Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom has said that the reason why the state had to enact the Open Grazing and Ranches Establishment Law 2017 was because of the continued herdsmen attacks on Benue farmers.
Ortom who disclosed this on the occasion of the 3rd anniversary of the Benue Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017 held in Makurdi said between February 2013 and May 13th, 2017, the state experienced 46 attacks by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
He said the attacks resulted in the death of over 1541 people as well as massive destruction of property including schools, hospitals, residential houses, churches, farmlands in 15 local government areas out of the 23 local government areas of the state.
The Governor was represented by the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General of the state, Mike Gusa at the occasion which was well attended by both Benue and Fulani leaders.
The event was organized by the Benue State Standing Committee on Monitoring and Implementation of Government Litigations and Matters Thereto headed by Emmanuel Agbakor, Principal Special Assistant (PSA) to the Governor on Legal Matters.
Ortom who put the value of the property lost during those violent attacks on Benue farmers at a conservative estimate of over N400 billion listed the local government areas affected within the period as Guma, Logo, Ukum, Kwande, Buruku, Gboko, Tarka, Katsina-Ala, Makurdi, Gwer West, Gwer, Ogbadibo, Otukpo, Agatu and Apa.
“The excuse given for the attacks included reprisals for cattle rustled and killing of herdsmen during conflicts arising from the grazing of cattle. People in several communities in the affected places were living in perpetual fear, many vacated their ancestral homes for fear of been killed by suspected herdsmen.
“To put an end to these incessant attacks which resulted into killings and massive destruction, the Benue State Executive Council sponsored a bill to State Assembly to enact a law Prohibiting open grazing and establishment of ranches for the rearing of livestock in general.”
The Governor while explaining further that the bill included the establishment of the Benue State Livestock Guards to assist the security agencies to enforce the law, said on May 22, 2017, he assented to the law but directed that the implementation be delayed for six months to give owners of livestock time to adjust to the new law.
He recalled that one week after the signing of the bill into Law, on Tuesday, 30th May 2017, the Fulani Socio-cultural group, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore (MAKH) under the leadership of Alhaji Abdulahi Bodejo, President, and Engineer Alhassan Sale, Secretary, addressed a press conference in Abuja and vowed to resist the Law.
“They (Bodejo and Sale) vowed to mobilize their members nationwide and beyond to resist its implementation
“The group also made spurious claims of being the original inhabitants of the Benue valley concluding that the planned attacks were a struggle over the resources of the valley. Several other Fulani groups including the Fulani Nationality Movement issued similar threats.
Governor Ortom said the herdsmen made good their threats on New Year day on first January 2018 by attacking innocent and defenceless citizens of the State in Guma and Logo Local Government areas, leading to the death of over 73 people and destruction of property worth several billions of naira.
“After these killings, leader of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, (MACBAN) in Benue State, Garus Gololo, while speaking on BBC News pidgin English said the killing of innocent and defenceless Benue citizens on New Year day at Gaambe-Tiev, Ayilamo, Turan in Logo, and Tse-Ako, Tomatar near Tse-Abi in Guma was an act of self-defence.”
He maintained that despite the legion of opposition to the law, and the resultant loss of enormous lives and property, the Benue State Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, 2017 has recorded milestones major of which is the reduction in the rapidity and number of attacks on communities by suspected herdsmen in the last two years as compared to 2016-2017.
“Moreover, the efficacy of the law has been tested in the courts of law with amazing results.”
Ortom revealed that between November 1st, 2017 to October 27, 2020, more than 400 herdsmen have been arrested for violating the Law out of which 261 persons have been convicted, 21 persons have been discharged, 36 cases are still pending, while the 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.
He disclosed that within the period, 7,629 cows and 210 sheep as well as other livestock have been impounded.addimg that the law has also witnessed the arrest, arraignment an conviction of five cattle rustlers.
“The convicted rustlers were 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 religion.”
Ortom regretted that in spite of the huge success recorded by the law, hundreds of indigenes of the state that were displaced by Fulani herdsmen who took refuge in several camps are yet to go back to their ancestral homes despite the presence of military men code-named Operation Whirl Stroke (OPWS) in the state.
“I use this opportunity to call on the federal government to ensure the IDPs return to a peaceful, safe and secure environment,” Ortom appealed.