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April 28, 2019

Benue Natives Vow: Return of grazing route means more deaths, plan will not stand

Benue Natives Vow: Return of grazing route means more deaths, plan will not stand

File photo.

By Peter Duru, Makurdi

Tension is brewing in Benue State after news of President Muhammadu Buhari’s town-hall with the Nigerian community in Dubai, on April 9, filtered in that he hinted about the Federal Government’s plan to reintroduce grazing routes in the country.

Benue Natives Vow: Return of grazing route means more deaths, plan will not stand

At the meeting, the President was quoted to have absolved herdsmen he tagged as “Nigerian cattle rearers” of guilt in the killing of farmers in Benue and elsewhere, putting the blame on those he labelled as “cattle rearers from Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and other cattle herders”.

He reportedly added, “Those of you, who are neighbours to cattle rearers, know that they used to carry only sticks and their machetes to cut foliage for the cattle.

“But these are cattle rearers with weapons like AK47 but the problem is that you can hardly identify the difference because cattle rearers look the same.”

Buhari also said that his differences with Governor Samuel Ortom on the matter compelled the Benue governor to leave the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.

His words, “I took the governor on this and this is one of the reasons he left our party for another party.

“Because I told him the cattle rearers and settlers’ problem in Nigeria is older than me not to talk of him and, during the First Republic, there were cattle routes; they put infrastructures and even veterinary.

“So, if you are a cattle rearer or you know about cattle like me, the herders now pass through anybody’s land to find water for their cattle to drink. I told Audu Ogbeh, the Minister of Agriculture, to look at the Gazette of the First Republic to get the cattle routes and get the grazing routes and re-establish them so that we can reduce this incidence. Some of you here know the efforts we are making.”

Backlash

The President’s comments no doubt generated a backlash and obviously did not go down well with Benue people who have not hidden their resolve for the absolute implementation and enforcement of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law enacted by the state government in 2017.

To the people, the resolve of the Federal Government to return grazing routes in the country was not only out of tune with the realities on ground, it would also run at variance with the state’s subsisting law which, to a large extent, has stemmed the spate of herdsmen and farmers’ bloody clashes that have claimed thousands of lives in Benue.

To Benue born social commentator, Terver Atsar, “the President’s comment is, by far, the most direct admission by him that he has no idea of what the modern solution to what he described as an old problem is”.

Atsar went on, “It is unacceptable to pay glowing tribute to the age of a problem as a reason why it can’t be solved with modern thinking, a job he was elected to do. That President Buhari is still stuck with a questionable narrative on grazing routes is unacceptable.

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“Unfortunately for him but fortunately for us in Benue, history books have no gazetted grazing routes in Benue. He cannot fabricate those documents he needs to back up the false claims of historic grazing routes in Benue. The reason the people he requested to exhume those documents could not do so is that those documents never existed.

“By refusing to admit that even if we had such grazing routes in the past, they should have become obsolete in 2019, President Buhari has admitted that he is a leader who is stuck in the past and cannot figure out modern solutions to current problems. We obviously need another hero. Apologies to Tina Turner who sang, ‘We don’t need another hero.’

“President Buhari also referred to the problem against all visible evidence as herders/farmers clashes. Yet, curiously, he found it expedient to harp on a solution that appeals to herdsmen without any concern for the farmers’ plight.

“He didn’t even pretend to care about the thousands of lives taken by marauders who, he admits, come from all over West Africa, into Benue. As far as he is concerned, we can continue to die as long as we are not willing to surrender our ancestral lands to herdsmen from all over West Africa.

“For us in Benue, it is unacceptable for a leader to admit that he cannot protect the sovereignty of his country from invaders from neighbouring countries because he doesn’t know the difference between the invaders and their local accomplices? Why do we have an immigration service if our borders cannot be secured?

“By the interview, he has unwittingly vindicated Ortom. Indeed he has confirmed the claim that Ortom elected to position himself as a defender of his people against Buhari’s intimidating coercion to surrender his land to herdsmen. If by his admission Ortom left the APC to oppose grazing reserves/ routes, then he indeed is a hero worth celebrating.

“Perhaps APC was used as a platform to intimidate Ortom and coerce him into submission. But Ortom chose to risk his political career and even his life by jumping to the other party where his fate was unknown.

“Shame to some Benue sons who are refusing to admit the obvious that Ortom is the current face of the struggle for the survival of the Benue valley, now that President Buhari has confirmed him as such.

“Whereas Buhari clearly has shown exasperation over the problem, Ortom took the bull by the horns by enacting a law that, if obeyed, should put paid to indiscriminate grazing; a law which the President Buhari-led Federal Government is unwilling to recognize because it is averse to modernty and bloodless solution to the problem. Who is then a true leader between these two?”

Vindication

On his part, President of the Benue Youth Forum, BYF, Comrade Terrence Kuanum, the comment of the President was a vindication of the government and people of Benue on their decision to enact its gazing law and also quit the APC.

Kuanum said, “The comment by President Buhari has confirmed that he has no idea of the solution to the crisis rather he prefers to emphasize the duration of the crisis as superseding the solution. This is astonishing to us as a people.

“We agree with Mr. President that the age long crisis is older than both he and the governor. But we are aware that several herdsmen groups have stated openly that the crisis in Benue and some other states was a continuation of the 1804 Jihad which is aimed at the conquest of the Benue Valley and other fertile lands in Nigeria.

“And on January 1, 2018, the Miyetti Allah groups carried out their threats in the most brutal manner ever experienced in our land and they openly claimed responsibility for the genocidal attacks and no arrests were made.

“But Ortom always throws the challenge that anyone with a better option to the law should bring it to the table. Obviously, the opening up of grazing cattle routes carved long ago when the country had a smaller population cannot be the solution to the crisis”.

Shocking

Also reacting, the Benue state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, through its Publicity Secretary, Bemgba Iortyom, insisted that heaping blames on foreign herdsmen for the killings in the state and the resolve of the Federal Government to resort to open cattle routes to address the herders/ farmers crisis was shocking.

“On the first count, this represents a shocking acceptance by the President that he and this country’s security architecture are not only incapable of policing its borders effectively to stop criminal elements from breaching those borders, but at the same time, they are powerless to curb the criminal activities of those intruder elements in the country,” Iortyom stated.

A former House of Representatives member and Convener of Benue Women Forum, Mrs. Rebecca Apedzan, also contributed to the issue, saying, “All over the globe, even in smaller countries, cattle routes have been done away with and ranching of cattle as enshrined in the Benue grazing law is the known best practice.

“My question is why should Nigeria return to an archaic practice that would further aggravate this lingering herders/farmers conflict? The fact is that Benue people have a law that is in conformity with the business of cattle rearing globally and the earlier the Federal Government adopts it to end the mindless killings of innocent Nigerians, the better for us all.”

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