BY PETER DURU, MAKURDI
Despite alleged subterranean moves by the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, a factional socio-cultural organisation of herdsmen in the country, to frustrate the implementation of the Benue State Open Grazing Prohibition law which was signed into law by Governor Samuel Ortom last May, the law finally came into effect on November 1.
The new law which was a product of the wishes and desires of the people of the state who craved, yearned and pleaded with the government to have it enacted was welcomed with wild jubilation from the people of the state.
Since the commencement of full implementation of the grazing law, Benue state Government House has become a beehive of activities with all sections of the Benue’s society queuing to have their turn to congratulate and show solitary with the Ortom led administration for aligning with the people and not succumbing to external intimidation.
From the youths to women groups, diaspora groups, non governmental organisations and the various socio-cultural organisations from the 23 local government areas of the state, half nude women and the disabled have all been taking turns to besiege the seat of power to drum support for the administration and to assure the government that the ordinary people who bore the brunt of the merciless herdsmen would stand with the administration to ensure the success of the law.
The excited Benue populace also went as far as assuring the Governor of their unflinching commitment to the success of the administration and to rally support for the Governor’s future political ambition.
Undoubtedly, the popularity of the present Benue state government has soared as the people of the state now regard the Governor as their hero. This has clearly shown that the decision of the administration to forge ahead with the implementation of the law despite alleged threats on the Governor and resistance by external forces was indeed a step in the right direction.
With the law coming into full force, the Governor went ahead to inaugurate the state’s Livestock Guards and the Vigilante group who were also provided with working tools, vehicles and motorbikes to ensure effective enforcement of the law.
Speaking at the inauguration, Governor Ortom maintained that the grazing law was intended to ensure the safety and protection of farmers and livestock breeders alike.
“I have always maintained that the grazing law is not intended to chase herdsmen out of Benue but enacted to ensure that herdsmen carried out their activities without fear of molestation or intimidation.
“Aside providing for the ranching of cattle and all livestock in the state, the law is out to check cases of cattle and livestock rustling because it adequately provides stringent punishments for anyone caught in the illicit act.
“Besides, government has also made provision to avail herdsmen and livestock farmers land to enable then set up their private ranches as practiced globally without hinderances because the available land in Benue can no longer support wild grazing”, he stressed.
While fielding questions from newsmen recently in Makurdi, the Governor acknowledged that some herdsmen were yet to comply fully with the law. The governor said, “we said from the onset that the law will be implemented with a human face, that is why some of them are still engaged in that practice. It’s a new regime all together, so I expect that they would gradually get used to the new order. But we expect everyone to abide by the dictates of the law so as not to be found liable of contravening the law.
“Generally we are happy that our effort at checking the persistent bloody clashes in our communities has ushered in peace and it’s also gaining international recognition.
“The United Nations Resident Coordinator in Nigeria has commended our government for the step we have taken and also informed us that the world body was mustering five million Dollars to assist us ensure the successful implementation of the new law. That goes to show that we are not alone in what we are doing.”
“No fewer than 11 state governments have formally requested for the piece of legislation to help them as guide as they also make efforts to put a similar law in place in their respective states.”
Meantime while Benue people continue to bask in the euphoria of having a law that would finally bring about peace in the hinterlands where farmers and herdsmen persistently engage in violent confrontations, the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore has on its part continued to kick against the law insisting that it was not in their interest to have the law in place.
The leadership of the group who had threatened to resist the law, only recently in a media briefing said the law was enacted for political exigencies accusing Benue and any other state governments prohibiting open grazing, of a deliberate plan to frustrate their age long grazing pattern and business.
However, while the Miyetti Allah was busy crying foul, the Fulani communities across Benue state have been indicating interest to establish personal ranches to avert contravening the provisions of the new law.
In Otukpo Local Government Area specifically, Fulani herdsmen in the area only recently expressed their solidarity and readiness to comply with the provisions of the new law.
