Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper
The passage into law of the Anti Grazing Bill 2016 by the Ekiti State House of Assembly is a landmark development in the effort to control violent herdsmen who, of recent, have wreaked havoc in different communities across the country. Chances are that ulterior motives would be read into the enactment of the law and ethnic jingoists would seek to play Nigerians against one another as a result. But the truth is: Ekiti State lawmakers have simply made a law for peace in the state and it is better than allowing anarchy to reign.
Hundreds of innocent citizens have lately been butchered in the orgy of blood-letting while large hectares of farm crops have been destroyed by the dreaded herdsmen. Their impunity and recklessness have raised so much concern and apprehension that Nigerians genuinely worry that another variant of Boko Haram insurgency may be poised to overrun Nigeria.
By promptly signing the bill which his executive arm initiated, into law, Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose has demonstrated that the solution to the menace of the herdsmen may be in the hands of the states and not necessarily that of the Federal Government, which, nonetheless, has proven incapable of addressing the problem. Given the spate of killings by the herdsmen, the Ekiti initiative has indeed become an example of how to tackle the problem with the law.
As chief security officers of their states, governors have the constitutional responsibility to protect their people. On that account, other state legislatures may wish to seize the initiative and make laws for the good governance of their people.
The bill was sponsored by the Ekiti State executive arm of the government following the killing of two persons by suspected herdsmen in Oke Ako community in Ikole Local Council Area of the state.
The herdsmen, in large numbers, reportedly invaded the community and, as usual, with dangerous weapons like guns, bows, arrows, swords and machetes hacked down many people in the ensuing melee.
Similar attacks had been unleashed within the past few months in different communities in Benue, Enugu, Kaduna, Taraba, Adamawa states, among others, with scores of innocent citizens killed.
Angered by the unprovoked attack, the Ekiti State Government promptly initiated the grazing bill, which the state lawmakers swiftly passed into law. The new law simply criminalises grazing in some places and within certain time limits in the state.
Governor Fayose said the law would check cases of incessant attacks on residents and destruction of farmlands by herdsmen and their cattle. He said the law would strengthen security in the various communities across the state, adding that anyone caught herding his cattle, carrying arms or any weapon in Ekiti would now be charged with terrorism and be made to face the law according to certain sections of it. The same goes for those who graze in prohibited areas or go against the time of 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. allowed for open grazing.
Speaker of the House of Assembly, Kolawole Oluwawole also said that he and his colleagues gave the Bill accelerated hearing as part of their collaborative efforts towards maintaining peace and order in the state. This is fair enough. But it is hoped that the state would also work to ensure that the herdsmen’s interests are protected and they are not turned to victims at the hands of cattle rustlers.
Indeed, very pleasing is the fact that, the state government is already working with local government authorities to allocate portions of land for grazing in their areas.
However, any cattle confiscated as a result of any breach of the new law will be taken to a government-owned cattle ranch in the state. Any farm crop destroyed by the activities of any herdsman shall be estimated by agricultural officers and the expenses borne by the culprit. And any herdsman who violates any of these rules shall be imprisoned for six months without option of fine.
Expectedly, while the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) have thrown their weight behind the law, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), has kicked against it, saying that it contravenes the constitution as any Nigerian is free to move in any part of the country. This is an unnecessary attempt at fanning the embers of ethnicity and politicising a clear matter of law and order even as it relates to agricultural business.
The freedom of movement, as enshrined in the constitution, presumes peaceful co-existence and not a situation in which anyone or group visits violence on fellow Nigerians.
And the Ekiti law is a better solution than the free-for-all violence that has resulted from the herdsmen’s activities before now.
More states should indeed take a cue from Ekiti and make laws that would allow cattle rearing to thrive as an economic activity without jeopardising peace or endangering the lives of other citizens.