By Victor Bajah, Matthew Ajai-Kume, Martin Iyonguvihi, & Jovitta Iorshase
The Benue State Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), have called on the federal government to provide a legal frame work that will outlaw open grazing in all the 36 states of the federation.
The call by the legal and religious bodies is sequel to the recent declaration by the Northern Governors Forum that open grazing is outdated.
19 Northern states governors had in its recent meeting declared that open grazing was no longer sustainable and advocated ranching as the best option in animal husbandry.
The position of the Northern governors is in tandem with the long term position of the Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom that ranching is the best way to avoid incessant clash between farmers and herders in the country.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Voice, the Chairman of Nigerian Bar Association in Benue State, Justin Gbagir Esq, said the recent decision of the Northern Governors Forum advocating for a ban on open grazing should be followed up with a legal framework that will be applicable throughout the country.
According to Gbagir, the purpose of such law is to ensure peace in the country and ensure that the crisis between herders and farmers in different parts of the country is curtailed.
While commending Governor Samuel Ortom for standing firm on the issue of open grazing even, in the face of fierce opposition from the federal government and other vested interests, Barr. Gbagir said it was no longer feasible for the country to continue to encourage open grazing.
“With the mischief that has characterized open grazing in Nigeria which is the issue of threat to national security, I think the northern governors have eventually woken up from their slumber to adopt the position that the Benue state government took long time ago to pass a law to prohibit open grazing.
“I want to use the opportunity to commend our Governor, His Excellency, Samuel Ortom and the Benue state House of Assembly, who long ago saw the need to pass this law even against opposition from the federal government.
“A law is intended to cure a mischief in a society, so by the time the Benue state government realised or decided to enact the law to prohibit open grazing in the state, it was against the background of the insecurity that had characterised the open grazing in the state, and not only in the state but even in the whole of Nigeria, but there was a stiff opposition.
“With the recent position of the Northern Governors Forum, I think it will go a long way in ensuring that we are able to devise a means, either through legislation or policy frame work to ensure that we stop open grazing so that there is ranching of cattle in Nigeria.
“In fact, the issue of open grazing has a lot of attendant challenges apart from the issue of insecurity. I am not saying all Fulani are involved in these criminal acts of attacking host communities and killing people. There are some that carry out this open grazing without causing crisis but just like the northern governors said, Nigerian population has increased astronomically. Areas where there were lands for open grazing, people have built houses, there is even not enough land for farming,” Gbagir stated.
The state NBA Chairman further lauded the northern states governors’ call for the federal government to support states in the provision of ranches saying it will engender peace in the land.
“One of the issues the northern governors raised was that of Federal government supporting states to also create ranching or develop livestock system to support herdsmen. Yes, that’s good and I have been an advocate of people also creating private ranches, even here in Benue. If you have a ranch and I have certain products that I feel you need to feed the cattle in your ranch, like the waste products in my farm, I will approach you to come and buy, which in turn would create agricultural or economic value chain.
“I think this is a step forward and gradually we will arrive at a situation where this country will be secure for all of us, and I think it is something that the Federal government also need to support not only the northern governors forum but the 36 state governors, to ensure that an end is put to this issue of open grazing. This is one of the major steps towards checking insecurity in this country, by prohibiting open grazing,” Gbagir insisted.
Similarly, the Publicity Secretary of National Association of Catholic Lawyers (NACL), Mike Utsaha, Esq, said the pronouncement by the northern state governors forum, although belated was a welcome development.
“It is better late than never. We have been on this issue since 2017 so we welcome the pronouncement and we hope that going forward, we will not see any politicization of this entire thing, and the endorsement will lead to practical application of the provision of law, and other states will also take a cue from what the Governor and government of Benue state has done to ensure that we have this law in place,” Utsaha stated.
Meanwhile, Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Benue State Chapter, Rev. Akpen Leva has said the decision by northern governors to support an end to open grazing was the right thing to do in order to enhance peace and security of the nation.
In an interview with The Voice, Pastor Leva advised the Northern Governors to fish out and prosecute armed herdsmen for the crimes committed against different farming communities in the northern region, especially Benue state.
