From the conception of the bill to its passage, including signing it into law, the Open Grazing Prohibition and Establishment of Ranches Law(2017) has been trailed by controversy.
The law, according to the state government, was enacted to curb the incessant clashes between farmers and herdsmen which have taken so much human and material toll on Benue state.
Specifically, the law permits grazing of livestock only within ranches and prohibits the movement of animals from one destination to another in the state, except by rail, trucks and other vehicles. The law provides that anyone who engages in open grazing in Benue State, will, upon conviction, be liable to a five-year imprisonment.
It also provides for monetary compensation to victims whose farms or properties are damaged by cattle. Also, a two-year imprisonment awaits anyone whose cattle inflict injury on anyone in the state.
The law, which is better known as Anti Grazing Law, was signed by Governor Samuel Ortom in June and it gave herdsmen a deadline of October to end open grazing and replace same with ranching from November 1.
However, stakeholders advised the government to step up enlightenment ahead of the deadline, in view of the importance of the law. According to them, the law was not targeted at any tribe or group of persons, and they urged all Benue residents to support it.
The governor, while arguing in favour of the law, said that ranching was the best system of cattle rearing the world over. He promised to support herdsmen or people willing to stay in Benue and ranch their cows. In addition, Ortom denied reports that government had given quit notice to herdsmen in Benue, explaining that they were free to remain in the state “so long as they obey the law”.
The leader of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria(MACABAN) in Benue state, Alhaji Garus Golo pointed out the duplicity of the Anti Grazing law, describing it as confusing.
‘’For instance, they have said they are not chasing out the Fulanis from the state but they have made no provision for our cattle, the cattle markets and even other cattle. They have told us to buy land for ranches, but the question is from who; you know that the process of getting land from the government is tedious, yet they are insisting that we must buy land for ranches, ‘’ he argued.
According to Golo, ‘’ although the government had repeatedly explained that the law was not against the Fulani herdsmen, the requirements of the law were stringent and could not be met by the herdsmen within the time frame set by the government.
Reacting to Golo’s claims, Benue Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr Lawrence Onoja Jr., said enough time was given for land acquisition and the building of ranches. He said the recent decision of the government to unbundle the procedure for land acquisition and reduce the cost of Certificate of Occupancy was to facilitate the process of land acquisition.
Onoja explained that the law was not against any particular people but was aimed at livestock protection, stating that it also applies to indigenes of the state who have cattle and other livestock.
Also, the herdsmen had said that the law breached their fundamental human right of freedom of movement..
Law splits herdsmen
Specifically, the law has split the two dominant Fulani associations. MACBAN members, as its Chairman Gololo, had earlier said are law-abiding citizens who were ready to support the anti-open grazing law.
According to him, it’s the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Kohe that had dragged Benue state to court over the Anti- grazing law and not his association. The suit no FHC/ABJ/CS/527/2017, was instituted by Trustees of Miyeittii Allah Kautal Hore socio cultural association, Alhaji Abdullahi Bello Bodojo and Engineer Salleh Alhassan through their counsel, Aliyu Ahmed and associates. Joined in the suits are, the National Assembly, Attorney General of Federation (AGF), Inspector General of Police (IGP), Benue State house of Assembly, Benue State Government and Benue Commissioner of Police.
However, regardless of the suit and the opposition of Fulanis within and outside Benue state, Governor Ortorm had signed the Anti Grazing Bill into law.
Mass exodus of Fulanis
Barely 24 hours after Benue State government declared war on open grazing, Fulani herdsmen started leaving the state in droves. According to The zonal leader of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore in charge of North central states, Alhaji Gidado Idris Bebeji, the new law had caused an unprecedented exodus of people, some of whose fathers were born in the state.
He expressed worries that their human rights to free movement was being violated as a result of the restriction placed on their animals by the law. “The state government has been speaking English with nobody caring to properly inform the pastoralists. They (herders) may be leaving the state as being reported because they would not want to be lawless especially against a law they do not understand very well,” he said.
Similarly, the Benue State coordinator of MACBAN, Gololo concurred with Bebeji. According to reports, about 10 million cows have moved into Awe local government area of Nasarawa State from Benue following the enactment of anti-grazing bill by the Benue State Government.
Chairman of MACBAN in the area, Alhaji Musa Muahhed-Mati explained that the association collaborated with the Nigerian Army, the police and other relevant stakeholders in Nasarawa State to forestall any breakdown of law and order. He chided Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State for not finding alternative means of grazing for herdsmen before enacting the anti-grazing bill.
