We read in some national dailies, the statements credited to Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau in which he said it is impossible to stop the unregulated movement of cattle across Nigerian borders and within the country because, according to him, “Nigeria is a signatory to ECOWAS Protocol on free movement.”
We find the said statement strange coming from a senior member of the current administration. Curiously, the Interior Minister’s comments corroborate those of President Muhammadu Buhari a few days ago, when he appeared on a live television programme, The Candidates’.
The President who specifically berated Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom for making a law to ban open grazing, also made the following comments during the programme:
“I expect a state government to insist on the routes to be re-established in the grazing areas. But to say that cattle cannot move is very difficult.”
While we do not intend to join issues with the Federal Government on the feasibility of re-establishing cattle routes or its planned ‘implementation of the ECOWAS Protocol’, we will not fail to state that in Benue State, the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017 has provided the needed solution to herders/farmers crisis.
It is important to emphasize that the Benue State law does not stop the movement of cattle or other livestock. The law only prohibits open grazing of livestock. This provision holds that livestock can be moved from place to place within Benue State but only by vehicles.
Section 19(1) of the law states:
“No individual or group shall, after the commencement of this law, engage in open nomadic livestock herding or grazing in the State outside the permitted ranches.
Subsections (4 and 5) add that “Movement of Livestock on foot from one destination to another in the State is hereby prohibited. Such movement shall only be by rail wagon, truck or pick-up wagon.
“Any person(s) found moving livestock on foot within or across urban centres, rural settlements or any part of the State commits an offence…”
The above provisions of the Ranching Law of Benue State are clear on movement of livestock within Benue and need not be misrepresented as it is currently being done by officials and agents of the Federal Government.
The Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law of Benue State also makes precise provisions on ranching in place of open grazing. The procedure for establishing a ranch is equally stated in the law.
We wonder why the President and his lieutenants are hell-bent on ensuring that cattle routes are established across the country in the 21st Century when developed nations have long embraced ranching.
Even if gazetted routes were still in existence, the global best practice of ranching would have necessitated de-gazetting of such routes in Benue as the current population of the state has made the ancient practice of animal husbandry untenable.
Governor Samuel Ortom had earlier recommended a review of the ECOWAS Protocol to make it more effective, and now that the Federal Government is considering implementation of the protocol, we think it is the best time for the review.
The current protocol has provisions on procedures for trans human movement within ECOWAS member countries and the provisions should strictly be followed.
It must be pointed out that the ECOWAS Protocol permits free movement of human beings but not free movement of cattle and other livestock. It certainly does not include the indiscriminate movement of livestock across national boundaries nor does it include the indiscriminate movement of armed gangs masquerading as herdsmen.
Provisions for quarantine services for livestock and prohibition of movement with arms as well as regulations that apply to human beings must therefore be enforced for improved security in the country.
Ghana is a member of ECOWAS but cows are not only banned from grazing openly in that country. Authorities there order that such cattle be killed. Here in Benue State, our law only provides that livestock which infringe on provisions of the legislation should only be impounded and fines paid, failure of which they are auctioned.
It is also pertinent to stress that the Open Grazing Prohibition Establishment Law 2017″ was enacted by the elected representatives of the people, the Benue State House of Assembly in exercise of its powers as provided for by section 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). Part 2 of the Second Schedule to the Constitution reinforces the House of Assembly’s power by providing that “a House of Assembly may make Laws for that State with respect to industrial, commercial or agricultural development of the State.”
With regards to ownership of Benue Lands and the natural resources therein, the Preamble to the Land Use Act which is also a Constitutional provision “… Vests all Land compromised in the territory of each State (except land vested in the Federal government or its agencies) solely in the Governor of the State, who would hold such Land in trust for the people and would be responsible for allocation of land in all urban areas to individuals resident in the State and to organisations for residential, agriculture, commercial and other purposes while similar powers will with respect to non urban areas are conferred on Local Governments. The Benue State Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law is therefore Legal and valid.
The All Progressives Congress, APC-controlled federal government ought to show greater concern about the frequent attacks and killing of hundreds of Benue people by Jihadists who openly declared their conquest and occupation agenda on the state. The Buhari administration should be bothered that it failed to give the people justice when they demanded it. The Federal Government should be concerned that more than one year after Miyetti Allah groups threatened to attack Benue and carried out their threats, no one has been arrested for interrogation.
We wish to restate that the Benue State Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law has come to stay and no amount of blackmail or intimidation can make the State Government to repeal or suspend the law.
Chief Press Secretary
January 18, 2019.