Understanding the Fulani National Grazing Reserve Bill

Zenith

By James Pam

There is a Bill before the Nigerian National Assembly that has successfully scaled through second reading in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, which deserves very close scrutiny by all Nigerians. The international community should also be interested in this Bill because of the magnitude of the internal crises that the Bill could create with attendant spill-over effects if passed. All that is left in the legislative process to make it a law is third reading, that is, a clause by clause debate and then assent by the President. As explained below, the proposed piece of legislation is full of unconstitutionalities, ethnic discriminations, fundamental human rights violations, religious tenets violations, conspicuous criminal omissions and unforgiveable legislative indiscretions. The Bill should therefore be killed immediately and not presented for the last reading.

The full title of the Bill is, AN ACT TO PROVIDE FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE NATIONAL GRAZING RESERVE (ESTABLISHMENT AND DEVELOPMENT) COMMISSION FOR THE PRESERVATION AND CONTROL OF NATIONAL GRAZING RESERVES AND STOCK ROUTES AND OTHER MATTERS CONNECTED THEREWITH. Its sponsor is Senator Zainab Kure, wife of a two-time Governor of Niger State.

Hajiya Zainab Kure, who is the current Senate Committee Chairman on Marine Transport, was born on November 24, 1959, and she was elected Senator for the Niger South constituency of Niger State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). She is a second-term Senator who bagged a Political Science degree from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in 1984. She worked as a civil servant in Niger State, rising to the position of Permanent Secretary before veering into politics. She sponsored this same Bill in 2008 during the 6th National Assembly but it received a hostile reception. She also sponsored the National Poverty Eradication Commission Bill in the same year. She is Nupe by tribe.

THE BILL: The Bill’s concluding Explanatory Memorandum says that the Bill seeks to provide for, among other things, the establishment of the National Grazing Reserve Commission of Nigeria, for the preservation and control of national grazing reserves and stock routes in the country. Its key provisions and high points include, but are not limited to, the following:

To establish a National Grazing Reserve Commission (NGRC), a body corporate.

The NGRC may acquire, hold, lease or dispose of any property, moveable or immoveable for the purpose of carrying out its function.

The NGRC shall have a governing Council headed by a Chairman appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate with members representing the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Water Resources, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Environment, Housing and Urban Development, the National Commission for Nomadic Education and shall also have a Director General.

To raise monies by way of grants, loans, borrowing, subsidies and donations.

The following lands may be subject to the provisions of the Act to be constituted as National Grazing Reserves and Stock Routes:

(a)   Lands at the disposal of the Federal Government of Nigeria.

(b)  Any lands in respect of which it appears to the Commission that grazing in such land should be practiced.

(c)   Any land acquired by the Commission through purchase, assignment, gift or otherwise howsoever.

State Governments shall be given notice first before land acquisition and gazetting.

The Commission shall pay compensation to persons affected by any land acquisition.

There shall be no improvements, encroachment, bush burning, hunting, use of chemicals and felling of trees by anyone inside lands acquired and demarcated as National Grazing Reserves or Stock Routes.

Contravention of any of the provisions in (8) above shall be punishable by a fine of N50,000 or 5 years imprisonment or both.

No Court of law shall carry out execution of its judgment or attachment of court process issued against the Commission in any action or suit without obtaining the prior consent of the Attorney General of the Federation.

For the time being, the Commission shall report to the Honorable Minster for Agriculture and Water Resources.

Native communities referred to in the Bill shall be any group of persons occupying any lands in accordance with, and subject to native law and custom.

Stock Routes shall mean tertiary or secondary or inter-state stock routes linking two or more states together or leading from grazing reserve to grazing reserve.

When passed into law, the Act shall be cited as The National Grazing Reserve Commission (Establishment and Development) Bill 2008.

SUPPORTERS’ ARGUMENT: The first surprise regarding this Bill is that the sponsor, Senator Kure, did not say the truth about the most important thing that her Bill is intended to achieve, that is, to curb the incessant fatal feuds between Fulani nomadic cattle rearers and farmers all over the country. When she presented it, she tried to prove its relevance with a lot of wishy-washy points. She said that the National Grazing Reserves will be provided with incentives and facilities such as functional Earth Dams, Water Points, Dairy Processing Centres, Schools, functional Barns and Livestock service centres but didn’t say for who’s benefit and why. She added that the Bill, if passed into law, would lead to the establishment of National Grazing Commission that would be empowered to enforce Gracing Reserve Laws across the country and then simply stated that grazing reserves were very important.

