By Stanley Uzoaru (Owerri), Tony John (Port Harcourt), Okey Sampson (Umuahia), Chijioke Agwu (Abakaliki), Femi Folaranmi (Yenagoa), Obinna Odogwu (Awka), Paul Osuyi (Asaba), Judex Okoro (Calabar), Geoffrey Anyanwu (Enugu), Tony Osauzo (Benin), Oluseye Ojo (Ibadan), Joe Effiong (Uyo), Lukman Olabiyi (Lagos) and Priscilla Ediare (Ado-Ekiti)
When the governors of Southern Nigeria met in Lagos State on July 5, they were in high spirits to get a lasting solution to the rising menace of deadly herders in the region. The governors had earlier met in Asaba, Delta State, where they took far-reaching decisions.
Thus, in one voice, the 17 governors in Lagos agreed to end open grazing of cattle in their various states in a final move to check the atrocities perpetrated by ‘killer herders.’
They consequently set a September 1 deadline for the various states to enact an anti-open grazing legislation, which they hoped would end incessant killing, kidnapping, maiming and rape of women by suspected herdsmen in the region.
Immediately after the Lagos parley, Osun, Ondo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Enugu states put machineries in motion towards enacting an anti-open grazing law, which our investigation revealed is already existing in Abia, Ebonyi, Ogun, Oyo and Ekiti states. In Imo, during the administration of Achike Udenwa, a similar law existed, but it is not operational in the state.
The Imo situation became clearer when last week, its governor, Senator Hope Uzodimma broke away from the joint decision of the Southern governors to ban open grazing of cattle in their respective states by his public declaration at Aso Villa that Imo State has no law forbidding open grazing by Fulani herdsmen, even when the law already exists in the state.
In this report, Sunday Sun looks at the positions in the 17 states in the South three days to the September 1 ban on open grazing in the region.
In Imo State, a law prohibiting open grazing is already in place . The bill was assented into law on January 19, 2007 by the then governor of the state, Chief Achike Udenwa.
According Section 3 of the law, “Rearing of cattle on the streets, main roads, residential and commercial places in Owerri capital territory and cultivated areas identified as Restricted Areas in Imo State is hereby prohibited “.
While Section 4 says: “A cattle rearer shall not take his cattle into cultivated farms within Imo State.”
Penalties of contravening Section 3 and 4 is contained in Section 5. According to the law, defaulters of Section 3 shall pay a fine of N50,000 while that of 4, the defaulter will not only compensate the owner, but will also be left at the discretion of the magistrate for further punishment.
The current state Commissioner for Information and Strategy who was also a member of the state assembly then, representing Oru West, Mr Declan Emelumba, attested to the existence of the law.
But Governor Uzodimma in a chat with newsmen in Abuja last Wednesday verbally set aside the Imo law and rather asked for synergy between herders and farmers in the state.
The governor who had earlier maintained a stand with the Southern governors on banning of open grazing in Southeast and South-south in a dramatic twist after meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday announced that there is presently no anti-grazing law in the state.
However, Uzodimma on Friday through a statement made by the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Emelumba, said that he was quoted out of context in his comments at Aso Villa, agreeing that a law banning open grazing already exists in the state.
Consistent with his public perception as a no-nonsense state chief executive, Governor Nyesom Wike worked with the Rivers State House of Assembly to secure enactment of the Open Rearing and Grazing Prohibition Law, which he assented to at the Government House, Port Harcourt, recently.
In his remarks at the signing ceremony, Wike said it was inimical to development and peace for any state to condone open grazing, noting that cattle rearing is a form of agricultural business. He said that the law has provision for ranching, which would end the frequent clashes between herdsmen and farmers, resulting in killings.
His words: “It is no longer a story. All of us know what our people have suffered in terms of this open grazing. Today, all Nigerians have come to accept the reality that open grazing is no longer fashionable. Even our brothers in the North have agreed that it is no longer fashionable.”
Also, Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Ikuinyi-Owaji Ibani, while presenting the bill to the governor for assent, said that the new law would serve as “cure to the symptom and the disease of herders and farmers bloody conflict.”
