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Anti-Open grazing law: Herders defiant, dare Southern govs – Daily Sun

From: Tony John (Port Harcourt), Stanley Uzoaru (Owerri), Chijioke Agwu (Abakaliki), Obinna Odogwu (Awka), Lateef Dada (Osogbo), Laide Raheem (Abeokuta), Paul Osuyi (Asaba), Geoffrey Anyanwu (Enugu), Okey Sampson (Umuahia), Obinna Odogwu (Awka), Oluseye Ojo (Ibadan)
Respite which communities in Southern Nigeria thought would soon come to them following the decision of the Southern Governors Forum to ban open grazing is fast turning into a misplaced or dashed hope.
Like an occupying army of invaders, armed Fulani herdsmen have continued on their menace of grazing herds of cattle in farmlands in the region. In the process, the animals utterly destroy the crops as they voraciously eat the leafy greens.
So, when in May 2021, Southern governors met in Asaba, the Delta State capital, and passed a resolution announcing a total ban on open grazing of cattle in their states, they also set September 1, 2021 as deadline for each state to pass laws to authenticate the ban. With the exception of just a few, several Southern states have enacted laws against open grazing.
However, in terms of implementation of the anti-open grazing laws, reports from various states showed that the new laws appear to be mere window dressing aimed at appealing to the electorate, given that the states lack capacity to enforce them. The laws placed on the police and other security agencies the burden of enforcing the ban. In essence, the ban on open grazing has been akin to the case of the toothless bulldog that can bark, but not bite, as the power of enforcement still lies with the Federal Government due to its exclusive control over the Police and other law enforcement agencies.
In Rivers State, Livingstone Wechie, a community leader and public analyst, opined that the law cannot be truly enforced as the Commissioner of Police is not legally bound to carry out the directives of the state governor without clearing from the Inspector General of Police in Abuja.
Wechie said that compliance with the law has been very low as there have been several confrontations between the farmers and herders in Eleme and Ahoada areas of the state. 
“One would have expected the southern governors to work and build security systems with community-based structures to protect our farmers from these marauding attacks. We still hear cases of the farmers being killed by these terrorist-herders the Federal Government claims are foreigners,” Wechie said.
Reports gathered from several communities alleged that some of the herders are being escorted by the military, thereby instilling fear in the community dwellers. Some rural dwellers confided in Sunday Sun that the so-called herders have the full protection of “powers from above.”
They frowned at the energetic efforts of the Federal Government in opposing the ban on open grazing without seeing anything wrong in the horrendous damage being done to crop farmers by the herders.
“The cattle are more protected because the cow’s life matter more than human lives. This stance of the Federal Government has continued to embolden the herders knowing that the government has assured them full protection. This may force the communities to resort to an avoidable option.
Encouraged by the position of Governor Hope Uzodimma, Fulani herders still openly graze their cattle in the streets, roads in the state as well as uncultivated farmlands.
Although reported cases of herders-farmers clash have subsided, most residents in the state still express fears that the present calm may be transient as the armed marauding herders may revert to their old ways without real provocation.
One of the residents who simply gave his name as Mr Collins said: “We have not experienced trouble from these people for some time, they move about on the roads and in my area, Oforala in Owerri-West Council Area, we have not had any trouble with them. But we don’t know how long this will last; maybe tomorrow they will go back to their old ways. The state government should join other Southern governors in condemning open grazing in Imo.”
On the presence of vigilante in the state, a farmer acknowledged that there is no strong vigilante service in the state. “They were scared away by the state government which promised to float local vigilante in the rural areas. We are still waiting for that to happen,” the farmer said.
Meanwhile, the Ebubeagu security outfit announced by the Southeast governors with fanfare is yet to commence operation in the state. 
Three years before the Southern Governors Forum resolved to ban open grazing of cattle, Ebonyi State had since 2018 enacted the Ebonyi Miscellaneous Offences Law against it.
Sunday Sun learnt from the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Cletus Ofoke, that the enactment of the law followed a meeting between the government and the leadership of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), to deliberate on ways of ending attacks by herders on farmers.
Ofoke, chairman of the Ebonyi State Committee on Herders and Farmers Relationship, noted that the 2018 law addressed all the salient issues relating to farmers and herders activities in terms of open grazing and underage grazing.
Despite the existence of the 2018 law, herders have continued to clash with farmers in some parts of the state. Then in April 2021, herders killed over 30 persons in Egedegede community in Ishielu Local Government Area of the state.