Next to support the Bill was Senator Ningi from Bauchi State who rambled down memory lane about how Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa ensured the establishment of grazing reserves in the then Northern Nigeria without mentioning anything about the clashes between pastoralists and farmers all over the West African sub-region. Ningi also tried to score the point that the economic value of Grazing Reserves to the nation included the creation of employment opportunities, large-scale production of food for domestic consumption and for export, generation of income for the people and for the government. Ningi concluded his support comments by saying that if the activities of the large number of pastoralists in Nigeria were well harnessed, it would diversify the economy and minimize unemployment, inflation and serve as a means of giving the Fulani nomads a sense of belonging.

Alhaji Sale Bayeri, a PDP stalwart and the self-styled spokesperson of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Rearers Association of Nigeria, claims that there are 12 million cattle rearers in Nigeria and that they have been at the receiving end of all sorts of atrocities from other Nigerians and neglect by the government. The population figures are a figment of his imagination because his tribesmen rejected the idea of including ‘Tribe’ as a demographic date to be captured in the last population census. Authorities quote about 18 million for all the Fulanis across West Africa. Many of these are no more cattle rearers but educated and living in cities without any cattle. No one can authoritatively quote a number today for the population of Nigerian Faulanis.

OMISSIONS: I have noted the following as deliberate or careless omissions from the proposed legislation:

What informed the need for such a Bill is not mentioned anywhere in the Bill. Is the incessant Fulani/farmers clashes? What is the cause of all such clashes? Is it not because the Fulani cattle rearers grazed their cattle on the farmers’ yet-to-be-harvested crops? Who is therefore the antagonist? Should the cattle-rich aggressor Fulanis now be protected or the defenseless poor peasant farmers?

For whose use are the grazing reserves and stock routes to be acquired? The Bill does not say. It will simply create grazing reserves and stock routes for nomadic cattle rearers who we know are of one ethnic group – Fulani. The clause cattle rearers in the Bill can be replaced with the word Fulani, and it will be seen that it is purely meant to serve the interest of one ethnic group out of over 250 ethnic groups on Nigeria.

The Bill does not define who a cattle rearer is. Will all Nigerians of all ethnic groups who own cattle, sheep, goats, camels, donkeys, etc; be allowed to use the grazing reserves and stock routes.

Why does the Bill not require Cattle rearers to contribute towards the acquisition of the grazing reserves and stock routes when owning cattle is tantamount to being wealthy? Cattle rearers are richer in terms of assets than the poor farmers who will be dispossessed of their inherited ancestral lands. Shouldn’t the rich cattle rearers be made to sell some cattle and pay for the rights the Bill wishes to give them?

The fundamental rights, ancestral rights, customary rights, rights to pursue a preferred means of livelihood of farmers whose lands will be forcefully acquired are not mentioned anywhere in the Bill. Don’t other Nigerians, especially agriculturalists, have equal rights and entitlements from the Federal Government as cattle rearers?

Arrangements for the resettlement of the farmers and other land owners who will become internally displaced is not mentioned anywhere in the Bill. Does the Bill assume that the compensation they will receive will be adequate to buy comparative land elsewhere? Why should the Bill not provide that the Grazing Reserves Commission will also negotiate and pay for alternative land for persons who will be dispossessed of their farm holdings?

The Bill has been designed to create a refugee crisis of internally displaced persons by legislation. This is the most absurd and vexatious to put it mildly. How could right-thinking, intelligent Nigerian legislators do this? Unless they are not what we all assume them to be.

Without saying it in clear terms, the Bill, when and if passed into law, shall apply in retrospect from 2008. Otherwise, why should it be cited as a 2008 legislation in our statute books? I can’t see the rationale in this.

The NGRC shall report ‘for the time being’ to the Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources. Who will it eventually be reporting to? The head of the Fulani tribe? Why this ambiguity? Something is being hidden here by the sponsors of the Bill.

There is no provision whatsoever in the Bill for the policing of grazing reserves and stock routes by any of our security agencies. They will be outside the purview of our law enforcement agencies and therefore constitute lawless enclaves where the nomads will be above the laws of Nigeria.

IMPLICATIONS: Though the late Senator Gyang Dantong, whose constituency has experienced some of the most intense ethnic clashes with fatalities in thousands, supported the idea of the Bill, he quickly cautioned that government should be very careful in such land acquisitions to avoid infringing on the rights of other people. He suggested that pastoralists should be encouraged instead to acquire land through the use of their great wealth for the purposes enumerated in the proposed legislation.

I am shocked that Nigerian adults in the National Assembly would even tolerate such an obnoxious and vexatious proposal. The Bill is a clear attempt to hand over the entire country, its economy, its land, its citizens, its security and its future into the hands of one tribal group – the Fulani. The Bill should have been thrown out at first presentation.

