Farmers and herdsmen have cohabited for ages. Then something snapped and they turned against themselves. Benue State is still reeling from the shock of the killing of 73 people by herdsmen on January 1. The killings were said to have been sparked by protests against the anti-open grazing law. Now, the Federal Government has dumped ranching for cattle colonies. Will this stop incessant killings? asks ADEBISI ONANUGA
It was a grim task, but one that had to be done. The people of Benue State filed out last Thursday to bury the 73 people killed by herdsmen on January 1 at the Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida Square (IBB) Square in Markudi, the capital.
The herdsmen invaded villages in Guma and Logo local government areas, killing people on their farms and in their homes. Many bodies were not found until a week later.
The killings sparked outrage.
Tor Tiv and paramount ruler of Tiv land, Prof James Ayatse, said the attack was the 47th in five years by Fulani herdsmen. He likened the killings to genocide.
He said: “I, therefore, call on the Federal Government to act swiftly by putting an end to these killings; this act of impunity must stop.”
A former Katsina State Military Governor, Gen. Lawrence Onoja, who also described the killings as genocidal conspiracy against Benue people, said it must stop.
Onoja said: “Some of us in 1966 fought in the Nigeria civil war. Benue has contributed to the unity of this country. Therefore if the Federal Government refuses to address the killings, we will decide to raise our army as advocated by our elders to defend ourselves, l will not mind to command that army, despite my age.”
He appealed to the Federal Government to replicate “Operation Python Dance” or “Fulani dance” in Benue as being done in other states. He urged Benue indigenes to support Ortom for the successful enforcement of the anti-open-grazing law.
A former lawmaker from Benue Northwest, Senator Joseph Waku, said: “It is unfortunate that someone would oppose a law that is legally enacted and begin to kill and the Federal Government would refuse to make arrest in a quest to end the carnage. This is enough provocation; nobody has the monopoly of killing. Therefore, enough is enough”.
A representative of the United Nations (UN), Dr. Mathins Ejibike, who attended the funeral, condoled with the government and people. He said the situation demanded international attention.
“We want an enlightened approach to this matter. We should continue to pray. This kind of killings should be the last in the Benue State.”
How it all started
On Monday, May 22, 2017, Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, signed into law, the Open Grazing Prohibition and Establishment of Ranches Law 2017. The law, which came into operation on November 1, was seen by many as the best solution to the incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the state.
The law specifically permits grazing of livestock only within ranches and prohibits the movement of animals from one destination to another within the state except by rail, trucks and other vehicles. The law spells out punishment for offenders ranging from imprisonment to payment of fines on conviction by a law court.
And to demonstrate his commitment to the implementation of the law, Ortom set in motion the machinery to provide land for pilot ranches to assist livestock owners who may find the establishment of private ranches challenging.
He inaugurated the livestock guards and advisory committee charged with enforcement of the act across the State.
With the promulgation of the law, relative peace returned to the communities while farming and other socio-economic activities resumed.
But one interesting aspect of the law was that it also protects livestock and ranches as it stipulates severe punishment for any person convicted of cattle rustling or any other animals kept in ranches.
Miyetti Allah kicks
However, a group, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, a Fulani socio-cultural association, faulted the Anti-Open Grazing Law, describing it as obnoxious and a recipe for anarchy.
The National President of the organisation, Alhaji Bello Abdullahi Bodejo, said the Land Grazing law of 1960 is what they know and is subsisting. He advised Governor Ortom to learn from former Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau, who, according to Bodejo, tried to decimate the Fulani for eight years but failed. He expressed worries that their human right to free movement was being violated as a result of the restriction placed on their animals by the law. He accused the governor of committing illegalities by trying to deny them their means of livelihood. Bodejo noted that pastoralists have same legal rights like every Benue State indigene. He said: “Governor Samuel Ortom is asking pastoralists to leave Benue State; that cannot happen. How can a Nigerian ask other Nigerians to leave a place they are constitutionally entitled to be?”
However, the orgy of violence and killings by suspected herdsmen have not been limited to Benue. In Taraba State, about 27 people were also killed.
Other states’ experience
Over the past decades, the nation has witnessed increased violence between farmers and herdsmen leading to the death of innocent souls. Open grazing has been seen by some as an outdated form of cattle rearing and a source of anarchy and confusion in various parts of the country.
To curtail the clashes, many states have had to enact anti-open grazing bill to protect themselves and to arrest the situation threatening peaceful and mutual co-existence in many communities.
For instance Governor Darius Ishaku of Taraba State, on May 7, 2017, proposed an executive bill to the state House of Assembly to prohibit open grazing. The bill is entitled, “Anti-Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Bill 2017”.