Agreeing with Ibani, the Leader of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Martin Amaewhule, said that lawmakers delineated and gave speedy passage to the bill because of its relevance to the socio-economic progress of the state.
The law also forbade livestock owners or ranchers in the state from possessing or bearing licensed or unlicensed firearms within the vicinity of the ranch.
Reacting to the signing into law the anti-open rearing and grazing, Chairman of Ikwerre Local Government Area of the state, Mr. Samuel Nwanosike, expressed optimism that the law would impact positively on the state.
He assured the people of the preparedness of the 23 local government areas of the state to enforce the law to the fullest. He said that with the law in place, the perennial herders and farmers crisis would become history.
On the key issue of enforcement, he said the government would definitely announce modalities for implementing the law in the 23 LGAs.
Long before the resolution of Southern governors, the “Control of Nomadic Cattle Rearing and Prohibition of Grazing Routes/Reserve Law, had been in operation in Abia State since 2018, after Governor Okezie Ikpeazu signed the bill passed by the state assembly into law.
The law significantly stipulated that cattle could only be moved into the state by either road or rail haulage and also stated that movement of trade cattle to major towns in the state shall be by truck, trailers/vehicles or pickup vans. The law equally prohibited nomadic cattle rearing and abolished grazing routes in the state.
Consequently, the law made it mandatory for any cattle found on any road in the state to be impounded by the appropriate authority or taken to the nearest ranch as may be provided by the appropriate authority in the state.
The law, which makes provision for ranch, stipulated that any violator would on conviction be liable to a fine of N200,000 or six months imprisonment or both.
Enforcement of the law was bestowed on the police. However, the state Commissioner for Information, Chief John Okiyi-Kalu, expressed displeasure over the poor level of enforcement, which he described as unsatisfactory.
“The police have the mandate to enforce the law and the level of enforcement presently is unsatisfactory. We are working on the security authorities to ensure satisfactory enforcement,” Okiyi-Kalu said.
In the wake of continuing herders’ activities in the state since the law came into force, there have been growing concerns over non-enforcement of the law.
There have been attacks on farmers by killer herdsmen in their farmlands in Ndi Okereke Abam in Ovukwu Autonomous Community, Arochukwu Local Government Area, which left scores of the indigenes critically wounded. Also, murderous herders attacked Ozuitem in Bende Local Government Area and killed scores of farmers.
In one of the incidents, the heartless attackers chopped off the fingers of Sunday Oru, one of the victims. Similarly, in Aba, a Fulani herdsman chopped off three fingers of a lady for daring to stop him from grazing his cattle on her farmland.
Oru told reporters that the herdsmen invaded their farmlands and fed their cattle with crops such as rice, cassava, okra and plantain.
In the Ozuitem incident just like in the one before it, the police did nothing when the affected communities reported the incidents. Instead the traditional ruler and some of the indigenes were detained at the police headquarters for allegedly killing the cattle.
With obvious disregard of the anti-open grazing law by the herders not abating, there appears to be no end in sight to the activities of the herders in the state.
Ebonyi State was one of the first states in the Southeast zone to enact a law against open grazing of cattle.
The law became imperative following intermittent violent clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers in the state.
The law had been effective, but without serious enforcement until March 31, 2021 when suspected Fulani herdsmen attacked three communities in Ishielu Local Government Area of the state and killed over 20 persons.
Worried by the development, Governor David Umahi directed council chairmen to use local vigilante groups in conjunction with security agencies in their various communities to enforce the state law against open grazing.
Umahi, who had been very accommodating of the herders, expressed frustration and disappointment over the Ishielu killings and warned violent herders who were still within the state to leave immediately for their own safety.
He also directed the police to work with traditional rulers to enforce the law.
“It is important to emphasize that our law against open grazing of cows is still operational. I am, therefore, directing the council chairmen and the traditional rulers to use the community vigilante in their council areas and localities to enforce this law. Security agencies should also help us to enforce this law,” he said.
