As Enugu State still reels from the attack on Monday last week by suspected Fulani herdsmen at the remote community of Ukpabi Nimbo in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area, several Nigerians have called for the herdsmen and their cattle to be banned from entering their states. Some groups have gone as far as calling for Igbo people to stop eating “Fulani beef”. Most of the beef in Nigerian markets comes from cattle reared by the Fulani.
Responding to these developments, the Chairman, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) in Plateau State, Nuru Abdullahi, claimed that Fulani herdsmen could not be deprived of their constitutional right of free movement: “Why would they ask them not to go to the southern part of the country? It is their constitutional right to move freely as guaranteed by the laws of the land. What the various governments and security agencies should do is to prevent attacks and counter-attacks and such things that breed violence like cattle rustling and trespassing into farmlands. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees freedom of movement for every citizen of the country; this includes the right to live, work and carry out any legitimate activity in any part of the country. If and when you breach this freedom, then, the law should deal with you. So, asking anybody not to go to any part of the country is unconstitutional.”
The Chairman of the MACBAN in the North-West Zone, Ardo Ahmadu Suleiman added: “We are law abiding citizens of Nigeria. The constitution forbids anybody or group from banning anybody’s movement from one part of the country to another. We have been staying peacefully with tribes across the country for ages. Therefore, for anyone to say he wants to ban Fulani from entering their land is uncalled for.”
Incidentally, President Muhammadu Buhari, also a Fulani, is the patron of the cattle breeders association.
The MACBAN spokesmen are correct that the right to free movement is enshrined in the constitution. Chapter 4 section 41(1) holds that: Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereby or exit therefrom”.
Section 42 deals with Nigerians of different communities being free from discrimination and denial of any rights just because they belong to any ethnic group or community.
So a Fulani herdsman can’t be stopped from entering any state just because he is Fulani. But section 45(1) has provisions in which the freedom of movement can be restricted in some circumstances:
“Nothing in sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of this Constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society
(a) in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or
(b) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom or other persons”
This means that where Fulani herdsmen, by virtue of the fact that they herd their cattle on foot across public roads and private lands, putting the lives and livelihoods of farmers and road users at risk, and have become a threat to public safety and the rights and freedom of others, the freedom of movement of the herdsmen can be curtailed constitutionally.
Therefore herding cattle on foot should be banned across the country. It should only be carried out on land that belongs to the owner of the cattle. Any rearer that wants to transport his cattle beyond his land should use trucks for this purpose. There is no place in modern society for herding cattle for miles in search of grazing land. If the federal government is unwilling to act, state governors should enforce the ban within their states.
Current herding practices are a public safety and public order risk and have resulted in many deaths in clashes between farmers and loss of livelihoods. It is even cruel on the cattle to herd them across so many miles. A government that claims it wants to promote agriculture, as an alternative to the over-reliance on oil, can’t sit idly by as farmers are put out of business by herdsmen and their cattle.