From John Shiaondo, Makurdi
Reactions have trailed comments by Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore against the Benue Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, 2017 recently signed by the State Governor Samuel Ortom.
The law which prohibits open rearing of livestock, cattle rustling among others, also provide stiff penalties for offenders and establishment of ranches as the only means of rearing animals in the state.
The Anti Open Grazing Law, drafted as an executive bill, was passed by the Benue State House of Assembly with the aim to put to an end the perennial crises between farmers and nomadic Fulani herdsmen that had ravaged several communities in the state since 2012.
It could be noted that there has been incessant struggle by the Benue farmers to protect their farmland and crops from being forcefully taken over or destroyed by herdsmen in the name of grazing their cattle, a situation which had resulted to violent clashes between the farmers and the pastoralists.
The crisis also resulted in the killing of defenceless farmers, women and children as well as destruction of crops and other valuable property. Report by the Bureau of Local government and Chieftaincy Affairs, conducted in 2014, on the crises indicated that more than 2000 persons lost their lives and property valued at more than N95 billion was destroyed.
Over 100,000 people were also reportedly sacked from their homes and had to seek refuge in internally displaced camps leaving their goods at the mercy of the marauding herdsmen and their cattle to graze on.
The crises with their attending devastation resulted to serious tension in the state and almost drove Benue to the point of famine. The herdsmen who paraded sophisticated weapons openly without challenge from any security agency, even made attempt on the life of the immediate past governor, Hon. (Dr) Gabriel Suswam, who was on tour to assess damage caused by the marauding herdsmen in Guma where governor ORTOM hails from.
After critical view of the herdsmen activities, many people felt the best solution at ending the attacks would be putting in place a legal framework to prohibit open grazing and provide for ranching of cattle and other animals in the state.
Proponents of this argument believe that once cattle are ranched, as is the practice in the other countries of the world, farmlands will no longer be encroached upon and crops no longer destroyed.
They say once there is no encroachment on farmlands and destruction of crops, there will no longer be crisis and people will no longer have to be attacked and killed by the Herdsmen.
The state government led by the governor Samuel Ortom therefore projected the campaign for ranching of cattle and all other livestock, instead of open-grazing, which finally gave birth to the anti open grazing law.
Cited as the “Law to Prohibit Open Rearing and Grazing of Livestock and Provide for the Establishment of Ranches and Livestock Administration, Regulation and Control and for Other Matters Connected Therewith, 2017,” the law among other things prohibits individual or group from after commencement of the law, engage in open nomadic livestock herding or grazing in the state outside the permitted Ranches”.
Apart from providing for the establishment of Ranches and Livestock administration, regulation and control, the bill also provides that anybody who engages in Cattle Rustling shall be liable on conviction for imprisonment for a term of not less than three years or One Hundred Thousand Naira per animal or both.
The law under Section 19 (2) says “any person or group of persons who contravenes the above provision shall be guilty of an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to five years imprisonment or One million Naira fine or both”
Section 19 (4) and (5) of the law also prohibits movement of livestock on foot from one destination to another in the state and stated clearly that any person found moving livestock on foot commits an offence and shall be liable to; for the first offender N500K fine or one year in imprisonment or both and for the second offender, N1 million fine or three years imprisonment or both.
It also provides for monetary compensation in case of any damage to a property and imprisonment of two years of the livestock owner or manager in case of injury to any person within the State.
According to the law “where such contravention causes the death of any person within the state, the owner or manager of such livestock shall be guilty of an offence of culpable homicide punishable under the Penal Code Law.
But while the Benue people rolled out drums to celebrate the signing of the law which they believed would end the killing of their people and destruction of property by the herdsmen, a socio-cultural association under the aegis of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore kicked against the law describing it as obnoxious, wicked and repressive.
The group led by its President Alh. Abdullahi Bello, and Secretary Engr. Saleh Alhassan addressed a press conference in Abuja, and said it was wicked to criminalise their means of survival and freedoms.
The group argued that they were original inhabitants of Benue valley in the State, thus the lingering crisis was a struggle for the state’s natural resources. They described the law as wicked alleging that it only sought to criminalise their means of survival and freedoms.
The statement by the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore generated reactions and arguments from the state government, groups and individuals who viewed it as inciting and targeted to cause chaos in the state.
Many said the statement by the Miyetti was uncalled for and capable of degenerating the already soured security situation in Benue.
