By DENNIS MERNYI
President Mohammadu Buhari has maintained a long silence over the laws prohibiting open grazing of livestock enacted by some states of the federation. First to call the shot was Ekiti state. Benue state has followed suite. Taraba state will soon sign a similar law. In Benue, the full implementation of the law had commenced on November 1,2017. Like in Ekiti and Taraba states, the leadership of Fulani herdsmen have continued with their threat to lives of the people of Benue once again. They do not only threatened to invade the state but to unleash all forms of attack on the people and kill them even more for daring to come up with a law to “chase them away from the state”. But as expected that attempts to end the incessant and excessive killings across the country by the killer herdsmen would be met with stiff resistance either by the Fulani herdsmen themselves as it is the case at the moment. Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state undoubtedly, was aware of those hurdles. He has consistently briefed President Buhari himself who is a Fulani man and sure have herdsmen of cattle. He was at separate occasions reported to have held closed door security briefing with the President over the continuous killings in the state by the Fulani herdsmen since his assumption of office as the Governor on May 29,2015. In what was termed as a pogrom, the massacre In Agatu, Buruku, Guma, Tarkaa, Logo and Katsina Ala threw both the people of the state and the Governor off balance. The massacres in a coordinated manner even though attracted concerns from the international communities like the ECOWAS, AU, UN, the United States as well as many international and local humanitarian organisations including the Red Cross, etc did not merit the visit by the President of Nigeria to those affected areas neither a strong worded statement of warning to the killer herdsmen and to assure the people of their safety and protection from further attacks. Any statement by the Presidency was not more than the usual promises to fish out the perpetrators who are still free doing their worst. Over 5,000 innocent citizens of Benue were murdered more than 10,000 wounded by the Fulani herdsmen in the wake of the crises. Hundreds of billions worth of properties including farm produce were destroyed according reports. The President was however criticised by both Nigerians and foreigners for failing to at least visit the victims or a state visit to the state that has been devastated since the multiple attacks and wanton killings. However, intensely disturbed by those act of terrorism, Benue state governor, Samuel Ortom after wider consultation with the people of the state, the decision to device a more civilised approach to find a near lasting solution to the prolonged crises was formulated. Government’s decision to enact a law prohibiting open grazing of livestock in the state was arrived at after identifying it as the paramount cause of the clashes between farmers and herdsmen. Farmers who in most cases watched helplessly as their crops are destroyed by the cattle under the supervision of the armed Fulanis can not attempt to chase the away as any such attempts are usually met with brutality. They are attacked, maimed and killed. Their women and children are not spared either. In late 2016 when the state government sent the bill to its State House of Assembly. The Bill that sought to prohibit open grazing of livestock, the governor had been reported to have briefed the President on the steps taken by his state government to end farmers /herdsmen crises as a deliberate plan to stabilise security for a meaningful development in the state. Many times as the President was briefed, no public pronouncement in strong terms to commend or condemn the state government decision has been made by the President. He has remained mute all along. The Presidency refused to comment on the matter until the Bill was passed and signed into law after exhaustive public hearings were conducted across the state which major stakeholders participated. The stakeholders included farmers, herdsmen, traditional rulers, local government executives, leadership of associations and groups like Miyeti Allah Cattle Breeders Farmers associations were invited. Still after the passage of the bill, government gave another grace period of about five months to enable both farmers and herdsmen prepare themselves for take off of its implementation on November 1,2017. The period was also to enable government put all necessary machineries in motion for effective enforcement of the law. But instead of participating in the processes availed by the state government to ensure a sustained peaceful coexistence in the state through the available avenues, the Fulani herdsmen have taken to the press with various vicious statements dishing out unsubstantiated claims of ownership of Benue, a development totally at variance to the issues on hand yet the federal government under President Buhari has never find its voice. Gov. Ortom had in May signed into law the Anti Open Grazing Law which seeks to prohibit open rearing and grazing of livestock and provides for the establishment of ranches and livestock administration in the state. The law was signed in May, but its implementation was extended to Nov. 1, 2017 to give cattle breeders and other livestock owners time to build ranches. The law seeks to end the perennial land skirmishes between farmers and herdsmen in the state. Dozens of people had died in clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the state with farmlands and crops amounting to millions of Naira being destroyed. The Fulani herdsmen under the groups of Miyeti Allah Houre and the rest have rather taken to threat of invasion of Benue state with a Fulani fledge was. But the governor had urged those in the cattle business to drop the confrontational approach and conduct their businesses peacefully and according to the laws of any state they find themselves in. If they have any issues against any law, they should pursue them peacefully through dialogue, working together with their host communities and state governments. Where necessary, they should approach the courts for redress. According to him, making territorial claims at this stage of our history is a recipe for conflict, which is already ravaging many parts of the country. The Federal Government must step in and tackle this issue without bias, fear or favour. “War does not yield good dividends, there is no substitute for peaceful and lawful approach to socio-economic problems. “The war drums in Benue must be silenced before they develop into a chorus across the country”. They have threatened even more killings and destructions the state can ever imagine. In fact, their threats amounts to treason, yet both the security agencies in the country are not bordered even when the state executive council and the state Assembly had written the Presidency Inspector General of Police, the Department of State Security, the Armed forces demanding for the immediate arrest of Abdullahi Bello Badejo and Saleh Hassan Alhassan, the notorious president and secretary respectively of the Miyeti Allah Cattle Breeders who have been issuing those threats are suspected to be the master minders of herdsmen attacks on innocent Nigerians. The duo have vowed at separate floral to make life unbearable for the people of Benue with their planned series of attacks and to oppose government of Samuel Ortom in the state for insisting on implementing the law that stop them from further killings in Benue. Since the petition to arrest them for instigation and threats to attack Benue communities this time in a more deadly manner, they still work the streets unperturbed. It is rather dangerous and worrisome that our President, a retired army general and former head of state has lost not only his voice but the might to take action against a group that has the audacity to confront and challenge the constituted authorities. Before and after the commencement of the implementation of the law by the state government, there has been enough media reports, documentaries, news analysis and commentaries detailing both government good intentions, the atrocities committed by the Fulani herdsmen on the people, different opinions and views of the citizens of the state and even non citizens in support of the law. The civil societies have equally engaged the public. Can his long silence on this matter be taken as a sign that he is incapacitated with his hands tight that he c an not decide against his kinsmen for the sake of peace, unity and development of the country he presides. The earlier President Buhari address the nation and caution the Fulani herdsmen against threatening the peaceful coexistence of Nigeria, the better. Nigerians awaits also on the President to take steps to address permanently all issues associated with all forms of unrest in the country now.
DENNIS MERNYI is a journalist and a media consultant in Abuja. He Can be reached on email@example.com