Benue anti grazing law: Successes, compliance and challenges so far

It’s nearly three years since anti grazing law came into effect in Benue state. JOHN SHIAONDO writes on implementation so far.

In 2017, Benue state government consistent with its constitutional powers enacted anti open grazing and ranches establishment law which seeks to prohibit open rearing of livestock.The law also provided for the establishment of ranches in line with global best practices in animal husbandry towards addressing the conflict between farmers and herders in the state.Over the past decade, escalating tensions between farmers and herders had resulted in hundreds of deaths and displacement of thousands in the state.  The law was therefore enacted considering that as an agrarian state, the  roadmap of cattle routes and open grazing is inconsistent with the peculiarity of the state whose 90 percent predominant preoccupation is farming.The state government therefore championed the campaign for ranching of cattle and all other livestocks instead of open-grazing which finally gave birth to the law.

The law

Cited as ‘The Law to Prohibit Open Rearing and Grazing of Livestock and Provide for the Establishment of Ranches and Livestock Administration, Regulation and Control and for Other Matters Connected Therewith 2017’ , the law among other things prohibits individual or group from engaging in open nomadic livestock herding or grazing in the state outside permitted Ranches.Apart from providing for the establishment of ranches and livestock administration, regulation and control, it also provides that anybody who engages in cattle rustling shall be liable on conviction for imprisonment for a term of not less than three years or one hundred thousand naira per animal or both.The law, among other things, also provided for setting up of a Livestock Special Task Force, comprising relevant security agencies and other stakeholders to work towards its implementation. However, it was met with both support and opposition.Its proponents believed that signing it into law would end killing and destruction of property by herdsmen.Supporters of the legislation labelled it the antidote for farmer-herder conflict in the state.

Comments about the law
Governor Samuel Ortom had at different occasions described the law as a win- win for crop farmers and herdsmen.”The law  is a win-win for herders and farmers as it prohibits open grazing and cattle rustling and does not spare any offender from prosecution, including natives.”The state Attorney General and commissioner for justice, Mr Mike Gusa while speaking stated that since the enactment of the law, the rapidity and number of attacks on communities by suspected herdsmen have reduced.According to him, the law has helped to bring down the herders’ attack as compared to 2016 and 2017, despite serious opposition.Recalling circumstances that resulted in the enactment of the law, Gusa said between February 2013 and May 13, 2017, the state experienced 46 attacks by suspected Fulani herdsmen, resulting in the death of over 1,541 people and massive destruction of property including farmlands in 15 local government areas out of the 23 local government areas of the state.

The value of the property lost, he added was put at a conservative estimate of over N400 billion. He also stated that the local government areas affected within the period were Guma, Logo, Ukum, Kwande, Buruku, Gboko, Tarka, Katsina-Ala, Makurdi, Gwer West, Gwer, Ogbadibo, Otukpo, Agatu and Apa.However, opponents of the law claim that it is discriminatory against herders as it does not provide or support the production of alternative livelihoods, but effectively aims to evicts herders from the state.A Fulani sociocultural association under the aegis of  Miyetti  Allah Kautal Hore even went out openly to kick against the law and described it as obnoxious, wicked and repressive.Despite the conflicting views, the law went into effect on November 1, 2017.Though the law met with resistance by the herdsmen who felt their source of livelihood was threatened, the state government and people insisted there was no going back.In January 2021, there was a sharp twist as the herders who felt their means of livelihood was threatened by the law launched an attack on some communities in the state leaving more than 73 people dead.This posed a great challenge resulting in the displacement of many people from their ancestral lands.

Other peace-mending measures
Though resulting in a big challenge, the killings never deterred the state government from looking at peaceful ways to resolve the crisis.Rather, the state government adopted a multi-faceted approach to permanently solve the problem through the promotion of peace and initiatiation of constant interaction between herders and farmers.Part of the strategies is to court the friendship of the elites of the Fulani race and herders as to warm its way into their hearts and by extension prevail on their people to leave the path of violence.Governor Ortom also said that the law is the best way to bring lasting peace between herdsmen and farmers.
Reduced crisis.

It could be recalled that the prohibition of open grazing also led to a significant exodus of livestock owners, particularly herders, from the state.The coming of the operation Whirl Stroke (OPWS), a special military operation which comprises other security agencies boosted security. To that extent, relative peace started returning to affected communities.Also, since the law came into force, the livestock guard started going round to ensure full compliance with the law. Apart from providing trucks to convey impounded animals of offenders, the state government also bought and distributed other vehicles including motorcycles to the livestock guard to assist them in their operations.

In a recent interview with the state Commander of the Livestock Guards, Mr Linus Zaki, he said the guards have impounded many cows that violated the law.

He stated that in compliance with the law, owners of affected livestock were most at times made to pay the stipulated fines to get back their cattle.Mr Zaki emphasized the determination of the guard to the enforcement, saying that animals reared in ranches  enjoy protection according to provisions of the law.The special adviser to the governor on security matters, Col Paul Hembah (rtd) said the state anti open grazing law enjoys compliance saying many who refused to abide by the provisions have left the state.He noted that the law is aimed at encouraging cattle rearers to embrace modern ways of animal husbandry which could also encourage western education for the herders.According to him, the law has recorded tremendous success since it was enacted as many livestock owners have ranched their animals, while over 400 law breakers have been arrested with some already tried by competent courts and convicted.The Attorney General in an interview with newsmen  also said the efficacy of the law has been tested in law court with amazing results, adding that from November 1, 2017 to October 27, 2020 more than 400 herdsmen have been arrested for violation. “Out of this number, 261 persons have been convicted, 21 persons have been discharged, 36 cases are still pending while investigation is ongoing in other cases. Most of the convicts were able to pay fines and were released while many who could not were sent to jail ranging from six months to two years.“Within this period, 7,629 cows and 210 sheep as well as other livestock have been impounded. The law has also witnessed the arrest, arraignment and conviction of five cattle rustlers.

The convicted rustlers were mostly of Fulani extraction, who confessed to the crime in open court.“Besides, the law has ensured the arrest and arraignment of people irrespective of their ethnic groups or religious affiliation.”It could also be noted that the law to some extent is now being viewed as a yard stick with which people would elect the next governor even after the exit of Governor Ortom in 2023.Former Benue state CAN chairman, Archbishop Yiman Orkwar, in an interview with journalists said anybody who would be elected should not be one who would repeal the law.”I know there are some people if you make them governor after Ortom, the next thing they would do is to repeal the law.”They would say its for our own betterment. Nothing can be better for us than the anti open grazing law.”As a person, I support the law because the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the state introduced it before Ortom during my tenure as chairman of CAN and that’s the solution to the problems of this country.

“If Buhari is to be honest to himself and stop this useless issue of RUGA, cattle colonies and so on and embrace ranching, you would see that a lot of problems of this country would be settled.”You cannot be killing Nigerians in the 21 century that they should open grazing routes.”Where are the grazing routes? Even in Abuja are you going to destroy some structures to create grazing routes”? he asked.