By Ephraim Ikpe
The people of Akwa Ibom State could perhaps not have bothered about the Grazing bill or whatever name the said bill would have been given if herdsmen, in the name of rearing cattle did not turn most persons in the southern part of the country and notably Christians into an endangered species in their own country via mass killings over the years.
The Bill tagged “A Bill to Regulate and Control Cattle grazing in Akwa Ibom State…” sponsored by Rt. Hon Nse Ntuen and eleven other legislators believed to have been crafted since 2016 has raised many dust via the print, electronic and social media platforms in the last few days in the state and beyond.
Some of the clauses in the bill are; “Any herdsmen found in possession of firearms shall be charged with unlawful possession of firearms.
“Any confiscated cattle shall be taken to government cattle ranches or any other designated areas as may be directed.
“Any property or farm products destroyed by the cattle shall be valued by the agricultural officers and made to be paid for by the herdsman.
“Cattle movement and grazing are restricted to the hours of 7am and 6pm.
“The law will empower the governor of the state to designate land in each local government in respect of which cattle or other ruminants may be permitted to graze.”
The clauses portray the good intentions of the sponsors of the bill. But most commentators on the bill disagree with the sponsors when taking a close look at the last clause above. While some alleged that he(Nse Ntuen) has been heavily bribed by some powerful influence from the north to push the bill against the people of Akwa Ibom, others argue that it is for the good of the state.
The position of those against Nse Ntuen here reverberates the efforts made by the northern legislators to push the National Grazing bill months ago but failed because the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremmadu had clarified that such issue was better left for the state to legislate as such was neither in the exclusive nor con-current list of the Constitution of the federal Republic of Nigeria.
One of those persons this Paper interacted with said it was still a ploy of the north to change tactics to penetrate everywhere by lobbying the state legislators to make laws to provide for herdsmen to peacefully settle in the southern part of the country to actualize the Islamic agenda gradually.
Some persons are still worried that if the bill is finally put in place as a law, a niche would be carved for Fulani herdsmen to have a camping ground to smuggle in AK-47 and other riffles at night, their Boko Haram brothers , and with time begin to expand by procreation and could one night strike communities those ranches would be situated, kill, maim push the indigenes away and annex those ranches and gradually disposes the owners of the land over time.
Others have argued that if there is no ranch or area reserved for grazing and the herdsmen appear as devilishly bold to maim and kill people in the eastern and southern part of the country as they do, then when the law gives them a place in Akwa Ibom it could turn a worse scenario, hence have disagreed with anything giving any land in any local government area of Akwa Ibom as grazing area.
Emmanuel Sampson who spoke to our reporter argued that cattle rearing was business and those who wish to do such business in Akwa Ibom should look for and acquired lands for such purpose instead of the government giving free lands for herdsmen to operate.
In one of the social media platforms, one Michael argued that any governor under the influence of political campaign to succeed himself can allocate land to herdsmen to secure his ticket as his Party flag bearer which preferably would be handed to him by a Muslim from the north. He queried what is in that bill’s sponsorship for Nse Ntuen and his colleagues and why they have ignored to sponsor bills that would engender mechanized and large scale farming instead of seeking to sell Akwa Ibom Christian population to eternal slavery in the hands of Fulani herdsmen. He suggests outright banning of herdsmen in the state, saying that they have no respect for agreements.
In an open letter put at the public domain to the Speaker of Akwa Ibom State House, Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke, one Ebong Ekanem from Ibesit Ekoi in Oruk Anam has alleged that Nse Ntuen was at the forefront of enslaving the state to the whims of the northern fulani zealots through the obnoxious Grazing bill.
According to Mr Ekanem, “while it is not out of place for the people of Akwa Ibom to help others who are in need, it should be emphasized that the principal cause of most of the ethnic and religious wars in the middle belt states such as Plateau, Benue, Kogi etc, for which over One million lives have been lost since 1980 Maitesine Riots was the decision of the indigenous people to accommodate the Hausa/Fulani herdsmen and traders in their ancestral lands.
“These penetrating religious and ethnic bigots are in the habit of tripling their population through uncontrolled marriage, child birth and forceful migration etc which inevitably leads to colonizing any area they live within a space of 10 years.
“To perfect this plan, Mr Speaker, ISIS and some Islamic multi billionaires in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt have pulled resources to lobby relevant persons in authority in Nigeria to either pass laws in favour of the Islamization policy or vote in fundamentalists into positions of authority”.
