Nigerian Senate steps down contentious grazing reserve bill

Edwin Akwueh, Abuja

The contentious grazing reserve bill has been stepped down from further legislative action, after an attempt to pass it for second reading in the Nigerian Senate suffered defeat during Wednesday’s plenary session.

Three related bills, independently sponsored by senators Rabiu Kwankwaso, Barnabas Gemade and Chukwuka Utazi, on grazing reserves and or related issues were enlisted on the Senate’s Order Paper to be debated and passed for second reading.

Senator Kwankwaso’s bill is entitled: “A Bill for an Act for the Establishment of grazing Areas Management Agency and for other related matters, 2016 (SB 292)”.

On the other hand, Gemade’s bill is entitled, “A bill for an Act to provide for the Establishment of National Ranches Commission for the Regulation, Management, Preservation and Control of Ranches and for connected purposes, 2016 (SB 293)”.

The third bill, which is being sponsored by Senator Utazi, is entitled, “A bill for an Act to Control the Keeping and Movement of Cattle in Nigeria and for related Matters thereto, 2016 (SB 311)”.

The Leader of the Senate, Senator Ali Ndume, first read the three bills out at a stretch and suggested that since the proposals were related, they should be harmonised, consolidated and presented as one bill before it could be considered by the Senate.

However, Senator Gemade disagreed with that suggestion, urging the Senate to allow the three bills to be presented separately, so that senators could treat them individually on their merits, rather than consolidating them into one document.

Responding to the mood of the senate, the President of the Senate said that, before the bills were enlisted for second reading, he had thought that the sponsors of the bill would agree for harmonisation because of their seeming similarity.

He however, reasoned that since such an anticipatory agreement did not happen, there was need to put the bills on hold. Accordingly, he advised that the bills be stepped down for another unspecified legislative day, obviously to forestall impending commotion in the Chamber.

Consequently, the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, came up with a constitutional point of order, alerting his colleagues that, by entertaining such bills, the apex Chamber was going out of its constitutional jurisdiction.

He observed that the issues proposed in the bills were not within the list of things the National Assembly could legislate on, saying that it was the duty of the states to legislate on grazing reserves, ranches and control of movement of cattle in their various geographical enclaves.

According to Senator Ekweremadu, “the issues at stake here are neither in the Exclusive list nor in the Concurrent list. I believe therefore, it is a residual matter; it is for states to decide how to deal with them. 

I believe the matter here concerns everybody, given the level of carnage and the conflicts going on in different states; so I feel the concern of my colleagues but unfortunately we do not have powers to legislate on matters relating to livestock in this Assembly. It is a matter reserved for the states. 

So, I believe that both the bills for Kwankwaso, Gemade and Utazi are beyond the reach of this National Assembly and should be accordingly withdrawn so that the states under the constitution should be able to deal with the matters which the constitution has prescribed for them.” 

I will like to see somebody to show me anywhere in the Exclusive list or Concurrent list that has given us powers to legislate on this matter because they are not in existence”, he concluded.

On his part, the Senate Leader tried to persuade the Senate to allow the bills pass for second reading so that the relevant committees of the Senate could carry out a comprehensive legislative scrutiny on them and determine whether they could pass into law.

Senator Ali Ndume, however, failed to achieve his mission as the murmurings in the Chamber, particularly from the southern senators indicated that the proposals would end in the trash can, if they should be put to voice vote.

“I just want to join the DSP to explain. I just want to remind us of Order 81 and also appeal that we are the Senate. We should not allow any emotional or whatever this thing to guide us. The point that the DSP raised is a very important one. 

Number one, if we don’t have the power to make laws on these issues, I think there is no need to even start arguing on it. But, having said that, if that is not even the case, our rule 81 talks in the order of the second reading of bills. 

A motion maybe made that the bill now be read the second time and a debate may arise covering the general merits and principles of the bill. We should hear them out on the merits”, he appealed.

In his remarks, the President of the Senate insisted that his earlier suggestion that the bills be withdrawn should be upheld, thereby asking Senator Ndume to move that the bills be withdrawn.

In his words, “Before the point of order of Deputy Senate President, I had already put a suggestion that these bills came on the order paper based on the discussion I had with the two sponsors that these bills be consolidated. 

It is clear from the discussion today that it is not so and my view is that since the basis by which they came on the order paper has changed, the way forward is for us to step it down from the order paper of today. I will want the leader to move that we step it down from the order paper of today to another legislative day,” the Senate President ruled.

For some time now, the bill on grazing reserves had been a major issue of national discuss, generating varying opinions among Nigerians especially the lawmakers at the federal level.