The bill prohibits open rearing and grazing of livestock and provides for the establishment of ranches and the Taraba State livestock and ranches administration and control committee and for others connected thereto. Like in Benue, the bill was intended to bring lasting solutions to the killings and destruction of property in the state as a result of herdsmen and farmers’ clashes. Weeks after, precisely June 12, the Maiyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association protested against the bill. Its members beseiged the state House of Assembly to stop it from being passed into law.
Maiyetti Allah, Taraba State Chapter Chairman, Alhaji Sahabi Mahmud Tukur, said the bill was “inimical, ill-intended, discriminatory and a misplaced priority”, adding that the association rejected the bill. To them, “grazing, like any other occupation, is cultural.”
However, while many states are battling with killings and wanton destruction of properties by alleged herdsmen, Plateau, Bayelsa and Anambra are some of the few states that are free from such attacks.
Although a youth group in Plateau State presented a bill seeking to ban open grazing, a majority of herdsmen in the state opposed the bill as they saw it as an attempt to run them out of the state. Instead of an anti-open grazing law, Plateau State has been implementing a ranching policy. Last Thursday, Governor Simon Lalong told State House correspondents, after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, that one of the things that sustained peace in Plateau was his consultations with the people on the ranching policy. He said the majority of Plateau citizens have bought into the idea and voluntarily donated land for the pilot scheme to take off. He said consultations allowed the people to understand and buy into the concepts.
In Bayelsa, the relative peace enjoyed in the state is due to the decision of Governor Seriake Dickson to make available the state-owned Palm Estate, Elebele, spanning about 1,200 hectares of land, for grazing. Since the government came up with the policy of restricting the herdsmen and their cattle to this area, the state has not recorded any violent clash between herdsmen and local farmers to date.
There is no anti-grazing law in Anambra State. However, Governor Willie Obiano adopted a policy for peaceful coexistence between the people of the state and cattle rearers. He set up a joint task force comprising security operatives, herdsmen, host communities and state officials in all areas where herdsmen operate. However, in the early stage of the formation of the task force, a few clashes were recorded. It was reported that the herdsmen violated the policy 11 times, but following the quick intervention of the state government, the issues were resolved.
On August 29, 2016, Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose signed an anti-grazing bill into law to curb herdsmen’s activities.
He threatened to charge any cattle rearer found carrying arms while grazing with terrorism.
The Ekiti State Anti-grazing Law has six main features:
Grazing must be from 7am to 600pm daily.
Anyone caught grazing on portions of land or any farmland not allotted by the government shall be apprehended and made to face the law.
Any herdsman caught with firearms and any weapons during grazing shall be charged with terrorism.
Any cattle confiscated shall be taken to the government cattle ranch at Erifun and Iworoko Ekiti community in the state.
Any farm crop destroyed by any apprehended herdsman shall be estimated by agricultural officers and the expenses shall be borne by the culprit.
Any herdsman who violates any of these rules shall be imprisoned for six months without fine.
To further enforce the law, the governor on October 26, 2016, inaugurated the Ekiti Grazing Enforcement Marshals, with the warning that cattle found grazing after 6pm would be confiscated by the state government.
He also said the state government would collaborate with the police and other security agencies to tackle armed herdsmen, saying marshals are not to carry arms and, therefore, would rely on agencies empowered by law to carry arms to tackle armed cattle rearers.
To demonstrate that he meant business, two herdsmen Momodu Rebo (19) and Isiaka Idris (22), arraigned before a magistrate court, were remanded in prison custody on August 29, 2017 for violating the state’s anti grazing law.
The defendants were ordered to be put in prison for destroying a farm land at Apoto Farm Settlement in Eporo, Emure Local Government Area on January 11, last year. The court was told they unlawfully allowed their cattle to graze on farmland not designated as ranches, but belonging to Akinwale Bisi, Agbelegbe Dare and Paul Salami, damaging their crops worth N850,000, he said.
Last Wednesday, Fayose also met with hunters in the state and urged them not to allow herdsmen to kill the people of Ekiti. He raised an alarm that some Fulani herdsmen have started a surreptitious move into the outskirts of Ekiti to kill and maim people.
Fayose said the move was targeted at rubbishing his anti-grazing law, but assured that the invaders would be met with stiff resistance from the people. He charged the hunters from the 16 local governments areas, during a meeting, to secure the state against the herdsmen.
However, an association of Fulani herdsmen from Ilorin, who live in Ekiti faulted the state’s anti-grazing law.
The herdsmen, under the aegis of Jamu Nate Fulbe Association of Nigeria, said the law contradicted the Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011.
Speaking through their Legal Adviser, Mr. Umar Imam, they argued that herdsmen who carried light weapons , such as cutlasses, knives, catapult and arrows within the time stipulated by the new law, could not be charged with terrorism.
