December 9, 2023

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Anti-Open Grazing Law In Bayelsa A Mere Paper Tiger?

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JOHN ODHE, Yenagoa


Indeed, one thing is to enact good laws that outwardly look human oriented and helpful to society, no doubt, another is implementing or enforcing such supposedly laudable promulgation, especially in Nigeria.

Indisputably, there are several good laws in the land. The laws are either contained in the exclusive or in the concurrent or in the residual list. In the real sense of it, laws are made to checkmate impunity and human excesses in order to make society habitable. Unfortunately, the laws in Nigeria are more or less made to be obeyed by a particular set of persons while others seem to be above the law.

Obviously, Nigerian laws seem not to be binding on the highly placed. The laws are not meant to be respected by the highly connected. Not at all. This is why most of the extant laws in the land only exist in the books or at most obeyed by only the less privileged. To the rich and mighty, they are mere paper tiger.

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In Bayelsa state, for instance, there are many of such laws that only reside on papers and in the minds of the people but actually not in practice. The Bayelsa State Anti-Kidnapping Law which was enacted by the state legislature and signed into law by the former governor, now Senator, Seriake Dickson is an example of such laws existing only on paper. The law in very clear terms stipulates death penalty for anyone found guilty of kidnapping.

Since it was signed into law, there had been several kidnap cases whereby culprits were nabbed in the act but none of such suspects had been made to face the full weight of the law. When arrested, kidnap suspects are either kept in awaiting trial while those who have ‘connections’ are freed days after. The negative resultant effect of not enforcing existing laws is that kidnapping is gaining more ground in the face of a supposed capital punishment spelt out for perpetrators.

This also brings to mind the negligent attitude of the Bayelsa state government and the custodians of the law over an existing caveat that was made to ensure that all livestock are confined to particular places as it is in practice in ideal societies.

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Despite the signing into law of a bill tagged “Livestock Breeding and Marketing Regulation Bill, 2021” which was earlier passed by the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, open grazing of cattles by the Fulani herdsmen is still a normal practice in the state.

The law, which was assented to by Governor Douye Diri on March 10, 2021, prohibits open grazing in the state. With the coming into effect of the law, herdsmen and cattle owners are expected to be confined to a space at the popular Bayelsa Palm Road for the breeding of their livestock.

In a bid to ensure proper enforcement, the Bayelsa State Livestock Management Committee led by Comrade Clever Inodu was set up. The team has been impounding cows that are allegedly loitering on the streets of Yenagoa, the state capital.

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When the enforcement team monitored the level of compliance by the livestock owners after impounding over 30 defaulting cows in the state recently, Inodu said the committee would leave nothing to chance to ensure that the ban placed on open grazing of livestock in the state is fully enforced.

Inodu, who is also the chairman of the Central Zone of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), warned operators of livestock business in the state to obey the law or face the consequences. He said he received a call from the Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources that some cows were still roaming the streets and immediately swung into action and intercepted the cows. “We want to make it very clear; we want to use this as an example to the public and cattle rearers in Bayelsa State,” he said

Although the effort of the committee in ensuring that cattle rearers in the state keep to the law is comendable, it seems the herders and their cows are above the law as they remain conspicuous in different parts of the state. The writer of this piece wonders why the enforcement team is not deeming it fit to extend its monitoring of the activities of herdsmen to other parts of the state. It is worrisome that the cows are not just roaming the open bushes and streets in the state capital and other places but are also destroying farmlands and crops with high sense of impunity.

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Apart from destroying crops which serve as sources of livelihood to majority of Bayelsans, the herders have been hostile as they always threaten to harm or even kill the peasant farmers who dare to challenge them for using their livestock to destroy their farmlands and crops. This potends grave danger not only to the unprotected farmers but the entire state because an injury to one, they say, is injury to all.

It is still fresh in our memory how some months ago, a father and his son where fatally attacked and injured at Otuoke bush in Ogbia Local Government area of the state by some unidentified herdsmen simply because they were challenged for destroying farmlands in the area. Consequently, many farmers in Bayelsa state have refrained from going to their farmlands to bring food to the table for their families because they are afraid of being killed by the aggressive herders, thereby causing shortage and a rise in the prices of foodstuffs.

Not comfortable with the whantum destruction of the farmlands and crops, women in the state especially those living in upland local government areas such as Sagbama, Ogbia, Yenagoa and Kolokuma-Opokuma have been trooping out in their numbers to protest the injustice meted to them by the nomadic Fulanis and their cattle.

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The farmers have become helpless as they watch their source of livelihood being destroyed because government is failing on her duty to allow the existing law to take its course. The plights of the suffering mass on this subject matter can only be best imagined than experienced. If the recalcitrant herders are arrested and brought to book in accordance with the extant law regulating their activities, it will put a permanent stop to the incessant deadly herder/farmer clashes which had led to deaths of many and destruction of valuable properties. It is not enough for governments at all levels to annunciate good laws, it is more important to ensure that such laws are implemented for the benefit of the populace who are often on the receiving end in a lawless society.

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The full implementation of the Bayelsa State livestock breeding and marketing regulation law 2021 is all that the people of the state need. Given its importance and life- saving nature, the anti-open grazing law should not be grouped among many Nigerian laws that had since been reduced to mere paper tiger.

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