When the Bayelsa State House of Assembly passed the Livestock Breeding, Rearing and Marketing Regulation Bill into law on March 9, 2021, Governor Douye Diri promptly assented to it the very next day, to demonstrate the abhorrence of the people to the atrocities committed by murderous herdsmen, who use cattle grazing as cover.
The law clearly and unequivocally stated that any herdsman found with arms, whether licensed or not, should be arrested. It also prohibited movement of cattle on foot from other parts of the country into the state.
Diri, while signing the law, noted that its essence is to ensure harmonious living between cattle dealers and other inhabitants to forestall violent clashes being experienced in other parts of the country. He announced the establishment of a livestock management committee to regulate livestock activities in the state.
“From the commencement of the law, no person shall breed, rear or trade in livestock in the state in any other place as may be designated by the committee and approved by the state government,” he said.
With the law having come into force, Diri warned that any person found engaging in open grazing of livestock would be deemed to have committed an offence, stating that the person would be arrested and prosecuted while the livestock would be impounded.
On March 17, one week after the law was signed, Diri inaugurated the implementation committee to enforce the law. The committee, which is headed by the Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr David Alagoa, has members representing various of security agencies in the state and traditional rulers.
Alagoa in an interview said aside the initial hiccups of implementation all parties in Bayelsa are alive to their responsibilities.
“There has been no violation of the law aside the first time when there was a violation. What we did as a committee was that we invited all parties involved -Miyetti Allah and Butchers Association – for a meeting. We all agreed on achievable milestones at each point in time. Though there were initial issues about compliance, but now everybody understands the law.”
Following in the footsteps of its counterparts in some other states, the Ogun State House of Assembly passed into law a bill sponsored by Hon. Ganiyu Oyedeji, representing Ifo II State Constituency, to regulate animal grazing and the establishment of cattle ranches in designated grazing areas in the state.
However, Governor Dapo Abiodun, as at the time of filing this report, had not assented to the bill, which the Speaker of the state assembly, Olakunle Oluomo, had directed the Clerk of the legislature to send a clean copy to the governor.
Under the bill passed by the assembly, a section prescribed a three-year jail term without option of fine, including the forfeiture of the herds of cattle or livestock under his/her control to the state government except within the permitted ranches.
In a twist difficult to understand, Delta State, where the decision to ban open grazing in southern Nigeria was taken, is yet to pass requisite law. This has led to growing concern that it may not meet the deadline.
Members of the state legislature debated the private member bill titled, Delta State Livestock Breeding, Rearing and Marketing Regulation, during the plenary and sent it to a committee on July 14 after it scaled through second reading.
Mr. Yakubu Reuben Izeze, representing Ughelli South sponsored the bill, which has been stalled in the Joint committees on Special Bills, Agriculture and Natural Resources since July 26 because the assembly adjourned plenary, which is slated to resume on September 21, 2021, exactly 20 days after the expiry of the September 1 deadline for southern states to enact laws on open grazing ban.
When contacted on phone, Mr. Izeze requested a text message, which he responded to very late by simply confirming that the bill was still at the committee stage.
Our correspondent, however, learnt that the bill is suffering a set back due to the demand by the Cattle Dealers Association that at least 30,000 square meters of land should be designated in each local government area for livestock breeding and sales across the state.
Meanwhile, a member of the civil Society organisation, Victor Ojei, has bemoaned the lack of security architecture and logistics to enforce the ban in the state, when the bill is eventually passed into law.
“Nobody is saying anything, no security meetings with the public regularly, no empowerment of local vigilantes through traditional rulers who are closer to their people. Delta Hawk is under-staffed, it does not operate with drones for aerial surveillance.
“No town hall meetings in each local government to get first hand information on the challenges they face from these Fulani herdsmen who go about the state kidnapping, raping, killing and committing all sorts of crime.
“A provision was made in the bill for land use for livestock owners or businesses in the state, but we are hoping that those who will benefit from this compliance with the Land Use Act of Nigeria will not end up violating it,” he contended.
Anambra State which has been under the throe of herdsmen has not enacted anti-open grazing law and there were no indications that the state would be coming with one anytime soon.
Sunday Sun learnt from the Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, C. Don Adinuba, that Governor Willie Obiano has not revealed his position on the matter.
