Herdsmen resist Ortom’s anti-open grazing law
Despite the anti-open grazing law at play in Benue state, reprieve from herders’ attacks on residents and farmlands could be far off as herdsmen are putting up a strong resistance against the law, BusinessDay learns.
In 2017, governor Samuel Ortom signed the anti-open grazing bill into law. The previous year, herdsmen attacks in different communities had claimed the lives of 450 Benue residents, according to Nigeria Security Tracker.
At the signing ceremony of the bill in Makurdi, Ortom said the anti-grazing law would put an end to incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers in Benue.
Lamenting the destruction of lives and property in clashes involving farmers and herdsmen; he promised to promote ranching since it had proven to be the best way of rearing livestock globally.
“Now that the bill has been signed into law, the law will take its course on anyone that goes against it,” he said.
The bill supports grazing in ranches in a bid to encourage herders to set up ranches and stipulates a jail term of five years or a fine option of N1 million, or both to violators.
The governor warned farmers and herdsmen against carrying arms, saying that security agents had been directed to arrest and prosecute anyone caught.
But it appears the law is having little effect in preventing clashes in the state as violence climaxed the following year after it was established. While in 2017, 74 persons were killed by herders as against the previous, the state recorded 468 herder-related deaths in 2018, the highest till date.
While the death count dropped to 66 in 2019, there has been a steady increase from 70 deaths in 2020, to now 218 in 2021.
This is because the anti-open grazing law is resisted by herdsmen.
Anthony Ogbole, public relations officer, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Benue State Chapter, said while herders who do not want to obey the law by establishing ranches have moved to other states, the resistance from herders who have occupied lands and displaced residents is having a devastating effect
“Some herders have invaded some local governments in Benue and chased out their inhabitants and are grazing freely on their farmlands while the farmers are in IDP camps afraid to go back to their farmlands because they will be killed,” he said.
Ogbole said the anti-open grazing is being heavily resisted and while the security has been informed about herders’ activities in the villages, they have done nothing to arrest the situation by rooting out the attackers. Rather, they only increase the number of roadblocks.
Beyond being located in the North Central region of Nigeria and with a total population of 4.2 million, Benue state takes a significant spot in Nigeria’s economy particularly in terms of food security.
It is an agro-based economy, and engages over 75 percent of the farming population in the state. Its agricultural produce include, Yam, Rice, Beans, Cassava, Sweet-potato, Maize, Soybean, Sorghum, Millet, Sesame, cocoyam and others.
It accounts for over 70 percent of Nigeria’s Soybean production. But the state is no longer what it used to be in terms of agricultural production. Herder-farmer conflict has crippled agricultural activities and the overall economy of the state.
Currently, residents, especially those who live along the river Benue have left their homes and are in displaced camps across the state, surviving on charity because their sources of livelihoods which is farming, is no longer safe to practice, according to Charlse Kuhwa, Former special adviser, chief resilience officer, Lagos.
Herdsmen have taken over villages and live in people’s homes while they are left at IDP camps. For the first time in the history of the state, people are experiencing food shortages because most people who are displaced are farmers.
Farmers are forced to live like refugees and can no longer afford the basic things of life. Children have left schools and are living idly in the camps with nothing to do. Some have taken to labouring jobs to assist their weak and sick parents. People presently live in fear especially those in the rural areas due to the fear of being attacked by Fulani herdsmen.
“Previously, Benue State indigenes used to enjoy a lot of peace and the environment was enabling for farming but it is a different story now as farming activities have ceased and people have lost their sources of livelihoods…some even dying prematurely as a result of sudden hardship,” Kuhwa explains.
Nigeria has been experiencing complex, multidimensional, and existential security challenges in the last decade.
Between 2020 and 2021, Nigeria recorded 890 violent incidents resulting in 3,787 deaths, 340 injured persons, and 2,542 kidnapped persons, based on data from Nextier SPD.
While a further breakdown shows that banditry is the current leading conflict type in Nigeria in terms of number of incidents (606 or 68.1 percent), number of deaths (2,470 or 65.2 percent), number of injured (211 or 62.1 percent) and number of persons kidnapped (2,487 or 97.8 percent), farmer-herder conflict comes second.
Nextier SPD finds that farmer-herder conflicts occurred 71 times, accounting for 406 deaths, 49 injured, and 15 kidnapped persons. These spillover effects and impacts reverberate across the country, with over 12.8 million facing food insecurity.
With farmer-herder conflict prevalent in the north central, Nigeria’s food production belt, risks economic collapse and growing food insecurity. The rest of the country will also suffer.
“…because Benue is acclaimed as the food basket of the nation. And if there is a food crisis here, it affects the nation,” Ogbole agrees.
The country is currently experiencing daily high food prices.
While the state government is taking steps to reduce the clashes, stakeholders believe that the federal government has the ultimate power to bring conflict in the region to an end. One major it can do is to implement the 10-year National Livestock Transformation Plan it adopted in 2019, to change the deadly patterns.
Already, over 20 states including Benue state have signed up to the plan. Benue state has set up an office, held training and even picked the crops and livestock it would focus on, but further steps to kick-start full implementation, has been slow.
In addition, some states have received monies for ranching but Benue State has been left out so far.
As a result, the federal government is said to be complicit in the continued ugly occurrences and condoning the attacks due to his unpalatable body language.
“Farmers don’t want this crisis, the original herders that coexisted with us, don’t want this crisis. So, if they are honest and fair and want this to end, I think it will end because implementation and sanctions are in their hands,” said Magdalyne Dura, special adviser to the governor on Development Cooperation, SDGs and NEPAD.