By Peter Duru, Makurdi
When three years ago, in 2017 precisely, the Governor Samuel Ortom led State Executive Council presented an Executive Bill to the Benue State House of Assembly for deliberation and passage of the Benue State Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law of 2017, no one envisaged that the coming of that piece of legislation would mark a turning point in the several years of armed herdsmen induced torments, brutality and killings in virtually all the rural communities of the state.
Indeed the years predating the coming of the bill which was signed into law on May 22, 2017 by Governor Samuel Ortom, had witnessed wanton killings and sacking of several communities in most of the 23 Local Government Areas, LGAs, of the state by the marauding herdsmen.
Seven months after the signing, the people witnessed one of their darkest moments in the history of herdsmen killings in the state when on 2018 New Year’s Day close to 100 persons including children, pregnant and nursing mothers were murdered in cold blood in what appeared like a coordinated attack on Logo and Guma LGAs.
It took the acumen of a Governor Ortom to calm frayed nerves and in quick-witted manner prevent what would have snowballed into one of the bloodiest reprisals especially when agitated Benue youths vowed to take over and mount a blockade on the popular Wurukum round-about, a major hub of inter and intra state commercial vehicles.
The Governor ensured that the people buried their hatchet for the greater good of the country while moves by forces from outside the state to have the law repealed met stiff resistance from the people who rallied round the government to assert their resolve to have the legislation in place.
They insisted that the law which originated from the Benue State Executive Council was a product of the collective will of the people hence tailored in line with their wishes and aspirations and therefore must not be altered or abrogated.
It’s imperative to note that it took the combination of the unwavering resolve and support of the people for the government and the sincerity of purpose of the state government including the administration’s dedication to the overall well-being of its people, to have that extant law still regulating the business of animal husbandry in state.
Today, three years down the line, Benue people are basking in the euphoria of having the law, given its inherent benefits one of which includes the restriction of herders who throng Benue communities for the purpose of grazing on people’s farmlands.
Usually any form of resistance from the locals to the destruction of their sources of livelihood by the marauders was equally met with a riotous rage that would always leave families, clans, villages and communities sacked and many butchered and killed.
All that have changed to a large extent with the coming of the law though the state still records intermittent attacks by armed herdsmen but certainly not in the magnitude witnessed before the coming of the law.
It has become apparent that those who had earlier kicked against the law have come to the realization that it is a product of the bond between the Governor Ortomled administration and the people who themselves are guarding the piece of legislation jealousy and are not prepared to have any portion of it altered, watered or repealed.
Antagonists of the law may have also come to terms with its provisions and the fact that the Benue government as well as the people are not ready to budge despite the pressure. The sing song in the state has been ‘you either ranch or seek alternative settlement outside the state.’
This warning was also succinctly sounded by the Nasarawa state Governor, AlhajiAbdullahi Sule during a recent security meeting held in Yelewata in Guma LGA with his Benue State counterpart.
At that meeting Governor Sule cautioned herdsmen saying, “Benue has a ranching law and any herder wishing to go there with his herds must be prepared to ranch or stay away from the state.”
Though some herders are still running foul of the law by moving into the state from neighbouring Nasarawa state to graze or attack some of the farming communities in commando fashion, by and large the law has instilled some level of fear in the majority of the herders who hitherto yearly visited the Benue in their numbers from the west coast of Africa especially during the dry season to plunder the peoples farms and unleash mayhem on the communities.
Hence with the law being strictly enforced by the Benue Livestock Guards who impound cows and ensure the arrest of recalcitrant herders it is now a common sight to see truck loads of cattle being conveyed through Benue state from the north to other parts of the country especially the eastern and southern parts unlike what obtained in past when Benue was a major hub for herders and their herds with its attendant consequences.
Perhaps this accounts for the increasing cases of suspected armed herdsmen attacks in the eastern and other southern parts of the country where the heat is now being felt.
Speaking on the gains of having the law place, the Convener of the Middle Belt Movement for Justice and Peace, MBMJP, Mr. Joe Bukka said the law remained the greatest legacy the present administration would leave for the people of the state.
According to him, “the Benue State Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law of 2017 which came into being through an Executive Bill of the present administration is the greatest gift of the government to Benue people and by it Governor Ortom wrote his name in gold.
“I recall that shortly before the 2019 general elections I told you that despite the gang up against the Benue state Governor by external forces the grazing law would be the basis and impetus for his unassailable victory.
“It is common knowledge that because of the law the heartrending cases of pillage and sacking of Benue communities by armed herdsmen have drastically reduced and with the support of troops of the Operation Whirl Stroke, OPWS, there is relative peace in Benue rural communities compared to what obtained in the past.
“All I am saying is that the man started a cause that he never envisaged would eventually change the mentality of Nigerians when it comes to the business of animal husbandry and by so doing he has written his name in gold in this country. Despite the pretenses Abuja now knows that ranching is the best way to go.
“Interestingly the Benue grazing law has also now become a reference for other states governments who want to enact similar legislation to stem the nagging issue of herdsmen crisis in their respective states.”
On his part, the President of Benue Youths Forum, BYF, Comrade Terrence Kuanum said “the Benue grazing law is one Executive Bill by the Governor Ortomadministration that has left an indelible mark in the annals of history of this country and for which all Nigerians and Benue people in particular shall remain grateful.”
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