Five years after the enactment of the Benue State anti-open grazing and ranches establishment law, farmers have shared their opinions, saying more hands are needed to fully implement it.
Farmers who spoke with our correspondent in Makurdi said open grazing forced to a halt but incidents of clashes between them and pastoralists reduced.
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They, however, admitted that there were pockets of attack in some rural communities by suspected armed herders who have refused to obey the law.
One of the farmers, Amanyi Amanyi, said the law had been partially implemented in his senatorial district, Benue south. He said that while most nomadic herders complied with the prohibition of open grazing, indigenes rearing animals often dragged their feet to completely comply.
“Sometimes you see the nomads openly grazing their cattle, and when you ask, they will say the animals belong to indigenes and it is none of our business.
“If it is not succeeding, our rich men are the cause. But, so far so good, open grazing has drastically reduced. You don’t see animals wandering like before. If you see any animal, it belongs to indigenes, not the nomads,” Amanyi said.
Another farmer in Benue North West senatorial district, Tyo Jonas, said the absence of weapons made it difficult for the state’s livestock guards to effectively combat armed herders who have refused to obey the law.
He said, “Much as the livestock guards are trying to enforce the law in this area, the nomadic people are resisting it. They don’t want to obey the law, so they will take their cattle to eat people’s crops.
“That’s our problem with them. The animals are eating our crops and the armed herders are still killing our people. The livestock guards are doing their best without weapons, but those armed herders have more sophisticated weapons.”
Also, Chief Joseph Anawah, a farmer in Benue northeast, said the implementation of the law was the best thing to happen to Benue people, but unfortunately, it met resistance despite its good intention.
“The law hasn’t been properly implemented in Benue northeast, particularly the Gambetiev area of Logo Local Government Area. Since the introduction of the law, the herders have been openly grazing unchallenged and the farmers bearing the brunt.
“One aspect of the law that has affected my community so much is that sometimes livestock guards come suddenly for operations, during which they take away cattle belonging to nomadic herders. This leaves us at the mercy of militia killers.
“The recent killings were as a result of that; our boys don’t go to rustle their cattle. They attacked us because livestock guards went and carted away their cattle and they believed they passed through our villages.
“We have told the guards to stop taking away their cattle because they are exposing us to danger. That has been the effect of the law on us for the past five years. If they are implementing the law and keeping the security operatives with us, it would have been good, but implementing it and leaving us in the midst of it all is terrible.
“Government should use different strategies to implement the law. We are at the border; and the cattle come into Benue from the eastern axis, crisscrossing from the other side of the river, so they should station security operatives at those places to enforce the law and implement it, instead of leaving us at the mercy of armed herders. It is a good law but the implementation is faulty. If they lack manpower they should recruit people to implement the law,” Anawah said.
A former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Justin Gbagir, also said, “The law has not been effective the way we expected it. Recently, the governor said there had been a lot of convictions, but it is beyond that. There are areas within Benue where herders have sacked the original settlers, occupied the place and are engaging in open grazing. There are quite a number of such places in Logo, Guma, Kwande, Agatu, Gwer West, even parts of Makurdi.
“The state government actually lacks the manpower and apparatus to enforce this law, so the percentage of offenders arrested, prosecuted and convicted is low when compared to the number of those carrying out open grazing. The law is not just about cattle, pigs and domestic animals are also supposed to be ranched. But if you go to some local government areas, including Makurdi township, you still see goats and pigs moving around.
“Also, some vigilantes, community volunteer guards or livestock guards in the villages take laws into their hands in the name of enforcing this law.
“I have had to intervene in two cases where they would go and take people’s pigs that were openly grazing, whereas the law stipulates that such cases should be taken to court. There were instances where they would take those animals, and before the owners came, they would have sold or killed them and shared among themselves.
“I think there should be a proper sensitisation about the grazing law so that even in the villages people will comply. More things should be done to check herders engaging in open grazing in the state. It is beyond media implementation; more active steps should be taken.”
The Commander of the Livestock Guards, Linus Zaki, declined comment when he was contacted on the matter. However, the director of livestock in the state’s Ministry of Agriculture, Dr Edward Amali, said the grazing law had been very effective.
“As a result of the law, we are experiencing dull times now in terms of crisis, as 90 per cent of the state is no longer witnessing clashes.
“The best of it has been achieved. There are pockets of clashes in Guma and Logo, but they are, however, relatively insignificant when compared to what we had before the law. The law has been largely successful. You don’t see cattle all over the places anymore. Wherever you see them they are within fences. Even in households, you do not see pigs and goats roaming around.
“The other advantage is that it has helped us curtail the spread of animal diseases. The challenge is that some people have decided that they will not obey the law.
“We even made an adjustment to increase the penalty fees and it has further restrained people from erring. Initially, people said our penalty was too small as offenders could easily recover their animals with N2,000 each, but when we raised the bar, they retraced their steps.
“Already, most states in the country are buying into the idea, not exactly by enacting the anti-open grazing law but building ranches for their people,” Amali said.
The Commissioner for Information, Tourism and Culture in the state, Mike Inalegwu, said the law had succeeded and now being adopted by other states.
Inalegwu said, “The law has succeeded about 95 per cent. That’s why you can’t see any form of pastoral movement around Benue State anymore.
“However, what happened was that as a result of the implementation of the law, they resorted to indiscriminate killing of people, such as the recent killing of 14 people in Logo and Guma.
“When journalists ask why we have not allowed people to return home if the law had succeeded, my reply is that you don’t allow people to return when the environment is not conducive; they could be slaughtered like animals. Whenever the security situation improves, the people will go home.
“Because of the success of the law in Benue, most northern states are clamouring for the prohibition of open grazing. It is one of the world’s best practice.”
It would be recalled that Governor Samuel Ortom accented to the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment law on May 27, 2017. He also signed an amendment bill to the law in January 20 this year.
The governor had earlier sought the review of the law on the ground that it had some lacuna, and therefore, needed an amendment to deter those who would disobey it.
The amended law stipulates that any person found moving livestock on foot in any part of the state would pay N500,000 as fine (first offender), while a subsequent offender would be liable to N1 million, with appropriate prison terms and options of fine.
The amended law also stipulates a 14-year jail term with an option of N5m fine for anyone who engages the services of a child to break the law, with various fines for confiscated livestock, including N50,000 fine per cow, N10,000 per pig, N5,000 per goat and N1,000 per poultry bird.
Ortom had said the old moderate fine for a confiscated animal which prescribed N2,000 per cow was reviewed to N50,000 based on current realities and the cost of caring for them at the state’s quarantine centre.
Shortly after the amendment, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) appealed to Governor Ortom to consider them as bonafide indigenes of Benue State and accord them same treatment with others.
The state chairman of the association, Risku Mohammed, said the amended law, which stipulates stiffer penalties for offenders, was a subtle means of chasing nomads away from the state, adding that they obey the law but indigenes do not.
However, Governor Ortom had at different times insisted that the law was a win-win for farmers and herders in the state, saying that offenders of Benue origin who allegedly rustled cattle belonging to nomadic herders had also been arrested.
He said over 400 violators of the anti-open grazing law had been prosecuted and convicted while at least 8,000 cattle and 300 sheep, as well as other livestock, had been impounded.
On June 29, the governor reminded the newly inaugurated 23 local government chairmen in the state that the law was still in force, adding that they should work hand-in-hand with security agencies and livestock guards to enforce it.