Nigeria has witnessed all forms of insecurity triggered by herders-farmers clashes in the last few years.
After many years of crisis between farmers and herders across various parts of Nigeria, the 17 southern governors on May 11 resolved to ban open grazing of cattle in their states.
The governors who made the decisions include Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State, Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, Seyi Makinde of Oyo, Dapo Abiodun of Ogun and Babajide Sanwo-olu of Lagos State.
Other governors at the meeting where the resolution was made were : Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State, Emmanuel Udom of Akwa Ibom, Willie Obiano of Anambra, Diri Duoye of Bayelsa, Ben Ayade of Cross Rivers, Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta, Dave Umahi of Ebonyi, Godwin Obaseki of Edo, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu, Hope Uzodinma of Imo and Nyesom Wike of Rivers States.
PREMIUM TIMES reported that the meeting, which lasted for four hours, took place in Asaba, the capital city of Delta State.
The governors said the incursion of armed herders, criminals, and bandits into the Southern part of the country has presented a severe security challenge such that citizens are unable to live their normal lives.
They, therefore, resolved “that open grazing of cattle be banned across Southern Nigeria; noted that development and population growth has put pressure on available land and increased the prospects of conflict between migrating herders and local populations in the South. Given this scenario, it becomes imperative to enforce the ban on open grazing in the South (including cattle movement to the South by foot).”
The decision of the governors was criticised by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami.
He said the governors’ decision “does not align with the provisions of the Constitution, hence it does not hold water.”
“It is about constitutionality within the context of the freedoms expressed in our Constitution. Can you deny the rights of a Nigerian?
He, however, advised the governors to work towards the amendment of the 1999 Constitution in their move to prohibit open grazing.
“If you are talking of constitutionally guaranteed rights, the better approach to it is to perhaps go back to ensure the Constitution is amended.
But he was quickly tackled by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, who insisted that the decision of the governors was “irreversible.”
He said it was most “unfortunate that the AGF is unable to distil issues as expected of a Senior Advocate. Nothing can be more disconcerting.
He urged Mr Malami “to approach the court to challenge the legality of the Laws of the respective states banning open grazing and decision of the Southern Governor Forum taken in the interest of their people.
“We shall be most willing to meet him in Court. The decision to ban open grazing stays. It will be enforced with vigour,” said Mr Akeredolu, who is also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
Meanwhile, the Federal High Court, Abuja on Thursday affirmed the right of Nigerian states to implement anti-grazing laws in their domains.
Open grazing and insecurity
Open grazing is an old practice of roaming ruminant animals in open fields, plains and bushes in search of pasture or foliage.
The system in the last few years has triggered conflicts between host communities and migrant herders, leading to several deaths in many states across the country.
Aside deaths of different individuals, it has also led to loss of property worth millions of Naira and food shortages due to neglect of farm lands and destruction of crops.
The common way through which open grazing is done in Nigeria is that cattle are taken out to the field every morning for sedentary grazing and during the period of looking for what to feed on, they damage people’s crops.
While some crop owners may get compensated, other incidents would lead to conflicts. Some farmers have in the past also been alleged of poisoning cattle.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the conflicts between herders and farmers have strengthened the debates around true federalism and restructuring which, among other things, will allow state governors to have control over state police.
Both herders and farmers often raise allegations and counter allegations against themselves. It became more pronounced when some herders destroyed the farm of a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Olu Falae.
After the destruction, Mr Falae was abducted by armed herders on his farm in Akure, Ondo State. He reportedly paid N5 million to regain his freedom.
This ,among many other cases, has been reported in the past and has triggered ethnic crises in some South-weststates where locals are demanding the eviction of herders.
Even with the creation of a regional security network code named Operation Amotekun by South-west governors, the farmer-herder crisis continues.
Curbing farmer-herder violence
A security expert told PREMIUM TIMES that if not politicised, the decision of the governors to ban open grazing has the potential of curbing farmer-herder violence in Nigeria.
Timothy Avele, managing director of Agent-X Security Limited, said the ban may have both positive and negative effects.
“On one hand, it will definitely reduce the issue of criminal herdsmen kidnapping because the alibi of staying in the forest in the guise of rearing cows will no longer be there as a cover. More so it will also put a stop to the herders/farmers crisis in the South but triple in the north and Middle Belt.
“I’m afraid if no compromise is reached between the northern governors and their southern colleagues on this issue, it could lead to another bigger crisis altogether. This is beside the Fulani’s expected revolt should the plan come into action. Every side needs to tread softly,” he said.
On his part, Mr Falae, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, applauded the decision of the governors.
“It is obvious that open grazing of cattle in other people’s farms is the source of general insecurity in Nigeria. I knew herdsmen bringing their cattle from the north to be friendly but the relationship in the last 15 years…
“Before then, they don’t destroy farms but rather to sell. The moment there was pressure in the north and desert encroachment in the north, they moved to the south and carried out open grazing. Grazing is a universal activity and virtually all states of the world pass through open grazing but they left that behind centuries ago.
“So, what is left for Nigeria to do is to make a transition from open grazing to proper grazing where the herdsmen will acquire their land, fence their land and secure them. The problem is that the owners of the cattle want to continue to raise them at our expense. That’s the problem.
“I will say once open grazing comes to an end, especially in the southern part of Nigeria, I will say 80 per cent to 90 per cent of the (insecurity) battle is won. The law that says everybody can live anywhere does not guarantee the destruction of other people’s farms,” he said.
Also, the spokesperson of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Emmanuel Yawe, said the group agreed with the decision of the governors.
“We have resolved that carrying of cattle all over the place is not the best. It is not the most modern and it puts herders at risk. We have already decided on ranching and in the last meeting we had with the Miyetti Allah (cattle breeders association), they also agreed with us.
“Even the Miyetti Alllah said open grazing is not allowing their children to even face their education and they are being used for kidnappings because they don’t have skills to do other things.
“They just give them guns and even when they get ransom, they give them less than N10,000. So, they said if the government decides on ranching, they will prefer that to roaming around.
“We do not disagree with the governors except the fact that governors may grandstand. These killings have been happening over and over and we are tired of it too.
“Let the governors work it out. Let them work on modalities to achieve this. They should confine herdsmen on how to do ranching and not make their decisions look political. It is a problem that affects all of us. The ban is part of the solution,” he said.
‘Authorities must be intentional’
While experts commended the governors, they urged them to be intentional with their decisions.
A Nigerian economist, Tope Fasua, said “such a move will help to reduce farmer-herder clashes. The point is that in this modern age, there’s no more fallow land, the population is increasing and if we are in a serious country, the fallow lands should be cultivated.
“Let the governors take this step forward by collaborating with the private sector for mechanized farming. No land should be fallow. Everything should be actively used and it does not require much thinking to know that such a resolution should have been passed a long time ago.”
The Southern Senators Forum in a statement encouraged the governors to swiftly follow up on their resolutions by immediately approaching the leadership of the National Assembly with a view to working with the two arms of the parliament to ensure that their well-articulated positions on the state of the nation are thoroughly addressed through the ongoing constitutional review exercise.
Also, the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) advised that each of the governors should back the decision with the law in their respective states.
The CLO in a statement by its Chairman, Franklyn Isong, and Secretary, Christopher Ekpo, called on the respective governors to initiate bills to their state Houses of Assembly without delay.