The Bill proposes to establish a National Grazing Reserve Commission (NGRC) for the country. The NGRC will be charged with the responsibility of using funds received from the Federal Government to forcefully acquire farmlands from Nigerians in all the 36 states of the country, develop same at government expense through the provision of boreholes, water reservoirs, etc; for the exclusive use of nomadic cattle rearers (or pasturalists), whom everyone knows, are of only one ethnic stock – Fulanis – out of over 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria. All other Nigerians who venture into these grazing reserves for whatever reason would be fined or imprisoned or both.

The Fulani people have roamed the entire West African landscape since the 12th Century. They are known to be highly temperamental and unforgiving. They boast of having never lost a war in history. They have rejected civilization all this while and have chosen to continue practicing a medieval style cattle rearing which entails following the weather and vegetation. They therefore do not own land or landed property, but great wealth in terms of heads of cattle.

What if a state is inundated and overwhelmed by large numbers of cattle rearers who must graze in it and also pass through it to other states as Benue, Plateau, Nassarawa, and Kaduna Benue are sure to be? Will their citizens and state governors have the right to object or say how much grazing land may be taken or will compulsion be used?

In which markets will the Fulanis eventually sell their fat cattle? Will the displaced natives be very happy to do business with them after taking over their farm lands? Will new kinds of animosities and backlashes not develop? For example, the boycott of all Fulani-produced dairy products could be the first backlash. Will this legislation promote peaceful coexistence or greater hatred?

FULANI/FARMER CLASHES: What has informed the couching of this Bill by its sponsors is the incessant clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers in many parts of the country especially in the Christian Middle Belt, especially Plateau State, Benue State, Nassarawa State and the southern half of Kaduna State and Bauchi State.

The question that every serious-minded Nigerian should ask is, what is the cause of the bloody clashes between the nomads and their host communities? The answer is not far, yet Senator Kure and her co-travelers would want the world to believe that it is something else.

Each and every clash has been triggered by the Fulani’s inadvertent or deliberate grazing of their cattle on freshly germinating farm crops, fully mature crops or harvested crops still on the farm. When confronted, the nomads are never apologetic. Instead, they organize cold-blooded night attacks on entire villages using guns, machetes and military camouflage. Reprisal attacks by these communities only attract even more vicious attacks. The Nigerian press has reported enough of these for me to bother to reproduce them here.

Shortly after each attack or a reprisal attack, the war of wits commences in the local and international press by the Fulani elite. Spokesmen of the attackers have even given press conferences to state reasons for their attacks. Nigerian security agencies always rush to press to give their own accounts, while the victims are left to try and debunk all of them. Legislators and State Governors have accused the military authorities deployed to provide security in vulnerable areas of being complicit, culpable and compromising. Such accusations and counter-accusations continue even as we speak.

A report in the SUNNEWS of 6th August 2012 says, “It is also a source of problems in Idoma land in Benue State and some parts of Southern Nigeria, where cattle rearers, without any compunctions or remorse, run their cattle over critical farmland, destroying crops. It is this penchant of Fulani cattle herdsman for illegally appropriating farmland wherever they choose that this bill is seeking to legalize with the proposed Grazing Rights Commission.”

The Fulanis have lived side-by-side the Beroms of Plateau State in a symbiotic relationship for upwards of 200 years. Cattle manure, meat, cheese, milk and other dairy products are provided by the pasturalists while the Beroms allow them settle for a while on their farm lands. Cattle should be grazed only in permitted areas and never on farm crops still on the farm. The relationship became so cozy that the Beroms even loaned their male children to the Fulanis to graze for them for a period after which they were paid in kind with a calf or two. Several Vom, Kuru and Fan farmers are now cattle owners and cattle rearers in their own right. You could say, Fulanis and Beroms have actually become ‘cousins’. Other ethnic groups in Bauchi, Yobe, Gombe, Adamawa, Taraba, Nassarawa, Niger and Kaduna States can easily relate to this type of relationship in their localities.

What went wrong? is the million-dollar question. Fulani populations grew, some of them became educated, deforestation, desert encroachment, urbanization, inefficient nomadic lifestyle, politics and lastly religion, have been introduced into the equation making it quadratic. Since the equation cannot balance, hell has been let loose. There is no easy solution to the problem, certainly not Kure’s Grazing Reserves Bill.

Honorable Simon Mwadkwon, PDP, who represents the Barakin Ladi-Riyom Federal Constituency in the House of Representative, has continued to use every opportunity to sound the great dangers of the Grazing Reserves Commission Bill. He explains that its real spirit is hidden in ethnic and religious expansionism by the Hausa and Fulani tribes who have an inordinate ambition to Islamize the whole country and also to rule it in perpetuity.

