By Abrahams Kwaghngu
In every form of leadership, it has been confirmed that courage remains a key virtue for an effective leadership. Governor Samuel Ortom a grassroots political leader with nationalistic views was propelled into national consciousness in 2017 when he demonstrated unusual courage by signing into law, the Prohibition of Open Grazing and Ranches Establishment Law. The law was meant to serve as a permanent solution to the often-violent herders/farmers clashes and armed herders’ invasion of Benue’s farming villages leading to casualties and destruction of properties and farm produce.
The anti-open grazing law has been commended by well-meaning Nigerians as a law whose time was long overdue but it took the demonstration of political will by Governor Ortom to bring the law into existence thereby blazing a trail in the country as far as livestock management is concerned. The Governor’s introduction of the law which was passed by the Benue State House of Assembly attracted stiff opposition from some quarters presumed to be sympathetic to the itinerant herdsmen who often trespass into farmlands, destroying crops and produce with the attendant sporadic attacks on innocent villages.
Four years after the historic signing of the law banning open grazing in Benue State, many other states in the south and some states in the Northcentral geopolitical zone have keyed into Governor Samuel Ortom’s vision. In May, 2018, a year after the historic signing of the anti-open grazing law in Benue State, the Northern Governors’ Forum at a meeting in Kaduna State endorsed cattle ranching as a means to end the lingering farmers/herders’ clashes.
On 12th May, 2021, the Southern Governors’ Forum rose from a meeting in Asaba, Delta State banning open grazing of livestock across Southern Nigeria. They subsequently announced their readiness to immediately give the ban on open grazing the required legislative backing through their State Houses of Assembly even though a few of such states already have a law in place against open grazing. Southern states that have so far adopted and signed the law on open grazing include: Ekiti, Ebonyi, Abia, Oyo, Imo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Ondo and Ogun states. Others are: Enugu, Akwa-Ibom, Osun and Lagos and Taraba State in the Benue Valley.
From the increasing number of State Governors across the federation signing the law banning open grazing in their respective states, Samuel Ortom of Benue State has again been justified on his introduction of the ranching law. It is quite instructive that the adoption of the ranching law even across partisan lines has also rendered untenable the accusation from some quarters against Ortom of politicizing the ranching law. Even the Holy Bible specifies stiff penalties for open grazing of livestock in Exodus 22:5 which says: If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten, and shall put in his beast, and shall feed in another man’s field; of the best of his own field, and of the best of his own vineyard, shall he make restitution. This goes to show that God in His infinite wisdom condemns open grazing of livestock especially on farmlands.
The ban on open grazing of cattle by the Southern Governors which received endorsement from well-meaning Nigerians amongst them, human rights lawyer and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, the Southern caucus of the House of Representatives, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, elder statesman and leader of Afenifere, the Yoruba socio-cultural group amongst others. The support for anti-open grazing law is fast gathering momentum across geopolitical zones in the country. It will be recalled that in January this year, a prominent Fulani man and Governor of Kano State, Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje advocated the banning of cattle movement from northern Nigeria to southern Nigerian by the Federal Government. Towing the same line, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP Governors’ Forum at a meeting in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital on May 17th, 2021 also endorsed the ban on open grazing of cattle.
The ranks of the advocates of ranching as a modern means of livestock management have continued to grow increase in geometric proportion since Governor Samuel Ortom audaciously blazed the trail and charted the way forward for others to follow in 2017, despite the orchestrated campaign of calumny mounted against. But the Governor moved on undeterred but having only the wellbeing of the Benue people in mind. The recent revelation by Governor Bello Masari of Katsina State that the Federal Government have released the sum of five billion Naira out of six billion Naira to the State for the purpose of construction of cattle ranches again indicates the acceptability of ranching of livestock even from part of the traditional enclaves of herdsmen and those who initially opposed the highly effective livestock policy.
It is also hoped that the Federal Government would favourably respond to the request by Governor Ortom that One Hundred Billion Naira be approved for Benue State by the Federal Government for ranching purposes since the State pioneered the anti-open grazing law. The Federal Government should be magnanimous in redeeming its pledge of Ten Billion Naira through Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in 2018 while on a visit to Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs Camp in Benue. The sum was proposed for the resettlement of IDPs back to their homes and also rebuilding their homes destroyed by armed herders.
The outbursts some time ago by Alh. Abbas Tafida, the Emir of Muri in Jalingo, Taraba State ordering armed herders to vacate his domain within 30 days underscores the seriousness of the negative impact of armed herders engaging in criminal activities across the country. The Federal Government should be swift in tackling the menace of armed herdsmen, bandits and other elements threatening the peace and corporate existence of the country. A situation where citizens and non-state actors are allowed to resort to self-help is not healthy as it could lead to chaos and anarchy. However, the declaration of bandits as terrorists by the Federal Government is a step in the right direction and should be followed swiftly by the political will confront these militant bandits and bring them to book. The proscription order by the Federal High Court on 26th November, 2021 came after public pressure on the government to proscribed banditry just as it has done to separatist groups.
The sustained endorsement of the cattle ranching law also indicate that all along, majority of Nigerians including the opponents of cattle ranching recognize the fact that the Governor as a chief security officer of his state with a responsibility to promote the peace and wellbeing of his people was on the right track but due to partisan differences, ulterior motives and the need to be in the good books of the perceived ‘powers that be’, some of those who disagreed with the Governor on the policy are now openly supporting his wisdom in bringing the law into existence in response to the yearnings of his people.
The Benue State Governor has continued to receive wide-spread support for exhibiting vision in establishment the law against open grazing. This informs why he has received numerous awards from reputable organisations, media outfits, international organizations as well as Non-governmental organisations for his dogged stance in protecting the wellbeing of his people and his refusal to be verbally silenced by those with ulterior motives against the ancestral lands of Benue State.
The Benue State Governor has never lay claim to perfection as only God in heaven is perfect as the Creator of the universe and man. Based on this belief, he has severally appealed to those opposed to ranching to bring to the table any superior option to the ranching law for consideration and debate. This invitation is yet to be honoured by the opponents of the ranching law given weight to the speculation that the opponents of the Governor are nursing a hidden agenda beyond peaceful grazing of cattle. The truth never fails to prevail, as such at a time like this, we must ensure unity and support for our leaders even as we should always pray for them as commanded by the Holy Scripture.
*Abrahams Kwaghngu is the Principal Special Assistant on Special Duties
to the Benue State Governor
Categories: James Ibechi