Ekiti grazing law: What implications for residents, herdsmen?

The Ekiti State government recently did what many saw as “blazing the trail” in the fight against the menace of herdsmen. In creating a way out of the menace of cattle rearers, which have turned deadly, Governor Ayodele Fayose, on Monday, August 29, 2016, signed the bill that prohibits open and night grazing (among other related things) in the state, into law.

To further strengthen the law and add bite to its enforcement, Governor Fayose, on Thursday, October 20th 2016, inaugurated Ekiti Grazing Enforcement Marshals (EGEM) to see to the implementation of the law. The law entitled: “Prohibition of Cattle and other Ruminants Grazing in Ekiti State Bill, 2016” was received with mixed feelings among Nigerians.

The inauguration of EGEM raised some level of anxiety in Ekiti State, with some people wondering if the marshals would not abuse the privilege of their offices. But Governor Fayose had stated at the inauguration that the marshals that they would not be armed and that they must not step beyond their bounds.

But the umbrella body of the herdsmen, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) kicked on Saturday. They alleged that the EGEM had attacked their members in the state and killed their cattle. MACBAN alleged in a statement by its spokesperson, Baba Othman Ngelzarma said in a statement that “Fayose unleashed the marshals against our members whose herds of cattle had gone to a stream at Agon Bridge on Federal Polytechnic road between the time of 2:00 – 2:30 PM to quench their thirst on Friday 21st October 2016.”

However, the state government, in reaction to the statement by Miyetti Allah, urged the cattle rearers and breeders not to test the will of government and people of Ekiti State, saying the law took into consideration the interest of all stakeholders before it was passed by the House of Assembly and signed by Governor Ayodele Fayose and if there are grey areas, they should seek clarification.

The Ekiti State Commissioner for Information, Youth and Sports Development, Mr. Lanre Ogunsuyi said: “All the genuine cattle dealers were at the meeting and there was a public hearing, and the law became necessary and it was duly passed by the Ekiti State House of Assembly and signed by the state government.

“Anybody who is criminally minded can test the will of government and see what happens to a man that breaks the law. The penalties are there. The law exists in Ekiti State; we are in a federation. That law is part of the laws of Ekiti State and anybody who will do business in Ekiti State has to comply with it or face the penalties of the law.”

The law by the Ekiti State government had followed an attack by Fulani herdsmen in Oke Ako community in Ikole Local Government Area of the state, in which one person lost his life and many other people were injured. At a public ceremony attended by tens of traditional rulers, chefs and sundry community leaders from all the communities in the 16 local government areas of the state recently, Governor Fayose had publicly signed the bill into law, thereby bringing to effect a law on one of the most debated issues in recent times in the country.

Among other things, the law named: “Law To regulate and Control Cattle and Other Ruminants Grazing in Ekiti State and Other Matters Connected Therewith, 2016”, prescribes a six-month jail term for offenders. It also prescribes that convicted offenders would be made to pay the value of the farm and products destroyed by their cattle.

The Speaker of the state’s House of Assembly, Pastor Kola Oluwawole, at the presentation of the bill for the governor’s assent, pointed out that those who violated the law would be charged for terrorism. Oluwawole said the law was meant to maintain sanity in that sector of the state’s economy as well as maintain peace.

The law was conceived following herdsmen attack in Oke Ako community in Ikole Local Government Area on May 21. The attack in which two persons were killed, had caused the governor to visit the community and had put some immediate security measures in place. But he had also stated on the occasion that the state would come up with a law to control the activities of herdsmen in the state, just as he also took steps to strengthen the locals in their own security and rebuild confidence.

There are also provisions in the law for places for grazing. For instance, a site was said to have been provided Erifun community in Ado Ekiti Local Government Area of the state.

The Ejemu of Oke Ako, High Chief Solomon Kayode Olajide, who is the second in rank to the traditional ruler, had spoken on behalf of the community. Chief Olajide thanked Governor Fayose, saying his actions had put the community in the worldview.

The herdsmen resident in Ekiti State had recently reacted to the new law through their lawyer, Mr. Umar Imam. He said the Ekiti law “contradicted the Anti-Terrorism Law,” of Nigeria, contending that “the law of the federation on terrorism is very clear and no one can be charged for terrorism for carrying lesser arms like cutlasses, catapults and knives during the grazing period as contained in Ekiti new law.”

The Seriki of the Fulani in Ekiti, Alhaji Ahmadu Mahmoud, who heads the Jamu Nate Fulbe Association of Nigeria, said: “We agree with the governor on the grazing period of between 7am and 6pm, but we should be allowed to carry lesser arms and relocate at night. How can somebody who wants to carry his cattle numbering hundreds from Ekiti to  places  like Lokoja, Ibadan or Ilorin move during the day? These places are densely populated and it will create traffic congestion and confusion everywhere. The government must look into all these.”

But the state’s Commissioner for Information, Youth and Sports Development, Mr. Lanre Ogunsuyi, while explaining the new law, pointed out that it was a child of circumstance like most other laws found everywhere in the world and that the law is the law and must be obeyed.

On the complaints of the Fulani herdsmen as regards their movement at night, Ogunsuyi said “the extant law should be obeyed because that is the law.” The people of the state have, through their representatives in the state’s House of Assembly, decided on a law and that is the law for now.

While the law has already come into effect, the people of Erifun area of Ado Ekiti said they too have heard about the announcement of their area as one of those where an area would be made available for grazing, in the state.

A resident of Erifun, who said “as a civil servant I cannot talk to the press,” told Nigerian Tribune, however, volunteered that “we have also heard among the landlords in the area that the grazing law chose our area as part of the Ado Ekiti reserve.” According to him, “there has not been any formal notification or any visit by officials of the government on the matter. But ordinarily, it is no longer news to us in this area. We have also been seeing the cattle at one time or the other.”

Another resident of the community, Mrs. Idowu Orikogbe, said “there are Fulani people in many parts of Ado Ekiti but the ones that created the problem in Oke Ako are just bad. We are in support of the law and we want the movement of cattle to be in a controlled way, so that they wouldn’t continue to cause damage to other people’s property.”

Earlier in the year, precisely in January 2016, representatives of the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Saad, the Ewi of Ado Ekiti, Oba Rufus Adeyemo Adejugbe Aladesanmi III and sundry stakeholders had met in Ado Ekiti and proposed a ban on night grazing in Ekiti State.

According to media reports, the meeting was sequel to sustained clashes between herdsmen and their host communities, acts which had led to the loss of numerous lives and property in parts of the country. It was a proactive step to prevent such occurrence in Ekiti but it happened and the consequences are the controversy of the EGEM and the threats by herdsmen.

Speaking on the threats, which have led to a level of tension in the state, some residents of the state have contended that “if certain commodities, like alcohol, could be banned in some states of the federation, then it goes without saying that some activities could also be regulated in Ekiti State for the benefit of all.”

The stage is set for a prolonged controversy. But would it descend to violence and loss of life and property in the youngest state in the South West?