Ondo, Rivers assent to anti-open grazing laws, as Sept. 1 timeline kicks in

[By VICTOR NZE]

With the exception of Lagos, Imo, Cross River and Osun states, governors of all the states in the Southern region have now effectively signed the anti-open grazing of livestock bill into law or commenced legislation into the bill, as the September 1 timeline agreed upon by Southern Governors Forum finally kicks-in.

In the same vein, except for Ebonyi and Imo, which claim having legislations with semblance to the anti-open grazing law, the remaining states like Anambra, Enugu and Abia either have legislations in motion or already operationalised the law.

In the South South region, except for the Cross River government of Governor Ben Ayade which has never showed any disposition to enacting the bill or even attended any two of the Southern Governors’ meetings held, states like Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta, and Edo have almost concluded deliberations on the bills, awaiting passage and later the assent by the various governors.

However, as the September 1 timeline set by the governors to enact the law kicks in, only a handful of states can claim to have commenced implementation or even operationalised the law.

With the exception of Abia State which has formulated such framework and spelt out its framework of operations, many other states are yet to kick-start full enforcement of the law.

It would be re called that rising from its second meeting in Lagos, Monday, July 5, 2021, 17 Southern Governors agreed to set a timeline of Wednesday, September 1, 2021 for the promulgation of the anti open grazing law in all member States.

The deadline was set for September 21, this year.

The Lagos meeting followed an inaugural one convened in Asaba, the Delta State capital, eight weeks earlier, to discuss issues affecting the southern region of the country in the face of the perceived violent assaults by livestock herders, and other threats to security in the region.

Ondo was quick to kick off the September 1 timeline as the state governor, Rotimii Akeredolu, Tuesday, signed into law the Anti-Open Grazing Bill in line with the resolution of the Southern Governors Forum at its last meeting, held in Lagos.

Weeks after Governor Akeredolu had forwarded a bill to regulate security, rearing and grazing of livestock and establishment of ranches to the state House of Assembly, the bill was subsequently passed into law after going through public hearings and other legislative procedures.

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Chairman House Committee on Agriculture, Taofeek Oladele, while presenting the report on the bill to regulate security, rearing and grazing of livestock and establishment of ranches, observed that the bill, when passed into law, will prevent the destruction of crops in the state.

Oladele said that it would address clashes between herders and farmers, enhance the growth of livestock farming, prevent control and manage the spread of diseases and as well encourage modern techniques of animal husbandry.

Announcing Akeredolu’s assent to the bill, State Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr Donald Ojogo, in a statement, said the governor signed the bill in his office on Tuesday.

“The move (signing the bill) is in line with the resolution of the Southern Governors’ Forum at its last meeting in Lagos where September 1st was set as the deadline for governors in southern Nigeria to sign the Anti-Open Grazing Bill into law.

“This is worthwhile and a very laudable development aimed at stemming needless instances of skirmishes, conflicts as well as infractions on the enviably peaceful disposition of the good people of Ondo State.

“It is very pertinent to aver and indeed, reiterate that the law shall rather, engender a more cordial, mutually benefiting relationship amongst residents of the state irrespective of ethnicity, religion or creed. For emphasis, no particular group of persons is the target.

“While it is the hope of government that all residents would take an ample advantage of this Law to enhance our socio-economic well being in Ondo State, compliance of same shall be given the utmost attention. Government shall pursue with vigour, through lawful means, to ensure strict compliance.

“In this regard, details of the new law shall be made available to the public for proper information, more depth of understanding on contents as well as other relevant areas,” the statement read.

Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike also beat the deadline, as he had, penultimate Thursday, signed the bill which prohibits open grazing in the state, into law.

Wike assented to the bill at the Government House in Port Harcourt, the Rivers Capital, penultimate Thursday.

According to a statement by Kelvin Ebiri, the governor’s spokesman, the Open Rearing and Grazing Prohibition Law No 5 of 2021 will address the issue of farmer-herder clashes in the state.

