•Bill for the law passed 2nd reading in Enugu, ready for public hearing
•Agreement with herdsmen not enough — Anambra citizens
•Govs failure to enforce ban, sign of disconnect with the people — Abia monarch
•South East Govs must show greater commitment— Ohanaeze
•No anti-open grazing bill yet with Ebonyi House of Assembly
•Govs should show commitment in implementing the ban on open grazing — Isiguzoro
By Anayo Okoli, Vincent Ujumadu, Dennis Agbo, Peter Okutu, Ugochukwu Alaribe, Chinonso Alozie, Chinedu Adonu, Steve Oko & Emmanuel Iheaka
LESS than one month to the deadline by the Southern Governors set by the 17 member states of Southern Governors’ to enact laws banning open grazing as a way of tackling the murderous and destructive activities of Fulani herdsmen, it seems that some South East Governors are not taking the matter serious. The Southern Governors’ Forum, at its meeting on 5th July, directed member states to pass the anti-grazing law by 1st September 2021.
In the South East, Abia State said it already has a law in place against open grazing, but that the law enforcement agencies, particularly the police have been reluctant to enforce it. In Enugu State, the Bill to enact the law has just passed 2nd reading in the House of Assembly.
Anambra State seems not to be interested in making the law at all claiming that the state has a standing compensation arrangement for farmers and herders in case of destruction by either side.
But with the arrangement in place, clashes between Fulani herders and communities have been going on.
In Imo State, the House of Assembly said it has commenced work on the bill on open grazing law but said that it is still at first reading stage. However, Ebonyi seems not to be interested in making the law as it is not yet made any move towards it. No bill on the law is with the State House of Assembly.
The situation is worrisome because their counterparts in the South West and South-South have either enacted the law or have gone very far in making the law. The question is, why are South East governors reluctant to make the laws to protect their people and their farms even when some parts of North, including Katsina, President Muhammadu Buhari’s State, have outlawed open grazing? Who are southeast governors afraid of?
While the South East governors are not too eager to enact anti open laws, the activities of the murderous herdsmen have continued unabated. Enugu, Ebonyi, Abia and all the states in region are still under attacks.
In Anambra State, up till now, the state is still operating the gentleman’s agreement reached with the herdsmen in which compensation is paid for damages incurred on either side. Nothing indicates that the state intends to enact any anti-open grazing law.
Although the state House of Assembly made attempt to pass a law against open grazing in the state, the law was later stepped down and despite the stand of the southern governors on the issue; the state has not done anything.
Under the said standing agreement with the herders, compensation is paid by either side in case of any destruction of lives and property and there is a joint task force in charge of the matter. However, some respondents in the state who spoke on the matter faulted the gentleman’s agreement, arguing that it was wrong to equate human lives with cattle.
Mr. Adimora Nnalue, a community leader from Omor in Ayamelum local government area of the state, said there is no justification for the state government not to have a law banning open grazing in the state in view of the enormous destruction the herdsmen have caused in the state, particularly in all the local government areas in Omambala section of the state.
Nnalue said: “For years, we were suffering so much in the hands of the herdsmen who were grazing openly on our farms and raping our women. Although we devised a means of protecting ourselves from the herdsmen, we expected the state government to enact a law that would make it an offence for people to allow their cows to enter into farms and destroy crops.
“We were happy when a bill was introduced in the State House of Assembly on the matter, but our people were disappointed on hearing that the bill was stepped down. The stepping down of the bill gave the herdsmen the impetus to increase the tempo of their destruction of crops on our farms.
“We also thought that the mandate given by the Southern governors for such a law to be promulgated in all states in the south would have made the state lawmakers to step up the fight against open grazing, but nothing seems to be happening.”
Although there was a drop on the rate of marauding of cattle on Anambra forests some months ago, the sight of cattle in many communities has become common in recent times.
