By Peter Duru, Makurdi
When in 2017 the Benue state government enacted the much celebrated Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law to stem the persistent conflicts between herdsmen and farmers in the state not many knew that the singular initiative would mark a watershed in the lives of the traumatized farmers of the state who bore the brunt of the marauding herdsmen for several years.
The law was a product of an agitation by a large majority of people of the state to have the Governor Samuel Ortom led government get it enacted after thousands of innocent lives had been lost and property worth millions of Naira consumed in ceaseless conflicts.
The government in April, 2017 yielded to the demand of the people and enacted the law after a bill to that effect was sent to the State Assembly and public hearings conducted across the state to get the input of the people before its passage.
Since it came into effect however, the law has met resistance from various herdsmen groups who vowed not to abide by its provisions but would continue with the open grazing of cattle in several communities of the state. Aside the initial resistance by the recalcitrant herdsmen which saw organized invasion of parts of the state in a bid to resist the law between January and May of 2018, the state seemed to have enjoyed some form of reprieve from the menace of the armed marauders.
From available records, herdsmen are known to be highly mobile in search of lush vegetation for grazing whenever the dry season sets in and usually, water logged Benue is the preferred destination for majority of the herders who come from parts of the country and other West African countries which accounted for the spate of conflicts and killings in the state during such periods.
Perhaps, the coming of the grazing prohibition law of Benue state has to a large extent restored some peace in the hinterlands of the state which were always targets of attack.
Though between October 2018 and April of 2019 the state recorded cases of banditry and killings in its volatile areas and communities, the magnitude cannot be compared to what obtained in periods before then when hundreds were usually killed and property and farmland got destroyed by the armed invaders who would shed innocent blood in their desperation to have their herds graze on Benue land.
Perhaps it has finally dawned on the marauding herders and their backers that the government and people of Benue state meant business as the law has finally come to stay which has provided the people an opportunity to galvanize support for Governor Ortom and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the last general elections in appreciation of his dogged resilience to stand with them despite obvious intimidations and life threatening harassments from higher quarters.
Speaking recently on relative peace that pervades the state recently following the enactment of the law, Governor Ortom said, “we must thank and appreciate the Almighty God for the courage, strength and foresight to enact the law.
“For me, I still want to reiterate that it remains the best solution to the farmers/herders crisis in Nigeria. But intention of the real perpetrators who are pay masters of these herders is not about rearing cattle in Benue State. So, if you look at what is going on, you will appreciate that if it was about rearing cattle in Benue State, every other person would have accepted the law as enacted because it was researched thoroughly and we went into consultation with all stakeholders before passing it into law.
“All stakeholders including the herdsmen were duly consulted before the enactment of the law and, so, there is no basis for anyone to come out today and say that they are going to resist the law.
“Globally, ranching remains the best practice and it is the modern way of animal husbandry as far as we are concerned, and if you look at the whole scenario, judging from the fact that the total number of cattle that are creating problems here in Nigeria are statistically less than 19 million.
“There are other countries in this world like Brazil, India, Argentina, America and other parts of the world that have over 100 million, 200 million, 300 million herds of cattle and because they have adopted this approach of ranching, they have not had any crisis and their cattle are far more than what we have here in Nigeria. So, people who have a different intention of invading and taking over the land are the real perpetrators.
“For us, the foresight to organize and enact this law following due process was the best thing that has ever been done. It wasn’t my making, it is the people’s law. I tell you that the Benue Peoples’ House was under siege seven good times, the House of Assembly for more than 10 times.
“The people came themselves, old women, young people who were sent out of school as a result of the invasion came here and said that government must do something, that we must provide something that would bring a lasting solution to this problem because it had dealt with us for years
Hence, with Benue shutting its doors to the business of open grazing as provided by the 2017 law, it has become a common sight in the state to see lorry loads of cattle being hauled across the state to nearby states in the eastern parts of the country where cases of herders/farmers clashes have recently taken a worrisome dimension and the states are now feeling the heat while Benue is enjoying some form of reprieve.
According to Terrence Kuanum, President of Benue Youths Forum, BYF, “if these neighbouring state governments and indeed the states of the federation could summon the courage to adopt and replicate the Ortom option or the Benue antidote to the ceaseless killings of innocent Nigerians by marauding herdsmen the needless bloodbath could be effectively checked.”
Speaking on the development, former House of Representatives member and Convener of the Benue Women Forum, BWF, Mrs. Rebecca Apedzan said the Benue grazing law was the panacea to the mindless killings across the country.
She said “whether we like it or not the solution to the crisis is the ranching of cattle as being practiced in other countries, even smaller countries of the world where cows are reared in higher numbers ranch their cattle.
“I would advise the Federal Government to swallow its pride and adopt the Benue option so that we can have peace in our country as being witnessed in other countries because it will be a win win for both the farmers and herders alike.”