“I didn’t take part in that meeting and the governor has not briefed me on it,” Adinuba said.
A member of the Anambra State House of Assembly representing Nnewi North Constituency, Nonso Okafor, confirmed that no executive bill on the matter had yet been sent to the assembly for consideration.
“As of today, no such law has been passed in the House of Assembly. As of now, no bill has been presented because if it had been, it would go through 1st, 2nd and 3rd readings.
“I can tell you authoritatively that it hasn’t come; except that it has come and it is still with the admin department. Such a bill has not been presented on the floor of the house”, Okafor said.
Asked why none of the members had thought about presenting one to the Assembly, he said: “I actually put up a motion on that, to call the attention of the state government on the need for us to have an anti-open grazing law. But the motion was not debated before we went on recess.
“That motion would bring about discussion for a bill. With the experience in the house, for such a bill to go faster, most times it comes as an executive bill or the house takes it up as a bill that needs urgent attention.”
The people of Cross River State may have to wait for a messiah to come to champion their desire to see the end of open grazing in the state.
The former Speaker of Cross River House of Assembly, Rt Hon John Gaul Lebo, in a chat with Sunday Sun disclosed that the state was one of the earliest to pass the anti-open grazing law in 2017.
Speaking with Sunday Sun, Lebo, a two-time lawmaker and Speaker between 2015 and 2019, said that though the law was passed in the interest of the people, to protect the state’s massive arable land, Governor Ben Ayade refused to assent to it.
He explained that the lawmakers rather opted for ranching because the state lacks empty landmass, adding that the culture of the people does not permit movement of cattle from one place to another because the people engage in arable cropping of cassava, yam, cocoyam and maize.
He said: “We don’t support open grazing in our state. But if it is the culture in the North to move cattle around, no problem, they can do so there. The president under our present constitution does not have land to give to anybody because by the 1975 Land Use Act the lands are under the management of state governors.
“For me I don’t understand what makes the Presidency think that those cattle grazing routes are still in existence because those routes have been overtaken by development. Besides, to be talking of movement of cattle from state to state in this 21st Century Nigeria is inverse development and inverse engineering.”
News of the introduction of the Anti-Open Grazing Bill on the floor of the Enugu State House of Assembly on August 10 brought joy to residents of the state especially those in the rural areas.
The executive bill, which was introduced by the Leader of the House, Hon. Ikechukwu Ezeugwu, who represents Udenu constituency, passed the first reading on the same day.
Within a week of introduction, the bill passed through the second reading and was committed to a joint committee comprising the House Committee on Agriculture, House Committee on Public Petitions, Ethics and Privileges and House Committee on Youths, Sports and Culture, with the Chairman of House Committee on Agriculture and member representing Isi-Uzo constituency, Mrs. Amaka Ugwueze as chairman.
The Hon. Ugwueze-led Joint Committee has fixed Tuesday, August 31 for public hearing on the bill.
Speaking to Sunday Sun on the deadline, the House Leader, Hon. Ezeugwu assured the people of the state that the House would meet up with all that is necessary for the bill to be passed into law, saying, “we are working on it and we will meet up with the deadline.”
However, an Enugu-based lawyer and rights activist, Olu Omotayo, frowned at the lack of willpower being shown by southern governors on the matter, noting that enacting the said law should not take more than one month.
He said: “From my own perspective, the governors have just been using that issue of open grazing as political gimmick. When you are talking of security that is the basis of any democracy. If security is lacking, you cannot be talking of democracy. Every other right starts from that; fundamental rights guaranteed in a democracy setting, stand on this issue of protection of lives and property. There is no way democracy can flourish without protection of lives and property.
“The problem is that the southern governors are just making political statements over a serious matter. Even before their statement, the states have attorney generals, who should have advised them that before you prohibit something there must be a law against it. There is no need for public ceremony. If they are keen as they always say repeatedly, I don’t think to make such laws should even take more than one month, given the seriousness of the attacks we are seeing.
“Because without that law, you cannot criminalize open grazing, so the law is very important to be made by the respective states in the Southern region. So without making the law you have not taken any step further.
