•Stakeholders demand legal backing for proscription
Adibe Emenyonu in Benin City, James Sowole in Akure, Bassey Inyang in Calabar, David-Chyddy Eleke in Awka, Sylvester Idowu in Warri, Kemi Olaitan in Ibadan, Victor Ogunje in Ado Ekiti and Amby Uneze in Owerri
Despite the ban on open grazing of cattle by Southern governors, the practice has continued to flourish in the 17 states of the region with stakeholders asking for legal backing for the proscription order.
THISDAY’s investigations at the weekend showed that the delay by the governors in enacting laws in their states to legalise the ban has heightened concerns among residents, particularly in the farming communities of the states.
With the absence of the law, according to THISDAY’s investigations, herders have continued to openly graze their cattle, leading in some cases to frequent clashes between them and farmers whose farmlands suffer devastation due to the movement of the animals.
The governors, under the aegis of the Southern Nigeria Governors Forum (SNGF), rising from a meeting in Asaba, the Delta State capital, on May 11, had, among others announced a ban on open grazing to check the escalating conflict between farmers and herders.
However, their decision had riled the federal government with President Muhammadu Buhari querying the legality of the ban.
In Ondo State, THISDAY gathered that the Bill against Open Grazing and other Matters Related has passed through the second reading but the lawmakers couldn’t go further in the legislative process due to the ongoing strike by parliamentary workers.
But open grazing by herders has reduced drastically in the state, particularly in places close to urban areas.
Investigation revealed that the herders still move their cows in many villages like Osi, Ogbese, Ala, Igbatoro, Eleyowo and other villages in Akure North Local Government Area.
Also, sources told THISDAY that the practice is still going on in villages in Ondo North but not with the impunity earlier displayed by herders.
Speaking with THISDAY, the Commander of the Ondo State Security Network, Amotekun, Chief Adetunji Adeleye, said open grazing had reduced in the state as the security agency no longer give them chances to continue the illegal practice.
He said: “However, thinking that we would not have some herders still engaging in open grazing in view of the ban and the operation of Amotekun is like saying why do we still have crime when there are policemen working?
“Ondo State Government through Amotekun is not relenting. The herders know they are doing the wrong thing. Once they see us, they run away. They know they are doing the wrong thing destroying some people’s means of livelihood for yours to thrive, we see it as being unfair.
“The position of government is very clear about it. No open grazing is no open grazing, and anybody that is engaging in it is doing illegal thing and anybody that is caught, will face the full wrath of the law.”
In Cross River State, the herders were still practising open grazing as usual in some communities in Odukpani, Obanliku, Yala, Yakurr, and Obubra Local Government Areas.
However, THISDAY gathered that there have been no clashes between the herders and any of the communities since the cows are restricted to the areas where they have been grazing for decades.
“The owners of the cows pay rent to the community for the space the cows are taken to feed in the bush along Calabar-Itu highway. That is how we have been operating with them for years, and there is no problem; we have never heard problems,” a community leader from Okoyong confided in THISDAY.
However, the state government is insisting that it will not go it alone, but would wait for the southern governors to work out modalities on the way forward.
Press Secretary to the Cross River State Governor, Mr. Christian Ita, said grazing in restricted area was not strange to the state having established the first cattle ranch in Nigeria; the Obudu Cattle Ranch Resort.
“As I said, I am sure modalities would be worked out at the Southern governors’ level, and then we proceed from there,” he added.
In Anambra State, despite the ban on open grazing, herdsmen still graze cattle in communities in the state, even within the state capital territory, in open fields and on farms belonging to farmers.
Mr. Fredrick Okoye, a farmer in Umuokpu community, Awka South Local Government Area, told THISDAY that despite the ban on open grazing, Fulani herdsmen still graze their cattle on their farms, damaging their crops daily.
“There is a law which states that if Fulani people destroy your crop, they will pay you for it, and if farmers kill cattle, the farmer will pay for it. But to tell you the truth, that arrangement has not been working. If they (herders) destroy your farm, they don’t pay. If you kill their cattle, they also do not even report for payment, rather, they think of a reprisal.
“That is the major reason we are afraid. They graze on our fields everyday, even today. If you come to Umuokpu today and wait until afternoon, you will see them,” Okoye said.
When THISDAY visited Okpuno and Mgbakwu communities, all around the state capital, cattle were seen in the area, grazing in open fields.
There have been cases of clashes between herdsmen and farmers in Anaku, Omor and even in riverrine parts of Anambra State.
