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25 Oct 2017

IMPLEMENTATION OF THE ANTI-OPEN GRAZING LAW IN BENUE STATE

By Linus Hagher

* Being the text of Commentary broadcast on Radio Benue today 25th October, 2017.

The 22 of May, this year was no doubt a watershed in the history of Benue state, especially as it relates to the incessant clashes between farmers and herdsmen.

On that day, Governor Samuel Ortom assented to the Open Grazing Prohibition and Establishment of Ranches Law to the admiration of the entire Benue people.

The signing of the Law was also significant because it saw majority of Benue people for the first time in recent times, speaking with one voice, irrespective of their tribal, political and religious leanings.

Before the coming of that piece of legislation, there was no guarantee that farmers could be at peace all season to produce food for both subsistence and commercial purposes.

The rural dwellers were also left in perpetual fear of losing their lives and property in unexpected and most times, unprovoked attacks, leading to internal displacement of the people.

There were times when several communities would come under simultaneous attacks by suspected herdsmen who killed and destroyed farm produce at will.

Sadly, several efforts made to find a permanent solution to the herders-farmers crisis never yielded the desired results hence the need for a law to put an end to the ugly trend which occasionally took the coloration of genocide.

That is why the passage of the anti-open grazing bill by the Benue State House of Assembly was greeted by wild jubilation by the people who could not wait to see its implementation.

As the implementation of the legislation commences on November 1, there is the need for the people to unite for its success.                

The unprecedented support the bill enjoyed from initiation to public hearing and passage to the assent by the Governor should be reflected in the implementation.

The Law simply prohibits open-grazing of livestock generally and prescribes punishment for cattle rustling and general theft of livestock as well as other acts that could spark violence.

Governor Samuel Ortom had at various fora said that the Law is for the good of all law abiding residents of the State and not aimed at chasing a particular group out of Benue as mischievously misconstrued in some quarters.

Even on the heels of threats of attack by groups that claimed to be speaking on behalf of cattle herders, Governor Ortom has remained calm and resolute, insisting that the law has come to stay.

The Governor, in his peace-loving disposition, has also condemned the alleged call by some youth on herdsmen to outrightly vacate Benue State, describing it as uncalled for.

According to him, only cattle farmers not disposed to ranching are advised to consider relocating to areas where open-grazing is still acceptable.

Those saddled with the enforcement of the legislation should shun any temptation to compromise, so as to save lives that will be lost in clashes that may ensue if things are not done rightly.
Those few individuals who see cattle rustling as a veritable business must look for genuine means of livelihood or expect the wrath of the law.

Community, political, and religious leaders are expected to constantly sensitize farmers and herdsmen through the Mass Media and other channels of communication on the benefits of the Law and the dangers of violating it.

It is also instructive for the umbrella body of cattle herders and owners to jettison their avowed plans to resist the Law to prevent possible conflicts.
Traditional rulers and communities too must desist from accommodating herdsmen who refuse to embrace the legislation.

The Government, through its relevant agencies and enforcers of the anti-open grazing law, should be decisive in punishing erring groups or individuals who aid and abate violators.

Security agencies too should be alive to their responsibility of protecting all citizens by avoiding any act capable of affecting the people's confidence in their professionalism and neutrality.

The Federal Government has been occasionally blamed for being slow in taming the farmers-herders clashes in parts of the country and it has a duty to prove those crying foul wrong.

With the right mechanism in place and unity of purpose, the Law, which is for the benefit of all without discrimination, shall succeed because in the words of Governor Samuel Ortom, "there is no going back”.
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