On March 1, 2017, I penciled down my first article on this platform in support of the Bill for a Law to regulate and control cattle grazing in Akwa Ibom State and other matters connected therewith, which passed through second reading on the floor of the sixth Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly on February 21, 2017.
The Bill is being sponsored by the Member representing Essien Udim State Constituency in the House, Mr Nse Ntuen.
That I endorsed the Bill in my article under reference, does not mean I agreed absolutely with the entire 8 SECTIONS of the proposed law. Off course, there is a grey area in the Bill.
SECTION 2(2) of the Bill which is captioned – Prohibition of uncontrolled Grazing, states; “The Governor shall by an order designate land in each Local Government in respect of which cattle or other ruminants may be permitted to graze.” Is the only grey area spotted out in the Bill. This Section has raised several concerns in the state. Akwa Ibom people are against government allocating lands to Fulani herdsmen under any guise in the state.
However, I thought it wise to reach out to the lead sponsor of the Bill, Mr Nse Ntuen, to share the fears of the people about this Section with him. The lawmaker has expressed his willingness to ensure that any aspect of the Bill that is not in the best interest of the people of the state should be deleted from the Bill.
Again, in order to further enrich my argument in support of the Bill, I reached out to the member representing my state constituency in the House of Assembly, Mr Otobong Ndem, on the grey area.
Mr Ndem also shared same opinion as mine. He declared his support for the Bill, and added that he is opposed to Section 2(2) of the Bill. He highlighted many benefits of the bill, especially the need to check the activities of Fulani herdsmen in the state with the instrumentality of law.
One thing is certain, this is a good Bill. Little wonder all the 26 lawmakers supported it when it was read a second time and passed into committee stage; unlike the Real Property Charge Bill, which even, its co-sponsors are publicly disassociating themselves from it.
From my telephone interaction with Mr Ntuen, I can deduce that the lead sponsor of this Bill (Mr. Nse Ntuen), is not grandstanding in any way. He is open and ready to allow any grey area spotted out in the proposed Law to be amended or deleted.
The Bill is now in the public discourse, I implore us to passionately discuss the merits and de-merits of the bill. Let lawyers, especially members of the Nigerian Bar Association and the civil society, which I belong to, thoroughly scrutinise the content of the draft Bill – I mean, Section by Section; Clause by Clause, in order to guide the lawmakers accordingly.
At the moment, Fulani herdsmen are grazing their cattle uncontrollably using them to destroy our farmlands across the state. Because there is no Law to checkmate their activities; they even carry firearms and other dangerous weapons about. They attack our armless farmers whose farmlands their cattle have destroyed.
What Fulani herdsmen did in a community in Ibiono Ibom LGA few months ago is still fresh in my mind. In Etinan LGA, it took the swift intervention of the Assembly member representing Etinan, Mr Aniefiok Denis, whom I learnt paid N300,000, to herdsmen in the area as the cost of two dead cows allegedly killed by unknown farmers in Etinan. The lawmaker did it to avert unwarranted and unexpected herdsmen’s attack in the community. When it happened in Essien Udim LGA, it was the lead sponsor of this Bill, Mr Nse Ntuen, that swiftly intervened and paid N150,000 to herdsmen as the cost of one dead cow allegedly killed by unknown farmer in the area. A month ago, a community in Ifa Atai, Etoi, Uyo LGA where I reside, had to levy everyone residing in the community in order to pay Fulani herdsmen in the area for a cow said to have been killed by some unknown angry youths, just to avert their invasion.
I am a natural farmer; I can tell what farmers in Mkpat Enin LGA are going through in the hands of Fulani herdsmen. Our farmlands and crops are destroyed on a daily basis by cattle and these herdsmen. I think it is high time we brought their activities under the strictest control of the Law.
We should not throw away the baby and the bath water. Other states of the federation suffering same fate like Akwa Ibom, have enacted grazing Law to control Fulani herdsmen and their cattle, in order to forestall their violent attacks.
When the National Assembly last year, attempted to legislate and enact a grazing law for Nigeria, I recall that the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu advised against it, because, according to him, it does not fall under the Exclusive Legislative List of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
Ekweremadu advised any state of the federation affected by the activities of Fulani herdsmen to enact a grazing Law that will control their activities. Today, there is a grazing Law in Ekiti, Bayelsa and Enugu states, and as we speak, other states are working on theirs. We cannot be left behind!
Akwa Ibom people, let’s not throw away the baby and the bath water.
- Franklyn Isong is a public affairs commentator