‘Benue State Open Grazing Prohibition Law 2017 has Achieved its Purpose’

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As Benue State Government marks the third year anniversary of the State Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017, the State’s Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Mike Gusa, examined the effects and implications of the law. He concluded that, the legislation had practically achieved the intention of the law makers in the State.

First, November, 2020 marked the third anniversary of the Benue State Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017. Although the law, popularly referred to as the Anti-Open Grazing Law, was assented to on 22 May that year, it came into effect on the first day of November, after a period of six months grace, to allow for the establishment of ranches.

Looking at the background for the necessity of enacting the law which Benue State House of Assembly passed unanimously after due process including a very extensive public hearing and inputs for the Benue populace, Mr. Gusa said: ‘Between February 2013 and May 13, 2017, records compiled by the media in Nigeria indicate that Benue State experienced 46 attacks by suspected Fulani herdsmen, resulting in the death of over 1541 people and massive destruction of property including schools, hospitals, residential houses, churches, farmlands in 15 local government areas out of the 23 local government areas of the State. The value of the property lost, has been put at a conservative estimate of over N400 billion.

‘The local government areas affected within this period were Guma, Logo, Ukum, Kwande, Buruku, Gboko, Tarka, Katsina-Ala, Makurdi, Gwer West, Gwer, Ogbadibo, Otukpo, Agatu and Apa.

‘For instance on February 29, 2016, the herdsmen invaded several Agatu villages and farm settlements in broad daylight, killing children, women, men and the elderly population.

‘When the gunshots stopped, over 500 villagers were reportedly killed and over 7000 were displaced in 10 villages including Akwu, Aila, Okokolo, Adagbo, Odugbeho and Odejo.

‘The reasons given for the attacks included reprisals for cattle rustled, and killing of herdsmen during conflicts arising from the grazing of cattle in the areas involved.

‘People in several of the affected communities were living in perpetual fear, many vacated their ancestral homes for fear of being killed by the suspected herdsmen.

‘To put an end to these incessant attacks, killings and massive destruction of properties including farmlands, the Benue State Executive Council sponsored a bill to State Assembly to enact a law prohibiting open grazing and establishment of ranches for the rearing of livestock in the State. The bill included the establishment of the Benue State Livestock Guards, to assist the security agencies to enforce the law.

‘Governor Samuel Ortom had stated that, ranching is the global best practice of animal husbandry, which guarantees peace between herders and farmers.

‘The people of Benue State finally got what they yearned for, as an absolute necessity. They came out in their numbers to make contributions at public hearings which were held in the headquarters of each of the three senatorial districts in the State, as well as Makurdi, the State capital.

‘On May 22, 2017, Governor Ortom assented to the law, but directed that the implementation should be suspended for six months, to give owners of livestock time to adjust to the new law’, he said.

Reaction from Fulani Groups

One week after the signing of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Bill, 2017 into Law, on Tuesday, May 30, 2017, the Fulani Socio-cultural group, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore under the leadership of Alhaji Abdulahi Bodejo, President, and Engineer Alhassan Sale, Secretary, addressed a press conference in Abuja and vowed to resist the Law. They vowed to mobilise their members nationwide and beyond, to resist its implementation.

The press conference was widely published in the national media, appearing on page nine of Leadership newspaper; and page 41 of the Nation newspaper of Wednesday, May 31, 2017; and page 18 of Blueprint newspaper of Thursday, June 1, 2017 and several others.

The group also made spurious claims to being the original inhabitants of the Benue valley, concluding that the planned attacks were a struggle over the resources of the valley. Several other Fulani groups, including the Fulani Nationality Movement issued similar threats.

President Muhammadu Buhari blamed the killings on mercenaries, trained by the late Libyan Leader, Muammar Gaddafi.

The Federal Government, through the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, tried to introduced cattle colonies, RUGA settlements as a solution, but Governor Ortom and other stakeholders maintained that Benue does not have land for cattle colonies or RUGA settlements. They see ranching as the global best practice in rearing livestock, and they challenged anyone with a superior argument, to bring it to the table.

The Attorney-General further told newsmen that ‘Despite serious opposition to the law, the resultant loss of enormous lives and property, the Benue State Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, 2017 has recorded milestones. The rapidity and number of attacks on communities by suspected herdsmen have reduced in the last two years, as compared to 2016-2017.

‘Moreover, the efficacy of the law has been tested in the courts of law, with amazing results.

‘From November 1, 2017 to October 27, 2020, more than 400 herdsmen have been arrested for violating the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, 2017. Out of this number, 261 persons have been convicted, 21 persons have been discharged, 36 cases are still pending, while investigation is ongoing in other cases. Most of the convicts were able to pay fines and were released, while many who could not, were sent to jail ranging from six months to two years.

‘The law has also witnessed the arrest, arraignment an conviction of five cattle rustlers. The convicted rustlers were mostly of Fulani extraction, who confessed to the crime in open court.’

It can be recalled that the Federal Government through the Vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN during his visit to the State, promised that the Federal Government was going to support the IDPs to return home and start life afresh, with a support of N10 billion. Till today, the Federal Government is yet to fulfill this promise. The IDPs need this support and a peaceful, safe and secure environment to return home.