“It is no longer a story. All of us know what our people have suffered in terms of this open grazing. Today, all Nigerians have come to accept the reality that open grazing is no longer fashionable. Even our brothers in the north have agreed that it is no longer fashionable,” Wike said.

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On his part, Speaker of the Rivers House of Assembly, Ikuinyi-Owaji Ibani, explained that the law prohibiting open grazing of livestock in the state, will promote peace and security.

He also assured residents that the “lawmakers will continue to partner the executive in providing requisite laws that will advance the state for the good of posterity”.

For Enugu State, the bill to that effect has only just scaled first reading at the House of Assembly.

Presenting the bill, penultimate week, which will regulate cattle ranching in the state, the House Leader, Ikechukwu Ezeugwu, said it is for the security of lives and property.

The lawmaker, citing relevant sections of the House order, assured the citizens that the bill would pass through the procedures of lawmaking, including the public hearing stage.

Ezeugwu, who represents Udenu State Constituency, warned the media and the public against politicising the legislation, which was only presented and as such had not been deliberated on by the lawmakers.

He said politicising the bill would truncate the peace enjoyed by the residents.

While the Osun Government says it, along with Ekiti, and Oyo had laws on open grazing before now, Lagos is yet to make an official statement to that effect despite playing host to the second Southern Governors’ forum meeting in July, this year.

In the South-South, Akwa Ibom State government had already forwarded a bill titled: Acquisition of Ranches, Grazing and Administration of Livestock Regulatory Bill, 2021, to the House of Assembly.

While Bayelsa passed its bill on March 21, 2021, Delta, Rivers and Edo are awaiting the proposed law from the executive.

In the South-East, Abia is known to have such a law while Enugu, Ebonyi, Imo and Anambra have yet to send the bill to their legislatures.

Southern governors had on May 11, 2021, met in Asaba where they resolved to ban open grazing.

The move was aimed at putting an end to the incessant killing of natives, especially farmers by nomadic herdsmen.

In what is now known as Asaba Declaration, the governors resolved: “that open grazing of cattle is banned across Southern Nigeria. Development and population growth have put pressure on available land and increased the prospects of conflict between migrating herders and local populations in the South. Given this scenario, it becomes imperative to enforce the ban on open grazing in the South (including cattle movement to the South by foot).”

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In July, their position was also reiterated at the second SGF meeting in Lagos.

September 21 was chosen as the deadline for states in the southern region to promulgate laws banning open grazing.

Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, Chief Sheriff Oborevwori, said the recently called off strike by the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) slowed down the passing of the bill into law.

Oborevwori who stated that the House was fully in support of the ban, said as soon as the House reconvenes, there would be a bill to back the pronouncement for the enforcement of the ban in Delta State.

Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly commenced the process of giving legal backing to the ban back in March.

The Akwa Ibom anti-grazing bill, which was sponsored by the lawmaker representing Mkpat Enin State Constituency, Mr. Victor Ekwere, and co-sponsored by 12 other state legislators, has already scaled first reading on the floor of the house.

It is titled: “Acquisition of Ranches, grazing and Administration of Livestock Regulatory Bill, 2021.”

Ekiti State House of Assembly had back in 2016, under the administration of Governor Ayo Fayose, already enacted the prohibition of cattle and other ruminants grazing law.

Ogun Government has already operationalized its anti-open grazing law following the passage of the “Animal Grazing Regulation and Cattle Ranch Establishment Bill”, 2020″ by State House of Assembly.

A section of the bill prescribed a three-year jail term ‘without the option of fine including the forfeiture of the herds of cattle or livestock under his/her control to the state government for anyone who rearers, herd or graze any livestock in any part of the state except within the permitted ranches or anyone who rears cattle or livestock outside the permitted ranches after the commencement of the law.’

Osun and Imo do not yet have an anti-open grazing law, but had related legislations in place, and were expected to amend those existing laws after the Southern Governors’ Forum meetings in Asaba and Lagos. However, they are yet to commence that process.

Lagos House of Assembly led by Hon. Mudashiru Obasa is yet commence deliberations on the proposed bill.

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