By Josef Omorotionmwan
GOVERNMENT everywhere has a responsibility to protect the lives and property of its citizens. This is apparently one area where our Government is threading the path of failure.
Not only has it abandoned its duty post but it is also gradually assuming the role of the offender.
It is no longer news that a major part of this country has been turned to a killing field. It is also no longer news that the Fulani herdsmen have openly claimed responsibility for the wanton killings and destruction of property.
What is strange, however, is that the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association has consistently stepped forward to claim full responsibility for the killings. They also proudly accept that the killings are mere reprisals for their lost or killed cows. They have not hidden their preference for cows over man. In fact, for them, ten human lives may not be worth one cattle. Yet, our Government has not lifted a finger to question any of the professed killers.
We wonder which responsible government would constantly stand against the move of God. Right from biblical times, God’s disgust for open grazing has been known. It finds its classic expression in Exodus 22:5 – “If anyone grazes their livestock in a field or vineyard and lets them stray and they graze in someone else’s field, the offender must make restitution from the best of their own field or vineyard”.
Again, under a government that professes the rule of law, advisers cannot continue to feign ignorance of perhaps the oldest subsisting Judgment on the issue of open grazing. Hear Hon. Justice Adewale Thompson in Suit No. AB/26/66 of April 17, 1969, Abeokuta Division of the High Court: “I do not accept the contention of the Defendants that a custom exists which imposes an obligation on the owner of a farm to fence his farm whilst the owner of the cattle allows his cattle to wander like pests and cause damage.
Such custom if it exists is unreasonable and I hold that it is repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience; and therefore unenforceable. Sequel to these, I ban open grazing for it is inimical to peace and tranquility, and the cattle owners must fence or ranch their animals for peace to reign in these communities”. Yet, we have a sitting government that would rather look the other way while the herdsmen carry out their nefarious activities.
Still more nauseating is the obvious fact that not only is the Federal Government aiding and abating the cattlemen, it is also supporting them actively. This is the crux of our fear – the herdsmen’s escapade will never end because those who should end it are part of it. Since the escalation of hostilities, the Federal Government has preoccupied itself on the appeasement of the cowmen – when it is not engaged with establishment of cattle colonies everywhere, it is trying to force states to offer land to the herdsmen to graze their cows. Where things are not proving easy for them, they will resort to acquiring grazing land through the back door.
Yet, no single measure has been proposed for ending the reckless destruction of human lives and property. As long as the cows are protected, nothing else matters.
In the midst of all this, President Muhammadu Buhari’s Executive Bill to annex all Coastal and Riverine lands for herdsmen is currently making waves at the National Assembly. The Bill is titled “A Bill for an Act to Establish Regulatory Framework for the Water Resources Sector in Nigeria, provide for the equitable and sustainable development, management, use and conservation of Nigeria’s surface and ground water resources and for related matters”. The Bill is intended for the Federal Government to take control of all waterways and their banks.
At the end of the war around this Bill, there will be time enough to recognise our gallant soldiers currently engaged in the fight against the obnoxious Bill.
The Bill ought to have been thrown out ab initio because it is at war with the Constitution. This is an attempt to take the people’s ancestral land from the poor farmers and give same to herdsmen for the grazing of their cows. They are doing this without first seeking to amend the Constitution that contains the Land Use Act, which vests ownership of land in State Governors who keep them in trust for the people.
Senator Godwill Akpabio, Senate Minority Leader, has rightly attacked the Bill as a wicked design to remove the means of livelihood of the riverine communities.
Secondly, Senator Akpabio argues forcefully that the modern trend is for rivers to dry up as in the case of Lake Chad where water originally covered an area of 25,000 kilometres. But now, water has receded to an area of barely 5,000 kilometres, thus releasing an additional 20,000 kilometres to the local communities for their farming activities. How justified would it be to deprive local communities of this God-given advantage?
In supporting Senator Akpabio’s stand, Senator Emmanuel Paulker (PDP/Bayelsa Central) harped on the words “River banks” where the Bill says that the Federal Government would take control of all Rivers and their banks. Paulker sees the Bill as an attempt at a total annexation of the entire country. Left loosely, without a proper definition of a River bank, there is really no part of this country that is not a bank of one river or another. While Asaba and Okpanam may be one kilometre and ten kilometres respectively on the bank of River Niger, Igbanke and Oghada sit elegantly on the bank of Orhionmwon River. Who then owns the land?
What Nigeria needs at this time are measures that heal, not hurt; and steps that unite, not divide. This underscores the imperative to throw out the Bill as unconstitutional and ill-motivated. And the time has come for the Federal Government to retrace its steps to human interest measures! It can no longer pretend to be separating a fight while standing solidly on the side of one of the fighters.