N’Assembly Opposes Suspension of Anti-Open Grazing Laws

  • Benue govt, assembly call for Dan-Ali’s sack as herdsmen kill nine

Deji Elumoye, James Emejo in Abuja and George Oko in Makurdi

The National Assembly has expressed its opposition to the suggestion by the Minister of Defence, Brig-Gen Mansur Dan-Ali (rtd.), that states that had passed anti-open grazing laws suspend the legislations.

The defence minister on Tuesday had advised the National Security Council (NSC) presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari on the need to suspend anti-open grazing laws in Benue, Taraba and Ekiti States.

Abia State joined the three states Wednesday when its House of Assembly passed a similar legislation to curb the menace of herdsmen in the South-eastern state.

According to Dan-Ali, suspending the laws would reduce tensions in states with high incidence of clashes between farmers and cattle rearers, while negotiations for safe routes for herders would commence.

“The need to employ other channels with the affected states to reduce tension by suspending the implementation of the anti-open grazing laws while also negotiating safe routes for the herders,” he said.

But in its reaction to the recommendation Wednesday, the Senate asked the defence minister to withdraw the statement credited to him that the laws be suspended by the states.

The decision by the Senate followed a point of order raised by Senator Barnabas Gemade (APC, Benue) who criticised the minister for attributing the incessant killings in Benue and Taraba States to the anti-open grazing laws enacted by the state governments.

Gemade, in particular, expressed concern over the spate of killings in his senatorial district especially with the recent killing of seven people in Kwande Local Government Area of Benue State.

According to him, “While we are looking up to the government and the security agencies for protection, we get dismayed by the attitude of those who lead these security forces.

“It was very strange to me that in the mind of the Minister of Defence, the only way he can solve the problem of hundreds and thousands of people being killed in the states of Benue and Taraba is that the laws they made against open grazing of cattle should be suspended so that anarchy can continue as was the case before.”

Gemade further submitted that “we know that farmers and herders need land but there should be a way where a law that is enacted ensures that persons use the land in accordance to law”.

Having heard his argument against the minister’s suggestion, the Senate unanimously granted Gemade’s request and asked the minister to withdraw the statement.

In the House of Representatives, the lower legislative chamber also passed a motion calling on the NSC to rescind the suggestion on the suspension of the anti-open grazing laws.

It further called on the federal government to submit a supplementary budget to the National Assembly to immediately develop cattle colonies in states, which had agreed to donate land for this purpose.

The resolution of the lower chamber followed a motion sponsored by Hon. John Dyegh (APC, Benue) on the need to rescind the suggestion made by the minister during the meeting of the security council on Tuesday.

He noted that the unprovoked attack on Agatu town in Benue State by suspected herdsmen, which claimed over 800 persons and over 20 villages ravaged, had necessitated eminent indigenes of the state to come together to find a lasting solution to the problem.

He added that the anti-open grazing law came into being after robust debates, which produced recommendations to the state government to proceed with the decision and push for the enactment of the law through an executive bill.

He also observed that the constitution gives express powers to the state assemblies to make laws for the good governance of the states.

Dyegh said Benue was not the only state which had made laws for good governance, adding: “We’ve seen states making laws against trading in alcohol and prostitution and such laws are obeyed by visitors and indigenes alike without interference by the federal government.”

He argued that it was totally wrong, going by the tenets of democracy, for the federal government to dabble into the affairs of the states, ignoring the laws of the land “in such a manner as this, more so as the Land Use Act has given the power over land to the state governors”.

The lawmaker stated that the suggestion by the minister to the security council was worrisome in view of the fact that the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Audu Ogbe had indicated that 11 states had agreed to donate enough land to accommodate all the livestock owned by herdsmen in cattle colonies to end the crisis.

He also recalled that the National Economic Council (NEC), at one of its recent meetings, had agreed that ranching was the best way to end the crisis.

In her contribution, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha (PDP, Abia) said no one could compel any state to suspend a particular law enacted by its assembly.

After the debate, the House passed the motion calling on the NSC to rescind the suggestion on the suspension of the anti-open grazing laws.

Also, the House passed a motion mandating its Committee on Public Procurement to investigate the alleged infraction of the Public Procurement Act in the execution of zonal intervention projects by ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of the federal government between 2015 and 2017.

The lawmakers’ resolve on the constituency interventions followed a motion moved under matters of urgent importance by Hon. Chukwuka Onyema (PDP, Enugu) on the misapplication of zonal intervention funds to other areas by the implementing agencies.

He said the zonal intervention projects were the intervention projects of members of the National Assembly targeted at bringing democracy dividends down to the grassroots.

He noted that the funds for the execution of the projects were specifically provided for in the Appropriation Acts in the period under review.

The lawmaker expressed concern that the MDAs misapplied the funds in violation of the Appropriation Acts for other purposes, thereby denying payments to contractors who had “diligently completed their works”.

He said the alleged infractions breached the Public Procurement Act and the Appropriation Acts for 2015 to 2017.

