As anti-open grazing law takes off in Benue, governor, residents raise fears of violence

Benue on map
Benue on map

The Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, has alerted the Nigerian military to alleged threat of violent resistance to the anti-open grazing law in the state.

The law, which was passed by the state House of Assembly and assented by Mr. Ortom, is scheduled to take off in the state on November 1.

Mr. Ortom called the attention of the army to the alleged threat in Katsina-Ala Local Government Area of the state during the burial ceremony of former Chief of army Staff, Victor Malu. The ceremony was broadcast live on Channels Television on Sunday.

“The anti-open grazing prohibition law 2017, which was signed into law will come into effect on November 1. For us in Benue State, we are under threat. But seeing the Chief of Staff here today and all of you distinguished Nigerians, we are encouraged and we know that the God we serve has brought you to also assist us,” Mr. Ortom said.

Traditional rulers in the state had in August expressed support for the anti-open grazing law, with the leader of the majority Tiv ethnic group, the Tor Tiv, James Ayatse, commending the state government for passing the law.

Similarly, the Benue State Coordinator of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, MACBAN, Garus Gololo, also said members of his group are law abiding and would not engage in unlawful activities. Although MACBAN pledged non-violence, members of the group have raised concerns about the implementation of the law.

Despite the widespread expression of peace, there had been allegation of threats to peace over the law.

A group made up of Tiv, Idoma and Igede speaking people in the state in a letter to Governor Ortom dated October 16 alleged an arms build-up by some herdsmen to attack their communities over the law.

“The attention of the people of Benue State hereby represented by the Mdzough U Tiv, Idoma National Forum and Omi ny’Igede, the principal umbrella socio-cultural organizations of the Tiv, Idoma and Igede nations, has been drawn to reports of an alleged armed Fulani militia build-up and convergence at the Nigeria-Cameroon border and at the Agatu border with Nasarawa State to the North West of Benue State,” the group wrote in the letter sighted by Premium Times.

“It was reliably gathered that leadership of the herdsmen have held clandestine meetings in Nigeria and abroad to visit mayhem and genocide on the people of Benue State.

“The plot is said to be multi-directional and aimed to simultaneously invade and attack Benue from every angle so that there would be no escape for our defenceless people.

“Our three main socio- cultural organizations and indeed the entire people of Benue State are deeply troubled because the Fulani herdsmen already tagged as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world by Global Terrorist Index, as published in the Vanguard Newspaper of first June 2017, have the capacity, capability and means to carry out the threat.

“In a letter to the Inspector General of Police dated 30th May 2017, the leadership of Miyetti Allah openly declared and we quote ‘We will mobilize our people to resist… this legislation.’

“This was again reinforced at a World Press Conference, held in Abuja shortly after, by the President of Miyetti Allah, Alhaji Abdullahi Bello Bodojo, and Secretary, Saleh Alhassan, who both declared that their association would deploy every means and mobilize their people to resist the implementation of the anti-open grazing law.

“They have already demonstrated their intention to resist the law by suing the Benue State Government at an Abuja federal High Court in suit no FHC/ABJ/CS/527/2017.”

The communities, in their letter signed by their leaders; Ode Enyi; President General, Omi Ny’Igede, Amali Amali, President General Idoma National Forum and I. T. Ujege, president General, Mdzough U Tiv, accused the federal government of remaining silent in the face of what they described as unprovoked attacks by herdsmen, resulting in the death of their kinsmen.

“Your Excellency, We have had enough of the conspiracy of silence against our people and state. We believe that this security intelligence just gathered about the massing of cattle and militia to invade Benue may be well known to the Federal Government and the security agencies but as usual, they may do nothing until Benue is overrun.

“But this should not be allowed to happen this time around. If the Federal Government can effectively tackle the menace of Boko Haram, Niger Delta Militants, IPOB and other insurgency acts across the country, one wonders why they cannot tackle the herdsmen excesses particularly in our state.

As a result of the non-action of the Federal Government, we are now faced with renewed alleged threat of an impending invasion in actualization of the avowed pledge by the leadership of Miyetti Allah to deploy and resist the implementation of the law as scheduled.

“The threat is to actualize their plan to turn Benue into a huge theatre of war and in the simmering cauldron; they would then grab their prized catch which is the land of Benue – a land that has been home to all Nigerians because of the peace that has prevailed over time.”

Efforts to contact the spokesperson of the herdsmen for his reaction to the allegations failed. The spokesman, Saleh Bayero, did not pick calls or respond to text messages by PREMIUM TIMES.

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