Obaseki, Emulate Fayemi On The Implementation Of Anti-open Grazing Law, Please!

By Isaac Asabor
Godwin Obaseki (Edo State Governor)
Godwin Obaseki (Edo State Governor)

If there is an issue that will make any critic of a South-South governor to be dispassionate and throw his weight behind such governor, it is that of passing the anti-open grazing law which is being feared to become a toothless bulldog upon enactment.

In the bid to buttress the foregoing view, it is expedient in this context to say that Mr. Godwin Obaseki, the Edo state governor, on Wednesday, precisely on October 13, 2021, met with President Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa, Abuja, and thereafter had a parley with State House Correspondents, and explained why Edo State was yet to pass the anti-open grazing law.

He said he told the president that Edo people have resolved that ranching was a private business but since it is expensive, the federal government should make funds available for interested individuals under the National Livestock Transformation Programme.

Not only that, he also said the people want the Federal Government to provide funds for private business people to set up ranches in the state, and affirmed that while many Southern states have passed the anti-opening grazing law as agreed, Edo was yet to do so because it wanted to be sure it could enforce the law.

Unarguably throwing light into the issues discussed with the president, he said: “Principally, there were four issues I discussed with him. First has to do with the position of Edo State on the anti-grazing law. As you know, most Southern states have passed laws relating to open grazing, but Edo has not, because we want to ensure that whatever laws we pass are laws that we can enforce.

“We’ve had extensive consultations with our people, extensive town hall meetings, to deal with the issue that, yes, we do not want open grazing, it is out-modelled, it’s outdated, however, what are the options?

Against the backdrop of the resounding reason given by the governor as to why Edo State was yet to pass the anti-open grazing law, it suffices to concur in this context that it is the same reason why some State governors are not meeting the people’s expectations, and more often than not hamstrung in playing their gubernatorial roles as a result of the imperfect nature of Nigeria’s federalism. As can be deduced from Obaseki’s comment on the constraint that is preventing the anti-grazing bill from being passed into law across virtually all Southern States, it is expedient to say that true federalism is unarguablyinevitable choice for Nigerians in the ongoing political dispensation for the nation to move forward. At this juncture, it is expedient to add that the reason why true federalism has become indispensable towards an ideal democracy is that Nigeria, particularly at the State levels, cannot literarily afford to be watching toothless bulldogs inthe form of law barking at errant citizens, and cannot bite.

In the same nexus, it is not an exaggeration to say that Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999 has led to an entrenched type of politics around its federal system, usually expressed in the grandiloquence of “political restructuring.” Therefore, given the present challenge which the governors are facing as to the seeming illegalities that are inherent in the passing of anti-open grazing bill, there is an urgent need for the prevailinggovernment to hearken to the echoing call for a review of the existing federal arrangement to allow for more representation, equity in the system and good governance at the State level.

There is no denying the fact that the scepticism that characterised the enforceability of anti-open grazing law has contributed to the collective pessimistic disposition attitude which virtually all the South-South governors have been exhibiting towards the law since they unanimously agreed at a meeting in Lagos, last July, to implement the agreement reached. It would be recalled that the governors unanimously agreed on the issue, set September 1 as target date for the promulgation of the anti-open grazing law in all the States in the South-South region of the country.

At the last count, at least 10 of the 17 Southern states have passed anti-open grazing laws including Ekiti, Lagos, Enugu, Osun and Ondo states. This, to not a few political observers is not encouraging.

To contextually demonstrate the fact that the governors’ hands are tied in the passage and implementation of the anti-open grazing law, it would be recalled that with just six days to the September 1, 2021 target set by the 17 Southern governors for states in the region to enact the law that Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State became the first governor from the region to go against the agreement reached with his colleagues.

The governor unashamedly declared that there is no law forbidding open grazing by cattle rearers in the State. Uzodinma, who spoke to newsmen after meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House, Abuja, argued that though there is presently no anti-grazing law in the state, his government was trying to regulate grazing activities through collaboration between the farmers and herders. To any political observer that is discerning enough, Uzodinma has not sincerely told Imolites and Nigeria why he backtracked from the agreement reached with other Southern Governors.

As a public analyst, I may not be wrong to say that Uzodinma is politicking and playing to the gallery. Had it been that Nigeria’s federal system of government is perfect enough, he could have being on the safe side to implement the law agreed to by all Southern governors in Imo State without resorting to telling lies, or publicly exposing his pusillanimity.

Hear him, “I don’t have any law in Imo State for anti-grazing. But what we have done is that we are regulating grazing activities in Imo State under a partnership between our farmers and herders. They have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in my office and agreed to work together. And both parties are going about their businesses without interfering or causing any grievance or anger to each other.” To my view, what Uzodinma has done tantamount to “Lori Iro”, as the yorubas would tauntingly say.

To my view, it is expedient to understand true federalism from the point of view of Ade Ajayi, the great historian, who posited that “True Federalism implies power sharing, abandoning the notion of any one group dominating all the others, not secession but building interdependence. But we need to work hard on it and not merely pay lip service to unity in diversity.”

However, at this juncture, it is expedient for me to confess that as an Edolite, I am primarily concern about what happens in my state of origin, Edo, before any other State, particularly as forests in the State has being turned to hideouts by herdsmen.

To this end, I am urging Obaseki to emulate the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, who recently said he sees no problem in the implementation of the Anti-Open Grazing Law.

When asked of the cooperation of the police to implementing the law, he said: “Ekiti has had an anti-open grazing legislation since the period of my predecessor, Ayo Fayose in 2016. The law is still in force. Implementation takes various forms because we still have regular engagements with farmers and herders with the security institutions in the state, which encourages dialogue. We also ensured that there are options in dealing with the menace like option of fine when any herder destroys a farm produce, the herder will pay for the damage done and that is a consistent mechanism in operation.

“However, when it extends to kidnappers masquerading as herders, we are very firm in implementation of the laws of the state and the various security institutions, including Amotekun, so far have cooperated with the state on that.”

Therefore, on the strength of the foregoing analytical view, I am in this context to emulate Fayemi on the implementation of Anti-Open Grazing Law, and eschew from saying that the law is unenforceable.

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