Chief Emmanuel Okeke from Awka said the reason for the re-emergence of the cows on Anambra roads was because the herdsmen felt that government was protecting them and they may be right.
“I don’t know why our governors are afraid to fight these herdsmen headlong. By refusing to enact laws against open grazing, the governors are encouraging a kind of confrontation with the herdsmen which is what our people do not want. The herdsmen who are flooding our various communities are only banking on the assumption that the governors lack the political will to fight them and this is very unfortunate,” he said.
The paramount traditional ruler of Abriba Ancient Kingdom, Eze Kalu Kalu Ogbu, Enachioken Abiriba, has expressed worry over the reluctance of South East governors to enforce the ban on open grazing, saying it shows the level of disconnect between leaders and the led.
According to him, if leaders actually feel the pains of the led, they would hastily take actions to protect their interest.
His words: “It shows the level of disconnect between the leaders and the citizens. If you live among the people and see the anguish of a mother who returns home from the farm daily crying for the destruction of her farm, you will not hesitate to enact the laws banning open grazing in your state.
“If you ever go to farms where cassava is uprooted on daily basis to feed the cows, you will never hesitate. If you have ever seen your mother return home from the farm crying, not because her farm has been destroyed by the herdsmen, but because she has just been raped by an unknown herdsman, then, you will never hesitate to do the needful.
“Some of the governors are not in touch with reality in the Igbo nation. Some of them are political stooges of the Fulani oligarchy in Nigeria. They are in Igbo land serving not the interest of the people but the interest of their masters.
“Also, the 2023 presidency is another factor. Some of the governors who are nursing the ambition of running for the election do not want to cross and alienate any part of the country now. For them, it will be too dangerous to pick such fight at this stage. At the detriment of their people; is this not insensitivity?
“However, we cannot be too quick to condemn all of them yet. At least, I am aware that Abia State has a law. This law has been in existence before the call by the southern states. In truth, the law enforcement agencies have disappointed us in this regard. Finally, it is all about the political will”.
In his contribution, the Co-Chair of Interfaith Peace and Dialogue Forum, Bishop Sunday Onuoha called on the South East governors to quickly “meet and identify the peculiarity of each state”.
The former Presidential Assistant on Privatization, expressed concern that farmers in the region have continued to suffer heavy losses from the activities of herdsmen while no intervention seems to be coming from government. He urged the necessary stakeholders to quickly address the menace.
In Enugu State, the House of Assembly has begun debates on a bill to ban open-grazing of animals in the State. The leader of the House, Mr. Ikechukwu Ezugwu, introduced the Executive Bill for its first reading on 10th of August 2021. Specifically, he told members that the bill seeks to regulate cattle ranching and to secure lives and property in the state. He promised that the bill will pass through all legislative processes, including a public hearing.
True to the promise, the anti-open grazing bill has been slated for public hearing, to get the input of the public. Speaker of the House, Hon. Edward Ubosi directed the House joint committees on Agriculture, Judiciary, and security to conduct a public hearing on the open grazing bill.
According to Ubosi, the public hearing would enable residents of the state to make contributions on the bill, which he said will give farmers the confidence to go back to their farms. He said that many of his constituents requested for the bill’s accelerated passage.
He said that it was a popular bill which has excited the people of Enugu State.
Leading the debate on the bill, leader of the House and the sponsor, Hon. Ikechukwu Ezeugwu, argued that the government can’t pretend to be ignorant of clashes between farmers and herders, which have resulted in the destruction of lives and properties in the state.
Ezeugwu noted that security of lives and properties were the primary responsibilities of the state government and said that the bill will ban anybody from rearing cattle in the state on foot. He said that it would be an offense for an underage child to rear cattle during school hours.
According to the lawmaker, anybody interested in rearing cattle should get land, and set up a cattle ranch, emphasizing that the era of open grazing was over in Enugu State.