After making their position known when they paid a courtesy call on the Chairman of Otukpo local government area, Mr. George Alli, the herdsmen also appealed to the government to urgently avail them land to enable them build ranches in Otukpo.
The leader of the delegation, Alhaji Aminu Abdullahi, who spoke on behalf of the Fulani community noted that they were indigenes of Otukpo either by reason of birth or long stay in the area and they would not be part of any act of lawlessness in the state.
Abdullahi said, “most of us were born and bred in Otukpo and we therefore consider Otukpo our home, so we see no reason why we should constitute a threat to the security of Otukpo and Benue where we have been residing for decades.
“We are therefore here on behalf of the Fulani community in Otukpo to pledge our support for the grazing law and solicit for land to enable us ranch our cattle.
In his response, the Council Chairman disabused the mind of members of the delegation that the law was targeted at herdsmen stressing that it was to also check rustling in line with global best practices and urged them to volunteer information and report any strange herdsman found in their mist.
The traditional ruler of Otukpo, Och’Otukpo Chief John Eimonye who assured the delegation of the safety of Fulani and herdsmen in the area urged them to remain law abiding.
Speaking further on the willingness of herdsmen to strictly apply themselves to the law, the Benue State Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Mr. Mike Gusa, recently told newsmen that the government had already received over 100 applications from herdsmen seeking land for the establishment of ranches.
According to Gusa, “herdsmen in Benue are willing and ready to ranch their cattle, at the moment over 100 have already applied for land for that purpose, so whoever is kicking against the law is obviously against the wellbeing of the people who for several years lost loved ones to the persistent crisis between Benue farmers and herders.
“If you have been following developments in Benue especially as it relates to farmers/herdsmen crisis you will agree with me that the law was not enacted for political gains as being claimed by Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore but in line with the dictates and wishes of the generality of Benue people.
Reacting to the outburst by Miyetti Allah denouncing the law, the leaders of the three major tribes in Benue state under the aegis of Mdzough U Tiv, Idoma National Forum and Omi Ny’Igede, maintained that the people of Benue state were prepared and determined to ensure its success “despite the ill will of the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore and its insidious attempt to truncate it.”
Speaking on behalf of the tribal leaders, elder statesman and President General of Mdzough U Tiv, Chief Edward Ujege reiterated that the magnitude of the killings and destruction of property in the state propelled the people to compel the government to enact the law.
“Over 2,000 men, women and children were killed in 40 bloody attacks carried out by suspected herdsmen in 14 out of the 23 local government areas of Benue State between 2013 and 2016.
“Till date over 500 persons are still missing while over 500,000 people were displaced and the future of almost a million youths truncated.
“Over nine thousand households were affected by the various attacks carried out by the herdsmen while property worth N95billion was destroyed in 2014 alone.
“The anti open grazing law is therefore the outcome of the yearnings of the people of the state who desire peace and want lasting solutions to the incessant herdsmen/farmers clashes which had often led to the pillage of our communities, the massacre of our men, women and children as well as destruction of our farms, homes, raping of our women and children and excessive unrest.
“This struggle therefore is for the emancipation of our people from slave drivers and preservation of lives and properties as well as freedom from suppression which our people have suffered over the years which is still-unabated.
“Our cry has nothing to do with political campaign but the survival of the people which we seek before Nigerians and the world. The anti-open grazing law will not die because it provides the panacea for our peoples’ survival and for peace.
“We must also state that Section 100 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended empowers the State Houses of Assembly to make laws for the state.
“Our State Governor, Samuel Ortom has been given the mandate by his people to stand firm on this position and the emancipation of our people for which we see victory already in sight.
“We also want to state categorically that the anti-open grazing law does not restrict the movement of pastoralists or any livestock breeder for that matter but dictates the mode of movement of their livestock.
“Section 19 (4) of the law prohibits movement of livestock on foot from one destination to another and directs such movements to be done by rail wagon, truck or pickup wagon. The law does not prohibit grazing but restricts such actions to within ranches.”