Invoking ancient grazing routes – Thisday

The President is ill-advised. The Land Use Act invests all land in state governors in trust for the people

During his recent interview with ARISE Television, President Muhammadu Buhari spoke about reviving the contentious grazing routes throughout the country for cattle herders by dusting up a gazette of the First Republic. While that position pits him against the southern governors who had banned open grazing because of the criminality and insecurity associated with it, legal practitioners now argue that the law being cited by the president was only applicable in Northern Nigeria. Even if there was such a gazette in the past, it is of grave concern that the president should be drawing policy inspiration from such an ancient law in 2021. This is deeply flawed.

It may be useful to remind the president that the First Republic ended 55 years ago. In the intervening period, migrant cattle herding has ceased in almost every other country. Modern ranches have replaced roving herds while beef production has become a modern mechanised industrial undertaking. Furthermore, wherever those grazing routes of the 1960s may have been, population growth and pressure of farming and land use would have brought them under new uses. In fact, under the Land Use law, there may be nothing in that ancient gazette that protects them from the authority of state governments.

Spokesman of the Senate and member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Ajibola Basiru, says the gazette being referred to by the president was a decree promulgated in northern Nigeria in the 1960s, that had been rendered null and void by the Land Use Act recognised by the constitution. “Nigerians should be concerned over whether the president is actually getting the correct legal advice from his attorney-general and the legal team,” the senator said. “There is nothing like grazing routes or grazing reserve law, in the laws of the federation of Nigeria. There is no federal legislation that the president can implement over such matter.” Even if the grazing routes were still valid, they can only facilitate further clashes between settler farmers and migrant herders who have no legitimate claims to the lands on which they and their herds settle and devastate.

We find it difficult to understand who the president is speaking for. Following a meeting with the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) in January this year, the leadership of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) agreed to outlaw open grazing, underage grazing, and night herding in the South-west states, given the rate at which some undesirable elements who parade themselves as herders commit heinous crimes. So, at a time the conversation is about how to modernise the way we rear cattle, President Buhari is advocating that the primitive method be sustained.

As we keep reiterating, one of the curious tragedies of modern Nigeria is that we have come to accept the category ‘nomadic’ as a permanent description of a vital segment of our populace. We have gone ahead to create schools, map out grazing trails and sundry other things to enshrine this unfortunate doctrine. A consequence has been the ever frequent bloody clashes between nomads and settled landowners and farmers in nearly every part of the country. Besides, by allowing them to roam the length and breadth of the country, often herding evacuated cattle, we violate the rights of these animals and endanger the health of citizens through exposure to the elements and a cocktail of diseases.

In all, the president’s claim on grazing routes does not invalidate the sovereign control and powers which the constitution grants to state governors to make laws governing the conduct of humans and their animals in their jurisdiction. There is nothing in the presidential utterance on grazing routes that invalidates the Asaba resolution of the governors of the southern states on open grazing. On their part, those who handle the president on policy matters are better advised to update the background information they equip him with to prevent these all too frequent relapses into embarrassing prehistoric comfort zones.

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Those who handle the president on policy matters are better advised to update the background information they equip him with to prevent these all too frequent relapses into embarrassing prehistoric comfort zones

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