Chief Ameh Madaki is a lawyer and a 2019 governorship hopeful on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party in Benue State. He justifies his anger against the Anti-Open Grazing law in this interview with PHILIP NYAM
You are an indigene of Benue State but your recent criticism of the Anti-Open Grazing Law on a television talk show did not go down well with the government and most people of the state. What is your position on this law?
For the records, I am in support of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law as signed by the governor in May 2017. The law in my view is probably the best piece of legislation that has been passed by the Benue State House of Assembly since the creation of the state in February 1976. I make bold to say this because the impact of that law, if well implemented, would go a long way in improving the quality of agriculture in the state and establishing Benue as the true food basket of the nation. I have no doubt in my mind that the Benue House of Assembly was right in putting together that law. I also have the privilege of comparing that law in Benue with the version passed by the Ekiti State House of Assembly and I am convinced that the version in Benue is much better when it comes to protection of the rights of indigenous farmers and the prohibition of the primitive art of grazing, which has been abandoned in every other part of the world.
Apart from Nigeria, it is very rare to find cattle roaming about in any civilized country. The law in itself is well thought out and well drafted, well-constructed; the only challenge that we have with the law is that the implementation has been very poor. The government has not thought through the process of implementation in a structured and intelligent manner. The bill was signed into law on May 22, 2017 with an implementation date of November 1, 2017. The challenge that we now have is that after the signing of the bill, the government gave a grace period of about five months and went to sleep; but nothing was done within the five months to ensure that the institutional framework to make the law effective was put in place. There was no ranches established; there was no framework to encourage establishment of commercially viable ranches by private entrepreneurs of Benue State origin who would have access to land of about 10 hectares and above. So the government was just waiting for November 1, to test its resolve against the resolve of the herdsmen. I don’t think that is the right way to go. Government makes laws in order to regulate the behavior of human beings within its own geographical area. A law should not be a booby trap to see what would just happen. If you do that you will create a loophole for people to take advantage of it either positively and negatively. In this case, because the clashes between herdsmen and local farmers have led to so many needless deaths, government should not have toyed with this issue the way it has done. So the challenge and major grouse I have has nothing to do with the law but with the very shoddy and uncoordinated manner in which the government is implementing it. And I think we have a lot to do.
Your explanation seems to differ from the comments, which people who listened to you on the TV programme alleged that you said.
Actually, to be a true leader, you must be able to ride against the tide and get your people to see reason and support the process of proffering a solution that is long lasting; not necessarily to play to the gallery for cheap political ends and short time gains. That is what I was complaining against. This law is great but the way it is being implemented will rather bring further crisis between the herdsmen and local communities that may lead to needless loss of lives again. Even in the course of the implementation, one life was lost in Logo, because the way government is implementing it led to an anomaly. If on the 31st of October, it was legal to graze your cattle but from midnight it was no longer legal, what do you do with the cattle without providing where they could move to legally? A cow is a massive animal that you cannot easily put in a cage. So, the question I ask is, if you say they can graze till October 31st and you did not start warning them earlier and they say we have four months more then November 1 comes. People may be tempted to carry machetes and start chasing any cow or sheep they see roaming around, especially in a state where salaries have not been paid for 10 months and pensioners have not been paid for 16 months.