Fed Govt’s response
Last Tuesday, President Muhammadu Buhari gave clarifications on why the Federal Government never challenged anti-open grazing bill signed into law by the Benue State government.
According to a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the government is to hold a stakeholders’ conference on infrastructural and agricultural development to give the state government an opportunity to halt the senseless killings by the herdsmen. He said the move was to proffer short and long-term solutions to the frequent clashes between farmers and cattle rearers. The conference, Shehu said, is to draw up a 20-30 year development plan that takes cognisance of environmental impact. It said Buhari had been concerned about these conflicts.
The statement reads in part: “He is equally worried about some public pronouncements and finger-pointing that are, in most cases, very unhelpful to peaceful coexistence of our people.
“The President is conscious of his duty to Nigerians, not the least because he is accountable to everything that goes wrong. He deeply sympathises with the families and all the other direct and indirect victims of this violence. He is determined to bring it to a permanent end.
“While there are many Nigerians who see the conflict between the nomadic herdsmen and peasant farmers as an ethnic problem, others point to religious differences and agenda. The President does not subscribe to such simplistic reductionism.
“President Buhari holds the view, as do many experts, that these conflicts are more often than not, as a result of major demographic changes in Nigeria.”
His explanation, however, was received with criticisms, that he was slow in responding to the killings in Benue State and for reducing the dastardly act of the herdsmen to “ethnic problems”, “religious differences and agenda” and “demographic changes”.
How to handle the killings
The Federal Government has announced the ban of open grazing to stem the growing anger sparked by the killings in Benue and other states. But beyond the policy statement, how can such threats to peace and public safety be checked? Is a national anti-open grazing law needed? Should states be mandated by law to provide land for cattle colonies and ranches? Most importantly, what are the legal steps that should be taken to prevent a recurrence of the recent killings?
A Nigerian Working Group on Peace Building and Governance in a paper released on January 7 took a cursory look at the crisis of the herdsmen and recommended solutions that ranged from the creation of new grazing resolves and deployment of modern technology like an electronic chip to track animals.
The signatories to the report include public policy experts, academics and diplomats: Ibrahim Gambari, Martin Luther-Agwai, Jibrin Ibrahim, Attahiru Jega, Chris Kwaja, Fatima Balla, Nguyan Fesse, Aisha Muhammed–Oyebode and Y. Z. Ya’u.
The group, according to Premium Times, suggested that experts should be assembled to map out the duration, strategy and timelines for the transition plan. As there is no miracle model for solving the problems, the plan should simultaneously pursue a number of models .
The group noted there are discordant laws and regulations on legislate livestock production and pastoralism at the regional, national and state levels. It noted that some of the newly emerging laws such as the “anti-grazing” state laws appear to contradict the principle of free movement enshrined in the Constitution.
It, therefore, recommended the harmonisation of relevant laws and policies that governs grazing reserves. It specifically said the 1965 Grazing Reserve Law could be revived based on Section 315 of the 1999 Constitution in the 19 northern states and complemented with a national review and protection of traditional stock routes; it advised that regional instruments governing pastoralism should be protected and above all domesticated. It said in addition to the laws, consultative process between farming and pastoral communities are required to review the effect of statutes and regulations on routine practices of animal husbandry.
According to Premium Times, the group, among others, recommended ranching as one of the possible models in areas with lower population densities in the Northeast (Sambisa Game Reserve in Borno State) and Northwest (Gidan Jaja Grazing Reserve in Zamfara State);
Semi-intensive systems of animal husbandry, accompanied with requisite investment in infrastructure, training, extension, marketing and animal health service delivery in conjuncture with the private sector; the traditional form of pastoralism should continue for a period to be agreed upon with some improvements (in the form of coordinated mobility between wet and dry season grazing areas and effective management of farmers and pastoralists relations) among others.
The group also suggested the establishment of grazing reserves provides the opportunity for practicing a more limited form of pastoralism and is therefore a pathway towards a more settled form of animal husbandry. It noted that Nigeria has a total of 417 grazing reserves out of which only about 113 have been gazetted.
The group noted that pastoralism has developed into a national crisis that is leading to increased violence and that a legal approach alone cannot resolve the issue. It said it is therefore important to negotiate a national policy framework that would protect the interests of both farmers and herders. The group emphasised that the federal government should take the initiative of negotiating a consensual policy framework that would address the issues.
It suggested a comprehensive approach to address the growing crisis associated with violence affecting pastoralism and farmers in Nigeria. It advised that the federal government should commission a large-scale research endeavour to carry out in-depth study to understand the reasons for the escalation of violence, key actors, motivations and agency fuelling the crisis among others.
