With less than just one day to the implementation of the Anti -open grazing and ranches establishment law in Benue state, tension has been mounting over alleged threats by herdsmen to invade the state and thwart the process.
Governor Samuel Ortom, after signing the anti -open grazing law had given a window period of six months to allow for preparations towards its full implementation beginning from November 1, tomorrow.
Alleged herdsmen threats
But, as the time ticks, there are allegations that armed men suspected to be herdsmen have already started converging on the border towns in Agatu, Kwande and other areas to attack the people and frustrate implementation of the law.
It has also been alleged that leadership of the herdsmen had held several meetings in Nigeria and abroad and resolved to attack Benue state to frustrate the successful implementation of the law.
Last week Monday, the three major socio-cultural groups in Benue visited Governor Ortom, and disclosed the plan by the leadership of herdsmen to unleash mayhem and genocide on the people of the state.
Spokesman for the Forum, Engr. Edward Ujege, who led the groups, which comprises Mdzough U Tiv, Idoma National Forum and Ominy’Igede, expressed worry that the herdsmen tagged as the ‘fourth deadliest terrorist’ group in the world by global terrorist index as published in the Vanguard Newspaper on June 1, 2017, have the capacity, capability and means to carry out the threat.
“The plot is said to be multi-directional, and aimed to simultaneously invade and attack Benue from every angle so that there would be no escape for our defenseless people.
“We intend to reach out to the outside world, particularly, the Federal government, the National Assembly, the law enforcement agencies, our neighbours, brother associations and the international community to intervene and assist us”, he said.
Ortom dismisses threats, intimidations
But Governor Ortom, had in an interview with newsmen after the meeting insisted that no amount of intimidation from the herdsmen will prevent him from implementing the law.
He said the implementation of the law was the only way to ensure lasting peace in the state between herdsmen and farmers and challenged anyone with a solution to the issue to bring it forward.
He reiterated his position that the anti-open grazing law was intended to ensure lasting peace for farmers and herdsmen who he urged to embrace dialogue and good neighborliness.
Governor Ortom had also stated that the economy of the state revolved around agriculture making it impossible for farming and open grazing to co-exist, pointing out that the establishment of ranches had multiple benefits for all stakeholders including herdsmen who could access better education and health care if they embraced the practice.
The governor was also reported to have met President Muhammadu Buhari, last Tuesday, after the visit by the sociocultural groups, to intimate the president on the alleged plans by the herdsmen who have also taken Benue state government to court, to attack the state and frustrate the law.
Ortom was said to have told newsmen after the meeting with the president that he will implement the law beginning from November 1 despite threats by the Miyetti Allah Kauta Hore.
Arrest of Miyetti Allah
According to the report, the governor also called on security agencies to arrest leaders of the Miyetti Allah Kauta Hore and not allow them to frustrate implementation of the Anti -open grazing law.
It is worthy of note that Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017 is aimed at curbing the incessant crises between herdsmen and farmers, which over time resulted to wanton destruction of lives and property in Benue state.
The law which prohibits open rearing of livestock, cattle rustling, among others, also provides 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 native farmers and nomadic Fulani herdsmen that had ravaged several communities in the state since 2010.
Blueprint recalls that there has been relentless battles by the Benue farmers to protect their farmlands 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.
Endless killings, rape, abduction
The crises also resulted to killing of defenseless farmers, women and children, as well as destruction of crops and other valuable property.
The herdsmen consistently rained mayhem on places like Agatu, Guma, Kwande, Gwer West, Buruku Logo, Gwer East, Makurdi and Tarka logo government areas.
Agatu, Guma, Kwande and Buruku were almost reduced to rubbles by the raging militia herdsmen. In Agatu alone, more than 700 persons lost their lives in the crisis.
Report by the Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, on the crises reveals that about 2500 persons lost their lives and property valued at more than N95 billion were destroyed.
Over one hundred thousand people were also allegedly sacked from their homes and had to seek refuge in internally displaced camps, and relations houses leaving their goods at the mercy of the marauding herdsmen and their cattle to graze on.
The crises with its attending devastation resulted to serious tension in the state and almost drove Benue State to the point of famine. There was even attempt on the life of the immediate past Governor Gabriel Suswam, by the herdsmen who paraded sophisticated weapons openly with challenge to any security agency that dare them.
After critical view of the herdsmen activities, individuals, groups and government felt the best solution to 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 other countries of the world, farmlands will no longer be encroached upon, crops, no longer destroyed, 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 therefore championed the campaign for ranching of cattle and all other livestock, instead of open-grazing, which finally gave birth to the anti- open grazing law.
Establishment of ranches, livestock administration, regulation and control
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 engaged 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.
Livestock Special Task Force
The law also provides for setting up of a Livestock Special Task Force, comprising of the relevant security agencies and other stakeholders to work for implementation of the law.
Miyetti Allah opposes law
But while the Benue people rolled out drums to celebrate the signing of the law which they believe would end the killing of their people and destruction of property by the herdsmen, a sociocultural 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 for Benue 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.
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 intended to cause chaos in the state.
Reacting swiftly to the development, 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 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.
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.
The three major sociocultural groups in Benue; the Mzough u Tiv, Idoma National Forum, and Ominiy Igede, in their joint reaction, 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 Benue State and Nigeria as a whole.
The socio cultural groups denied the claim by the Miyetti Allah that they are indigenous to Benue and had settled in Benue valley before other tribes in the state.
“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 groups said.
According to the groups, “the statement amounts to a clear declaration of war by the herdsmen on the peace-loving people of Benue State.”
They urged the federal government to effect arrest and prosecution of leaders of the MAKH for making such inciting statements.
24 hours away
Now, with the implementation of the law just less than 24 hours away, there is anxiety among residents particularly those at the border area of alleged threats by the herdsmen to attack their communities.
A former Councillor and resident of Moon Community in Kwande local government, Mr Afred Gwaza, who spoke on phone with our correspondent expressed fear that they have seen herdsmen camping at the mountainous area.
He said, some residence have started evacuating their loved ones, particularly women and children to safer areas.
“Most of us are living in fear, we have experienced attacks from the herdsmen and we cannot easily forget the gory experience. “We have notified the security of the presence of the herdsmen and I believe the governor is also aware,” he said.