Ekiti: Grazing into new life with a new law

The Ekiti State government recently ‘blazed the trail’ in creating a way out of the menace of cattle rearers in various parts of the country when, last Monday, its grazing law came into effect. On August 29, the governor of Ekiti State, Mr Ayodele Fayose, signed the bill that prohibits open and night grazing (among other related things) in the state into law.

At a public ceremony attended by traditional rulers, chiefs and community leaders from all the communities in the 16 local government areas of the state, Governor Fayose 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. Convicted offenders would be made to pay the value of the farm and products destroyed by their cattle.

Speaker of the state’s House of Assembly, Mr 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. ‘‘The law is meant to maintain sanity in that sector of the state’s economy as well as maintain peace,’’ he said, adding that ‘‘the government will allot certain portions of land to each local governments for grazing. Anyone caught grazing on portions of land or any farmland not allotted by government shall be apprehended and made to face the law,” he said.

However, the state government is already working with local government councils in the state to create portions of land for grazing in all the council areas.

Governor Fayose also reiterated that following the signing of the law, cattle rearers that carry arms would be arrested and treated as terrorists.

Fayose explained that government took the bill to the House after what happened in Oke-Ako some months ago. ‘‘The House has passed the bill and I have to assent to it. It becomes a law from today that if you do anything to the contrary, you will be punished by the law. Any herdsman caught with firearms or any weapon while grazing in Ekiti now will be charged with terrorism,” he said.

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. even 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.

Following the measures, the people of Oke Ako specially lauded the governor for the military checkpoint he had facilitated in the community, which they said had rekindled their confidence as they had returned to their farms for their normal activities.

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

The Ejemu of Oke Ako, 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 unfortunate attack in which two of our children were killed has remained a source of agony to Oke Ako community. However, we thank God and thank Governor Fayose for his intervention which was urgent and prompt. This intervention which has restored the confidence of the people,” he said.

Many people in and outside the state have applauded Governor Fayose and his government for taking steps against activities of violent herdsmen.

Mr. Ajide Babatunde said “if nothing, it will send a signal that the activities of violent cattle rearers is not welcome and that if anyone flouts the law, there are sanctions.”

But the Fulani community in the state  has kicked, especially against the  restriction of movement of cattle at night.  The Fulanis contended that herdsmen should be allowed to carry some form of weapons.

The herdsmen resident in Ekiti State had reacted through their lawyer, Mr. Umar Imam,  who 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.

“I have made it in my submission during the public hearing on the bill in the Ekiti  State House of Assembly that these Fulani herdsmen use these lesser weapons for certain purposes that can make grazing easier. I also told them that movement at night while relocating from one place to another was to ensure that they don’t wreak havoc on the people during the day while relocating to other towns. I expected the state government to have taken care of these in the new law rather than total banning.

“What the state government ought to have done  is to allow whoever wants to relocate at night, to take permit from a certain government’s authority or inform their Seriki. But banning them from moving at night may not help the situation, it will make their jobs difficult.”

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 7:00 a.m and 6:00 p.m, 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 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. According to him, “for any law to come into existence, there must be a need for it. People were murdered in their sleep, people were attacked in their farms and then the government thought that the people must be protected against these herdsmen who have always been with us but were not dangerous and cantankerous.

“Now with the law, it is illegal to possess firearms without a license. Whoever that claims to be grazing cattle cannot also be carrying AK47.”

Ogunsuyi added: “We have also enacted that you can do ranching, for which the state is ready to provide land for people to do cattle ranching. We don’t want people to graze their cattle just anyhow because it had led to a lot of communal clashes and loss of life.

“For those who want to go on with impunity and destruction of life and property, illegal carrying of firearms, of course they will not like the law. But those whose lives have been affected and impugned upon, and who have had their farms destroyed by cattle, they love it. It is as simple as the normal two sides to a law: Those who infringe the law and who continue with impunity, and those who have been offended. So, some side would be jubilant and the other side would be a little bit petulant.

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 Sunday Tribune, however, 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.”