In Mwadkwon’s words in an interview he granted Anayo Okolie of BESTNAIRA, “It is also unfortunate that in the 21st Century, the Fulani and Hausa people believe that they must rule the people at all cost and must not allow other people to have control over their destiny …….. They have tried by all means using the international media, the Hausa section of the BBC and the Voice of America, to paint the Plateau person in bad light to the world, even when it is clearly known that they are the aggressors…….. The problem is that President Goodluck Jonathan seems not to have the political will to tackle this problem. I don’t know what he is afraid of. He is the Chief Security Officer and Commander-in-Chief of all the Armed Forces in Nigeria and has the power to give directives”.

In another interview reported in TRIBUNE of 11 June 2012, Mwadkwon said, “The cause of the incessant hostilities in his constituency can be attributed to the Fulani’s expansionist tendency, which started with the Usman Dan Fodio jihad of 1804. It has been their agenda since 1804 to capture the Middle Belt region and use it as a launch pad to capture the South. It is their belief that once the northern minorities are captured, they would be willing tools for the capture of the South. Another reason is the quest for grazing reserves and that was why the House of Representatives killed the bill on grazing reserves (in 2008) because it would have caused a lot of havoc in the country. The Fulani cannot lay claim to any village, as they do not have any, but are tenants who pay royalty to the people.”

Coincidentally, I have been reading the Islamic Perspective article titled, “Rights of Neighbors & Strong Society”, on page 29 of the January 18, 2013, edition of Leadership newspaper. The author, Fethullah Gulen, wrote in the fifth paragraph, “If the rights of neighbors are stressed so much in the Qu’ran and the Tradition of the Prophet, then it is an issue of great importance. In this respect, a Muslim should embrace – near or distant – all of their neighbors magnanimously.”  The Holy Bible says in Acts 17:26 that it is God who allocated the geographical demarcations of each tribe, while Proverbs 22:28 says that the ancient boundary stones set by our ancestors should not be moved. Therefore, support for this Bill will pitch the supporter in direct contravention of his or her religious teachings. As can be observed, the debate on the Bill has already pitched Muslim legislators and Christian legislators on opposite sides – for and against.

INHERENT DANGERS: I will enumerate the numerous serious dangers inherent in the creation of grazing reserves and stock routes throughout the country as provided for in the Bill. Supporters of the Bill should consider these and retrace their steps.

The Bill, if passed into law, will take care of the interest on only one ethnic group in a country of over 250 ethnic groups. It is, therefore, inconsiderate and insensitive towards other Nigerians. This is not the only ethnic group to have problems in the country. It admits that coexistence between Fulanis and other Nigerians is impossible and so fences must be built to keep us apart like wild beasts.

The Bill, if passed, will forcefully take over ancestral lands from other Nigerians and displace them. A problem of internally displaced persons (IDPs) would have been created by Federal legislation, which is a big shame. These are farmers from time immemorial who cannot suddenly change their means of livelihood, just like the Fulanis who have refused to change theirs for centuries. All Nigerian have equal rights and must all be treated equally and fairly.

Stock routes linking up grazing reserves throughout the country with no provision for security, is an open invitation for foreign invaders to infiltrate and traverse the length and breadth of the country at will. Our security will be thoroughly compromised. Plateau State government claims to have documentary evidence such a threat, therefore, this fear is not far-fetched. Boko Haram insurgents are here while terrorist groups are close by in Somalia and Mali. We need to improve our surveillance apparatus instead of opening up un-policed corridors for the free and easy movement of mercenaries and weapons.

If the Fulanis decide to use these so-called stock routes as safe corridors for the transportation of contraband goods or weapons, we would have been the most foolish people on earth to create such a safe haven for them.

If passed, the Bill would create a lawless society since nobody else would be allowed to enter these grazing reserves and stock routes, not even the Military or the Police because it is not provided for in the Bill. If our past experience is anything to go by, we have not been able to police our few pipelines in the South-South and South-West of the country, can we dream of putting adequate surveillance in place for all grazing reserves and stock routes throughout the country? Even without a grazing reserve law in place, the nomads refused to allow the JTF personnel access into their enclaves in Baraking Ladi and Riyom Local Governments of Plateau State in 2012 following the deaths of Senator Gyang Dantong and Hon. Gyang Fulani. This was even after the JTF Commander unprofessionally gave them a 48-hour notice to move their families and cattle to safety so that the military could comb the hills for mercenaries because  evidence suggested that armed uniformed men might have been involved in the attacks on Berom villages all these years.

