Benue’s Anti-open Grazing Law Chokes Nasarawa With Cattle, Herders

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Danjuma Joseph writes that the exodus of herders and their cattle from Benue State into neigbouring Nasarawa State following the implementation of  the Anti-open Grazing Law in Benue has left Nasarawa State bursting from the seams with cattle and their herders, eliciting  save-our-soul calls from Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigerian, MACBAN, Nasarawa branch.

It is no longer news that the Benue State government recently introduced an anti-open grazing law that prohibits herdsmen from grazing openly in the state, what is news is the aftermath of the law that took effect on 1st November, 2017.

It will be recalled that the anti-open grazing law sent all herdsmen in Benue State packing and their next point of call is either Nasarawa or Taraba State, which are the two closest states to Benue.

Parts of the new anti grazing law stipulates that “Section 19 (4) movement of livestock on foot from one destination to another, in the state is hereby prohibited. Such movement shall only be by rail wagon, truck or pick up wagon. (5) Any person(s) found moving livestock on foot across urban centers, rural settlements or any part of the state commits an offence and is liable.”

Reacting to the new anti grazing law, the umbrella body of the herdsmen, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigerian (MACBAN), Benue State chapter, in a press conference held recently in Lafia, the Nasarawa State capital, argued that the law infringes on the right of its members as bonafide Nigerians.

The North Central Zonal Chairman of MACBAN, Alhaji Danladi Ciroma, who addressed the press conference in company of state officials from both Benue and Nasarawa states, noted that: “The law has far reaching negative impact on the part of Fulani Herdsmen, and thus necessitating this press briefing to ex-ray the law and assert publicly the position of MACBAN, Benue State.”

“The fulcrum of this press briefing is to bring to the fore the risk a typical Fulani herd man and his properties are exposed to as far as the implementation of the Benue State open grazing law is concern and to call on the attention of the national leaders of the MACBAN, its revered trustees, the Federal Government, the international community, corporate entities and spirited individuals to as a matter of urgency wade into this sensitive issue and have it resolved.

“MACBAN, Benue State Chapter and indeed its National officials are not reputed for issuance of threats, but rather a peace loving association who respect the sacredness of human life and thus, will not give inflammatory remarks or conduct itself in such a manner that will erode peace and endanger human lives, hence this press briefing.”

Alhaji Ciroma argued that not all herdsmen who graze cattle are Fulanis and not all Fulani herdsmen are the real owners of herds, because according to him, about 45 per cent  of cattle in Benue State are owned by well placed persons in the state, including Tiv, Idoma and Hausas.

Turning back to the anti grazing law, he said “Further more, the anti-open gazing law deliberately ignore the fact that Benue State, is the major route wherein Fulani herdsmen pass through from northern to southern Nigeria, depending on the season.”

He also faulted the Benue State government for zero awareness campaign on the benefit of cattle ranching as stipulated in the anti grazing law saying:  “This is because the Fulani are greatly unaware that there is better way of cattle rearing which the law under reference prefers to his traditional cattle rearing. Larger percent of Fulani herdsmen are unaware that their traditional method of rearing cattle has being proscribed by law and thus, any attempt to impound their cattle will not be succumbed.”

The association appealed to the Federal Government to prevail on the Benue State government to withdraw the implementation of its Anti-open Grazing Law, saying Benue State is the only route linking the North and the Southern part of the country.

Since the implementation of the anti-open grazing law by the state and when the herdsmen massively moved into Nasarawa State, tension became high among the people of some of the border communities who are not comfortable with the activities of some of these herdsmen.

Nasarawa State local governments that borders Benue State are Awe, Keana, Doma and Nasarawa, with plenty communities along the River Benue bank. As a result of the anti-grazing law, millions of cows belonging to members of the Miyetti-Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), had moved into Nasarawa State from Benue State as disclosed to LEADERSHIP Weekend by the chairman of MACBAN in Nasarawa State, Alhaji Mohammed Hussaini.

Hussaini said:  “ We are worried and the reason is because of the massive movement of Fulani cattle rearers from Benue down to Nasarawa State. Infact, the way we look at it , millions of cattle are moving down to Nasarawa State, we cannot accommodate over two millions cows coming into the state.”

“We are also worried because  we have farmers in large number in Nasarawa State and some people are coming from the northern part of Nigeria, passing through Benue State and if the international cattle route are blocked, there will be too much congestion here and we cannot accommodate them in Nasarawa state.

“Our worry is that a lot of cattle  will destroy crops in Nasarawa State and there is lack of water and  they can not be feed properly. They will definitely destroy farms and if they destroy farms,  there will be problems and that is what we don’t want.

“We MACBAN in Nasarawa State are sensitising our people to leave in peace, they should not destroy people’s crop and we advised all branch leaders of Miyetti Allah in most of the neighboring local government areas  to go around to various wards to sensitise and see that farm produce are not destroyed, ” he said.

Unfortunately, it seems the sensitisation is not working because there are pockets of tensions and crisis involving herdsmen and locals, especially farmers, in some border communities and more are expected to come.

