By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa
In recent times, the nation has been awash with news of a certain grazing bill pending before the National Assembly for consideration. Up till now, no one is sure as to the exact purpose for the said Bill, save that it was said to be meant to address the incessant Fulani attacks, especially on farms and local settlements. This Bill has been rejected by all concerned, especially because of its manifestly dangerous consequences on us as a nation.
The grazing bill
Perhaps the best way to start is to examine the details of the said Bill, as it affects everyone. The proposed Grazing Bill is for the establishment of national grazing routes and reserves for the Fulani herdsmen.
The essence of this Bill is to establish National Grazing Routes and Reserves Commission, which shall acquire lands in all the 36 states of the Federation for the purpose of grazing and ranching.
It is targeted to curb incessant conflicts between nomadic herdsmen and livestock farmers and settlers in Nigeria. The central objective is to foster national cohesion and eliminate intra-state conflicts. The bill, when enacted into law, will be known as the National Grazing Route and Reserve Commission. Its functions: When enacted into law, the commission is expected to establish cattle routes, farm camp and grazing reserves in different parts of the country.
The grazing commission, is expected to manage, control and maintain the cattle routes and grazing reserves and farm camps, while at the same time, prescribe those who may use the grazing reserve and the number and type of stocks that may be permitted therein.
Also, the commission will prescribe the parts of the grazing reserve and route which may be used and the times when they may be used. Its major function will be to foster peace in the grazing routes and reserves and at the same time, improve land use and land management.
Notwithstanding this, the Commission’s central objective is to encourage ranching as an alternative to grazing livestock as such the grazing areas shall crystallize or may be used as ranches as Nigeria develops.
As a means of dissuading an abuse of the grazing routes, the bill proposed that no person, other than a government officer on duty shall enter any grazing route or reserve unless he is authorised to do so by this law or regulations.
Also, no person shall alienate any right affecting land included in the Government Grazing Route and Reserve, which has been established in accordance with this Act, by sale,transfer, mortgage without the consent of the Commission first had and obtained.
Furthermore, the bill proposes that if any right within a government grazing route or reserve is not exercised for a period of 10 years, it shall be deemed to have been extinguished.
Again, the sponsor propounds that where a land has been marked a government grazing route or reserve, the Commission may be subject to the consent of the Minister, close any right of way or watercourse where he is of the opinion that there already exists an equally convenient right of way or watercourse.
Procedure for acquiring grazing routes
Reeling out the procedure for acquiring grazing routes, the bill proposes that the Commission, saddled with the responsibility of the route, shall undertake a physical/geographical analysis of the land use in each of the states in order to ascertain the best and most appropriate place to locate the Federal Government Reserve and Route within the said state.
In addition, after having undertaken the analysis of the Grazing Reserves and Routes, the commission will approach each state governor, with the co-operation of the member of the Commission from that state, to negotiate with the Governor to transfer the land to the Commission for the purpose of grazing routes and reserve.
Whenever land has been transferred by the governor to the Commission for use as grazing routes and reserve, the governor is expected to set forth the limits of the lands which constitute the Reserve.
Legal Issues Arising
Section 43 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria grants every citizen right to property, including land and Section 44 says that such land can only be acquired compulsorily, whether by Grazing Commission or any other person, upon proper notice, upon payment of appropriate compensation and if the acquisition is for public purposes. This is also replicated in Articles 12 and 14 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Thus, it is totally unconstitutional to seek to acquire another person’s land to be transferred for the private business of another person. The State must not be seen to be using the powers and instruments of authority to muzzle a citizen in favour of another citizen.
The problem with the bill is that it will soon lead to an upsurge of violence from other places. Surely, there are hunters all over the land who need forests reserves to do business; so also the fishermen and women, who need water reserves and ocean boundaries to carry on their fishing. There will be no end to this, as virtually everyone will love to take advantage of federal intervention to promote their private businesses.
The role of government is to create enabling environment for the practice of trades and businesses, and not directly to take over the responsibility of providing the resources needed for a particular trade or vocation.
In many cases, the local herdsman is not the true and actual owner of the cattle, but rather a representative of some business man who has only invested money on the cattles for the purpose of raking in some profit. So in essence, the herdsman is like a shepherd or guardian of some sort. And if any land is given to him, it will eventually and assuredly pass to the businessman that sponsored him.
Transfer of Land to Foreigners
It is argued that many of the herdsmen are really not Nigerians but are just hiding under the umbrella of language and religion to take advantage of the economy of Nigeria. So the question then arises: how do we confiscate land from Nigerians and then turn around to transfer the said land to foreigners?
It is indeed a burden on the nation to set citizens against themselves in the name of grazing. Already, some people have started reading religious meanings into this development.
Ownership of Land is beyond the Governors
The Land Use Act has not abrogated the ownership of land from the people through the Governors. In fact, section 34 of the Land Use Act has granted a deemed right of occupancy to the owners of land such that even without going through the Governor or obtaining relevant title documents, their ownership is well preserved.
It is in the light of the above that one can best advise the National Assembly to jettison and discard the Grazing Bill as it is wind that will blow no good to the nation.