered ineffective. Then came the ultimate ploy, which was the setting up of Ebubeagu. The governors came together and announced its formation with fanfare. But that has, so far, been the end of the story. The security outfit never came into being, how much more taking off. Ebubeagu did not go beyond the pretentious and deceitful pronouncement made by South East governors.
For the South East states that want their law on open grazing to work, the time of reckoning has come. How will the states ensure compliance by herders? Who will wield the big stick if the herders defy the law? This is where Ebubeagu comes in. Unfortunately, it does not exist.
Generally speaking, the states must go beyond the fanfare of enacting laws on open grazing. They must ensure its implementation and enforcement.