Association of Butchers and Cattle Breeders in Benue State has continued to lament the difficulties the implementation of the Anti-open Grazing Law in the state has brought to their lives, business and animals. They insist that the implementation of the law has totally lacked a human face. Governor Samuel Ortom disagrees. HEMBADOON ORSAR presents the issues.
Even though the Benue State government has reiterated that the implemention of the Anti-open Grazing Law is with human face, some cattle breeders in the state disagree lamenting rather the harsh challenges confronting them as a result of the law.
This is even as the state government has consistently insisted that the law was not to witch-hunt anyone but to protect both herders and farmers from the consequencies of incessant clashes and as such no going back on the law, especially as the government believes it has brought about peace and tranquility in farmers-herders relationship in the state.
The vice chairman of Benue state Butchers Association, Wadata branch Alhaji Mohahammed Haruna told our correspondent that members of his association have been facing all manners of difficulties since the commencement of the law on November 1. He claimed that his members have been lossing their cattle due to hunger from insufficient grasses to feed them in their confinements and water for them to drink.
“As Muslims we don’t eat dead animals. So, we had to give them out to some people for free, and as a businessman you know what that means, you are completely operating at a loss.
“We are losing too much cattle everyday to hunger, even though we are buying grasses and rice chaffs and water for them, they are still insufficient, a small cow can consume more than N1000 grasses a day not to talk of water; and any dead cow, we give it out free because we don’t eat or have anything to do with dead animal as a Muslims. We are operating at a loss now.”
Haruna said their surviving cows now look malnourished and dying hence the need for them to quickly adopt a strategy of taking them out to a nearby field to graze for some hours each day which is in violation of the state’s Anti-open Grazing Law.
Rather than continuing with the law, Haruna thinks the state government should further look into the problem of farmers/herders clashes and find out the root causes. According to him, “For over 65 years that I have lived in Makurdi, farmers and herdsmen have been living together in Guma,Gwer west, Logo and other parts of the state peacefully, even in Makurdi here some herdsmen live at the river bank during dry season, but when the rains start they will shift back to Nasarawa State to allow farmers commence their farming activities in the state until recently that the relationship became sour.
“I am not educated, but as a Muslim, I am married to four wives with 32 children and 22 grand children. I have lived in several states around the country, but I must confess Benue is the most peaceful state until recently the crises between herdsmen and farmers who have lived together for a long time before now, began. I urge the government to take a holistic approach in looking into the problem.
“Let the government tell us the truth, what we hearing from government on this crises is far from the truth. The problem, from what I observed is caused by greedy people especially those at the top.
“All through my stay here in Makurdi as a butcher, this is the only business I know. I have not engaged in any other business than this. If today the government decides to make things stiff for us that means I will not be able to cope with the cow business again, and how will I be able to feed my family? Even though I am not educated, some of my children have gone to school and are living in different places and rearing cattle is the only business that have been doing to take care of all my children’s education, feeding and health matters.
“Since the enforcement of the law, we have been spending over N150,000 on water and feeds per day to feed over 300 cattle that we have, in our custody. This is too much for us, because there is no single gain in doing the business again, so we have resolved to be taking these cows to the river bank which is just a kilometre away from here where there is no farming activities so that they will be grazing and drinking water from morning till evening before they will come back to the ranch, else we will be operating at a loss.
“We are not opposing the law, we are in support of the law, but what the government should do for us is to implement it with human face as the governor promised so that he will not put most of us out of business because we are generating revenue for government, we travel all the way to Taraba, Adamawa, and Nasarawa to purchase these cattle and before they will reach here we pay revenue per cow that is inside the vehicle. Before we reach the stage of slaughtering, we spend not less than N1500 per cow, and all these monies are going to the government, when the cow is finally slaughtered as meat, we also pay revenue to the government.
“So the government is for us. We put the government in place, we can not work in isolation, what we are trying to plead is that keeping these cattle in one place is cost intensive and we will be operating at a loss therefore this is where the human face of the law has to take effect by at least allowing us to take our cattle to areas close to the river bank where there are no farming activities to graze for a period of time before bringing them to the ranch.”
Haruna who disclosed that most of the cows in their custody are from people in Benue State government who brought them for safe keeping added that the association has fully agreed to the implementation of the Anti-open Grazing Law, but appeals for consideration from the state government.
Our correspondent reports that some herders who are not willing to abide by the law have relocated and neighbouring Nasarawa and Taraba states, but others have decided to stay put in Benue against to brave the odds.
