Wednesday 27 April 2016

Grazing Bill: To serve or not to serve?

by: Ucheakolam Adim

It is a good thing that the Senate has declared that the National Grazing Reserve Establishment Commission Bill is not before it. It further declared that the bill which was presented by Senator Zainab Kure (Niger North) during the Seventh Senate (2011-2015) had expired by the operations of law.

A lot has been said about the said bill. Currently, this bill has stirred up great concern by Nigerians at large because of its provisions, implications and sensitivities.


Having read some parts of the bill, I find it rather worrisome that a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria would even sponsor such a bill which its long term effects would have been tearing Nigeria apart and causing more chaos than we already have today. My focus would be on the provisions that call for concern. Such provisions include inter-alia;
  • The bill provides for the establishment of a body corporate to be known as National Grazing Reserve Establishment and Development Commission (hereinafter referred to as THE COMMISSION) 
  • It also designates the following lands as possible National Grazing Reserves and Stock Routes; 
  • Lands at the disposal of the Federal Government of Nigeria 
  • Any lands in respect of which it appears to the Commission that grazing in such land should be practiced. 
  • Any land acquired by the Commission through purchase, assignment, gift or otherwise howsoever 
  • The bill went further to also provide that no court of law shall carry about execution of its judgment or attachment of court process issued against the commission in any action or suit without obtaining the prior consent of the Attorney-General of the Federation. 
Essentially, the fundamental issue for determination here is:
  • What purpose{s} does the aforementioned bill seek to serve? Addressing this issue, let us first of all take a cursory look at some of the general purpose of law: 

An excerpt I came across reads thus: in a free society, each and every man lives under a rule of law, as opposed to a whim-ridden rule of men. Such a rule of law has only one purpose: to protect the rights of the smallest minority that has ever existed- the individual.

Another purpose of law is to establish standards required for maintenance of Order in a civil society.

Most importantly, law seeks to protect rights, liberties of citizens. “A purpose and function of law is to protect these various liberties and rights from violation or unreasonable intrusions by persons, organisations, or government

Placing the above purposes of law, side by side with the above mentioned bill, can one say that the provisions of this National Grazing Reserve bill intended to protect every single individual in Nigeria? OR does it establish standards required for maintenance of order in a civil society, OR does it seek to protect rights and liberties of citizens of Nigeria?

The clear answer to all of the above questions would be a resounding NO.

A bill that empowers a commission to take away any land it deems fit for the purpose of grazing reserves or stock routes is obviously not protecting any individual because every individual in Nigeria would then live in the fear of their land being taken away. It suffices to say that this bill seeks to create an unchallengeable leviathan. The bill also provides that compensation would be given to any individual that their land is taken away by the commission. However, the bill fails to define the compensation payable and what would suffice as a reasonable compensation in any circumstance.

Furthermore, the bill does not create any standard required for maintenance of order in a civil society. While creating and maintaining grazing reserves and stock routes is laudable, as this may help reduce the tribal clashes between the Fulani herdsmen and several farming villages, the mode of creating such seems wrong to me. It is a trite principle that you do not correct an aberration with an aberration. The power given to the proposed commission is too wide and no provision has been laid down by the bill for measuring the extent, limiting or preventing abuse of the powers conferred on the commission by the bill. Whatever is not measured would be abused.

Finally, a bill which states that no court of law shall carry about execution of its judgment or attachment of court process issued against the commission in any action or suit without obtaining the prior consent of the Attorney-General of the Federation, does not respect or uphold the rule of law. If the consent of the Attorney-General of the Federation is required before the judgment of the court can be executed would end up rendering judgments of our courts nurgatory, thereby usurping the functions of the judiciary.

While trying to be objective, it is actually challenging for one not to think that this bill would be favourable to the North and detrimental to the rest of Nigeria. If Senator Kure, the sponsor of the bill had a modest and good intention, then I would recommend that a cue be taken from the TAYLOR GRAZING ACT OF 1934 in the United States of America. The Act provides thus;

“The Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) is authorised to establish grazing districts of vacant,

unappropriated and unreserved land from any parts of the public domain, excluding Alaska, which are not national forests, parks and monuments, Indian reservations, railroad grant lands, or revested Coos Bay Wagon Road grant lands, and which are valuable chiefly for grazing and raising forage crops. Whenever grazing districts are established, the Secretary shall grant adjacent landowners, upon application, rights-of-way over the lands for stock-driving purposes to provide access to marketing facilities or to lands not within the district but owned by the person with stock-grazing rights.”

The Secretary is authorized to issue permits to graze livestock in grazing districts to settlers,

residents and other stock owners upon the annual payment of reasonable fees. Permits must be for a period of not more than ten years, with renewal subject to the discretion of the Secretary, who shall specify numbers ofstock and seasons of use.

Taking a cursory look at the above quoted provisions of the Taylor Grazing Act, 1934, it would be observed that only vacant, unappropriated lands and unreserved lands were to be designated as grazing districts. Also, permit must be gotten by settlers, stock owners which would give them the right to graze livestock in the grazing districts.

Our own National Grazing Reserve Establishment and Development Commission Bill would have served the same purpose if its provisions reflected the above provisions from the Taylor Grazing Act. It would have clearly served if its provisions were couched in similar terms with the Taylor Grazing Act.

Ms. Ucheakolam Adim is an attorney based in Lagos

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