When I was growing up in the sixties and seventies, we saw Fulani herdsmen, herding their cattle along the then desolate Agenebode-Auchi Road. The cattle defecated on the road, in a trail that stretched across kilometres. We would clap, dance and welcome them with songs of “malu, kova, daba daba kova, ikpisa yeghe the lakhia, edu nukpotha mho abo, ne the gbe la kpu kpu” (cows with hooves, being led by idle old men, who wield sticks with which they flogged them ceaselessly).
The herdsmen, sticks across their shoulders, large straw Panama hats on their heads, a pitcher of water, visible amulets on their necks and arms, would simply smile at our innocence, and pass by. The relationship between them and the natives was tranquil and cordial. These were those good old days. Not anymore. Times have since changed.
The modern herdsmen
The modern Fulani herdsmen constitute a bunch of rampaging, combatant armies, wielding modern day sophisticated weapons. They invade whole communities as they did Agatu, take them hostage, maim, kill, set their houses ablaze, rape their women and daughters and shoot down the youth, escaping the inferno of homes they set ablaze. In their orgy of violence, armed robbery, carnage and bloodbath, comparable only to the invidious and incidious Boko Haram insurgency, they kidnap and murder in cold blood, traditional rulers, women, men and even clerics. No one is safe. No farmer escapes their unprovoked wrath.
They leave their host communities dehumanised and traumatised in pains, pangs, sweat, tears, sorrow and blood. Indigenes become strangers on their land, sleeping in the forests, or where they still do, in their communities, with one eye open. Farmers are wholly displaced from their ancestral lands. From Agatu to Agenebode, Ubulu Uku to Okada, Lokoja to Ondo, Mbaise to Oyo, it is the same story of palpable neo-colonialism and recolonisation, by a new set of acolytes of powerful mechantilistic cattle czars. The traditional ruler of Ubulu Uku was killed in cold blood, in most horrendous and horrific circumstances. Sophisticated weapons are freely brandished and used, perhaps, the only set of Nigerians that can wield weapons openly and brazenly, without sanctions or repercussions. Elder statesman, Chief Olu Falae, was kidnapped, right in his own farm, by these terrorists. His family paid ransom for his release. The herdsmen have only recently just descended on the same farm and killed Falae’s security guard. The septuagenarian nationalist cried aloud that he did not know what they want with him.
These few examples are only known because of their high profile nature. Thousands of Nigerians undergo this new orgy of violence every day, without mention.
The incubation of national explosion by the National Assembly
In the midst of this national calamity under the very nose of a “Change” mantra government that has so far turned the other eye, the National Assembly is incubating a national hara-kiri of dangerous proportions in the form of a so-called bill to establish a National Crazing Reserve Commission, the concept of which I and others had strenuously fought against at the 2014 National Conference (a conference whose over 600 salutary recommendations that can retool Nigeria the PMB government finds too leprous to touch). The Senate attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to deny the existence of such a Bill. It says it was only in the 7th Senate (2011-2015), that such a bill was sponsored by Senator Zainab Kure (Niger Central). May be. But the lower Chamber’s “Notice paper” of March 14, 2016, shows that in its plan for the week, it slated for hearing the consolidation of two similar bills. One deals with an “Act establishing the National Grazing Route and Reserve Commission, to establish grazing routes and reserves in all parts of Nigeria.” The other bill deals with “An Act to create a Department of Cattle Ranches Under the Federal Ministry of Agriculture or Any Such Ministry Overseeing the Production And Rearing of Live Stock Including Cattle…” So, there is such a bill!!!
The dangerous contents of the bill aimed at developing ‘national grazing reserves and stock routes’
By the obnoxious provisions of the bill, farmlands will be compulsorily acquired from indigenes across Nigeria’s 36 states and FCT. Same will be developed with modern day facilities and amenities. Boreholes and reservoirs, dams, roads, bridges and fences will be developed in such lands, all at Nigerian taxpayers’ expense, to satiate the exclusive and imperious taste of the elite nomadic cattle herdsmen. The Commission will have the legal powers to seize indigenes’ lands and assign them to the herdsmen for grazing purposes, even if you don’t want it (Section 21). Your lands that may be seized simultaneously by the Commission may be located in your village and also in the city. The Commission, which operates on the allocation from the Federal Government, including loans, subsidies, donations and grants from other sources, can acquire lands belonging to the Federal and State Governments and communal and individual lands (sections 14 and 21). Of course, this means you must first prove ownership of the land before you can complain.
