Anti-open grazing laws and the hurdles

Media report yesterday to the effect that Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna state has cautioned against politicising the open grazing controversy, saying the new law banning the activity in the southern states of Nigeria is not implementable, is, indeed, a well thought out. As a matter of fact, El-Rufa’i’s admonition is rooted in law, as one of the ingredients of a good law is its acceptability.S

Speaking to journalists Tuesday after a meeting with officials of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the party’s national secretariat in Abuja, Governor El-Rufai said while it is true that herders must not continue with the old practice of roaming about with cattle, the remedy is not in making aws that cannot be implemented. 

Rather, he said, it lies in carefully planning for a solution which is the establishment of ranches. He said the Northern Governors Forum (NGF) agreed that the way to go is ranching. The governor said, already, his government had started the establishment of a ranch in Kaduna, which would accommodate about 1,500 Fulani herders and their families.

 “The Northern state Governors Forum has already taken a position that open grazing is not a sustainable way of livestock production. And we must move towards ranching. But moving towards ranching cannot be done overnight. We have to have a plan, we have to have resources and we have to implement it sensibly. It is not a matter of populist legislation or saying that tomorrow this or that. It is not a solution. We have taken a position as northern state governors and we are implementing that. 

“And in my state for instance, we are developing a huge ranch to centralise the herders. And that is the solution, a long term one. But can it be done overnight? No. This project we are doing will cost us about 10 billion naira. The CBN is supporting us with about N7.5 billion. And it will take about two years to do. We will be settling about 1,500 Fulani herders’ families. And I hope that they will see that there are alternative ways of producing livestock instead of running up and down with cattle going to people’s farms to cause all kinds of problems. We want to solve the problem.

“What is unhelpful is to politicise the situation and pass legislation that you know that you cannot implement. So, we have taken a position and we are working round the clock to implement that position. And these herders emanate from the north and we are going to centralise them. We cannot do it overnight. We need billions of naira. This is just one ranch that is costing N10 billion. I have 14 grazing reserves in Kaduna state and I will like to convert into ranching. Do I have 14 x 10 billion naira? I don’t have. 

“If the federal government will give me N140 billion, I will convert the other 13 into ranches and make sure that nobody comes out with a cow or sheep in Kaduna state because I will have enough ranches to take care of everybody. That is the solution. You can legislate, but let us wait and see. And I wish them the best of luck,” he said.

It is noteworthy that some southern states like Ondo, Oyo, Lagos, Enugu and Osun, as well as the northern state of Benue, among others, have passed the anti-open grazing law. The southern governors’ decision was an outcome of a series of meeting held in Asaba (Delta state), Lagos and Enugu states.  

However, in a move to avert conflict of laws in the federation, President Muhammadu Buhari gave approval to the return of open grazing practiced during the First Republic, where herdsmen used designated grazing routes to move cattle to several parts of the country. The president made this known in an exclusive interview with Arise TV in June, this year.

While fielding questions in the 44-minute long interview, President Buhari said he had asked the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, to begin the process of recovering land from persons who have converted cattle grazing routes for their personal use .

The AGF had kicked against the declaration by 17 southern governors to ban open grazing, noting that it is like northern governors banning spare parts trading. Reacting to a question on the decision by the southern governors and if he agreed with the AGF’s position, Buhari laughingly responded: “You want me to contradict my attorney general?

Although, the herders/farmers’ conflict, banditry, kidnapping and the general insecurity across the country have been largely attributed to the nomadic Fulani herders, any legislation aimed at stopping them from their legitimate means of livelihood could exacerbate the security challenge rather than solve it.

We, therefore, share the views of Governor El-Rufa’i that rather than an outright ban on open-grazing, the southern governors should embrace the global best practice of ranching as a pragmatic solution to the crises occasioned by nomadic cattle grazing. There is no use formulating a law that will remain dormant because its implementation will inflame crises of higher magnitude than it sets out to cure.