Anambra State Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr. C. Don Adinuba, said the anti-open grazing law was unnecessary as the proclamation of the ban by the governors was enough for the herders to comply.
The Speaker, Edo State House of Assembly, Hon. Marcus Onobu, also told THISDAY that the persistent open grazing of cattle in the state was due to the inability of the state government to come up with legislation against it.
Onobus said Governor Godwin Obaseki was yet to come up with a bill to legalise open grazing.
He added that though a private bill against open grazing exists, the legislature was yet to debate it because it requires public hearing.
“But I think the major problem is the strike action by legislative workers because already, we have a private bill before us.
“Even if we want to rely on the private bill without waiting for the governor, we are still going to have a public hearing, and we cannot do that since the legislative workers’ strike has not been called off,” he stated.
According to him, without a legislation, it will be difficult to enforce the ban on open grazing as verbal pronouncement is not enough because aggrieved persons can go to court to seek redress.
In Delta State, open grazing persists in the forest, particularly in Ughelli, Abraka, Oghara in Delta South and Central Senatorial zones.
However, security arrangement and agitations by the people have reduced open grazing.
Mr. Olisa Ifeajika, Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, confirmed to THISDAY that there has been a reduction in open grazing in the state.
Ifeajika said the state was yet to enact a law against open grazing due to the ongoing strike by parliamentary workers.
Despite the anti-open grazing law in Oyo State, herders are still openly grazing their cattle in most areas of the state.
Areas where open grazing is still going on in the state include Ibarapaland, Oyo/Ogbomoso expressway, Oke Ogun and some parts of Ibadan, the state capital.
The state House of Assembly in October 2019 passed a bill titled, ‘Oyo State Open Rearing and Grazing Regulation Law’, which was signed into law by Governor Seyi Makinde.
However, Makinde has expressed the determination of his administration to enforce the law, stating that the state government will within the next eight weeks launch a task force to enforce the ban on open grazing.
He said: “In Oyo State, open grazing is against the law. The implementation plan will come out within the next six to eight weeks and the task force will cut across Oyo State. So, whoever goes against the law in this state will face the wrath of law and that is just it.”
Makinde’s Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Mr. Taiwo Adisa, while speaking on the challenges facing the implementation of the law, identified the major one as the lack of commitment of the police and other security agencies to enforce the law.
Farmers operating in Ekiti State have also raised the alarm that open grazing of cattle and other ruminant animals are still happening in all the three senatorial districts of the state.
Some farmers told THISDAY in Oke Ako, Irele and Ipao in Ikole Local Government Areas and Ijan and Aisegba in Gbonyin Local Government area as well as Aaye Oja, Igogo and Osan in Moba Council Area that the practice was still effective in their areas.
THISDAY observed that the practice was even common in Ado Ekiti, the capital city, especially along Ado-Ijan-Ikare, Ado-Iworoko-Ifaki and Ado-Ikere-Akure roads.
However, the State Commander of Ekiti State Security Network codenamed Amotekun Corps, Brig. Gen. Joe Komolafe (rtd), said the law was being vigorously enforced by the security outfit.
He said the outfit had been zealous in the enforcement of ban on open grazing of cattle, adding that some herders and cattle had been arrested with owners already in court facing charges while their cows were confiscated.
Akomolafe added that his officers had engaged in shootout with some herders around 2:00am on more than four occasions around Ikole axis, which he said attested to the proactiveness of Amotekun to enforce the law.
“It is part of our statutory duties to enforce the law and we are doing it. We have arrested scores of cattle owners who are in court facing charges but their cases got stalled by JUSUN’s strike. Some are still being detained by the police.
“We know that some herders are still disobeying this law, but we are extending our dragnets against them. Even most of them who are returning to the North due to the advent of rain used to take permission from us and we took pain to escort them to the border in Kwara or Kogi to ensure that no destruction takes place,” he added..
The ban on open cattle grazing was yet to be enforced in Imo State.
THISDAY gathered that the Imo State Government has so far not send any anti-open grazing bill to the House of Assembly.
At the moment, herdsmen are still seen in the bushes and by the road sides grazing their cattle without anybody or security personnel challenging them.
Even in the Owerri, the capital city, as well as in other various villages and communities, open grazing still goes on unchecked.
Areas where the herdsmen usually go for grazing include Irette, Avu, Obinze, in Owerri West LGA; Emekuku, Agbala, Amakohia/Akwakuma in Owerri North LGA.
Other areas are Obowo, Okigwe, Mbaise, and other Local government areas.