The incident, it was gathered, followed a clash between the Fulani herders and farmers in Ishielu communities. The incident generated a lot of concern across the country, prompting the herders in the state to leave on their own accord for fear of repraisal attacked.
In the heat of the moment, Governor David Umahi said that security reports confirmed that the herders had left Ishielu. Since that unfortunate incident there has been no clash between herders and farmers anywhere in the state since May this year.
In a seeming act of defiance, herdsmen still move around various parts of the state, including Awka, the state capital, to graze their cattle at night when the roads are virtually empty. Most residents only see the cow dung litter the paved roads in the morning.
Chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) in Southeast, Gidado Siddiki, told Sunday Sun that the arrangement put together by the Anambra State Cattle Menace Committee was still operational and would likely remain so until a bill, entitled: “Open Grazing of Cattle and Other Livestock Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Bill,” which has been before the House of Assembly, is passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor. It is aimed at banning open grazing in the state.
Under the arrangement, herdsmen pay compensation to farmers whenever their cattle stray into the farms and destroy crops. It’s the same way when a farmer kills a cow.
He, however, told Sunday Sun that his people became confused when the bill surfaced in the state House of Assembly.
He said that they are confused on the next step to take or what would happen when the bill becomes a law.
“Everybody is confused. First of all, a bill has been proposed and our people have no alternative. They have been doing this their business for years. So, they have no alternative because the bill will soon become a law.
“For now, we have no challenge, but what we are scared of is, you know that some people are ignorant of what the bill is. So, when they hear that the House of Assembly has passed a bill, some people may use that opportunity to attack our people.
“Nothing has happened yet. I am not saying that they’re attacking our people, no! Nobody has attacked our people, but we don’t know what the consequences of that bill will be when it becomes a law”, Siddiki said.
Herdsmen in Osun State are not fully obeying the anti-open grazing law signed by Governor Adegboyega Oyetola, Sunday Sun has gathered.
They still move around with their cows and no punishment has been meted out to any violators of the law. However, there appears to be a good relationship between the government and the herders, and there is relative peace.
The chairman, Committee on Fulani/Bororo and Crop Farmers, Hon. Mudashiru Togun, who spoke with Sunday Sun, said that there has been no confrontation between farmers and herders in the state.
“We don’t have any problem in Osun with or without anti-open grazing law. There is no issue at all. Osun has been peaceful and will continue to be peaceful. As far as herders/farmers are concerned, we don’t have any problem,” Togun stated.
A farmer at Antakiti farm, along Ikirun road, Osogbo, Mr Isiaka Isamotu, confirmed to Sunday Sun that the herders still move around with their cattle.
He said: “We have had issues and we fought seriously. But now, they are very careful to avoid entering farms. Though they still move around, I doubt if they are aware of the said law.”
The Seriki Fulani in Osogbo, Ibrahim Babatunde, said that his members are moving about with their cattle because there has been no issue with the people, even before the law.
“There is no problem between my members and the farmers. We have warned our people not to go to the major roads and they should not enter peoples’ farms. If not because of strangers that are causing the problem, we don’t have issues with farmers because we know that we are going to pay damages if our cattle eat crops in farms.”
The Special Adviser to Governor Adegboyega Oyetola on Civic Engagement, Hon. Olatunbosun Oyintiloye, who held a stakeholder meeting with Serikis and all herders to sensitize them on the law, said that the level of compliance has been commendable.
He attributed the success of the peace to the continuous engagement and sensitization, adding that a mechanism has been put in place to receive complaints from farmers.
“There is continuous engagement with all social strata, non-indigenes, particularly the Fulani. We are seriously having a good relationship with them. We swing into action immediately we receive any report about any issue between farmers and herders. This has helped us a lot,” Oyintiloye told Sunday Sun in a chat.
The Chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAM), Osun State chapter, Alhaji Sulaiman Araokanmi, said that the herders have complied to some extent, saying that farmers have not been complaining the way they used to lament before the law was signed.
He said that the farmers are also planning to select 10 representatives while the herders will also present 10 in each local government to discuss and agree on terms to complement the effort of the government at sustaining peace.
There has been observable reduction in open grazing in Ogun State, even though enforcement of the law against it, recently signed by Governor Dapo Abiodun, is yet to commence. The new law made provision for a six-month transition period. Open grazing is becoming minimal. Before the signing of the law, herders were often sighted grazing their cattle in residential areas and farms, particularly those close to the rivers. The law allows people or corporate bodies to obtain permits from the state to set up ranches.
A resident of the state, Abayomi Arabambi, a public affairs analyst, told Sunday Sun that people are waiting for the expiration of the six months grace period to see how effective enforcement of the law would be.
