In recent times, there is nothing that has dominated public discourse more than insecurity which is said to be propelled by Fulani herdsmen attacks, leading to the debate on prohibition of open grazing of cattle – to be or not to be.
The discussions have been on for quite some time now to see or not how sustainable the nomadic practice of cattle rearing in the fast growing population and the spiral of crisis the practice has caused in Nigeria.
These discussions had risen to a climax at a time Nigeria is facing the worst ever wave of insecurity. It has also tested the country’s unity and foundation, leadership sincerity and purpose. The discussions have equally raised the question that between human beings and cows, which one does Nigeria place its premium on?
The statistics shows that armed Fulani herdsmen have killed thousands of people, predominantly farmers, and destroyed properties worth trillions of Naira in the country in the name of cattle rearing through forceful open grazing.
Unfortunately, herders’ attacks on farmers have been a yearly reocurrence without a solution in sight. All the palliative measures could not live longer than their life span. The measures failed and the search for a viable solution continued.
Different governments had proffered solutions to stop the carnage caused by herdsmen attacks on farmers but the efforts did not yield the desired results.
Then, came Governor Samuel Ortom’s Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017 which is today taking center stage as the only viable solution to the Fulani herdsmen attacks on farmers.
It is no doubt that Benue and other Middle Belt states have been the worst hit by herders attacks. Governor Ortom came prepared to perform the primary function of government: to secure lives and property of the people. But in doing so, he got more condemnation than commendation even from some his governor colleagues.
When Governor Ortom assented to the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law on May 22, 2017, he was greeted with a barrage of condemnations and insults of varying degrees especially from different quarters.
The Governor of Plateau State Simon Lalong is on record to have sarcastically remarked shortly after herders invaded Guma and Logo killing 73 people on 2018 new year’s eve that “I warned Gov Ortom not to enact that law”. He blamed his Benue counterpart over the decision to make a law to ban open grazing.
The Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore breathed out the first attack, vehemently oppossing the law and promised to wedge a war on Benue State should the law stand. They truly lived to their words.
At midnight on December 31, 2017, they struck in a mindless and coordinated pattern that left pregnant women torn apart with their unborn babies taken out and kept on their lifeless bodies.
Other Northern Governors like Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State descended heavily on Governor Ortom with accusations and condemnations, saying Governor Ortom was the one fueling crisis in the country with his anti Open Grazing law.
Regrettably, they had no solution superior to Ortom’s ranching policy. A few months later, their states were turned to killing fields by the same Fulani herders. But there were no laws against open grazing in Katsina, Plateau and the other northern states. Many Nigerians were wondering if Governor Ortom was still the one fueling crisis in those states. Governors Masari, Lalong and the others ate the humble pie.
In the face of the attacks, Governor Ortom was never deterred. He fixed his eyes firmly on the ball. He saw what other Governors could not seen.
While they were playing politics with insecurity and playing ostrich with deadly reality, Governor Ortom remained consistent with his single message: “Ban Open Grazing and Let Cattle be Ranched”.
Others dismissed his optimism but the Benue State Governor had these words for them: “I am hopeful, and my hope draws strength from the belief of the average Nigerian, that someday, this country will rise and embrace Ranching as a veritable solution to herders/farmers conflicts, the same way June 12 has been recognized as Democracy Day and M.K.O Abiola is acknowledged as winner of the 1993 Presidential election.”
The prophetic words of Governor Ortom are already becoming true. Today, his message of ranching is gaining acceptance across the land as more people who at first, did not see the ban on open grazing as a viable solution, have now not only accepted the option but are in a hurry to see it become reality.
When the South Eastern States came under attack by the maruading Fulani herdsmen, they borrowed the Ortom solution. They banned open grazing and asked that all cattle be ranched. Before then, other states like Osun had banned open grazing following the Benue State model.
Only yesterday (Tuesday), all Governors of the southern states met in Asaba to look into the security issues in the region and came up with many resolutions, among which was the ban on open grazing. This suggests how unsustainable open grazing has become in the country.
While the ban on open grazing has swept across some regions in the country, it is surprising how the core northern states which are the dens of bandits and armed herdsmen have remained cold and reluctant to ban open grazing. Why is it taking the Governor Lalong-led Northern Governors Forum to make this significant decision to stem the tide of killings. Why? Well, it is better late than never.
Northern Governors should call for a meeting and put an end to the daily killings by armed Fulani herdsmen. They should bury their shame and ask Governor Ortom the the framework to ban open grazing. They should save the North. The time to do that is now!
•Ngutsav, a public affairs analyst writes from Makurdi.