Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) has condemned the opposition of the federal government to the ban on open grazing by some Southern governors.
The Presidency had on Monday described the ban, which was one of the resolutions 17 Southern governors from the zone made during their May 11 meeting in Asaba, Delta State, as of 'questionable legality'.
In a statement by Garba Shehu, the presidential spokesman said the governors’ action is of “questionable legality, given the constitutional right of all Nigerians to enjoy the same rights and freedoms within every one of our 36 states (and FCT) regardless of the state of their birth or residence.”
But speaking at the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Public Interest and Development Law Annual Conference 2021 on Tuesday, Falana stated that the Presidency's stance on the matter has polarised the country further amid several threats to the country's unity.
He also described the federal government's decision to revive grazing reserves as a knee jerk reaction to the decision of the Southern Governors Forum to ban open grazing, especially as the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association had already accepted the ban on open grazing.
The Senior Advocate further advised the Presidency to study the Grazing Reserves Act of 1964 so as not to compound the crisis by giving the erroneous impression that grazing reserves are different from ranches.
He said, "More than ever before, the media and the Nigerian Bar Association ought to intensify the campaign for the actualisation of the provisions of the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy.
"In particular, this is the time to mount sufficient pressure on all governments to provide for the welfare and security of the people pursuant to section 14 of the Constitution.
"However, in its belated response to the reckless killing of farmers, destruction of farms, kidnapping and raping of women by killer herders, the federal government has decided to revive grazing reserves as a knee-jerk reaction to the decision of the Southern Governors Forum to ban open grazing.
"Thus, the reaction of the Presidency has further polarised a country whose unity is being seriously threatened by separatist groups. But the reaction is uncalled for having regard to the fact that the National Economic Council and the Nigeria Governors Forum had banned open grazing and resolved to embrace ranching.
"Whereas the Presidency has said that the fundamental right of armed herders cannot be abridged, why has the Federal Government decided to restrict the movement of cattle to grazing reserves?
"Last Friday, the Federal High Court ruled that state governments have the power to enact anti-grazing laws. Therefore, it smacks of brazen official impunity on the part of the Presidency to have said that the ban on open grazing is of doubtful legality.
"Even though it has been said that the policy would take off in June, not a single grazing reserve has been identified, prepared and put into use. Similarly, the Federal Government had announced in 2016 that 55, 000 hectares of land had been acquired in 11 states for the establishment of ranches.
"By April 2018, the Federal Government launched the National Livestock Transformation Plan with emphasis on the establishment of ranches. The Federal Government later turned round to adopt Cattle Colony and Ruga policies which were rejected by a number of state governments.
"Instead of further dividing the country along ethnic lines, we call on the Federal Government to halt the mindless killing of farmers and kidnapping of innocent people by killer herders.
"Instead of weeping more than the bereaved, the Federal Government should listen to the Miyetti Allah which has accepted the ban on open grazing and demanded the establishment of ranches.
"Since there is a popular demand for the proscription of open grazing, all hands should now be on deck to establish ranches without any further delay.
"From the information at our disposal not less than 24 states have applied to the Federal Government for the grant to establish ranches. The Presidency should not compound the crisis by giving the erroneous impression that grazing reserves are different from ranches."