There appears to be a lull in the clashes between crop farmers and herdsmen across communities in Delta State. Yet, herders still move about with cattle in residential areas particularly within semi-urban areas in the state, even though Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has signed the ‘Delta State Livestock Breeding, Rearing and Marketing Regulation Law 2021.
The enactment of the law has created confusion among Hausa/Fulani community in the state as they claimed that they have not been adequately educated on the subject matter.
There appears to be apprehension among the Hausa/Fulani that they might be attacked by overzealous members of local vigilante in attempt to enforce the law.
Chairman of the Cattle Dealers Association in the state, Musa Shuwa, said that they have been kept in the dark as far as the new law is concerned, noting that the development was creating panic among those in the marketing of cattle.
“There is a big problem, now many people want to return, our traders and others, it is a very serious matter. The situation is very dangerous, we are afraid of these local vigilantes, maybe our people would be attacked.
“The business is under serious threat. Before now, cows will come from Cameroon to Adamawa and then we bring them to the South for sale. But now from Adamawa, cows are being returned to Cameroon.
“The people are afraid because if we bring cows to the Southeast, we might be attacked and our cows rustled. We are traders, the market they give us is too small, so we told our people to stop bringing cattle. But I have told my people to hold on and observe the situation because we don’t have any other place to go from Delta. I have been doing my business in Asaba for over 40 years, most of us have investments here and our children attend schools here.
“However, as we speak now, government has not shown us any designated area for our business; they just left us in the dark. I appeal to government to critically look into these issues and invite us for discussion,” Shuwa said.
Also, Mr Maikudi Ningi said that the people have not be properly educated on the new law and what is expected of those in the livestock business, noting however that as residents, they were prepared to obey the laws of the state.
Meanwhile, the state government said that the enforcement of the law might not commence immediately.
Throwing light on this, Commissioner for Information, Charles Aniagwu, said that it would take another period of time before implementation could start properly.
“No state can even start implementation immediately because after passing the bill and assenting to it, you need to give people time to adjust. You need to give the herders time to either return their cattle or build ranches,” Aniagwu explained.
Corroborating Aniagwu’s views, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Okowa, Olisa Ifeajika, said that a lot of sensitisation would be carried out to properly educate the people before full enforcement would start.
Following the passage of the “Bill to Prohibit Open Grazing, Regulate Cattle Ranching and for Connected Purposes,” into law on Thursday, September 2, by the Enugu State House of Assembly, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi assented to it on Tuesday, September 14.
Since the law came into force, the state has not recorded any incident between herders and farmers.
According to some natives in the rural areas where the menace of the herders used to be pronounced, though the Fulani herdsmen have not stopped open grazing, they seem to be more careful and cautious now.
A farmer from Ukpabi Nimbo in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area, Chief James Enechi said that since the attack at Adani by unknown gunmen where some soldiers were killed and a Police Station burnt, they have not been seeing the herdsmen again around their area.
He said: “For some time now the herdsmen are no more seen around our place here and that was since that problem at Adani. Fulani herdsmen are no longer here. Since that incident, we don’t hear of them again.”
Another farmer from Opanda who pleaded anonymity said that “peace has returned to our area for some time now maybe it might be because of the new law. We don’t see the herdsmen often like before; these days they graze slightly along Opanda and then move into Kogi.”
Some other people said that the herders were still grazing openly around the bushes and forests of the state without any question.
But speaking about the mood among the herders since the bill was signed into law, the Chairman Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Southeast Zone, Alhaji Gidado Siddiki said that it has not been easy for them.
He, however, confirmed that they were still grazing openly, but with serious caution to their members to avoid destruction of food crops.
He said: “The life is not easy, everybody is in fear, but nothing has started happening, our people are just grazing as they were doing before. We have told them that they have to be careful about destruction of food crops. We said that if they did not destroy anything, all these things will not even arise.
“The law has been passed, we are law-abiding citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, we have to abide, but we are scared, let some people not use the opportunity because there is a law and start attacking my people. But as at now nothing is happening.
“Already there is an existing Committee in the Government House Unit which the governor appointed which is always mediating between the herdsmen and the farmers and up till now they are resolving matters.
“So what we are saying is that we are not against the law, but what we are saying is that we need to get another alternative. If you say stop what you are doing then you need to get something that we will be doing. If they can get us how we can drop our cow, we will train our people, but it will take a long time at least five or six years to train our boys for them to acquire lands where they can build this modern system. Things have changed and we most change, but it has to be gradual, it cannot be done abruptly.”