Haruna also lamented that, keeping over 300 cattle in ranches within the cattle market in the first few days of the implementation of the law was very traumatic for his members as they had to buy not less than N150,000 worth of feeds (rice chaff and grasses) to feed the cattle daily.
“Before the law, rice chaff was gotten for free to feed the cattle but now, herders had to buy a bag of the same rice chaff for between N1000 and N5000,” he said.
He disclised that just only five cows could feast on a bag of rice chaff and finish it within two hours.
“We spend N150000 to feed our cows daily and it cannot still feed them well. That is why we have adopted the option of taking the cattle out to graze on a daily basis to about one kilometer from the ranch to get food and water. This we started about a week ago and since then, we have no problem with members of the host community as there is no farm in that area,” he said.
While appealing for the implementation of the law with human face Haruna however agreed that their are criminal elements among the herders, but enjoined the state government not to make the innocent people suffer for the sins of others.
“I have lived in Benue for over 65 years. I have interacted with prominent people in the state including renowned traditional leaders. Before now these two tribes were living together peacefully what a sudden change.”
According to him, “government is for all and we cannot continue to suffer under this kind of atmosphere. We also voted for this government. Fulanis are still living peacefully with farmers in some Benue communities like Guma, Naka, Buruku and so on. Benue state had been very peaceful and receptive to visitors than any other states of the country I must confess.”
The secretary of Cattle Dealers Association, Makurdi International Cattle Market, Garba Mohammed decried that its members can no longer take their cattle to graze outside the market as vigilante had been stationed close to the stream where their cows used to drink.
Mohammed who posited that the association had over 3000 cattle that graze around the international cattle market said his members had not had any problems with their host community before now as issues wgen they arise were usually amicably resolved, urged the government to provide basic amenities such as ranches, water and feeds for their cattle.While enjoining government to come to their aid with a view to resolving the issues associated with the implementation of the law, Mohammed said if nothing is done to alleviate their plight, they may have no option than to leave Benue State but wondered what would become of the over 1000 Benue youths who have been benefiting from the market through direct labour everyday.
He stated that members of the association are law abiding and had been encouraging their youths to remain calm and law abiding saying”We are for peace and not for war.”
Meanwhile, the state government had said that the law did not intend to drive away anyone from the state but to protect the lives of all indigenes and non-indigenes living in the state and its environs.
Governor Samuel Ortom, in a chat with our correspondent recently said the law even went as far as protecting herdsmen and their livestock against rustlers and will also prevent the spread of disease from cattle to humans
“The provision of Anti-open Grazing Law 2017 of Benue state does not intend to drive anyone out of the state. The law has been published in national dailies and people can assess it and read. Government has warned that if anyone is caught harassing herdsmen or their livestock, such a person will be dealt with in accordance with the provision of the law.
“There is a provision in Section 20 against cattle rustling and that section stipulates that whoever is caught rustling cattle will be sent to three years in jail with payment of N100,000.00 per cattle. Also, if you injure person in the cause of rustling, you will pay huge compensation to cattle owner.
“The law does not stop coming into Benue of cattle, it only says that if you have to move your cattle from one place to another you have to convey them in vehicles or train and not to move them on foot that will make them stray into peoples farms.
“The law does not limit the prohibition to cattle alone but also, goat, pigs, chicken and other livestock and many Benue indigenes are into the livestock business. So, if the law says those who own livestock what do you make of indigenes who are into the business? Largely, the law was not set out against anyone,” he said.
The governor while assuring that the law would be implemented with human face maintained that the enforcers of the law are aware that it is a new law and would ensure they deal gently with everyone.
“ The law will be implemented with human face, which means that the regulators of the law know that it is a new law. They will not be too harsh on people who do not have ranches now. They are going to be guided and aided into the business.
“That is why we are talking about pilot ranches so that those who have cattle and have to graze them will be moved to the ranches. There will be one in Makurdi, Gboko, Guma, Agatu, Logo and others. It will be massive land that can accommodate as many as possible. They should not entertain any fear at all. Nobody will harass or intimidate them, the only thing is that they should conduct themselves properly.”
It would be recalled that the Benue state’s Ant-open Grazing prohibition and Ranches Establishment Bill was signed into law by Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, on May 23, 2017 but went into effect on November 1st, 2017. Since its implementation over 10 persons have been arrested for violating the law.