…Half clad women march as anti- open grazing law takes off in Benue
BY PETER DURU, MAKURDI
For the first time since the return to democratic governance in the country, the people of Benue State, irrespective of socio-political, religious and cultural differences, have come out to align themselves with the government in power.
That is what is playing out in the state after the Ortom government enacted the Open Grazing Prohibition Law, last May, to stop incessant bloody clashes between local farmers and herdsmen which sadly turned the hinterlands of Benue into a theatre of war.
From the reactions that trailed the enactment, the people have, in unison, vowed to sink or swim with the administration over the law which took effect on Tuesday, November 1.
The state government couldn’t have imagined the wide acceptability the law has enjoyed among the people who, for several years, bore the brunt of merciless herdsmen, who bared their fangs on the people, killing, maiming and destroying all that stood before them while they grazed their cattle in Benue hinterlands.
Given what many have described as a pogrom, the people impressed on government the need to restrict grazing of Livestock in the state.
Consequently, the administration presented a bill to the state House of Assembly which went through public hearings and inputs secured from all sections of the state, including non-indigenes and herdsmen.
Governor Samuel Ortom assented to the bill in May.
Government, however, allowed five months of grace to give time for enlightenment and sensitization of the people on the provisions of the law.
Within the five-month period, all shades of opinion trailed the law. While the people sang the praises of the government, the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kauta Hore raised objections to it.
The group was said threatened to invade the state on November 1, the day slated for the commencement of the law. It also filed a suit against the government over the law.
However, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, MACBAN, a renowned socio-cultural organization of herdsmen, lauded its provisions.
Speaking shortly after a meeting held in Makurdi with Benue residents, which had in attendance the governor, traditional rulers, village heads and the national leadership of MACBAN, the National President of the herdsmen socio-cultural organisation, Alhaji Muhammadu Kirowa, also appealed to government for more time before the enforcement of the law.
Kiowa said, “Initially we thought that the law was intended to chase herdsmen out of Benue but we have realized that it is intended to create a peaceful coexistence among our people.
“We however appeal to the state government to allow our people more time to get acquainted with the law and also liaise with governors of other northern states to ensure that the over 400 grazing reserves in the country become functional.”
Meanwhile, during the meeting, the leadership of the three major tribes in Benue, the Mdzough U Tiv, the Idoma National Forum and the Omi Ny’Igede, warned Ortom, who had earlier raised concerns over the threats he received over the law, to implement the law or have the people of the state implement it themselves.
Speaking through Chief Edward Ujege, the tribal leaders said, “We the people of Benue collectively asked for the law and our governor gave heed to our demand.
“We warn that if government fails to commence the implementation of the law on the scheduled date, we will have no choice but to implement it ourselves because we are tired of the killings and destruction of lives and property in our various communities due to the activities of herdsmen.
“We must state unequivocally that we are solidly behind Governor Samuel Ortom, our support for him is 110 per cent. Come rain come shine, we are with him and, whatever legal means or action that is taken by any person or group, we will remain with him.
“May I remind that the law is not only about cows; it is about every animal or livestock and owners of such, irrespective of who you are or where you are coming from. It will also finally rest the cases of bloodbath in our rural communities.
“I must also point out that the law makes provision for the protection of herdsmen, because anyone caught involved in livestock rustling would be prosecuted accordingly. So it is out to protect herdsmen and farmers alike.
“The law applies to everyone in Benue; only one group is kicking against. Even in developed countries, ranching is the order of the day. You don’t see wild grazing, why is Nigeria different?
“It will interest you to know that in 2014 alone, over half a million people were displaced in our state and the future of almost a million youths truncated in the various attacks carried out by herdsmen while property worth over N95 billion was destroyed.
“Yet not a single person has been arrested or prosecuted for the dastardly acts. We have had enough of the conspiracy of silence against our people and state.
“If the Federal Government can effectively tackle the menace of Boko Haram, Niger Delta militancy and other acts of insurgency across the country, one wonders why they cannot tackle the herdsmen excesses particularly in our state”.
Also addressing the meeting, the governor lamented that he risked being stoned by the people if his administration failed to yield to their demand for the law.
Ortom said, “Our people demanded for the law, and from the response of the leadership of the various ethnic groups in the state, if I fail to implement the law, they have threatened to implement it themselves and that means chaos and instability will set in.
“What that also means is that if this government fails to do the bidding of the majority of our people, we risk being stoned by those who have insisted that the law should come into being.
“So the fact is that, as a responsible government, we cannot deviate from what the people want. What we seek from herdsmen is understanding because the new law is a win-win for both farmers and herdsmen.”
Ortom disclosed that government had put measures in place to ensure the successful implementation of the law.
“Already, we have set up livestock guards and implementation committees in all the local government areas with membership drawn from traditional rulers, herdsmen, the Civilian Joint Task Force, the vigilante group and security agencies who will work jointly to ensure the success of the law and peaceful coexistence in the state”, he added.
Other meetings were also held preparatory to the take-off of the law on Tuesday.
And a day before the commencement of the law, the people of Benue from all walks of life and numbering over 10,000, under the aegis of Street Movement Against Ravages in Benue, besieged the state’s seat of power to impress on government the need to have the law come into effect.
Addressing the mammoth crowd, the governor, who spoke through his deputy, Mr. Benson Abounu, reiterated his commitment to approaching the International Criminal Court at The Hague to protect his people from herdsmen’s attacks.
Ortom said, “As a government that believes in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, this government will not sit down and fold its arms and watch people come here to perpetrate impunity and to force their will on our ancestrally inherited land and the constitutionally guaranteed life.
“We will not shy away from our responsibility to protect the lives of all the inhabitants of Benue against forceful perpetration of criminal injustice.
“That is why this law came into being, and, from November 1, it will come into force because, for close to five years, herdsmen killed thousands of Benue people and it was almost becoming a pogrom.
“But I tell you if it means going the whole hog, if it means going to the International Court at The Hague, talking to people, sensitizing, singing and shouting, this government will go the whole hog to protect the lives and property of our people.”
Earlier, speaking on behalf of the Benue Youths Forum, Comrade Daniel Nyikagh, who declared the support of all Benue youths for the governor said, “The law is the panacea for the pogrom we witnessed in our state, it is not intended to chase anyone away but to ensure peaceful coexistence”.
Speaking on behalf of displaced persons, Reverend Father Solomon Mffa, said, “President Buhari must speak out against the activities of herdsmen in the country because the killing of innocent persons is worse than corruption.”
The leaders of Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa communities, who also spoke at the occasion, pledged their support to Ortom, the law and its full implementation in the state.
24 hours after the law came into being, on Tuesday, the state witnessed a huge rally when over 5,000 women, including half naked mothers, marched through the streets of Makurdi to show solidarity with government.
The women, who were received by the governor and his wife, Eunice, were drawn from the 23 local government areas of the state. They spoke glowingly about the law and the wisdom of government to heed the cry of the people.
The women, who carried placards with inscriptions like, ‘We totally support anti-Open Grazing Law’, ‘Governor Ortom, we are proud of you’, ‘This is the end of killings in our communities’, ‘Benue women will always stand with Governor Ortom’, also sang the praises of Ortom and his government.
The governor and his wife told the women that the law was a win-win for herdsmen and farmers alike and appealed to everyone resident in the state to respect its provisions or risk running foul of the law.
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