BY ANKELI EMMANUEL, Abuja –
Benue state, otherwise known as Food Basket of the Nation has continued to be in the news lately. However, this time around, the news is not about salaries owed staff but for implementing the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, 2017, (Anti Open Grazing Law).
Prior to anti open grazing law implantation, nearly every part of the state has had its fair share of the herders attack leading to unquantifiable loss of lives and properties.
For some of the worst hit communities who fled their ancestral homes because of consistent herdsmen attacks, any measure capable of bringing lasting solution remained welcome, hence the large celebration that greeted the anti open grazing law.
The law from all intent as explained in its first schedule provides for the security of both the farmers and herders as it spelt out conditions for peaceful co-existence.
Part of the first schedule reads, “Livestock” means any farm animal, particularly poultry, pigs, cattle, goat, sheep, or horse kept for domestic use or profit, and includes any animal, which the Governor may by notice in the State Gazette declare to be included in the term “Livestock” for the purpose of this Law
“Livestock Owner” means a person who owns the herds of livestock and the ranch; “Manager” means a person who is in-charge of running and maintaining the affairs of the herds of livestock and the ranch.
“Ministry” means Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources or any other Ministry charged with the responsibility of administering, regulating and controlling livestock in the State;
“Open Grazing” means the act of pasturing livestock to feed on dry grass, growing grass, shrubs, herbage, farm crops, etc, in open fields without any form of restriction;
“Open Rearing,” means the unfettered breeding and raising of animals;
“Personal Ranch” means an enclosed area used by the owner of such area to contain domesticated animals, especially goats, pigs, sheep, cattle etc;
“Ranch” means a secured tract of land used as animal nurturing farm, particularly for the grazing and rearing of cattle, sheep, goat, pigs or horse and any other animal for the purpose of this Law;
“Ranching Permit” means the authority issued by the Department to the rancher for the purpose of setting up and running a ranch;
“Rustling,” means the act of stealing or moving away farm animals without the consent of the owner;
“Task Force” means security outfit constituted for the purpose of enforcing the provisions of this Law.
The law went ahead to explain its main objective in paragraph thus;
(a) Prevent the destruction of crop farms, community ponds, settlements and property by open rearing and grazing of livestock; (b)Prevent clashes between nomadic livestock herders and crop farmers; (c) Protect the environment from degradation and pollution caused by open rearing and over grazing of livestock;
(d) Optimise the use of land resources in the face of overstretched land and increasing population; (e) prevent, control and manage the spread of diseases as well as ease the implementation of policies that enhance the production of high quality and healthy livestock for local and international markets; (f) Create a conducive environment for large-scale crop production.
In the governor’s display of accommodating all sides of the divide, part 20 of the law insisted that, (1) any person(s) who rustles cattle, or other animals from any ranch commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction for imprisonment for a term of not less than three(3) years or One Hundred Thousand Naira (N100,000.00) per animal or both.
(2) Where a rustler: (a) injures, or maims any person while carrying out his activities he shall on conviction be reliable to five (5) years imprisonment or a fine of Five Hundred Thousand Naira (N500,000.00) only or both;
(b) causes death, he shall be guilty of an offence of culpable homicide punishable under the provision of the penal code; (3) a person convicted of cattle rustling may, in addition pay compensation to the victim or owner as the court may direct.
Espectedly, the law, which drew attention from all works of life, was greeted with diverse interpretations. While those in support praised the state governor, Mr. Samuel Ortom for taking the bold step towards ending the unwarranted attempt at turning the state into a theater of blood bath by the never ending herders/farmers clashes.
Those against the law felt it was a ploy to chase the herders out of the state. More so that, the Benue valley remained the most cherished trough for pastoralist from far and near, especially in the dry seasons. This therefore explains why the trough often than not witness influx of herders all year round.
While some analysts see the new anti open grazing law as a political bait that could salvage the governors diminishing relevance in the minds of the people ahead of 2019, others concluded that, he was only acting out a secret script agreed upon by some governors.
For those with such mindset, the governors of States where clashes between herders and farmers continued unabated allegedly discussed how best to send the herders packing using a legal framework.
Such analysts opined that, governor, Ortom’s action was done without recourse to the potential danger it could have on the unity of the north and by extension Nigeria at large.
They therefore wondered why after days of the implementation of the Benue Anti Open Grazing law, neither the Presidency nor the Court had not spoken against it.
From the perspective of the agrarian communities, the implementation of the Benue Anti Open Grazing law was a well deserved timely intervention hence they can now sleep with their two eyes closed believing that, their farms are no longer been eaten up by night herders.
These agrarian communities equally expressed confidence on the President Muhammadu Buhari’s led federal government whom the initially accused of treating the Benue herders/farmers clashes with kids gloves.
From the onsets, especially when the killings of farmers was almost becoming a daily routine in Benue state, the intuitive mindsets of the farmers was nothing but a feeling of neglect by the federal government whom they serially accused of not doing enough to stop the herders from invading their homes.
Many of the herders, especially those who have stayed in Benue for decades attested to the fact that, they have lived with their host communities peacefully for decades, puts the blame on the seasonal herders who always come over from neighbouring countries.
“They will deliberately allow their livestock to feast on the farm not minding that it is the source of livelihood of the farmer as well. And attempt to chase them away from destrying peoples farms often time leads to strict opposition resulting to exchange of violence because of language barriers.
“I think the state need to organise a special forum for leaders of the herders and that of the farmers on how best to live in peace rather than out rightly bringing forth a law that technically prohibits co-existence” he observed.