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Much ado about grazing rights

 By ADEZE OJUKWU
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.  All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.
– Edmund Burke

Nigeria is often denigrated as a land of oddities.  This is rightly so, due to its numerous social, ethnic and religious conflagrations. Few days back, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) took on the Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom over grazing bill.
The State House of Assembly recently passed the bill entitled, “Open grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law,” which criminalizes open Grazing and rearing of livestock in the state. Ortom has severally said that such legislation would promote the economy and protect lives and property of people, especially in Agatu and several communities occupied by suspected Fulani cattlemen.
He also vowed to ensure proper implementation of the bill, when signed into law, while urging security agencies and stakeholders to co-operate with the government and people of the state.  However, in a swift reaction, the group, largely comprising Fulani herders, asked the governor not to sign the law, citing security reasons and ethnic hostilities. North Central Chairman of MACBAN, Alhaji Danladi Chiroma, accused the state government of plans to use the bill to sack all Fulani herders including those indigenous to the state.
His words: ‘Now the House of Assembly is telling them to leave the state, when the Nigerian constitution gives every individual the right to live and practise his occupation in any part of this country.’

He further argued that the bill when signed into law will escalate tension between herdsmen and their Tiv brothers, resident in Makurdi and neighbouring states. Recall that the group and their allies made similar threats last year when Ekiti State Governor,  Ayodele Fayose,   signed a similar law tagged: “A Bill for A Law to Regulate and Control Cattle and Other Ruminants Grazing in Ekiti State and Other Matters Connected Therewith, 2016.”
Of course Fayose ignored their threats, and signed the law warning that: ‘anyone caught grazing with arms or any weapon in Ekiti would now be charged with terrorism and be made to face the law according to certain sections of it.’
The Fulani herdsmen have allegedly continued to cause mayhem and wreck havoc in several communities and farms across the country, due to the uncanny peculiarities of the Nigerian nation, where justice is stood on its head, as every issue is suffused with religious, ethnic and geo-political hues.
The stakes are very high, but the issues are equally very glaring. Evidently, desert encroachment, drought, water scarcity,  insurgency and declining vegetation in parts of Northern Nigeria, have among other factors, forced the indigenous people of the region including Fulani pastoralists  to migrate to the South in search of greener pastures,  often resulting in violent clashes between the herders and host communities.
In verity, there is absolutely no justification for the wanton killings of innocent Nigerians due to forage.
Sadly, the Federal Government as presently constituted, under President Muhammadu Buhari, has failed to disarm these herdsmen, which many have advocated as critical to ending this human butchery.
This failure is obviously a recipe for escalating ethno-religious tensions and anarchy across the  society.
Many have argued that the inability to objectively and equitably address this armed conflict could inevitably trigger a social inferno comparable to the ‘Arab Spring’ that engulfed some Middle East countries including Tunisia, Egypt and  Syria, which has since been embroiled in  a six-year civil war.
It is, therefore, gratuitous that some state governments have taken bold steps to stem the disastrous activities of nomadic herders in their states. In hailing these legislations, many Nigerians expect that most states, particularly Enugu, Anambra, Delta, Ebonyi, Abia as well as other states in the South and Middle Belt regions will take similar measures.
The brazen and wanton killings associated with herdsmen in Nigeria, as well as Central African Republic and other neighbouring countries have continued to provoke national, regional and   global concerns.
Apart from the criminal activities associated with these armed herders, experts, especially agriculturalists and environmentalists have severally warned about the negative impact of uncontrolled and open grazing.
Such adverse consequences include depletion of land and aquatic resources as well as pollution, crop failure and food deficiency.
Others are deforestation, desertification, erosion and mudslides.   It is, therefore, not surprising that Governor Ortom, whose state remains the epicentre of these conflicts has thrown his weight behind abolition of open grazing. According to him, the bill represents the yearnings and aspirations of Benue people who for several years have borne the brunt of violent attacks by nomadic cattle rearers.
His words: ‘What you see in that bill is a decision not just of the governor, or the speaker or members of the Benue State House of Assembly, but the decision of Benue State because the bill was subjected to public hearing and the people were unanimous.’
While southerners are seeking measures to checkmate the menace of rampaging  herdsmen, many core northerners are rooting for more grazing rights and routes for cattle, in addition to intensifying efforts  to curtail rustling. Thousands of unarmed citizens have died and hectares of farmlands  destroyed, while several communities were razed down in  most barbaric manners, due to clashes between cattle rearers and farmers.
The Constitution guarantees freedom of movement to all citizens, but this does not in any way justify the unprovoked and unwarranted attacks of hundreds of villages and towns at night and unholy hours,  hardly sparing women, children and even worship centres.
The lackadaisical attitude by Federal Government and security forces over this contentious issue has  continued to generate public indignation, as many critics accuse the administration of insensitivity and partisanship, despite the human toll occasioned by these  conflicts.  It is obviously a festering sore as well as a litmus test for this administration and the ruling party.
Reports are rife that many farming communities live in fear, due to sporadic attacks by herdsmen, especially at nights.
This anomaly is not only evil but atrocious. Many Nigerians have said so. Farmers cannot continue to be sacrificed at the altar of cow business.
This is an indefensible infraction that must be addressed and urgently too to avoid a conflagration that may undermine the Nigerian union. Unfortunately, the  security agencies  have often been accused of supporting the cattle rearers. When it comes to cattle rustling  security operatives are said to be up and doing.

Ojukwu, a journalist and fellow of Hubert H. Humphrey, writes via  adezeo@yahoo.com

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