Meanwhile, nobody has been arrested over the anti-open grazing law and nothing has been seen in the area of any move to make ranches.
Despite Governor Okezie Ikpeazu signing the bill on anti-open grazing, passed by the state House of Assembly, into law, Fulani herdsmen are still moving about with their cattle in every nook and cranny of the state as if there was no law against the practice.
The most worrisome aspect is what is happening in the heart of the commercial city of Aba. In the Waterside axis of the city, the herders intermittently march their animals along the stretch of Ikot Ekpene road, a major entry point to the city.
Movement of cattle on this popular road from where they get to their various grazing points, apart from creating an eyesore with the dung splattered along the road, they equally constitute enormous nuisance to the commuting public, with the attendant hazards as most accidents that occur on that portion of the road, 80 per cent are attributed to the movement of these animals on the road.
Apart from enacting the law and tinkering with the idea of relocating the abattoir at Waterside and re-establishing the cow market there at Ukwa West, which it has lacked the political will to actualize, the state government has actually not done much to enforce the law, and no violator has been arrested for contravening the law.
The state government has, however, extricated itself from blame in this regard.
According to the Commissioner for Information, Chief John Okiyi-Kalu, it was the duty of security agencies in the state to enforce laws of the land, including the anti-open grazing law. But this is not being done. The result is that the people are still at the mercy of the herders in the state.
A farmer from Umuobasi Ukwu, Ozuitem, in Bende Local Government Area of the state, Mr. Maduka said they were still suffering in the hands of the herders as their cows continue to destroy their crops. He said they chose to keep quiet for peace to reign because the last time the villagers had issues with the herders, police supported the herders.
“That we kept quiet this while doesn’t mean all has been well with us. The last time we had issues with them, the police was on their side, so we have decided to apply wisdom this time around.”
Another farmer, Peter Egbuta from Umuhu Ezechi, one of the communities serving as pasturing fields for the herders, their crops are being continually destroyed by cattle. He appealed to the government to do something to save them from the herders.
As the anti-open grazing law is not being enforced, coupled with the “suffering and smiling” attitude of the natives, having been so presented with conducive atmosphere in Abia, the herders have nowhere to relocate to but are instead occupying deeper portions of the forests of Abia North and grazing their cows along which ever route they choose, unhindered.
With the free hands given to herdsmen to operate in the state, they go to any length with their cattle in search of fresh grasses.
Herders in Cross River State are still moving around with their cows grazing openly in defiance of the resolution of the Southern Governors Forum.
They have been emboldened in this regard by the fact that Governor Ben Ayade has not yet signed the Anti-Open Grazing Bill passed by the House of Assembly in 2017 into law.
The Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon. William Jonah Eteng, had disclosed that the state was one of the earliest to pass law against open grazing.
He said the House still stands by the law and urged the governor to sign it into law considering the security situation in the country.
The absence of the law has caused some confrontations between herders and farmers in some communities in the state.
Investigations by Sunday Sun revealed that there is a feud between cattle herders and youths of Nde community in Ikom and in Biase communities.
The youths of Ikom and some community leaders are said to have risen against the massive destruction of farmlands in their place and, therefore, gave the herders ultimatum to evacuate their cattle.
There has been tension since the ultimatum expired on September 30, 2021, with the youths insisting that the herders must leave their land.
Village source said the security operatives give cover to the herders and even manhandle the youths in the community for daring to confront the herders.
The lawmaker representing Ikom II State Constituency in the State Assembly, Hon. Elvert Ayambem, admitted that there is growing tension in the community due the clashes between the herders and the youths and if not handled urgently it may escalate.
In Biase community, the story is the same as herders and farmers have also clashed and the community have also asked the herders to leave the community.
A community leader in Obubra, Chief Samuel Agbor, said that it is surprising that the herders are just moving freely in the state as if nobody matters.
The convener, Igangan Development Advocates (IDA) in Ibarapa North Local Government Area of the state, Diran Oladokun, told Sunday Sun, that for the past few months, there has not been open grazing of cattle in Aiyete, Tapa and Igangan.
However, there has not been implementation of the anti-Open Grazing Law in the state, adding that the pressure from the powers that be from the federal level is applying.
He stated that the state government needs the support of all and sundry to implement the anti-Open Grazing Law, which according to the Special Adviser to Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State on Security Matters, Mr Fatai Owoseni, a former Commissioner of Police in Lagos and Benue states, was already in existence before all the governors in the Southern part of Nigeria, agreed to ban open grazing in their states.

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