Lawyers applaud proposed National Grazing Bill, say ‘there is nothing wrong in it’

TH 53

Contrary to the myriad criticisms that have bedeviled the proposed National Grazing Reserve Bill (NGRB), a couple of lawyers ENCOMIUM Weekly spoke to about the bill lent their voices in support of it. They added that its introduction will surely douse the tension in Nigeria as a result of the incessant crisis emanating from the alleged invasion of communities by Fulani herdsmen in some parts of the country.

According to Barrister John Itodo, “The National Grazing Reserves Bill is a Bill proposed for an Act to provide for the establishment, preservation and control of National Grazing Reserves and Stock Routes and the Creation of National Grazing Reserve Commission and for the purposes connected therewith. It was first sponsored in 2011, by Senator Zainab Kure of Niger State, contrary to the popular belief that it was sponsored by the President or the Executive; although, there are insinuations that the Presidency (Executive) may soon present its version, but so far, that is still in the realm of speculations. Worthy of note is the fact two (2) honourable members of the House of Representatives have muted the idea and presented bills to this effect to the National Assembly.

Before I delve into the meat of this discourse, let me bring to our remembrance that the National Assembly is empowered by virtue of Section 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 ( as amended) to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation or any part thereof.

Therefore, drawing on this premise, there is nothing wrong prima facie with Senator Kure proposing a Bill to the National Assembly which in her estimation (I believe) would be for the furtherance of peace and orderliness in Nigeria.

Having said this much, the content of the bill itself, with due respect, seems to betray this notion hence the public outcry against it. A reasonable percentage of the hue and cry about it stems from the fact that citizens believe that the bill places incredible powers on the laps of the Commission to at their discretion designate, acquire, control, etc anybody’s land, (which is usually a symbol of sacred family heritage) as the commission deems fit for grazing reserve.

The ills that be plagued this bill however, are as follows:

Ill timing, general distrust by the populace; Seeming perception that cows are more valuable than human beings.

Let me start with the first – Ill Timing – The bill is coming at a time when a lot of people, families and communities have been killed, maimed, destroyed and ransacked allegedly by persons perceived to be cattle rearers, who the bill ultimately benefits. It’s like compensating the villain; and of course, the victims and persons who empathized with the victims felt hurt, abused and violated. The fact that the President is from the community of persons whose stock in trade is predominantly cattle rearing did not help matters.

The sponsor(s) of the bill also did not help matters by first lending helping hand in the healing/reconciliatory process before throwing the bill into open space. The speed and dexterity with which the bill was attended to, left a lot of room for suspicion and resentment.

Second, there is so much distrust about the real intent of the bill. There is this feeling (legitimate one at that, especially from the wordings of the bill) that the bill is an attempt to use the machinery of law to ‘conquer’ some parts of the country in favour of a particular tribe and religion. Again, like I said, the whole matrix would have changed had, the timing been right and enlightenment campaign first gone out with a little tweaking of the contents.

Of critical disadvantage is the drafting technique adopted by the sponsor of the bill. The bill seems to suggest that your land at the pleasure of the commission can be taken whether you like or not for grazing purposes. Section 17 of the Bill is guilty of this-

“17 (1) the following lands may, subject to the provisions of this Act be Constituted as National Grazing Reserve and Stock Routes: Lands at the disposal of the Federal Government; any land in respect of which it appears to the commission that grazing on such land should be practiced and any land acquired by the commission through purchase, assignment gift or otherwise howsoever. Any land in respect of which it appears to the Commission that primary, secondary or tertiary routes be established.

The Commission may take over the ownership, control and management of any existing Grazing Reserve and stock routes from any State Government on such terms and conditions as may be agreed between the Commission and the State concerned” (Emphasis mine).

Section 18(2) of the Bill seems to attempt a damage control but in my opinion not very effective. From the wording of Section 18(2), the only remedy a victim of an acquired land has is compensation, the key phrase there is ‘Requisite Compensation’. What is ‘Requisite’ was not defined in the Bill, so a lot of ambiguities. Worse of all, the victim has no say in the whole matter, it is like a take it or leave it kind of thing, Section 20 of the Bill notwithstanding. Section 20 mutes the idea of Negotiation, but did not specify what will happen if the land owner says no, whether the Commission will just walk away and not wield the provisions of the Land Use Act, 1978 on compulsory acquisition on grounds of overriding public interest.

Finally, the seeming perception that cows are more valuable than human lives is another critical factor. Like I said earlier about timing, people are still smarting from the pains and wounds of the horrific carnage unleashed on innocent communities by herdsmen and here we are, talking about giving the same people suspected to have unleashed this mayhem succor amongst the same communities they hurt to breed their cows when nothing is said about human lives, farm lands, etc that were wasted in the wake of the mayhem. It is like robbing insult to an injury, it will only lead to more injuries and pains.

It is in this premise that I am strongly persuaded that the Bill, is not or will not be for the good of the people, at least not now.”

Also, an Abuja based lawyer, Barrister Toyin Bamgbose-Falaiye said “The National Grazing Reserve Bill is a step in the right direction. In fact, it is among the laws that are long overdue in our country. A lot of lives and properties have been destroyed as a result of continuous clashes between Fulani herdsmen and host communities; the grazing bill will cushion this menace as proper locations would be allocated to cattle. Those who have been clamouring against the bill, to me is a weak defence because the land that will be used for grazing cannot adversely affect the owners.

We need to critically look at the bill from the angle with which it will benefit the entire country against clashes and death than against the people who will lose their land to the passage of the bill. Even, it can’t be a total loss to them as compensation will also be paid to the owners whose lands are occupied.”

In his submission, Barrister Fred Agbaje opined that there’s nothing wrong in the bill but should be localized.

“I am not opposed to the bill, but should be localized. It shouldn’t be a route to colonialism, brutalization and denial of the indigenes’ rights to advert farm products. In other words, no herdsman should leave a place like Yola or Zamfara for Ekiti, Oyo or Osun to cause mayhem under the guise of grazing. The bill should depend on whether the governor of a particular state wants it or not.

“The bill should be restricted to Abuja where the Federal Government owns the land. ,it shouldn’t be mandatory in every other parts of the country because it’s the governors that own their land. And the governor of each state should be allowed to determine if the bill is needed in his state or not. For instance, if the governor of Zamfara State wants it, let him introduce it in his state. There’s no arm in doing that.”

Meanwhile, since the bill was sponsored by Senator Zainab Kure, wife of former Niger State governor and the Senate Committee Chairman on Marine Transport, it has been generating unfavourable reactions from different corners of the country as some believe it’s a calculated attempt to islamise Nigeria which will further aggravate the ethnic and religious crisis the country has been experiencing, especially in the last one year of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

But now, legal practitioners have given it a nod, indicating that it’s a long awaited solution to the lingering crisis between the Fulani herdsmen and their host communities across the country.

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