According to the group, cattle routes should be restored and significant investment made in restoring traditional conflict resolution mechanisms. As massive corruption has accompanied the increased presence of the police and courts in matters affecting farmers and herders, there should be advocacy and administrative guidance to return to traditional methods of conflict resolution. There should be capacity development of farmers and herders associations so that they play a more positive role in the process.
In a statement, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) through its General Secretary Aare Isiaka Abiola Olagunju, urged the Federal Government to activate all constitutional measures to urgently douse mounting tension in affected areas.
“The NBA also calls on all parties in the crisis to desist from further use of negative languages that might escalate the already tensed situation in the country.
“No nation under the rule of law would stand by and allow mindless criminalities and wanton destruction of lives and property to go on unchecked as this would be an open invitation to anarchy.
“The President of the NBA shall within the shortest possible time lead a high powered delegation of the NBA on a fact finding mission to Benue, Taraba and other states affected by similar crisis in order to further parley with the affected communities in finding a common solution to the invasion and or clashes and prevent future occurrences.
“The NBA urges the media to show restraint in their reportage of the clashes in order to prevent further escalation to other areas,” the association added.
An Abuja-based lawyer, Mr Ocholi O. Okutepa, said herdsmen attack does not require the drafting or passing of more laws.
“It does not also speak of the weakness of existing legislation. The issue is one we have decided not to address. It is the failure of the government to give effect to extant provisions of existing laws.
“Having faced grave danger and unfortunate killings, Benue State enacted and passed to law its anti-grazing law in 2017. However, as already noted, law in itself is dead without the political will and relevant structure to give effect to it. So the ban on open grazing itself is no solution,” he argued.
Okutepa suggested that each state should make relevant laws for the protection of its citizens as regards the issue of grazing. This will enable each state make laws on their perculiar circumstances.
He however disagreed on the issue of cattle colonies, stressing that it would only further the crisis in that those aggrieved by the loss of loved ones would see this as rewarding the accused. “Constitutionally and in our penal and criminal codes, arrests and criminal prosecution ought to be the immediate response of the government. The government must, therefore, act in the most guided way to forestall the possible worst case scenario.
“Unfortunately, we must also admit that the Nigeria Police Force, the Nigeria intelligence agency, DSS and SSS, have sadly failed to live up to their responsibilities on the issue. A lot of comentators focus on prosecution but you cannot prosecute without proper intelligence and or investigation.
“In my view therefore, policy statements and directives are, unfortunately, insufficient to deal with the issue as the mass killings resulting from herdsmen attack in Benue and other states will only go on and become worse until there is the political will to confront the issue and apply extant laws,” he contended.
A former member of the Ogun State Judiciary Commission, Abayomi Omoyinmi, described as deplorable, the killings in Benue State and other part of the country involving the Fulani herdsmen and its communities. “I believed it is very important for government at both the federal and state to seriously engaged all stakeholders in urgent discourse, to allow tension to cool off. By engaging the stakeholders, peaceful atmosphere will return to the states and communities affected,” he said.
According to him, a national anti-open grazing law, if enacted, may not solve the problem as recently observed by the incident in Benue State. Modifying of the law as requested by the Miyeti Alla is not necessary since the same law is a subject of litigation before the court of law and my advice in that respect is that they should wait for the outcome of the pronouncement from the court.
He however pointed out that the Criminal Act occasioned by anyone or group should not go unpunished. He said there are laws in our statute books that provide for severe punishment for anyone found guilty murder. The security agencies must be receptive to their duties by making sure that the criminals that are alleged to have carried out these mayhem be brought to book, and any one culpable is punished as such punishment will send signal of warning to other criminals involved. He reasoned that once there is awareness that the days of impunity are over, people will desist from taken laws into their hands.
Omoyinmi advised that the provision of land for cattle colonies and ranches should be considered but I don’t think states should be mandated by law. “Perhaps a memo of understanding to be agreed among all stakeholders, including the government, will be a better option which may also vary from state to state,” he added.
A former Welfare Secretary of NBA, Ikeja Branch, Samson Omodara, said if the reports of threat for modification of anti-open grazing law by Mayetti is true, then, it is not only wrong but highly reprehensible.
He argued that the Land Use Act vests the land in each state on the governors in trust for the people and the grundnorm also empowers the Houses of Assembly to make laws for the good governance of the states. He said it was irresponsible of any group to threaten that a law be amended for its sake without following due process.
“The full weight of the law be brought against such group to nip in the bud a situation of utter lawlessness. The policy statement of the Federal Government is not enough but a proactive executive and legislative intervention at this critical period. International best practice of animal husbandry should also be considered by the states and the Federal Government,” he advised.