The Commission has the exclusive right to determine those who may use the reserves and stock routes and no one is permitted to trespass, encroach, fell trees, carry out improvements, alienate, sell, mortgage, assign, lease, transfer, hunt, burn or pledge customarily, any grazing reserves and stock routes, enclave, resting points, water points and other areas so designated by the Commission. (Section 25).
The Commission after forcibly acquiring a citizen’s land shall pay compensation (Section 22(2)), but if he resists, he must sue the Commission within three months as provided for under the Public Officers Protection Act (Section 28(1). But then, the beleaguered citizen must first issue a notice to the Commission of his intention to sue (Section 27(2), and where he wins, he cannot embark upon any execution or attachment process without the consent of the Attorney General of the Federation (Section 30(1). If the Attorney General refuses to give his consent, you have lost your individual/ ancestral/communal/city/lands and the fruits of the judgment.
Any person who contravenes this law is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine of N50,000.00, or imprisonment for five years, or both.
Nigerians wake up
The forcible acquisition of indigenes lands to hand over to others, not practised anywhere in the world, constitutes a violent violation of section 44(1) of the 1999 Constitution, which expressly prohibits the compulsory acquisition of people’s moveable or immovable property without “prompt payment of compensation, therefore” after the owner of such property must have been allowed a “right of access for the determination of his interest in the property.” The last time I checked, we operate a constitutional democracy anchored on the rule of law. But the above bill does not leave owner with any option of resistance or refusal to yield up his land.
A concomitant and corollary of this bill is that the herdsmen would carve out chiefdoms or Emirates in these cities or villages or locations where grazing reserves have been carved out for them. This will lead to royal tussles with indigenous kings.
Nigerians, for now, however, appear to be living in a state of stupor or somnambulism, merely sleep walking. They can no longer talk aloud, cry out or complain. They suffer in silence. They have been blackmailed into “siddon look,” whispers, reticence and acquiescence, to governmental tyranny and executive lawlessness. This is because to complain or critique the PMB government immediately turns you into a supporter of PDP, or defender of corruption. It is as if PDP that gave the nation real democracy, untrammeled freedoms, liberties and free and fair elections, such that it could allow itself to be torpedoed from power, is an anathema to mention. Innocent protesters, whose only “crime” is that they peacefully request for their sovereign state, (as in IPOB and MASSOB), are mauled down in droves, as in apartheid South Africa. This, notwithstanding the right to self-determination enshrined in international conventions of the UN and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. Throughout history, no one has been able to force a people to live together. It is like forcing a husband and wife to cohabit together. Living together is voluntary and is anchored on social justice, equity, equality, mutual respect, egalitarianism and genuine peace; not simulated peace of the cemetery or graveyard.
How can you acquire indigenes lands compulsorily to placate a section of the populace? Can lands also be confiscated compulsorily from indigenes across Nigeria, and shops and markets built solely for the Igbo by government, simply because the Igbo are adept at commerce, trading and industry? Will lands also be compulsorily acquired and developed for the sole farming benefits of Tivs and Idomas across the country at government expense simply because they are hard working farmers that produce the nation’s food basket?
The NASS must kill this bill immediately before it kills us as a nation. It is a ticking time bomb that will inexorably explode. It is a sleeping magma that can explode in the form of a volcanic eruption. I can predict, without being a seer or clairvoyant, that the volatility and irredentist streak of the herdsmen will definitely be resisted by communities, who will feel provoked and short changed. They will surely fight back. That will lead to a state of chaos, anarchy and cataclysmic national implosion of frightening and monumental proportions. God forbid.
- Ozokohome is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)
(Source: Daily Sun)