- 1800 lives lost so far
- My life under threat, says gov
Efforts by the Benue State Government to find a permanent solution to the perennial outbreak of violence between Fulani herdsmen and farmers in the state have recently unexpectedly taken a new dimension.
Governor Samuel Ortom, our correspondent learnt, recently raised the alarm over an alleged threat to his life after signing into law the state’s Open Grazing Prohibition
Establishment Law 2017 passed by the Benue State House of Assembly.
The signing of the bill into law by Governor Ortom was expected to open a new vista for achieving the peace, which had eluded the people in the state for a long time, as they
have had to cope with the result of the seemingly incessant violence and killings occasioned by the frequent clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers.
The alleged invasion of the farmlands belonging to Tiv peasant farmers by Fulani herdsmen and their livestock in Naka, Gwer-West Local Government Area in 2011 had ignited the violence, which has raged on in the state for over six years.
The crisis has resulted in untold hardship for the locals, many of whom were killed. Property worth over a hundred million was also lost during the violence.
The then national vice president of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, Alhaji Hussaini Bosso, had alleged that the problem of the Fulani herdsmen in Benue State began when the then governor, Gabriel Suswam, publicly announced that he did not want them anymore in the state.
Bosso alleged that Suswam’s statement led to the massacre of Fulani herdsmen in Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa states. But in a swift reaction, the then governor Suswam denied the allegation, saying he would not allow anyone to use his name to score cheap popularity.
He had also vowed that he would remain undaunted until a lasting solution was found to the incessant violence between Fulani herdsmen and peasant farmers in the state.But in spite of Suswam’s efforts, the violent crisis later spread to other places like Guma, Gwer- East, Agatu, Logo, Buruku, Ukum, Kwande and Otukpo and has lasted till date.
Findings revealed that during the violence, over 645 lives were lost and property worth a billion naira destroyed, while over 50, 000 people were rendered homeless. The violence was also said to have led to hunger and starvation in the entire state due to the inability of the farmers to go to their farms.
WHAT THE ANTI-GRAZING BILL SAYS
It was, therefore, in search of a solution to end the violence in the state that the Benue State House of Assembly proposed and passed the bill for a law to make provisions for
the establishment of a livestock promotion, development and regulatory agency, 2016 and for purposes connected therewith. The bill known as “Anti-Grazing Bill” also seeks and
prohibits open grazing of any form throughout the state.
Apparently alarmed by the incessant and recurring violence between Fulani herdsmen and peasant farmers in the state, and also having fallen victim, when his country-home in
Nzorov Council ward of Guma was completely razed, Governor Ortom, during his electioneering campaign in 2015, pledged to bring an end to the menace of the herdsmen, if given the mandate to lead the state.
It was against this background that the state government resolved to legally prohibit cattle grazing within its borders. While signing the bill into law, the governor had
said, “The law brings an end to the incessant clash between livestock rearers/herdsmen and crop farmers in the state, who in attempts to protect their respective interests, clash,
kill, maim and destroy persons and properties.”
According to him, “The law also encourages large-scale livestock and crop farming in a secure environment and the Ministry of Agriculture has been empowered to
administer and regulate livestock production in the state.”
He had also warned, “Any person found guilty of open grazing, shall be sentenced to five years’ imprisonment or a fine of N1,000, 000. It is an offence for livestock to stray to another persons’ land. No open grazing, no movement of livestock on foot within and across Benue State and no livestock owner or farmer shall carry firearms.”
But mid last month, Governor Ortom alleged that that he had received threat messages from some unnamed Fulani over the anti-open grazing law recently enacted in the state.
The governor had disclosed this to the members of the National Council of Tiv Youths, who had embarked on a protest to the Government House over what they described as “outburst and unguided utterances against Tiv nation and the Indigenes of Benue State by leaders of Fulani cattle rearers.”
Findings revealed that during the violence, over 645 lives were lost and property worth
a billion naira destroyed, while over 50, 000 people were rendered homeless. The
violence was also said to have led to hunger and starvation in the entire state
MY LIFE UNDER THREAT – ORTOM
Ortom, however, said that he would not be intimidated by the threat coming from the Fulani and insisted that the law had come to stay as its full implementation would commence by November this year.
He added that the enactment of the law became imperative due to the incessant attacks on farmers in the state by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
Ortom stressed that he has the constitutional responsibility to protect lives and property of residents throughout the state.
According to him, “Just this morning, one Fulani called my wife and asked her to warn me that I [Ortom] am joking with them [Fulani], but my response when my wife told me
this, is that I’m not joking, this law has come to stay.
“I challenge anyone who has superior solution to the senseless killings of our people other than antiopen grazing law, should bring it forward. Before the passage of the bill by House of Assembly, due process was followed, every nationality living in the state; the Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa/Fulani and others were invited to the public hearing.
“Whoever chooses to live in Benue must obey the law of the land, there is no grazing in Benue. I was elected to protect lives and property of every resident of the state, not to preside over dead people.”
Governor Ortom also faulted the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, a Fulani socio-cultural group, over its opposition to the state’s antiopen grazing law, cautioning them to refrain from acts capable of inciting the masses against the relative peace now existing in the state.
Also speaking on behalf of the Benue State Traditional Council, the Tor Tiv, Prof. James Ayatse, carpeted the critics of the anti-grazing law, saying that whoever wished to rear livestock must do so in accordance with the law.
Prominent lawyer, Iorwase Ahile, said any threat emanating from anyone after the bill had been signed into law was inconsequential.
He said that for anybody to kick against the law was unhealthy, urging those calling for its repeal to direct their grievances to the court of law.
A former minister of power and steel development in the second republic, Wanteregh Paul Unongo, argued that had empowered states to legislate for the welfare of its citizens. He stressed that the state governor had taken the right step to ensure peace in the state.
“When such legislation is assented to, it becomes law and it is applicable to all the people who occupy that state covered by the legislation. All people in Benue and those wishing
to conduct business in the state must obey the law. Therefore, people who advocate violent confrontation, opposition to such a law and callingtheir supporters to disobey the law, are wrong unless they are interested in anarchy,” Unongo said.
The Benue State House of Assembly …passed the bill for a law to make provisions for the establishment of a livestock promotion, development and regulatory agency…The bill known as “Anti-Grazing Bill” also seeks and prohibits open grazing of any form throughout the state
WE’LL COMPLY, SAYS FULANI LEADER
Meanwhile the leader of the Hausa community in Benue State, Sheikh Ibrahim Aliyu, has expressed the support of his kinsmen to the state government over the enactment of the anti-grazing law.
Aliyu said that those criticising the law were ignorant of its content and intent, saying that it was not targeted against any particular group, faith or sect.
He said Muslims in the state, who knew the extent of the havoc wreaked by the herdsmen to life and property, were solidly behind the government, adding that the law was to safeguard lives and property.
Aliyu assured that the Muslim Umma in the state would soon undertake a tour of all the northern states to educate the people on the content and intent of the law to clear all doubts.
Similarly, a prominent farmer and former Benue State chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Chief Joseph Kwana, urged the Federal Government to prosecute the leadership of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association for allegedly making inflammatory statements capable of causing crisis in the state.
He regretted the destruction caused to lives and property, saying if Benue would remain the “food basket of Nigeria,” all the people of goodwill must lend a voice in support of the law, which remained the only solution to the problem between herders and farmers all over Nigeria.
In his reaction to the development, the Secretary of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association in Benue State, Mallam Gairus Gololo, appealed to the government to temper justice with mercy by giving more time to the herdsmen to enable them to establish ranches for grazing their livestock within designated areas.