Earlier, I set out to state my opinion on the bill before the National Assembly proposing to establish the National Grazing Routes and Reserve Commission, and instead, I ended up writing about the un-scalable absurdism that exists in Nigeria or as Nigeria (The choice is yours). Ironically, this piece will focus on yet another dippy piece of legislation by our Rohypnol-starved National Assembly.
To my knowledge, there has been three Bills regarding grazing reserves in Nigeria. One was first presented in 2008 by Senator Zainab Kure, the wife of a former Governor of Niger state. A second one was presented in 2011, while the third and most recent was presented earlier this year by Hon. Karim S. Sunday.
While studying the three bills, I came to realise that they are not entirely different from each other save for some omissions and inclusions. So it can be said that only the first bill submitted for deliberation by Zainab Kure in 2008 was drafted with original thoughtfulness, albeit flawed. The rest are at best, replicas but for future emphasis and reference, the Bill proposed by Hon. Karim will be the one whose content will be analysed.
My first grouse with this bill is that it serves as a means for us to continue to practice our politics and governance of cronyism. Worse still, it unnecessarily increases government’s recurrent expenditure and adds to the number of redundant and out-rightly useless commissions/agencies/parastatals already existing, without contributing tangibly to the growth and development of the country. How did I draw this conclusion? The Bill stipulates that the commission shall have one representative each from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, a representative from the National Boundaries Commission and the Border Committee Development Agency. Now, each state is mandated to establish an office for the commission in their respective Ministry of Land or Ministry of Agriculture, which doubles as my second grouse with this bill as it forces State Governors to establish these agencies despite the fact that these state governments are independent of the Federal Government. The commission to be established by the state governments, will they comprise of representatives from the 36 states, the Federal Capital Territory, the National Boundaries Commission and the Border Committee Development Agency? Will their members comprise of representatives from every Local Government Area in the State? No matter the case, there will be enough positions for cronyism to flourish.
Grouse number two is that this bill seeks to make Nigerians to fund private businesses that will most definitely not bring tangible returns. I hate to refer to one of our worst laws in this country, but I have to. The Land Use Act says “Subject to the provisions of this Act, all land comprised in the territory of each State in the Federation are hereby vested in the Governor of that State and such land shall be held in trust and administered for the use and common benefit of all Nigerians in accordance with the provisions of this Act.” The National Grazing Route and Reserve Bill fail this test as it serves the benefit of some Nigerians and not all Nigerians.
Pastoralism is a type of agriculture, just like shifting cultivation and can be practised by anyone or government. To best explain the preposterousness of this bill, let us say I practise shifting cultivation and I have exhausted/outgrown my personal land, and instead of me to buy or lease a piece of land to continue my type of farming, I approach the federal government to draft a bill that will make it possible for me to have access to land commandeered by the Federal Government which I will pay pittance to make use of. Does this make any sense to you whatsoever? The President as a pastoralist/Herdsman has a ranch to carter for his 120 cows in Daura—that is what it means to be a sensible business man/agriculturalist, not the enacting of laws that serves as means to commandeer land from Nigerians, and import grass from Brazil to cater for private businesses. Like Azuka Onwuka mentioned in his article in the Punch newspapers, the only thing that will make this bill reasonable is if the cattle to be reared by these private citizens will be sold and shared just like crude is sold and shared at monthly FAAC meetings, anything short of that will be unacceptable.
“The essence of this Bill is to establish a National Grazing Routes and Reserve Bill 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.” The above quote is the last paragraph of the bill. This might suggest that the intentions of this bill are of good, but this does not take away a fact that this bill as proposed will help fuel and spark the conflicts it plans to “curb.” Nigeria is a complicated entity and with each passing day, the ethnic divide widens. The clash between Fulani Herdsmen (the fourth deadliest terrorist organisation in the world according to the Global Terrorism Index) and their host communities has been one that has been ignored and brushed aside by different administrations. From kidnappings for ransom, to murder to destruction of food crops and farmlands, the handiwork of the Fulani Herdsmen has been felt and will be felt by every Nigerian (the destruction of farmlands in the Middle Belt will most likely affect the availability and price of food stuff).Some months back, about 347 people were killed in Agatu in Benue State—by these same Herdsmen whom this bill is meant to cater for—and the government’s approach to it can best be regarded as lacklustre. This has reinforced the belief in the communities bearing the brunt of the Herdsmen’s atrocities, that there will be no respite or relief from the government as the Herdsmen have the same ethnic affiliations with people at the helm of affairs at the Federal level. This has also led to the recent plans by communities affected to acquire arms and ammunitions to protect their livelihoods and themselves from these rampaging Herdsmen. Forcefully getting lands from these same communities for these Herdsmen to graze their animals does not in any way look like a good idea from anyone who plans to “Foster national cohesion and reduce/eliminate intra-state conflicts,” it looks more like an idea from someone who is hell bent on starting a civil war. If one of your children steals money from another of your child, you do not foster peace by taking some money from the child whose money was stolen and handing it over officially to the child who stole. As abstract as my example might seem, it is what it is.
It is also pertinent that we note that majority (if not all) of the Herdsmen are of Fulani origin. I am yet to hear of an Igbo Herdsman, a Yoruba Herdsman an Ijaw Herdsman or even an Ogoni Herdsman. So in essence, this Bill seeks to grab land in every state for use by people who are mostly Fulani. In a country where ethnic tensions are at an all-time high, where the fear of ethnic dominance is rife (especially in the South,) there are other better and more efficient ways to start a deadly war, but the passing of the National Grazing Routes and Reserve Bill will be the fastest way. My only problem now is that Nigeria is not ready for this war, and neither am I.
Saatah Nubari is on Twitter @Saatah
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