But even as the National Assembly was debating the suggestion made by the defence minister for the suspension of the anti-open grazing laws, news trickled in that suspected herdsmen attacked Tse Shan community in Saghev Guma Local Government Area of Benue State at about 3 a.m. Wednesday, killing nine persons with many others sustaining injuries.

At the time of this report, several persons were still missing after the attack.

Chairman of Guma LGA, Mr. Anthony Shawon, confirmed the killings when he submitted a report to the state governor’s special adviser, security, Colonel Paul Hemba (rtd), on the incessant attacks on his council by herdsmen.

He said the victims included two students who came to write the National Examination Council (NECO) examinations in the community.

Shawon stated that both the dead and the injured were conveyed to Gbajimba General Hospital.

The council chairman said that he also received information that when the suspected herdsmen retreated, they attacked several more people along the routes, with one body discovered along the road in Logo Local Government Area.

He stated that the Commander of the 72 Special Forces Battalion of the Nigerian Army dispatched soldiers to the scene of the attack but the attackers had fled.

Meanwhile, the Benue State Government and the state House of Assembly Wednesday condemned the suggestion made by the defence minister for the repeal of the anti-open grazing laws.

While addressing reporters, the Benue State Commissioner for Information Lawrence Onoja condemned Ali’s recommendation and asked him to apologise to the state.

He said Dan-Ali’s statement listed several other states including Kaduna and Zamfara where armed Fulani herdsmen have killed hundreds of people.

“It should be noted that these two states do not have laws banning open grazing, yet they have not been spared; just like Adamawa, Plateau, Kogi and Nasarawa where there are no such laws,” the commissioner pointed out.

According to him, this was the second time that the defence minister had “abdicated the responsibilities of his office as the defender of Nigeria’s territorial integrity and descended so low to become the champion of Fulani herdsmen’s interest”.

“He justified the incessant unprovoked attacks by herdsmen on the so-called blockade of cattle routes and grazing reserves.

“He spoke as if this was a justifiable reason for Fulani militia taking the law into their hands.

“By his call, Dan-Ali has shown his partisanship and support for Fulani conquest and occupation of the Benue Valley and other fertile lands in the country,” said the commissioner.

Onoja called on Nigerians and the international community to compel the minister to quickly prove to the Benue people that he has no personal scores to settle in this crisis, or was playing the script of some unknown persons.

“We would like him to respond to the following questions in the interest of fairness, justice and equity: Is the state House of Assembly of a state in Nigeria constitutionally empowered to make laws for the promotion of peace, development and welfare of the people in the state? How come Mansur Dan-Ali is calling for the negotiation of safe cattle routes for the herders without a single mention of the farmers who have been violently dislodged from their homes and farms?

“Who would take the responsibility of taking care of the needs of these farmers who have lost their means of livelihoods with their farms and crops destroyed by herdsmen militia armed with dangerous weapons? Who would avert the looming famine in Benue State on account of this mindless destruction of lives and farming communities?

“Why has the Minister of Defence not made a single reference to the plight of the 180,000 Benue indigenes taking refuge in eight IDP camps in Benue? These people are also Nigerians who deserve to have a sense of belonging in Nigeria.

“Most of these people are farmers who could not go back to their farms for fear of being attacked by herdsmen who are still carrying out sporadic attacks on Benue communities as we speak,” the commissioner charged.

Also reacting, the Benue State House of Assembly called for the immediate resignation of the defence minister over his suggestion.

During plenary Wednesday, member after member condemned the statement of the minister, even as they called for his resignation and that of the president if they cannot put a stop to the killings in Benue State.

Moving the motion condemning and passing a vote of no confidence on the minister, the Majority Leader of the House Emmanuel Adanyi said the Minister of Defence had clearly shown his incompetence in handling the security situation in the country.

He asked if it was the anti-open grazing law of Benue State that was also responsible for the killings in Zamfara and Kaduna States which both have no such laws.

He argued that Dan-Ali and several other aides of the president were giving advice to Buhari that are inimical to resolving the killings going on around the country.

In his submission, another lawmaker Egli Johnson called for the sack of the minister who he said had outlived his usefulness.

Adding that the law passed by the state assembly was unanimously passed to check the perennial clashes between farmers and herdsmen, he said if the minister was not sacked, then he was speaking the mind of the president who he described as “old and weak”.

Adding his voice to the debate, the Deputy Majority Leader in the Benue Assembly Nick Eworo called for the overhaul of the country’s security architecture and the sack of the minister.

He said a situation where all those who attended the security council meeting were all from one side of the country was unfortunate.

“It’s not surprising that such statement is coming from the minister since the meeting held with the president comprised of people from only one section of the country,” Eworo said.

In his ruling on the motion, the Speaker of the assembly Terkinbir Kyange passed a vote of no confidence on the minister and also called for his immediate sack.

He said the attitude of the minister towards the law had clearly shown that he has taken sides with the Fulani herdsmen in the killing of Benue people.