“I commend the Northern Governor’s Forum for taking this position at last. I encourage them to do the needful by encouraging the herders to embrace ranching. They should also fish out the criminal herdsmen in their various states. Moreover ranching is a private business so States must encourage indigenes to get ranches and ranch their livestock. I rest my case,” Leva stated.
Act before herdsmen drag Nigeria into civil war, Ortom tells Buhari
Meanwhile, Governor Samuel Ortom has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to act fast on the insecurity engendered by the activities of armed herdsmen before the country is plunged into an unwanted civil war.
In an open letter addressed to the President, governor Ortom said in order to reassure Nigerians that he was not favouring the Fulani race against other ethnic groups in the country, the president should order the immediate arrest of the leaders of the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore and other armed Fulani Socio-cultural groups, that had publicly claimed responsibility for the killings and destruction of property across States of the country.
According to Ortom, the Federal Government has failed to order security agencies to arrest disarm and prosecute armed herdsmen and particularly Fulani militia while they disarmed other Nigerians who have licensed weapons.
“Continuation of open grazing and support for grazing reserves, stock routes and Ruga settlement despite its rejection by Nigerians who preferred ranching as the best global practice of rearing animals and non-implementation of the National Livestock Transformation even as it was approved by National Economic Council and its acceptances by pilot state.
“This ugly situation has caused devastation across the country, in Benue 19 out of the 23 local government areas have been affected by the attacks by Fulani herdsmen leading to loss of lives, destruction of property and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Benue people who are now living in Internally Displaced Persons Camp and host communities across the state.
“The total number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) currently in the Camp in Benue State is 483,692 persons. Efforts to return the IDPs to their ancestral homes have been impossible as incessant attack, killing, maiming and raping of the returnees is ongoing,” Ortom stated.
‘Bauchi governor’s utterances disappointing’
Meanwhile, Governor Samuel Ortom has described as disappointing, the comments by his Bauchi State counterpart, Bala Mohammed who blamed him for what he termed ‘negative perception of Fulani herders’ in the country.
Governor Bala Mohammed had blamed the Benue state governor in a television interview for being behind what he called negative perception of Fulani by many Nigerians.
But in a statement issued by his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase, the governor noted that though he was not willing to join issues with his Bauchi state counterpart, he was shocked that his colleague who took oath of office to protect and preserve the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, now takes the lead in violating provisions of the same Constitution by calling for lawlessness.
He said the most shocking part of Governor Bala Mohammed’s statement was where he defended herdsmen for bearing arms saying “they have no option than to carry AK47 because the society and the government are not protecting them”.
“Governor Ortom wonders if his friend and colleague in Bauchi State knows a thing or two about the horrendous activities of herders in parts of the country to warrant the emotional defence and justification that he has repeatedly put forward in their favour.
“In reference to Governor Bala Mohammed’s comment that there are Benue people who are freely doing business in Bauchi and elsewhere, Governor Ortom states that Benue indigenes in Bauchi have been law abiding and do not carry arms to attack their hosts, noting that Fulani as well as many other Nigerians residing in Benue who respect laws of the land also live peacefully with their hosts.
Governor Ortom says his administration has not driven away any law abiding Nigerian in Benue State.
“The Governor finds it unfortunate that those who are trusted with the people’s mandate and should ordinarily uphold truth and justice have chosen to mislead the country. He stresses the need for leaders to be cautious and retrace their steps which are capable of leading the country to anarchy,” it stated.
Implement ranching to enable us return home – IDPs
Reacting to the declaration by the northern governors that open grazing is outdated, some Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)in Benue state have said that if ranching is implemented, it will enable them return to their homes safely.
Mama Esther Yaor, a farmer and displaced person said the armed herdsmen have completely taken over their land, a situation that has prevented farming activities.
“I am happy that the issue of Fulani herders’ attacks will come to an end due to their declaration. I hope that God will help the Governors not to relent but continue to fight in the same spirit as the Benue State governor Samuel Ortom has done. And since they have come together in one voice, let them also implement ranching soon so that our people in the IDPs camps will go back home to their normal lives.
“The cow spoils any land it grazes on and farming does not yield well on such farm lands so this is very good,” she stated.