However, the Commissioner of Justice and Attorney General of Benue state, Barrister Micheal Gusa explained that the law only restrict the movement of livestock and not human beings. According to him, ‘’the law prohibiting open grazing of livestock is not targeted at any tribe, most people who want to stay in Benue and keep livestock have started complying with the law.
Since implementation of this law, no Fulani man living in Benue has complained, it is those in Abuja and other states that are complaining.’’ The commissioner recalled that when Zamfara state enacted a Sharia law, those who could not live in conformity with that law left the state. “In Benue here, we are saying both crop farmers and livestock farmers must have to live in peace.
So, if you have livestock you have to retrain it so that it will not go and destroy crops, if you can’t do it look for alternative place” , Gusa explained.
As the herdsmen were leaving Benue state, allegations of rape, killings destruction of farm crops and property started to rear their ugly heads. On November 1, on the first day when the law came into force, suspected herdsmen attacked and killed a fisherman and badly injured another in Logo local government area.
The victims of the attack were the late Ortse Kwaghdoo(40) and a 70 year old man Hinger Akaa. According to reports, several others were killed in Azege Turan village in the same area council. Chairman Taskforce on Implementation of Anti-open Grazing Law, retired Col Edwin Jando said a suspect had been arrested and brought to police headquarters in Makurdi for further interrogation. The Benue state Command Police Public Relations’ office, ASP Moses Yamu also confirmed the attack.
Similarly, suspected herdsmen launched another attack on five villages, raped a woman, razed down houses, and destroyed crops leaving the villages in ruins. Not that alone, reports indicate that the herdsmen were camping along the riverine area, particularly at border areas between Agatu, Kwande and Buruku, where they constantly fire gunshots in the air to scare residents.
Briefing newsmen in Makurdi last Tuesday, after submitting a report on the incident to Col. Jando, the Chairman of Logo local government council, Mr. Richard Nyajo, expressed shock at the destruction of farm crops and other properties in his area. According to him, a mother of four (name withheld) was attacked and raped by suspected herdsmen at Azege and Tse Ikyoifi villages. He alleged that the herdsmen also destroyed crops and burnt several houses in Ajim, Jibo, tse Affia, Abiem, Aku, and Anyebe, displacing many people as a result.
In addition, Blueprint Weekend learnt that since implementation of the anti open grazing law began, there have been complaints from residents that the herdsmen are grazing on their crops, as they evacuate their animals out of the state. A resident from Mbawa in Guma local government who simply gave his name as Joseph, decried the level of destruction that the cattle caused on his farm.
Joseph said both his rice and yam farms have been destroyed. The farmer said that he had ‘’reported the incident to the vigilante but this evening they told me that the herdsmen are threatening them, and warned them to keep off.’’
Joseph further alleged that , “one of the vigilante men told me in confidence that, they saw the herdsmen with AK 47, and other weapons so they couldn’t argue with them.”
Another resident, in Gwer west, Terfa Kur said his soya beans and millet farm has been leveled down by the cows who are grazing freely on the crops. He called on government to mobilise security in the area to prevent the herdsmen from wrecking further havoc on his crops.
Cattle dealers complain
Barely two weeks after the Anti Grazing Law comes into force, the effect is being felt in Benue state as both cattle dealers, consumers of livestock and the entire value chain, including suya and bush meat sellers are feeling the pinch of the herders exit.
In particular, the state Cattle Dealers Association of Nigeria is complaining that their members’ business is suffering. Some officials of the Association who spoke to Blueprint Weekend at Makurdi International Cattle Market, which is located at North Bank, said the cost of feeding their cattle has increased astronomically and this has negatively affected their business.
Specifically, Alhaji Mustapha Aliyu, the Chief of the main cattle market in Makurdi, said the cows are suffering from under feeding and inadequate water and that the malnourishment is particularly harrowing for the pregnant cows.
According to Aliyu, his members ‘’have have already lost a number of cows particularly the pregnant ones that cannot cope with the situation.’’ He cried out that the cattle are going through tough times and that if nothing is done to salvage the situation , they will all perish. Before the law came into force, ‘’the herdsmen used to bring cows to the market to supply to us but now we have to transport to Nasarawa to buy the animals and spend huge amount to transport them to the market.’’
