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Politics

Farmer-Herders Crisis: Pastoralists Reject Senate’s Bill On Ranching

Fulani Herdman

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Herders in the country have voiced their opposition to the National Ranches Commission Establishment Bill 2024, which has advanced to a second reading in the Senate.

They argued that the bill could lead to disorder as it fails to tackle the lingering conflicts between farmers and herders in Nigeria.

Naijaonpoint reports that the bill, introduced by Senator Titus Tartenger Zam (APC, Benue North West), is designed to set up ranches for herders in their home states.

It also suggests a five-year prison sentence and a ₦50, 000 fine for those who default on their obligations, should it be signed into law and become a statute.

Furthermore, the bill’s provisions, which pastoralists view as a direct attack on their primary means of earning a living, particularly the requirement for herders to return to their states of origin, have sparked outrage not only within the Senate but also among the wider public.

Many concerned individuals have expressed their dissatisfaction, stating that while there is a need to modernize the practice of animal husbandry in Nigeria, the bill’s contents are questionable and do not align with the principles of the 1999 Constitution.

They also argue that the bill, once it becomes law, will only exacerbate tensions within the Nigerian populace.

Naijaonpoint reports that the bill from the National Assembly in Abuja outlines restrictions and penalties for those who violate its provisions.

Should the bill be passed, the National Ranches Commission would be responsible for the oversight, preservation, and regulation of ranches across the country, according to the sponsor.

Despite facing strong resistance from senators from the north, the bill managed to pass its second reading in the Senate on June 5, 2024.

The bill in Part 1V, Section 23 (1), says, “Any person who contravenes any provisions of this Act or regulations made hereunder shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of N50,000 or imprisonment for 5 years or both.

“Part 1V, Section 22 (1-7) of the bill listed an avalanche of actions that would land one in jail if he or she perpetrates any of the offences.

“No person shall alienate any rights affecting land constituted as the National Ranches, by sale, mortgage, assignment, lease, customary pledge, transfer, or otherwise, however.

“No improvements shall be done by anybody in the National Ranches without the approval of the Commission or the Ranch Controller in writing. No encroachment of any kind into the National Ranches, enclave, resting points, water points and other designated areas for stock use by anybody whosoever.

“Bush burning and hunting are prohibited within National Ranches. The use of chemicals, the felling of trees, destruction of ecosystems in whatever form are strictly prohibited under this Act.

“Movement of cattle from one ranch to another or marketplace shall be only by vehicular means. No livestock or cattle shall be allowed by any individual, group of persons or organisation to wander, roam, move and or graze outside the National Ranches.”

Before now, Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, had called for a public hearing to include input from all stakeholders, including cattle herders and state governments, on the bill.

Akpabio assured that efforts would be made to reach a consensus on the bill, including necessary amendments to the Land Use Act.

Recently, the head of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Baba Ngelzarma, while addressing newsmen on the pressing issue, expressed concerns about the bill, arguing it appears dubious and should not be passed due to its backing by a senator from Benue State.

Ngelzarma mentioned that during Governor Samuel Ortom’s term in Benue State, the government passed a law against open grazing, which negatively affected both pastoralists and farmers in the area.

He pointed out that the National Ranches Commission Bill, 2024, aims to copy the failed policies of Benue State, emphasizing the need for a ministry of livestock and fisheries instead of a ranches commission to serve the broader interest.

“We received the news of the bill with the greatest surprise. But I don’t want to say much about it now because we have already established a committee that has representatives from all the pastoralist groups that are now working to come up with an informed position on the bill.

“The bill is coming from a senator from Benue State, that is why we are suspicious. If you study the bill, you will realise nothing has been said about the creation of grazing reserves. I don’t think even livestock is mentioned in the bill.

“All that it dwells on is animal husbandry. So, to me, it is like he (Senator Zam) is trying to extend the hatred they have for pastoralists in Benue State to the national level. To the pastoralists, the bill is suspicious.

“As I speak with you now, there is no single ranch established in Benue. I challenge the senator to speak out, if there is one single ranch in Benue State.

“The pastoralists were chased out of Benue; a lot of them were chased out of Benue because of the open grazing prohibition law established by the former governor five or six years ago.

“No one has established a single ranch. We feel the law is just about chasing out pastoralists away from the state. Today, we have farmers kept in IDP camps; they are not allowed to go back to their farms. So, I don’t think the law has done anybody any good.

“We, as pastoralists, are very much dwelling on the creation of a full-blown ministry for livestock and fisheries. This will address issues of livestock production, processing, marketing, transportation, security, and so many others.

“Having the ministry will help exploit the potentials the livestock sector has on the economy, rather than coming up with a commission that will only address one side of livestock issues, which is ranching,” Ngelzarma told Daily Trust.

He stressed that if passed into law, the bill would lead to the killing of pastoralists.

“Our people would be chased out from many states without a just cause.

“It is wrong to say that herders should be relocated to their states of origin. That clause is a recipe for anarchy. It is an affront on the Nigerian Constitution, which guarantees life.

“Of course, we know that the way our people are moving around with cattle is not sustainable. But we have to address the root cause. We have to talk about revitalising the grazing reserves and cattle routes,” he said.

Ngelzarma said it was unfortunate that all the neighbouring countries with Nigeria were getting real value from livestock.

“Livestock commission will not solve the problem…What will solve the problem is a full-fledged ministry of livestock. I am pleading with our senators from the North, governors, and other stakeholders to fight back,” he said.

During a conversation with journalists in Damaturu, the capital of Yobe State, following the establishment of the state executive council of the association, he urged President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to put into action the suggestions of the Livestock Reforms and Mitigation Committee, led by a former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega.

This committee was created to find a permanent resolution to the ongoing conflict between farmers and herders in rural regions.

“We submitted Jega’s report on Livestock Reform and Mitigation sometime last year, we are looking forward to the president establishing the implementation committee so that implementation of that report starts in earnest.

“The major requirement of that report is the creation of the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries so that livestock-related issues can be given due attention,” he added.

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