Peace-building law afoot as Benue moves to secure economy

Benue State government, under the leadership of governor Samuel Ortom, has set plans in motion to enact a law targeted at fostering peace between farmers and herders in the state in order to secure the state’s economy and development gains.

BusinessDay learnt that a technical team from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) presented the draft of a bill called Peace Building Agency Bill to Titus Uba, speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly.

Presented at a meeting involving UNDP’s technical team and members of the state’s legislature, the bill seeks to institutionalise peace building efforts in the state.

The Speaker of the House expressed gratitude for the technical support provided by UNDP to the government and local civil society organizations in the drafting process, and promised “speedy deliberation with a view to passing the bill into law.”

Since 2018, high levels of insecurity caused by deadly clashes between farmers and pastoralists in the middle belt region have provoked a sharp drop in food production in the state by 50 percent.

Read Also: Rising food price and wellbeing of Nigerians

The situation affects not only the food security of the state but that of the whole country since the majority of the food consumed in Nigeria is produced in Benue. Farmers say they have suffered “immeasurable and massive” losses of crops.

Farmers and herders

Some farmlands are completely deserted, BusinessDay learnt. For instance, a farmland of about 120,000 hectares at the border areas where production occurs has been totally deserted.

“Food security is threatened,” said Magdalyne Dura, special adviser to the governor on Development Cooperation, SDGs and NEPAD. “Poverty is being created because our economy is agro-based.”

She added that the crisis is fuelling the creation of a new generation of illiterates as hundreds of children are displaced and do not attend school.

The state considered the idea of a peace architecture when killings persisted. It then involved UNDP for technical support and drafting.

The Peace Building Agency Bill will institutionalise training of people and advocacy to identify early warning signs and promote early response to potential crisis situations.

It will also extend to the local levels where women will be involved as peace ambassadors to create a system of effective communication targeting at preventing destructive conflict.

If passed into law, Benue State will join other states like Nasarawa, and Kaduna where peace-building agencies already exist.

“We believe that the peace agency, if it comes in, will be one of the most commendable structures that will help us in engaging and doing what we need to do to ensure we have peace in the state,” Dura said.

More so, UNDP team leaders said they identified the agency as a potential structural asset and if institutionalised, they believe it will encourage the state to take ownership of and invest in dispute management.

Ashraf Usman, conflict and political economy specialist, UNDP, noted that security is the state’s responsibility at all levels and it makes sense to lobby the government to take up peace-building

processes themselves and do it in a sustainable way rather than rely on international NGOs.

“You rarely hear that the government is investing in early warning systems,” said Usman. “We’re just trying to get the state government to do the things that we believe work, because for the longest

time, the state government hasn’t seen it as its responsibility and they felt someone else will cover for it.”

Although the UNDP team and the special adviser could not state the exact time the bill will be passed into law, based on the speaker’s assurances of a speedy hearing, they are certain that it would not take long.

William Tsuma, senior advisor at UNDP Nigeria, also thinks that the agency will work by being passed into law because peacebuilding is only sustainable when the solutions are local, adding that the agency bill was not externally programmed but locally demanded.

Put more specifically, according to him, it was Benue State that decided that they needed the bill and approached UNDP for technical support, which it will provide in diverse areas including capacity building and induction of commissioners.

All stakeholders are said to have unanimously agreed that the agency would be invaluable in restoring peace in the state; they include state chairman, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), and Ibrahim Galma, state secretary of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) Benue State Chapter.

They however stated that both organisations must be involved in the process for the agency bill to be viable and sustainable.

This is because “90 percent of the crisis emanates from farmers and herders”. If they are closely coordinated, with clear communication messages to help them to understand our problem, then

together with the peace-building agency, all the early warning signs will be established and people will get important information,” Galma argues.

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