The Chief of the cattle market noted that this transport fare has increased the cost of selling cattle. ‘’Because you cannot sell them all in one day, we have to keep them and continue to feed until someone comes to buy. This is creating serious hardship to the dealers and if care is not taken our business will eventually collapse,” lamented.
Aliyu appeal to government to provide amenities including pipe borne water at the cattle market, and allow them graze a few kilometres around the market, so as to ease their upkeep.
…Butchers complain too, prices remain unchanged
Similarly, the cost of sell cattle has jerked up the price of maintaining them across Benue state but people are resisting an increase in the price of meat. The Vice chairman of Cow Meat Sellers Association, High Level Branch Alhassan Mohammed confirmed this to Blueprint Weekend at the Wurukum Abattoir.
Before now, they used to buy an average cow at the cost N65,000 but the same size and breed now sells between N80,000 to N85,000, with the enactment of the law. “Those we used to buy at N120, 000 are now selling at N150,000,” he added.
In addition, Mohammed narrated now the new law has affected their business. “If you buy like 10 cows, you cannot slaughter them in one day, so the ones you left you must have to feed them, but the cost of feeding them has also increased so we wanted to increase the cost of selling meat, but people are refusing to buy,’’ he said.
According to Mohammed, ‘’we used to buy a bag of corn chaff for the cows at N3, 000 but now we buy the same bag of corn at between three thousand five hundred and three thousand seven hundred naira.’’ He pointed out that this price is bound to increase with time because the feeds is becoming scarce by the day.
The vice chairman recalled that ‘’before now, we were taking the animals for open grazing so if you buy one bag it would be enough to feed them for between four to five days, if the numbers of cows are between five and ten, but now even three to four bags are not enough,” he lamented.
He said the prevailing situation is creating hardship to the meat sellers because they still sell a kilogramme of meat at N1400 as they did before the Anti Open Grazing law came into effect. “Though the price of buying cows has increased, our prices have remained the same because if we say we will increase the cost, our customers refuse to buy, so the situation is becoming dicey” he noted.
Pepper soup, suya sellers dispute butchers’ claim
However, Mrs Elizabeth Oche, a pepper soup seller at Kanshio, a suburb in Makurdi the Benue state capital said they are now buying meat at a higher cost than before implementation of the anti open grazing law.
According to Mrs Oche, the cow leg she used to buy at N1500 has now gone up to between N2500 and N3000. Similarly, the type that used to cost N5000 has increased to between N6500 and N7000. She further said that a big cow head sold between N8, 000 to N9, 000 but it now sells at between N11, 000 and N12, 000 naira. The pepper soup seller argued that ‘’if somebody tell you they have not increase the cost of selling beef, then he is lying to you. ‘’
In spite of the increase, Oche said that the Anti Grazing Law is good, since it will stop the killing of Benue people by herdsmen.
Malam Kabiru Mustapha, the proprietor of popular suya seller located at Symbols Cuisine, opposite Benue state University College of Health Sciences along Gboko road, said that although the prices of suya sticks have remained the same, they have however reduced the quantity of meat per stick. According to him, the reduction was caused by the increase in price of beef in the market. Mustapha said a kilo of beef now goes for between N1400 and N1500 instead of N1200 or N1300. He complained that business is not as good as it used to be before ‘’because we are no longer earning enough profit as before, but we have to keep life going.’’ Mustapha noted that he has been selling Suya for over 15 years and cannot leave the business because it has become part of his life.’’
Prices of fish, bush meat go up
Significantly, Blueprint Weekend found out that the increase in the price of beef has had domino effect on the prices of fish and bush meat. ‘’Many people are now shift to other alternatives but that has also increased their prices,’’ Malam Ado Sadiq told our correspondent over the phone. Although he couldn’t give specific price increases, he also said that people have resorted to eating food without meat. ‘’Even before the law came to being, the recession and non payment of salaries had force people to do without meat. The new increase in the price of beef has further given more people to abandon the meat completely,’’ he had argued.
Speaking in the same vein, Malam Adamu Kurawa said that Benue state is facing meat scarcity because of low demand, owing to the new law. ‘’Cattle dealers are buying few cattle because of the cost of going outside the state to buy and transport them. There is also the added burden of their upkeep and low patronage from butchers. Added unto this, consumers are also not buying as they used to do; so there scarcity of meat in Benue state due to low purchasing power’’, he said on phone.
By and large, the Anti Grazing Law may curb farmers/herdsmen clashes, but the legislation may hurt the local economy.