Reacting swiftly, Benue State Coordinator of Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Garus Gololo, distanced his group from the socio-cultural body known as Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore (MAKH) saying they don’t in any way speak for them or represent their interest.
According to Gololo, MACBAN and MAKH were different groups maintaining that their views were totally not the same with those of his group.
In a chat with newsmen in Makurdi, he explained that Kautal Hore is a combination of aggrieved people who lost election in MACBAN few years ago and then went on to form their own association.
“They are just a break out of MACBAN and I want to assure Benue people that no member of MACBAN is planning to attack them anywhere in the state,” he added.
The MACBAN coordinator said, Benue people are peace loving and have not harassed the herders who are still grazing openly since the enactment of the law.
He pleaded with people of the state to disregard comments made by the Kautal Hore and sustained the good relationship they have built over the years, pledging support for the state government to actualise needed peace as contained in the new law.
Gololo further urged the Benue state government to view the verbal attack from the Kautal Hore’s leaders as empty threats and continue in its effort to bringing lasting peace among herders and farmers in the state.
But briefing newsmen after the Benue State Security Council meeting, Governor Samuel Ortom challenged Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore or anyone who has better solution to the farmers/herders crises other than the law to bring it forward.
The governor condemned the statement by the sociocultural group, noting that as governor he has the mandate of protecting lives and property, and the state was under authority and right to do what she did.
“We stand by this law, because it is the way forward to providing peace between herdsmen and farmers.”
“Our people have been killed in the last few years, thousands of them were killed, massacred and their homes were destroyed because of the crises that is why we have painstakingly taken time to bring this law today.”
“We have heard and seen the threat by Miyetti Allah over Benue state, and they have even gone beyond grazing by saying that they are struggling for natural resources, that they were here before we came here, so we want to send this message to them, that we will not accept that kind of threat,” he said.
He said they had to convene the State’s Security Council meeting and took a decision that it is good to let the federal government, the acting president of Nigeria know about the threat so that actions will be taken by the security agencies to arrest and prosecute the people for those inciting statement.
“The law does not send Fulani away from Benue but we are saying there is no land for crop farming and grazing, we are not only talking about cattle, we are talking about goat, pig, sheep and other animals. The bill also give protection for both herdsmen and farmers,” governor ORTOM noted.
He disclosed that he has directed the security adviser, to convene a Town Hall meeting between farmers and herdsmen and other stakeholders to enlighten them about the law.
Mdzough U Tiv (MUT), the umbrella organization for the economic, socio-cultural and political development of the Tiv Nation on its part described the press conference, by the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore as inciting bellicose, full of half truths, ahistorical and intending to aggravate the already challenging security situation in Tivland, Benue State and Nigeria as a whole.
The group denied the claim by the Miyetti Allah that they are indigeneous to Benue and had settled in Benue valley before the Tiv people.
“The Fulani attempt to change the narrative at this belated time confirms our suspicion that their interest in the Benue Valley is more than the grass they seek for their cattle.”
“The attempt is a devious strategy to secure rights to Tiv ancestral lands to be able to exploit the political and religious opportunities that come with such rights,” the group said.
According to Mzough u Tiv, “the statement amounts to a clear declaration of war by the herdsmen on the Tiv nation, and indeed all peace-loving people of Benue State.”
Mzough u Tiv urged the federal government to effect arrest and prosecution of leaders of the MAKH for making such inciting statements.
The Benue State House of Assembly reacting on the issue, condemned what they described as spurious allegations and threats made by the leadership of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders describing it as being capable of breaching the peace in the State.
Ruling after deliberations on motion of Urgent public Importance moved by the Majority Leader of the House, Barr. Benjamin Adanyi, the Speaker, Mr. Terkimbi Iyange said, the Assembly will support the State Governor to fully implement the Open Grazing Prohibition Law saying the law is aimed at protecting both farmers and herders contrary to the allegations of the leadership of the cattle breeders.
The Assembly called on the people of the State to remain calm and law abiding in the face of this provocative outburst of the Fulani Cattle Breeders Association as government will not fold it’s arms and watch a Fulani Association intimidate and harass them in any way.
“The objectives of this law include preventing destruction of farms, ponds, settlements and property by open rearing and grazing of livestock as well as incessant clashes between nomadic livestock herders and farmers. Benue State has suffered enormous human and material loses to these incessant crises over the years,” the Speaker said.