Grazing law: Benue not ready to renege

CEPHAS IORHEMEN writes on the resolve of the Benue State Government not to repeal the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, despite mounting pressure from several quarters

The journey to the promulgation of the now widely accepted anti-open grazing law in Benue State began in 2017, when the state became the theatre of killings by suspected Fulani militants. Governor Samuel Ortom had just assumed office and had hardly settled down for the business of attracting development to the people who overwhelming gave him the mandate of piloting affairs of the state.

From his take-off, there were already inherited challenges ranging from backlog of unpaid salaries of workers and gratuities of pensioners. But this did not deter his avowed efforts at taking the state to the next level of development. The governor wooed several investors to the state to also contribute their quota towards propelling Benue to enviable heights. But such lofty dreams were truncated by massive invasion of the 23 local government areas of the state by armed groups. On January 1, 2018, the groups laid bare their agenda to forcefully take over the state known as the “Nation’s Food Basket.”

In that year (2018), the state recorded the first pogrom as over 73 people, including women and children were gruesomely massacred on a New Year day, while several residents were displaced. Today, over 80, 000 indigenes of the state are wallowing in penury in designated Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps lacking basic amenities including food, shelter and clothing. Just recently, there was an attack on the IDPs at the Abagena camp, where several people were killed.

Sadly too is the fact that Governor Ortom himself was not spared as the militants have made several attempts on his life. It is a sad commentary that no day passes in Benue State without suspected Fulani milita, some clad in military uniforms, attacking farmers.

It is on record that local government areas including Gwer-West, Makurdi, Buruku, Kwande, Gwer East, Ukum, Katsina-Ala, Agatu, Ogbadibo and Guma, Governor Ortom’s hometown, among others have always been at the receiving end of these attacks.

However, one thing Governor Ortom has always emphasized is that the anti-grazing law is not intended to witch-hunt anyone, and that sanctions therein are applicable to all tribes resident within the state. The governor has also insisted that despite threats by the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore to make the state ungovernable, no amount of the threat, intimidation, or arm twisting will make him repeal the law. Ortom said his offence was his stand against open grazing of animals in the state and his call for the declaration of armed herdsmen as terrorists.

But the governor main-tains that he is not intimidated or distracted by the antics of armed Fulani herdsmen and their sponsors. His words: “No amount of falsehood in the media or any other platform can change my commitment to selfless service to Benue people.

The state will not repeal the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law to pave the way for Fulani herdsmen to take over the people’s ancestral lands for cattle grazing. The law has not only come to stay; it is fully being enforced.

“The ranching law has been well accepted by the people of Benue State and no intimidation or arm-twisting tactics from any group can change it.” Speaking in an exclusive telephone interview with New Telegraph on why Benue will not renege on the anti-grazing law, the State’s Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mike Gusah, said the law came into being to checkmate rampant attacks and killing of farmers and other related crisis. Gusah said due process was followed in promulgating the law, which according to him also forbids cattle rustling.

He, however, regretted that President Muhammadu Buhari is foot-dragging on the matter. The Attorney-General, therefore, applauded the decision of Southern and Northern governors who threw their weights to ranching as the modern method of animal husbandry and best approach to end the intractable crisis between herdsmen and farmers in the country.

“The issue is that the law prohibiting open grazing in Benue State is what the people wanted because at the time Governor Samuel Ortom came in as governor of the state, the killings were so many and were so frequent and the only thing that could checkmate the killings and other related crisis was to enact a law that will protect both the farmers and herders.

“So, the law is protecting the herder who has livestock in the state to ranch them, so that they will not be moving about destroying other peoples’ farms and trespassing on other peoples’ property, so that the crop farmer will do his farm without molestation.

“The law also forbids cattle rustling and so it is not targeted at anybody, but anybody who indulges in livestock business in the state and this has gone a long way to reduce the rate of clashes between herders and farmers. “What you see happening now in the state is that these armed Fulani herders are coming in to kill our people for no just cause.

They are not resident in the state, they are not even with cattle but they are coming from outside to come and kill our people. Benue people have told the governor that this is the law they want and they will continue to implement this law, so it has come to stay.

“Due process was followed in promulgating the law and as I talk to you, no court has declared this law as null and void, no court has set aside this law and so since due process was followed and since it was what our people wanted, the law was passed and it is deemed implemented.” Alluding to Federal Government’s unsteady position on the matter, Gusah, said he was not sure the presidential spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu spoke the mind of Mr. President. “I don’t think Mr. President himself is aware of the rigmarole of his spokesman because the President cannot condensate so low to be going back and forth on an issue that is within the confines of a state to make law and the law has been made and it has been implemented.

“The Federal Government has no right to come and say that we (Benue people) cannot implement this law. If anybody is aggrieved, the person can go to court and seek redress. If the court can say otherwise or declare that the law is null and void if it offends the position of any federal law but aside from that the law remains what Benue people want today,” he said.

On his view on the position of the 17 southern governors and northern governors, who backed the antigrazing law, the Commissioner for Justice said their resolutions “are in consonance with international best practices on animal husbandry.” He said: “Go to China, go to India, go to the United States of America and wherever you have cattle, there is always a ranch.

There is no country in the world today that you will go to and see cattle roaming the streets and destroying peoples’ crops as it is done in Nigeria. Even in some African countries, you will never see cows roaming the streets as we see here in Nigeria. Go to the nation’s capital in Abuja, you will see cattle, vehicles will have to stop for cattle to pass. So, what is happening in Benue and other states of the federation is indeed unfortunate.”

It is against this backdrop that some analysts are of the view that since states have the right under the Nigerian constitution (as amended) to make laws for their own convenience, the Benue law, which has enjoyed the support of several other states should be fully embraced by the Federal Government as it has no intention to witch-hunt any ethnic group in the country. But yet, another acceptable reason why Benue people will not renege on the law is the deteriorating plight of the displaced persons who are still languishing in squalour in the camps.

Any right thinking person who visits the Abagena camp will not hold back tears looking at the way things happen there. When New Telegraph visited recently, the IDPs lamented that they are tired of life in the camp and wished to have returned to their ancestral homes but cannot do so because their villages are still being occupied by the militia herders.

It was observed that while some of the IDPs were able to find their way back to their communities and ancestral homes to pick up what was left of their lives, several others are living in despair in the camps with nowhere to go to, following the total destruction of their homes by the marauders. Most of the IDPs who acknowledged that peace had returned to the communities however lamented tthat Federal Government’s failure to fulfill its pledge of rebuilding the villages and the homes of victims which were destroyed by the marauding herdsmen had left them bewildered and helpless. “I wish to go back to my home but I cannot do so.

This place is like my home now. Fulani people have occupied my home in Guma Local Government Area. Some of my relatives were killed when the insurgents invaded our community. The anti-open grazing law enacted by the Benue State government, to me, is the only way to address the continued attacks and killings going on in the state.

“I also have the feeling that the state will witness food shortages because communities that were mostly agrarian are today flooded with herdsmen and bandits, and this is making is difficult for us to go back to our farms as our governor has always been encouraging us to do.

Let me also use this opportunity to appeal to President Buhari to fulfill his promise to assist states having humanitarian challenges arising from herdsmen attacks in order for them to rebuild ravaged communities and enable us go back,” one of the IDPs said.




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