Last week, November 1st, 2017, the law banning open grazing of livestock came into effect in Benue State. Benue State like other Middle Belt States has since 2012 been experiencing annual waves of attacks by Fulani herdsmen.
Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, following the spate of attacks in the earlier part of the year had announced plans to ban open grazing in the State. Accordingly, he sent bill to the House of Assembly which, without waste of time, deliberated on the matter, including holding public hearings, and concluded on a widely acceptable draft bill that was signed into law with effect from last week.
Before the Benue State law, Ekiti State had blazed the trail when in 2016 Governor Ayo Fayose signed a law banning open grazing. The Ekiti law was greeted with skepticism; Fayose belonged to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). So, many assumed it was a political move guaranteed to fail. But, lo and behold, it worked. More so, the Ekiti government demonstrated firm resolve to make the law work. Herdsmen violence which was beginning to take root in the state was nipped in the bud. Ekiti State regained its peace.
Not surprisingly, a smart state as Benue, decided to follow suit as panacea for its own challenges. Unlike Governor Fayose, Governor Ortom belonged to the ruling party, the All Progressive Congress (APC). Amusingly, a section of APC partisans thought it was a challenge against the Federal Government, headed by President Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani man. In their twisted thoughts any action against a Fulani man is a challenge against the Federal government, even if the Fulani man in question is the murderer of your wife and children. Not for Governor Ortom; he knew that he belonged to the ruling party headed by President Buhari but he also knew that his primary responsibility was to the people of Benue State who elected him into power.
In response to the Bill, the Fulani socio-cultural organisation which goes by the name, Miyyetti Allah Kautal Hore, in a press statement signed by Alhaji Abdullahi Bello and Engr. Saleh Alhassan, the President and Secretary General respectively, described it as “wicked, obnoxious and repressive,” promising to mobilise herdsmen to resist it. Apart from the threat to violence inherent in the statement, the Fulani organisation, from its innate sense of entitlement at all times, went further to assert ownership of the entire Benue valley as the original occupants.
Their belligerent attitude, notwithstanding, after the law came into effect last week, they, through newspaper publications, are now appealing to the Federal Government to intervene. They were asking for a moratorium to negotiate with the state government what they call certain “grey areas.” This is a deceptive ploy which I hope will not sway Ortom’s tenacity; more so, that they have not rescinded their threat “to mobilise herdsmen to resist.”
Antagonists of the law say it breaches the constitutional provisions of freedom of movement and that it is discriminatory. I thought that is precisely what we were saying concerning the imposition of Shari’ah Islamic laws in some states in the North, beginning with Zamfara State, not so long ago.
We said that the purely Islamic laws would discriminate against the peace-loving Christian communities in the states. We were told that in a democracy it is the majority that mattered and that the minority could leave if they would not conform. But the constitution guarantees freedom of movement, we countered. Yes, there’s freedom of movement alright, they assured, but this is a federation; the state is empowered to make laws for the good of its people! They went ahead and imposed Shari’ah laws.
We thought the Federal Government will not allow this breach of constitutional freedom of religion; the ban on Christian activities, demolition of Churches, refusal to issue approval for Church buildings, kidnapping of teenage Christian girls for marriages, forced appearance in Sharia courts, etc. We thought that the Nigerian police will not cooperate. But what do we know? They formed their Islamic police to enforce their laws. Unfortunately, not only Muslims that are subjected to this but anybody within their jurisdiction. The Hisbah, Kano State version of the religious police, routinely sets up roadblock on Federal Highways in the state, to intercept transportation of alcoholic beverages by truck, plying the routes. Hisbah also routinely carries out raids on private property in Sabon Gari (the predominant Christian quarters) in search of Shari’ah contrabands.
The point I make here is that Benue State also has an inalienable right to make laws for peace and good governance. Benue State invoked this right owing to life-threatening activities of a certain group of people. It would have been irresponsible to do nothing in the circumstances. So I am not even remotely making a comparison with the Shari’ah law or the circumstances of its introduction in the North. In the Benue case, it was made to bring peace to the land but in the case of the Shari’ah law, tension and violence followed its introduction.
Howbeit, it is the same people who defended Shari’ah not too long ago that are now shouting hoarse that the anti-open grazing law is intended to banish Fulani from the state. No, it is not. Majority of the people of Benue are farmers and the federal arrangement empowers the Benue State House of Assembly to make laws for the good of the people.
It is a moot point whether the Nigerian police, controlled by Abuja, cooperates or not. If you didn’t know that Nigeria has been operating state police for a decade now, it is because you have not been to Kano and some northern states.
I hope the Benue State example will encourage Taraba State, which is in advanced stage of a similar law and spur my dear Plateau State, which is yet to make up its mind, in same direction. Terrorist violence, like matter, follows the theory of path of least resistance.