In his contribution, the member representing Nkanu West state Constituency, Hon. Iloabuchi Aniagu, described the bill as one of the most important bills introduced in the 7th Assembly, saying that with the introduction of ranching, farmers will resume their farming activities without fear of herders invading their farmlands.
In addition, he said that law when in place, will help the government as well to increase the food sufficiency of the state and in turn increase the state revenue generation from agro value chains.
Hon. Jeff Mba representing Oji-River Constituency said that the anti-open grazing bill will move Enugu State to 21st-century lifestyle.
Hon. Ezenta Ezeani representing Igbo-Etiti Constituency pleaded the support of his constituents for quick passage of the anti-open grazing bill to curtail clashes and destruction caused by herders in the area.
In Imo State, the House of Assembly said the members have commenced debate on the anti open grazing bill. The Spokes-person of the House of Assembly, Johnson Duru, representing Ideato State Constituency, confirmed this to South East Voice, in Owerri.
Duru who said the bill was still at the first reading stage, explained that part of the process before the bill would be passed into law, would be to subject it to public hearing to ensure public participation in the enacting the law.
He assured that the process would be actualized on time considering the importance of the bill to the members of the public.
“The Imo State House of Assembly has started working on the bill on ban on open grazing. The bill is at the first reading stage. Before the passage of the bill, there will be a public hearing so that members of the public will participate in the process to make the law”
In Ebonyi State, there is no sign that the government wants to enact the anti-open grazing law. This was confirmed by the lawmaker representing Ivo State Constituency in the Ebonyi State House of Assembly, Hon. Oliver Osi, who said that no bill has been forwarded to House of Assembly regarding the anti-open grazing law.
Herdsmen are seen on foot with their cows grazing in different parts of the state apart from Afikpo North Local Government Area of the State. The people of the area came up with a law banning open grazing and killing of cows in any locality within the Afikpo North council.
According to them, if you want to eat cow meat, you must kill the cow outside the Local Government Area, and then, bring in the meat for consumption.
Osi, however, said that the House was still expectant that an executive bill banning open grazing would soon be sent to the House for consideration on the issue.
“For now, no law has been forwarded to the House in that regard, but we are still expectant”, the law maker said.
A youth activist and former President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Wing, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, in his contribution, urged the governors of the South East zone to show greater commitment in the implementation of the ban on open grazing of cattle in the zone.
Isiguzoro, however, alleged that there exist attempts by the Federal Government to intimidate and frustrate governors from implementing the ban of open grazing of cattle in the South East zone.
He also accused some governors in the region of playing double standard and toying with the security of their people by failing to act on the resolution of the Southern Governors Forum to implement the ban on open grazing of cattle.
“Ndigbo wants the South East Governors to show greater commitment to implement the ban on open grazing of cattle n their states. Ndigbo have also noted attempts by the federal government to intimidate and frustrate some governors, especially those in the opposition political party. There are attempts to arm-twist the South East Governors to resist the ban on open grazing. These include denial of intervention funds for economic and environmental projects.
“The moods of some south East Governors shows that they are determined to implement the decisions of Asaba and Lagos meetings; but one or two Governors have avoided the meetings or failed to act on the resolution of the Southern Governors Forum, especially the Imo State Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma. Ndigbo will not hesitate to sanction any Governor that fails to implement the ban on open grazing.
“We have faith that the Abia, Enugu and Ebonyi Governors, will implement the ban on open grazing of cattle. The Governors need to show genuine commitments to the implementation of the ban.
“We are aware that the Abia State House of Assembly has since 2018 passed the law on anti open grazing. It was also signed into law in 2018 by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, but the police in the state have refused to implement the law because of the body language of the federal government.
“So, you can see that the federal government has been frustrating the implementation of the law against open grazing to the advantage of the killer herdsmen who have been killing people, raping women and taking over farm lands in the South East.”
“We urge Governors of the South East zones to prioritize the welfare and security of their people as security and welfare of the people are the primary purpose of government”, Isiguzoro said.