Herdsmen crisis: Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, four others move to enact anti …

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Our correspondents

After the passage of anti-open grazing laws in Ekiti and Benue states, other states like Ebonyi, Ondo, Abia, Imo and Ogun are moving to introduce similar laws to curb clashes between herdsmen and farmers within their respective boundaries.

Findings by Saturday PUNCH from the states showed that moves to introduce anti-open grazing laws were at various stages, with the bill having already passed second reading in Ogun State.

A 2015 Global Terrorism Index pushed Fulani militants to the fourth position on the list of deadliest militant groups in the world with a record killing of 1,229 people in 2014 alone. Similarly, a 2017 research by SBM Intelligence said the death toll from pastoral conflicts had been rising from 2015 and stood at nearly 5,000, “rivalling the killings by Boko Haram insurgents per year.”

The Ekiti State House of Assembly had in August 2016 passed a bill criminalising open grazing to law. The anti-open grazing law recently passed by the Benue State government took effect on November 1, 2017, leading to the mass movement of Fulani herdsmen and their cattle out of the state.

Similarly, the Ogun State House of Assembly currently has a bill before it on animal rearing and grazing, which has passed second reading.

“The bill will soon get to the committee stage,” the Chairman, House Committee on Information, Oludare Kadiri, disclosed this to one of our correspondents on Friday.

He said, “There is a bill before the house, which has passed the second reading. It is on animal rearing and grazing. When we resume from the oversight function tour, the bill will move to the committee stage.

“When it is finally ready, it will spell out the modalities for animal rearing and grazing. It will spell out where to go and where not to go. So, let us wait till the bill is finally passed into law.”

In Imo State, a similar bill is before the state House of Assembly. The Chief Press Secretary to the Speaker, Imo State House of Assembly, Mr. Marcel Ekwezuo, however, said he was not sure of the status of the bill.

He said, “I will check our records to find out its status at the legislature.”

On whether the state needed anti-open grazing law, Ekwezuo said “yes”.

“It was because the law is pertinent that the entire legislators of the South-South and South-East gathered at the hallowed chamber of the state House of Assembly to deliberate on it. Since that convergence, there has not been any clash between herdsmen and farmers in Imo State,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Oyo State Government said it was already proposing a similar bill that would address the attacks by suspected Fulani herdsmen on local farmers.

The Oke Ogun area of the state is home to some Fulani herdsmen who have frequently been accused of attacking farmers, raping their wives and daughters and destroying farmlands through grazing.

The state’s Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Mr. Toye Arulogun, said that although the state government had established some committees to resolve disputes between farmers and herdsmen, an executive bill would soon be sent to the state House of Assembly to check the activities of the latter.

Arulogun said, “The issue of herdsmen attacks on farmers and communities is a national issue. We have pockets of such problem in Oke Ogun area of Oyo State.

“I can confirm to you that there is an executive bill that will soon be transmitted to the state House of Assembly. This will address the frequent clashes between farmers and herdsmen in the state.”

Likewise, the Ondo State Government said it had begun the process of making anti-open grazing law to reduce the incessant attacks of suspected herdsmen on the farmers in the state.

The state Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Yemi Olowolabi, said the governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, would be sending a bill on anti-open grazing to the House of Assembly to pass into law.

He said, “We already have an anti-open grazing bill going to the House, and we will be awaiting the passage of the bill. The content of the bill is about how to prevent open grazing.”

In the same vein, the Assembly said it was in support of such a law, saying any time the bill reached the Assembly, it would be passed.

The Chairman, House Committee on Information, Mr. Olamide George, said there was widespread agitation for a solution to herdsmen and farmers’ clashes in the state.

“Currently, the House has not had any bill on that subject matter but we know there are agitations everywhere and the agitation is increasing. By the

grace of God, when a matter is of urgent public importance, the Assembly will definitely support the bill.

“We can’t continue to fold our arms and allow our farm produce to be wasted; people can’t be working day and night to make ends meet and ordinary animals would go and destroy their farms. We won’t accept that again in Ondo State. We will definitely give our support to the bill.”

In Ebonyi State, Emmanuel Uzor, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor David Umahi, also said that the state government was contemplating presenting an anti-open grazing bill to the House of Assembly for passage into law, especially as neighbouring Benue State had done so.

He said, “We are contemplating sending anti-open grazing bill to the House of Assembly. The close proximity of Ebonyi and Benue states is such that it is possible that when the herdsmen move away from there because of its new law, they will move their cattle into Ebonyi. To protect our people, we are contemplating having a similar law in the state.

“The process is almost completed; if the law was able to stem the frequent clashes in Ekiti and Benue, it would stop it anywhere and end all these frequent clashes.”

The Deputy Speaker of the Abia State House of Assembly, Chief Cosmos Ndukwe, said the state lawmakers were currently working on a bill that would ban open grazing to protect farmers and farmlands.

He said, “The state has called for a lot of meetings between farmers, herdsmen, community leaders and the police. In such meetings, we have discussed issues that seek to create synergy between herdsmen and farmers.

“But the irony is that the cattle owners always insist that the attacks in some communities are not to their knowledge. They claim that some of the owners of the cattle are not known by them. The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria will always tell us that some of the herdsmen were hired by independent cattle owners to work for them.

“But in the House of Assembly, we are trying to enact a law on grazing that will see to it that cattle are no longer seen on our streets, so when the herdsmen come into the state, they will stay in a particular area mapped out for them.”

There are strong indications that the Cross River State House of Assembly is also considering passing the anti-open grazing law.

A member representing Obudu constituency in the House of Assembly, Mr. Steve Ukpukpen, said the effect of the law passed by Benue was already taking its toll on Cross River State.

He said, “We are considering passing that anti-open grazing law too and it will happen within the shortest possible time because the casualties are despicable. The law will help stem the clash. It has made an impact in Benue State and the herdsmen are beginning to look for where to take refuge. A law like this will chase them out of Cross River State.”

The state governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, has also lamented that his state was already feeling the spillover effect of the law recently passed by the Benue State Government.

Chief Press Secretary to Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, Mr. Francis Ottah-Agbo, said the state government had been able to confine activities of herdsmen to a grazing area earmarked for them in the state, and that the move had worked so far.

Meanwhile, Osun, Katsina, Bauchi, and Kwara State governments said they were not considering introducing anti-open grazing law.

When contacted, the Chairman, House Committee on Information, Niger State House of Assembly, Shusibu Iya, said he could not discuss the matter on the telephone.

But the state’s Director-General, Nomadic Affairs, Abdullahi Babayo, said the government had established a peaceful coexistence between farmers and herdsmen.

Story by: Olufemi Atoyebi, Kamarudeen Ogundele, Success Nwogu, Simon Utebor, Mudiaga Affe, Peter Dada, Clement Nnachi, Ogbonnaya Ikokwu, Gibson Achonu, Enyioha Opara, Armstrong Bakam and Olaide Oyelude

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