Nigeria Newspapers

Herders reject Senate’s bill on ranching


Pastoralists in Nigeria have rejected the National Ranches Commission Establishment Bill 2024 which has scaled a second reading at the Senate, saying it is a recipe for chaos because it will not address the protracted farmer-herder clashes in the country.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Titus Tartenger Zam (APC, Benue North West), is aimed at establishing ranches for herders in their states of origin.

It also proposed a five-year jail term and N50, 000 fine for defaulters, when it eventually gets presidential assent and becomes an act of parliament.

Besides other provisions that were seen by pastoralists as a direct onslaught on their major source of livelihood, the recommendation that herders should be relocated to their states of origin had elicited anger both at the hallowed chambers of the Senate and beyond.

Most of those who spoke said even though it was high time to modernise animal husbandry in Nigeria, the provisions in the bill were mischievous and not in sync with the letters of the 1999 Constitution.

They also believed that instead of addressing the challenges afflicting the livestock sector, the bill, when it becomes a law, will breed bad blood among the generality of Nigerians.

Our reporter, who obtained a copy of the bill from the National Assembly in Abuja, reports that it provides restrictions and penalties for offenders.

If enacted, the National Ranches Commission would oversee the management, preservation and control of ranches nationwide, the sponsor said.

And even though the bill faced stiff opposition from northern senators, it finally scaled a second reading at 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.

It reads, “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, felling of trees, destruction of ecosystems in whatever form are strictly prohibited under this Act.

“Movement of cattle from one ranch to another or market place 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.”

It would be recalled that the President of the Senate, 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.


Why the bill is suspicious – MACBAN

But the National President of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Baba Ngelzarma, in an interview on Daily Politics on Trust TV, said the bill is suspicious and should not be allowed to stand because it is sponsored by a senator from Benue State.

Ngelzarma recalled that the Benue State government had during the administration of Governor Samuel Ortom enacted an anti-open grazing law, which had done both the pastoralists and farmers in the state no good.

He said the National Ranches Commission Bill, 2024, is an attempt to replicate what happened in Benue State, stressing that rather than establishing a ranches commission, the ministry of livestock and fisheries should be established in the interest of all.

He said, “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.”

He also said if allowed to scale through, the bill will 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.

Speaking at the weekend with newsmen in Damaturu, the capital of Yobe State, during an interview with newsmen shortly after the inauguration of the state executive council of the association, he called on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to implement the recommendations of the Livestock Reforms and Mitigation Committee headed by a former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, set up to seek a lasting solution to the perennial farmers-herders conflict in rural areas.

“We submitted the 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,’’ he said.

“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.


Fireworks in Senate

Daily Trust recalled that before the bill scaled through the second reading, there were fireworks at the Senate during plenary.

The bill had faced stiff opposition from some prominent northern senators who insisted that herders should have the freedom to reside anywhere in Nigeria, as guaranteed by Section 41 of the 1999 Constitution.

Speaking during the debate, Senator Adamu Aliero (PDP, Kebbi, Central), said confining herders to their states of origin would be a violation of their constitutional rights.

Aliero said, “This bill proposes that the pastoralists should be confined to their states of origin. This is against the constitution because they are Nigerians and should be allowed to move freely in Nigeria.”

He said the only reason he would support the bill was to expunge the provision restricting the ranches to the states of origin of herders.

Similarly, Senator Danjuma Goje (APC, Gombe Central), described the bill as discriminatory, noting that cattle rearing is more prevalent in the North.

He insisted that legislation should benefit the entire country; not just a specific region.

Also, the Deputy Senate President, Barau Jibrin, opposed the bill, saying all Nigerians have the constitutional right to live anywhere in the country.

He said asking herders to return to their states of origin was unconstitutional, and suggested the bill be revised to align with the constitution.

Barau said, “There is a snag in this bill, there is a problem because you cannot stop any Nigerian from living in any area that he so wishes. Now, to tell them to move to their state of origin, where is their state of origin?

“Mr President, I will tell you; some of these Fulani, if you ask them where their states of origin are, they have even forgotten; they look at themselves as Nigerians. We should address the issue to reflect wherever someone is, it is his place, and he can do his business there.”

Senator Barau, who advised that the bill be stepped down, said, “I advise my friend, Senator Zam, to stand this bill down for consultation, for better drafting, so that it goes in consonance with our constitution.”

In his submission, Senator Suleiman Abdulrahman Kawu (NNPP, Kano), expressed concern about the bill, saying it is infringing on herders’ rights and would compound their problems.

“The bill will even compound the problems of the herders and the farmers. You can’t propose a law to attend to a particular group or section of the country only. This bill is not holistic, and we will fight it till the end,” Kawu said.

Senator Hussein Babangida Uba (Jigawa North-West) also called for caution in passing the bill, given its “trail of controversies in the past.”

However, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (APGA, Abia North) supported the bill as a potential solution to the farmers-herders clashes, but recommended a constitutional amendment to the Land Use Act for better land management.

Abaribe noted that while some herders were peaceful and engaged in legitimate animal business, there were also criminal elements sponsored to destabilise communities.

“Farmers are under threat, and what that has led to is the food crisis that we face in Nigeria today,” he added.

Senator Sunday Karimi (APC, Kogi) proposed that each state should establish ranches to address the national problem effectively.

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