And when they see that the governor has declared open grazing illegal, they may just be tempted to go after the cattle and the owners of the cattle will also not fold their arms and watch. That is a recipe for disaster; and when it happens, what you are trying to avoid will be exacerbated. This is what I was complaining about. What I said on Channels TV that day was not new; for over two months I sounded this warning and I provided a recipe which will bring an enduring solution to this problem. We have seen that this is a problem of incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers and a situation whereby cows stray into people’s farms and eat up whatever people have struggled to cultivate in the whole year leaving them helpless; and when the indigenous communities complain, the herdsmen will attack them and kill them. This has happened in Agatu, in Ukum, in Logo in almost every part of Benue. So, the anger is understandable and legal. But how do you solve this problem so that it becomes a win-win situation? You can’t just wish away herdsmen like that and you cannot also allow them to graze openly because that practice is primitive and non-sustainable and it leads to crisis and deaths. What I expected a responsible and thinking government to do is to create a business enterprise out of ranching so that indigenes of Benue who have access to land will be able to access single digit interest loans from Bank of Agriculture facilitated by the CBN with a long moratorium period of between five to 10 years. With this you will be able to set up a ranch, build a school suitable for nomadic education, build accommodation for herdsmen to live in; you build a hospital; you will also build a modern abattoir and build boreholes. So, when you do that, in the same law you provide that within 30 days of commissioning of any ranch, any livestock within 50 km radius must be taken to the ranch or forfeit it to the state government. If you make that kind of law, the investor who is putting his money into ranching knows that there is benefit in that. The government can also subsidise the cost of proving ranches. If you do this, the local communities will begin to welcome the herdsmen. You provide security at the perimeter of the ranch, there will be only one entry and one exit. So, if you provide these ranches, they will be of benefit not only to herdsmen of a particular ethnic group but even the local communities. That is what I believe that the law was meant to achieve and that is what I expected the governor to have done. This is what I am advocating.
But many people are of the opinion that you want to discredit government efforts in arresting the menace of herdsmen in the state because you belong to an opposition party and you are perhaps working for herdsmen…
I don’t see it that way. Quite frankly, I use to be in the APC but decided to move to the PDP for strategic reasons. I cannot play politics with human lives. Discussing the issue of herdsmen and farmers is talking about the hapless people who have lost their lives and property. So, no responsible person will play politics with such a thing. That is why it is good to have an alternative government, so that you put government under pressure to do things right. When you see a loophole in the implementation of a law, you voice it out because if everybody will toe the line of government for the fear of being branded an opposition then we will not be helping our people. When I am criticizing it is not just empty talk because I am also proffering solution and if the government thinks it has a better alternative let them put it on the table. What I expected was for government to send people from the ministry of agriculture to go and learn how to ranch so that they could come and provide extension services to people who own ranches. They can go to Argentina, Chile, and South Africa and learn the art of ranching. But I hear that up till today, cows are still grazing openly and not a single herdsman has been arrested for contravening this law. If they cannot enforce the law that they have enacted then what is the fanfare all about?
You said you left APC for strategic reasons? What are they?
As you can soon witness, my great party, the PDP is going to organize a massive defection ceremony for me before the national convention. I left the APC because the future of Benue does not belong to the APC as presently constituted in the state. The APC government led by Governor Samuel Ortom, who incidentally is my friend, is not capable of delivering on the promises of change, which we propagated. We are more than two years in his government but we have not seen any capacity to deliver and I hate failure in my life. So, why would I be part of an organisation with a government that does not take advice offered to it free of charge? At the end of the day, I have to look for an environment where my views will be valued. I tried to contest for House of Representatives in 2011, it did not work out but I remained in the PDP till close to 2015 when it became clear that my desire to run for senate could not be realized in the PDP. Because the then Senate President, David Mark wanted a fourth term and I felt that an alternative party could offer me that. I think if the APC had given me that ticket. I would have given him a serious fight. But I have learnt my lessons and I am wiser now. Having looked at the terrain and what the people of Benue deserve and considering the level of incompetence and ineptitude I have seen in the APC in the state, I can assure you that I won’t run for senate or House of Representatives. But I will seek a higher office.
There are rumours that you want to challenge Governor Ortom…
You have said so. If you believe it, I can do it; I am not timid to take the gauntlet. I am very much considering running for the governor of Benue State. I believe I can transform the entire structure of governance in the state. I will demystify the position of governor. I will not be called Excellency until the last day in office; because a situation where governors or public officials misbehave and fail to perform and yet are addressed as Excellency is unacceptable. I will run the state with the best brains by putting square pegs in square holes.