By Dan Owegie
LAST week, the Office of the Governor of Edo State issued a statement endorsed by the Secretary to the Government, Osarodion Ogie, disowning the Normadic Grazing Bill which has scaled second reading in the Edo State House of Assembly purportedly being sponsored by a private member. The governor bemoaned the inundation of his office with various public comments, criticisms regarding the Bill.
The executive arm of government led by Mr. Godwin Obaseki said it “has absolutely no knowledge of or participation in the said bill particularly as same is certainly not an Executive Bill and did not emanate from Government House”. Well-meaning people of Edo State are currently deeply concerned about an aspect of the message that: “Whilst the Executive arm fully respects and recognises the vital role of the Legislature in the law making process, government is concerned at the fact that no prior consultation or engagement was initiated with other arms of Government regarding such a sensitive issue.”
It is important to emphasise a fact that Edo people love current members of the State House of Assembly, particularly as they have been working harmoniously with the executive arm of government since the coming on board of Mr. Obaseki. But many Edo people are seriously disturbed that if the executive governor of the State, who by virtue of the Land Use Act, is vested with the authority to manage all land on behalf of Edo people was not consulted for a bill that seeks to allocate grazing areas to nomadic cattle herdsmen for grazing in the 18 local government areas of the State. What does the promoters of such bill want to achieve and how do they think it can fly?
It is little wonder, therefore, that the bill has generated so much furore for the very obvious reasons and tempers are rising. My anger is that promoters of the bill have given opportunity for the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, led by Dan Orbih to begin to throw tantrums at a performing governor. The PDP must now look elsewhere now that Governor Obaseki does not know anything about the bill.
Many citizens of Edo State believe that the Obaseki administration has been doing very well since coming on board and must not be distracted by such a very sensitive issue as grazing bill. If anything, the Edo State House of Assembly should ban open grazing in Edo State and turn the bill to “Ban of Open Grazing and establishment of Edo State Ranching Commission and Other related Matters Bill 2017.” It is my opinion that any person or group who wants to rear cattle in Edo State must do so in a ranch. The Benue State Government has set the example recently. The House prepared the bill prohibiting open grazing and provided for ranching only. The Benue State governor last week signed the bill into law but graciously gave three months amnesty to anybody practicing open grazing in the state to move away from Benue. He warned that from October, Benue Government would begin clampdown of nomadic herdsmen in the state. His action is aimed at safeguarding the farmers and harmless citizens who are daily being raped and killed by these obnoxious herdsmen.
Last year, the grazing bill was roundly rejected by both houses of the National Assembly and even traditional groups, religious bodies vehemently opposed the Bill. The national body of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, rejected the proposed bill on grazing reserve in the country, describing it as a private business that should not be allowed to see the light of the day. The association made its stance known at the Government House, Enugu, during a peaceful protest to condemn and register their grievances over the unfortunate incidents of killing, maiming, raping and destruction of properties of innocent people of the state by suspected herdsmen, especially the attack on Nimbo, Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area.
Even the Pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, equally rejected the Grazing Commission Bill proposed by the National Assembly to address the burning issue of farmers and Fulani herdsmen clashes erupting in different parts of the country.
Afenifere described the bill as “anti-people.” As it were, the ill-fated bill proposed the establishment of the National Grazing Commission which will preserve and control the national grazing reserves and livestock routes and other matters related to it. The myriads of opposition also reasoned that the bill would violate the subsisting Land Use Act and traditional means of land holding if enacted. One equally recalls that legislators of the South East and South South Houses of Assembly also rejected the controversial Grazing Bill last year, saying that the bill should not be considered in any of the Houses of Assembly in the two regions.
Sadly, Edo State belongs to this region that took the decision and one wonders why the State House of Assembly, which was party to the decision would want to now be the black sheep of them all. Our people are now wondering: why Edo? Already, the CAN in Edo State has strongly opposed the Grazing Bill before the Edo House of Assembly. The nomadic cattle herdsmen have consistently attacked farmers and owners of land in almost all parts of Edo State. Crops worth billions of Naira have been destroyed and many people’s livelihoods destroyed by the rampaging herdsmen. Women have been raped and beheaded in Ekpoma, Ewu, Etsako West, Ovia and many other parts of Edo State which must not be allowed to continue. Besides, herdsmen have been involved in all sorts of inhuman activities, including kidnapping, high way robbery and they are ruthless in their operations. Nomadic cattle herdsmen have also been involved in the murder of prominent citizens of Nigeria, even in Edo State.
The Edo State Police Commissioner, Mr. Haliru Gwandu, at a recent interactive session with security stakeholders in Benin, said the Police, vigilante and local hunters in Edo have commenced tactical surveillance of forest suspected to be hideouts of notorious herdsmen and other criminals in the state. The exercise is reportedly aimed at smoking out all manner of criminals from the urban and rural communities in the state. One therefore wonders why the Edo State House of Assembly is interested in promoting this vexatious bill.
Nomadic grazing is old-fashioned and outdated. Edo Assembly should focus on creating an enabling environment for the development of ranches by cattle farmers. In which case you can capture them very well in your business directory and tax net. That is what obtains in civilised and industrialised societies which we are copying.
Nomadic grazing should be out rightly banned in Edo State and the State House of Assembly should therefore discard that private member grazing bill offending the sensibility of all Edo people.
•Mr. Owegie is a chieftain of the Edo State All Progressives Congress, APC, Edo State.