“Enugu used to be the capital of the then Eastern region. Any decision taken here will have impact across the old region. So, it is important for the people in authority to make sure they live up to expectations of the people in the Southeast.”
With just two days to the September 1, Edo State is yet to comply with the directive, checks by our correspondent have revealed.
It was learnt that Governor Godwin Obaseki was yet to forward an Executive Bill to the House of Assembly on the issue for consideration by the House.
The Speaker of the House, Marcus Onobun, who confirmed that he was yet to receive the bill, said that he would crosscheck with the Clerk of the House to ascertain if the bill had been forwarded.
“Please, let me find out from the Clerk of the assembly”, he said. He, however, declined to pick repeated calls made to his mobile phone afterwards.
On Thursday October 24, 2019, the Oyo State House of Assembly passed the Anti-Open Grazing Bill into law with a view to fostering peace, promote agricultural business in the state, avoid continuous damage to farmlands, and end loss of lives and unquantifiable investments to constant clashes between herders and crop farmers.
The Speaker of the Assembly, Adebo Ogundoyin, said that all suggestions and Memoranda of Understanding submitted by various groups, agencies and representatives of different communities and tribes at the public hearing on the open rearing and grazing regulation bill 2019 was painstakingly looked into before it was passed into law.
The bill was thereafter signed into law by Governor Seyi Makinde.
However, the law recommends establishment of a task force to be named, ‘Open Grazing Prohibition Task Force’, which will see to the implementation of the law, and would comprise representatives of the state government, security agencies, farmers’ association, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, vigilante and the judiciary.
The governors of the Southwest of Nigeria had in January 2021 unanimously announced their decision to ban open grazing of cattle in the region, owing to the tension between herders and their host communities.
This was followed by the Lagos declaration by governors of the southern region that also set September 1, deadline for all states in the southern part of the country to have anti-open grazing laws in place.
In Akwa Ibom, the governor’s executive bill on anti-open grazing was still awaited as at Friday. The Chairman of the state House of Assembly Committee on Information, Mr Aniefiok Dennis told our correspondent that information at his disposal had it that an executive bill through the state attorney general would be sent to the House of Assembly.
“But at the moment we have one that was sponsored by the member representing Mkpat Enin State Constituency, Bar Victor Ekwere. It has passed through first reading. But we have information that the governor is about to send in an executive bill. If they come with that one we will just marry the two and do the needful. But if they don’t come, we have to continue with the one we have.
“ I think we still have time and we can suspend every other thing and go ahead with it and have a public hearing so that members of the public would come and make input.
“We are looking at doing something about it next week. Though we have the bill, we would like to have the executive bill and marry the two because the Southern governors appear to have had a template of the law.” Dennis explained.
When contacted, the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Uko Udom, simply said; “The process is ongoing”.
Barely three days to the deadline, which Southern governors set for their states to pass laws against open grazing, investigations have shown that Lagos State is not bothered about the ‘September 1’ deadline as the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu had not yet transmitted an Executive Bill on the matter, to the state assembly.
As at the time of filing this report, a credible source within the Lagos State government said that going by the body language of the governor, he would not join in the bandwagon of southern states enacting laws against open grazing.
The Majority Leader, Ekiti State House of Assembly, Hon. Olugboyega Aribisogan, said: “The law was enacted in 2017 in Ekiti State and it has remained in force ever since. At the commencement of the operation of that law, the state government set up a task force which they codenamed Anti Grazing Task force for Ekiti State.
“This Task force has been monitoring and enforcing all the clauses in the law making sure that there are no violation of that particular law and in the cause of their operation, violators have been arrested and prosecuted in the court of law, some have been fined, some have been sent to jail and some cattle were confiscated by the government of Ekiti State.
“This has practically reduced the incident of farmers-herders’ clashes in Ekiti in the last three years and we have been able to proliferate this particular law into some other South western states and even the one being operated by other South western states was taken from Ekiti State and we have in the last three years been operating that law without so many problems. Up till I am speaking to you there are cases of violators that are still pending in court.”