If passed, unspecified but huge Federal funding would be used to acquire land and develop same just to preserve a primitive life style of a few people who have refused to partake in the technological and social advancements that the country has recorded. There is no justification for this federal funding, which will be to the detriment of other very needy sectors of the economy.

The Bill envisages the uprooting of entire ‘native communities’ from their ancestral homes and yet its sponsors don’t think that such an action would be inhuman and barbaric.

The Bill relies heavily on the contentious Land Use Act 1978 which the NASS has already slated for removal from the Constitution so that it’s provisions can be debated and amended. To use it when we know that we do not like it and that we are about to amend it would be wrong. Let’s wait for its amendment and then see if acquisition of land for grazing reserves and stock routes would still be possible.

Our Constitution provides in Section 315 and sub-section 5 that nothing shall invalidate any of its provisions, which shall continue to apply as any other constitutional provisions and shall not be repealed except in accordance with the rigorous provisions for the alteration of the constitution itself. The National Grazing Reserves Commission Bill is an attempt to create the kind of legislation that S315(5) has blocked.

That any litigation on the acquisition of land by the National Grazing Reserve Commission must obtain the prior approval of the Attorney General of the Federation is a repressive provision which limits the rights of the citizens and governments of the country and therefore violates our Constitution and basic human rights. The proponents of the Bill obviously realized from the onset that the Bill, if passed into law, will be an unpopular legislation that will be rejected and challenged in the courts by a majority of Nigerians and so they included this repressive provision.

The Land Use Act provides that “all land comprised in the territory of each State in the Federation are hereby vested in the Governor of that State and such land shall be held in trust and administered for the use and common benefit of all Nigerians”. The Grazing Reserve Commission Bill is in direct contraventions of this provision it does not serve the ‘common benefit’ of all Nigerians. So why proceed in folly?

 

SUGGESTIONS & RECOMMENDATIONS: My suggestions for approaching the issue of communal clashes between our much-needed nomadic pastoralists and their farmer-neighbors are as follows:

Avoid the use of legislation when trying to solve a social problem because it doesn’t solve the problem. It can only temporarily favor one party while the fires glow underneath, creating a time bomb which must explode sooner or later.

What should be removed is the age-old nomadic way of life, and not all the neighbors of the nomads along their migratory routes in all 36 States of the country. What else can the peasant farmers do with their compensation money apart from farming, and where else can they go and farm if uprooted from their ancestral homes? Just as cattle are very valuable assets to the nomads, so is the land to the agriculturalists and none of us is superior to the other.

The nomads among us should be assisted to settle down to a sedentary life style. The nomadic way of life can no longer be sustained by anybody. Adopting modern methods of integrated farming on ranches is now inevitable for the nomads.

The cattle rearers should sell some of their cattle and buy land with the proceeds in any part of the country of their choice. Government should buy land for them when they can afford it for themselves.

They should then take up indigeneship of those States, Local Governments and Districts which they have chosen. Remember that as at now they are just Nigerian citizens with no other identity. The States that the nomads decide to adopt as theirs should take up the burden of helping them settle down. Any Federal funding should go to those States as special nomadic Fulani resettlement grants.

Where huge numbers of nomads choose a State and the State feels it would be overburdened, such a State should be able to peg the numbers it would accept or else the Middle Belt states may be overrun. Thousands and thousands may choose Plateau, Benue and Nassarawa States, while none may choose Kano or Osun or Ebonyi States.

The NASS should adopt a resolution in line with the suggestions above and avoid creating yet another Federal agency. The Federal Government is currently looking for ways of reducing the over 450 agencies it has.

States should enact legislation that prescribes stiff penalties for cattle rearers whose cattle graze on other people’s farm crops illegally. This has been the source of all the friction. No one in the country hates the nomads. To the contrary, everyone needs them for the dairy products and beef they supply.

All nomads should be made to send their children to school before they benefit from any of the arrangements suggested here. Education will guarantee the future success of the kind of animal husbandry that they must adopt now.

Only one conclusion can be drawn at the end of this analysis. The Bill is so ill-conceived that it constitutes a time bomb which must be jettisoned without further ado. I strongly recommend to all our Federal legislators to save Nigeria the tragedy that will follow the passage of such a law. The perennial clashes between nomadic people and farmers should be studied carefully in order to ascertain their remote and immediate causes before solutions are proffered. Meanwhile, let all cattle rearers keep their cattle off their neighbors’ farms.

James Pam, an activist for the protection of the ethnic minorities of the Jos Plateau, runs a blog called Jos Plateau Affairs where this article was first published.