He appealed to the Speaker to stop the unfavourable bill from becoming law.
“Mr Speaker, to save the lives of our unborn children, l most humbly call on you to stop the passage of this bill into law, as it marks the beginning of our servitude to the Hausa-Fulani Islamists in Nigeria”, he stated.
Recalling how Nigerians rejected Buhari’s Grazing Bill, another commentator said, “59 schoolboys of the Federal Government College Buni-Yadi, Yobe State in North-East Nigeria were mercilessly slaughtered by fulani warriors like rams while sleeping in their dormitory. We can’t easily forget this indelible stain.
Do we forget the regular slaughter of hundreds of people every day on a flimsy excuse of missing cows? In Uyo last month, human beings were attacked by fulani men because of a missing N25,000 generator. Today, Nse Ntuen and his colleagues want each local government in our state to provide enough land free to settle these marauders who are constant threats to peace wherever they settle”.
The bill said to have passed through second reading is described by one Ofonime on Whatsapp as even “more obnoxious, questionable, retrogressive, dangerous a Bill, than the embattled Property Charge bill” in the same Assembly.
In a quick reaction, one Archibong Peter dropped a comment in 9jaecho.com in defence of Rt. Hon. Nse Ntuen after reading Ebong Ekanem’s petition to the Speaker thus; “After going through this petition, I wish to reassure the writer that the Islamization of Akwa Ibom State as alleged is untrue, very far from fact and a figment of the imagination of the conjurers. It is baseless, lacks restraint, moral content and tantamount to a demented fabrication.
“The alleged wiring of money to the Hon. Member representing Essien Udim has no element of truth and serves no other useful purpose other than destroying the image of the person involved. In as much as I don’t know the personalities involved here, may I appeal that good sense should prevail in our public conduct to usher in peace at all times instead of smearing and denting the image of one another, with lies and unfounded allegations”.
In his stout defence of the House of Assembly, Godwin Akpan in a news feature stated that the bill still has the third reading to go through before it becomes law and that persons and groups could still avail themselves the opportunity during the public hearing to state their cases why the bill should be withdrawn.
According to Godwin Akpan, “In giving credence to the Bill, the Speaker of the House, Barr Onofiok Luke, who himself is a proponent of the Grazing Bill, having in 2003, moved a motion on the floor of the House seeking full government control of the activities of herdsmen in the state by taking proactive steps to ensure that areas were designated for grazing, said Ntuen’s Grazing Bill is a reflection of the assembly’s people-centred philosophy. He said there was need for the House to act proactively to safeguard the lives and properties of residents in the state.
He said “the House of Assembly is here to make laws that will safeguard the lives and properties of our people at all times because this is what we were elected to do.”
It is therefore not a surprise to discover that most of the AKHA members threw their support behind the bill and promised to support the smooth passage of the bill for the benefit of the people and the general development, peace and security of the state. These were the sentiments of some members of the House regarding the Grazing Bill.
For Hon. Ime Okon, representing Ibiono Ibom and Hon. Friday Iwok who speaks for Abak; “The extent to which the activities of herders have endangered the lives and properties of farmers in the country is quite alarming. It was time that laws were made to ensure that people are protected.”
For Hon. Otobong Ndem and Hon. Otobong Akpan; “It is dangerous for government to not act at a time when there are reckless killings and destructions of properties by herdsmen in the country.”
Hon. (Princess) Mfon Ekong; “Those who suffered the most at the hands of the Fulani herdsmen and their cattle were women. It is time adequate law is put in place to check the operations of the herdsmen.”
On her part, the House Deputy Speaker, Princess Felicia Bassey said; “It was important that her colleagues gave their full support to the bill so as to ensure government at the state level turns its search light fully on criminals who claim to be herdsmen.” Others also in support are: Hon. Mark Esset, Hon. Nse Essien, Hon Aniekan Uko and Hon. Uduak Odudoh and Hon. Barr. Aniefiok Dennis”.
Co-sponsors of the bill are Hon (Princess) Felicia Bassey, Rt. Hon (Sir) Udo Kierian Akpan, Rt. Hon. Barr Ime Okon, Rt. Hon. (Elder) Aniekan Uko, Rt. Hon. Udo Gabriel Toby, Hon Barr Aniefiok Denis, Hon. Engr Otobong Ndem, Hon. Mark Eset, Hon. David Lawrence, Hon. Idongesit Ituen and Hon. Dr. Usoroh Akpanusoh.