For instance, one Hassan Sabo Papalolo, from Awe town, was killed last week as a result of skirmishes between farmers and herders on a market day in Awe. An eye witness told LEADERSHIP Weekend that the crisis erupted as a result of injuries sustained by a farmer, Yamusa Makeri and two herders , who were brought to Awe General Hospital for treatment due to machete wounds, following a clash.

Makeri was said to have had a hot misunderstanding with the two Fulani herdsmen who shepherd their cows into his farm and when they were brought to the general hospital, Awe youths insisted that only the farmer (Makeri), should be treated for his injuries.

LEADERSHIP Weekend gathered that it took the timely intervention of the paramount ruler of Awe, Alhaji Abubakar Umar, who personally appealed to the aggrieved youths and went round to calm nerves. Confirming the incident, Nasarawa State police public relations officer, Idrisu Kennedy, said the late Papalolo is not a farmer, but one of the youths who protested.

Idrisu said Paplolo lost his life when he led the youths to storm a particular place where Fulani herders were gathered in clusters as a result of the tension and when argument ensued between the youths and herdsmen, someone among the herders stabbed him to death.

Some farmers interviewed by LEADERSHIP Weekend, who pleaded for anonymity, attributed the high level of destruction of crops by the herdsmen moving into Nasarawa State from Benue State, as a result of the anti grazing law in Benue State.  The farmers confirmed that some boarder communities are having sleepless nights over the swelling number of herdsmen, thereby forcing farmers to harvest crops that are not fully ripe for harvest.

They called on the authorities concern to prevail on the herdsmen to respect the right of the farmers and they should keep to their grazing roots to avoid clashes. The farmers appealed to both the state and federal government to provide enough security to save farmers and some of these communities from attack by herdsmen.

The Nasarawa State government on its part, had series of security meetings as a result of the anti-open grazing law enacted by the Benue State government to avoid crisis. In this order, an emergency security meeting at the instance of the governor, Umaru Tanko Almakura of Nasarawa State, was held in the council chambers last week to discuss the aftermath of the grazing law and it resultant effects on the state.

The meeting had in attendance, security chiefs in the state, chairmen of all the boarder local government areas and some selected traditional rulers, who were directed by the governor to constitute committees in their domains to appeal to their people to stay in peace with the herdsmen.

The Interim Management Committee Chairmen of the boarder local governments, was also directed by the governor to carry out twenty four hours security surveillance and report any outbreak of law and order to security agencies in the state for quick response.

After the security meeting, government called on border communities with Benue State, to go about their normal businesses as the implementation of the antii-grazing law by the Benue State government takes effect.

Governor  Almakura, in a statement signed by his chief press secretary (CPS), Musa Elayo and made available to the press in Lafia, said “Government is fully aware of the tension at the border communities stressing that Government is determined to ensure adequate security measures to forestall any eventualities”.

“The Governor however appealed to the people at the affected areas not to do anything that would jeopardize the existing peaceful co-existence between the two states.”

The statement further said the governor reiterated his commitment to ensuring to the development of the state hence the need to stay in peace irrespective of tribe and religions difference.

“The Governor called on the stakeholders of the affected areas to continue to dialogue and sensitize the residents, particular the youths and Fulani herdsmen on the need to embrace peace and avoid rumour mongering.”

“Any person or group of persons who try to incite the people to cause disunity at the border communities would not be tolerated and anything violation would be met with the full wrath of the law”, the statement said.

After the security meeting the governor toured the border communities in a chopper, to douse tension as a result of herdsmen fleeing Benue, owing to the new law that took effect on last week Wednesday.

As a follow up and considering the fact that the influx of herdsmen has triggered apprehension in some boarder communities, an emergency security meeting was again conveyed on Thursday, by the state Deputy Governor, Silas Ali Agara.

The deputy governor, who represented his boss , received briefing from IMC chairmen and security chiefs on the security situations in their various domain. He further directed them to ensure the security of life and property as a result of the influx of herdsman who left Benue State enmass.

Also addressing herdsmen on the issue at hand, the Emir of Lafia, Dr Isa Mustapha Agwai I, urged them to avoid grazing on farmlands, to avert clashes between them and farmers.

The emir made the call while receiving a delegation of Fulani community in Nasarawa State at his palace in Lafia, the state capital..

According to Mustapha-Agwai, the call became imperative to ensure peaceful co-existence between herders and farmers as well as to boost food production in the state and the country at large.

“As a traditional ruler, my role is to preach peace, unity and to advise my subjects and other Nigerians to live in peace and tolerate one another, irrespective of ethnic, religious and political affiliation.

“No nation or society can develop in an atmosphere of rancour and confusion; the security challenges facing some parts of the country had affected our lives and socio-economic development of the country negatively.

“It is in view of this, I want to appeal to you and other herdsmen not to graze on farmlands so as to avert clashes between you and farmers in the interest of peace and national development.

“Without peaceful co-existence between the farmers and the herdsmen, agricultural production and the socio-economic development of the country will be affected negatively, hence the need for both of them to embrace one another,” he said.

Earlier, leader of the Fulani community, Ardo Lawal Dano, said the visit was to inform the monarch of the community’s activities, especially in the area of promotion of peace across the state.

Ardo Dano assured the emir that Fulani leaders would do everything humanly possible to ensure the sustenance of peace among them and with their neighbours.