THE CRAZY GRAZING BILL - MICHAEL DEDON
The proposed Grazing Bill for Fulani herdsmen is an invitation to anarchy in an already volatile country like Nigeria. The Bill is already before the National Assembly and has successfully scaled through second reading in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. All that is left in the legislative process to make it a law is a 3rd reading, that is, a clause by clause debate and then assent by the President. The proposed piece of legislation is full of unconstitutionalities, ethnic discriminations, fundamental human rights violations, religious tenets violations, conspicuous criminal omissions and unforgiveable legislative indiscretions.
The full title of the Bill is, 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 Bill’s concluding explanatory memorandum says that the Bill seeks to provide for, among other things, the establishment of the National Grazing Reserve Commission of Nigeria, for the preservation and control of national grazing reserves and stock routes in the country. Its key provisions and high points include, but are not limited to, the following:
1. To establish a National Grazing Reserve Commission (NGRC), a body corporate.
2. The NGRC may acquire, hold, lease or dispose of any property, moveable or immoveable for the purpose of carrying out its function.
3. The NGRC shall have a governing Council headed by a Chairman appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate with members representing the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Water Resources, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Environment,Housing and Urban Development, the National Commission for Nomadic Education and shall also have a Director General.
4. To raise monies by way of grants, loans, borrowing, subsidies and donations.
5. The following lands may be subject to the provisions of the Act to be constituted as National Grazing Reserves and Stock Routes:
(a) Lands at the disposal of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
(b) Any lands in respect of which it appears to the Commission that grazing in such land should be practiced.
(c) Any land acquired by the Commission through purchase, assignment, gift or otherwise howsoever.
6. State Governments shall be given notice first before land acquisition and gazetting.
7. The Commission shall pay compensation to persons affected by any land acquisition.
8. There shall be no improvements, encroachment, bush burning, hunting, use of chemicals and felling of trees by anyone inside lands acquired and demarcated as National Grazing Reserves or Stock Routes.
9.Contravention of any of the provisions in (8) above shall be punishable by a fine of N50,000 or 5 years imprisonment or both.
10. No Court of law shall carry out execution of its judgment or attachment of court process issued against the Commission in any action or suit without obtaining the prior consent of the Attorney General of the Federation.
11. For the time being, the Commission shall report to the Honorable Minster for Agriculture and Water Resources.
12. Native communities referred to in the Bill shall be any group of persons occupying any lands in accordance with, and subject to native law and custom.
13. Stock Routes shall mean tertiary or secondary or inter-state stock routes linking two or more States together or leading from grazing reserve to grazing reserve.
14. When passed into law, the Act shall be cited as The National Grazing Reserve Commission (Establishment and Development) Bill 2008.
The implication of this piece of legislation is that the National Grazing Reserve Commission may seize any choice land in any part of the country and compulsorily acquire it for grazing purposes. For whose use are the grazing reserves and stock routes to be acquired? The Bill does not say. It will simply create grazing reserves and stock routes for nomadic cattle rearers who we know are of one ethnic group – Fulani. The clause cattle rearers in the Bill can as well be replaced with the word Fulani, and it will be seen that it is purely meant to serve the interest of one ethnic group out of over 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria.
Passing this Bill into law has the tendency of encroaching on the fundamental rights of other Nigerians to own land and do with it things other than grazing. Farmers may become displaced in their own communities and there is nothing in the Bill stating how they will be resettled should this happen. The Bill is a clear attempt to hand over the entire country, its economy, its land, its citizens, its security and its future into the hands of one tribal group – the Fulani.
It beats ones imagination why the govt will be thinking of entrenching a primitive practice of a people instead of thinking of ways of modernizing cattle rearing like establishing ranches and bringing fodder to the cattle instead of taking the cattle to the fodder. If the bill is passed, unspecified but huge federal funding would be used to acquire land and develop same just to preserve a primitive life style of a few people who have refused to partake in the technological and social advancements that the country has recorded. Cattle rearing is a big business and many of Nigeria's leading elites are the real owners of the cattle and not those ragtag lot driving them about wielding sticks and AK-47s. Why can't these big men acquire land, set up ranches and grow the industry together with paying taxes?
The Bill by implication also contravenes the Land Use Act. The Land Use Act provides that “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”. The Grazing Reserve Commission Bill is in direct contraventions of this provision as it does not serve the ‘common benefit’ of all Nigerians but a chosen few. Just as cattle are very valuable assets to the nomads, so is the land to the agriculturalists and none of us is superior to the other. The govt cannot use a piece of legislation to legalize superiority of one ethnic nationality over the other 250 ethnic groups.
This piece of legislation should be resisted by well meaning Nigerians ad should never be passed into law.
(Special thanks to James Pam for providing some of the materials for this piece)