By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor, Emman Ovuakporie, Peter Duru & Rotimi Ojomoyela
ABUJA—The outburst of the Defence Minister, Mansur Dan-Ali, that President Muhammadu Buhari asked states implementing the anti-open grazing law to stop forthwith, drew anger from Benue, Ekiti and Taraba states, the three states currently enforcing the law, which three vowed not to repeal the law.
It also elicited strong reactions from both arms of the National Assembly, the Senate and House of Representatives, which asked the Defence Minister to withdraw the statement.
Benue State Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Lawrence Onoja, told newsmen in Makurdi that there was no going back in implementation of the law.
Onoja said: “This is the second time the Minister would abdicate the responsibilities of his office as defender of Nigeria’s territorial integrity and descend so low to become champion of herdsmen’s interest.
“He has justified the incessant herdsmen unprovoked attacks on the so-called blockade of cattle roots and grazing reserves. He spoke as if this is a justifiable reason for militia taking the law into their hands.
“By his call, Dan-Ali has restated his partisanship and support for occupation of the Benue Valley and other fertile lands in the country by marauding herdsmen.
“We want Nigerians and the international community to compel the Minister to quickly prove to Benue people that he has no personal scores to settle in this crisis or is playing the script of some unknown people. We would like him to respond to the following questions in the interest of fairness, justice and equity.
Questions for Dan-Ali
“Is the State House of Assembly of a state in Nigeria constitutionally empowered to make laws for the promotion of peace, development and welfare of the people in the State? How come Mansur Dan-Ali is calling for the negotiation of safe cattle routes for the herders without a single mention of farmers who have been violently dislodged from their homes and farms? Who would take the responsibility of taking care of the needs of these farmers who have lost their means of livelihood with their farms and crops destroyed by herdsmen militia armed with dangerous weapons?
“Who would avert the looming famine in Benue State on account of this mindless destruction of lives and farming communities? Why has the Minister of Defence not made a single reference to the plight of the 180,000 Benue indigenes taking refuge in eight IDPs camps in Benue? These people are also Nigerians who deserve to have a sense of belonging in Nigeria.
“Most of these people are farmers who could not go back to their farms for fear of being attacked by herdsmen who are still carrying out sporadic attacks on Benue communities as we speak.
“We ask, is the Minister of Defence speaking for himself or on behalf of the Federal Government because his latest outburst is completely at variance with the position taken by the National Economic Council, NEC, on ranching, headed by Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, the Vice President.
“The NEC at its recent meeting, endorsed the practice of ranching in states experiencing clashes between farmers and herders. In the same vein, the Northern Governors’ Forum also issued a statement recently supporting the ranching of livestock as the best form of animal husbandry that guarantees increased productivity of dairy products.
“The Ministry of Agriculture was also part of the National Economic Council that came out publicly to support ranching. Based on this available facts, the Minister of Defence, occupying such a sensitive office should please clarify on whose side he is in these herdsmen crisis in Benue and other states.
“We call on Mansur Dan-Ali to as a matter of urgency withdraw this highly offensive statement against Benue State and the victims of herdsmen killings in the state. Over 500 Benue indigenes have so far lost their lives to herdsmen invasion since the beginning of this year.
“We view this latest statement as only serving to embolden these herdsmen militia to unleash more attacks on Benue as the various Miyetti Allah groups have used the anti-open grazing law to invade Benue and lay false claim on the ancestral land of the Benue people.
“The Defence Minister is yet to publicly call for the arrest and prosecution of the Miyetti Allah leaders who have openly threaten more bloodshed in Benue on account of the anti-open grazing law.
“Benue State government headed by Governor Samuel Ortom would not relent on working within peaceful means in line with the rule of law to restore peace. We call on the Benue people to remain calm and continue to report suspicious movements to the security agencies and remain vigilant.
“We wish to reiterate that Nigeria’s Constitution empowers states to make laws for good governance and the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017 was made in this regard.
“The Ranching Law is a creation of the people of Benue State who enacted it to provide a permanent solution to the herders and farmers constant clashes.
“There is no going back on the implementation of the law as prosecution of offenders is going on smoothly. We have no apologies to the Minister of Defence or anyone,” Onoja said.
Why we can’t repeal the law — Lawmakers
Benue State House of Assembly also unanimously declared, yesterday, that neither President Muhammadu Buhari nor the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, had the powers to compel a repeal of the Benue State grazing law.
The lawmakers also passed a vote of no confidence on the Minister and urged him to resign from his position for incompetence and ineptitude.
Raising a motion of urgent importance on the floor of the Assembly, the Majority Leader, Mr. Benjamin Adanyi, drew the attention of members to publication in several newspapers where the Minister was quoted as calling for the repeal of the ranching law in Benue and other states.
He said: “We are worried that this comment is coming from a person whose duty it is to protect and safeguard the lives and property of the people.
“Our grazing law was a piece of legislation that was validly put together after due consultation and inputs from all segments of our society, including herdsmen, and it did not contravene any provisions of our constitution.
“Hence anyone that has grouse with the law can contest its validity in the courts because the statement could trigger emotional reactions that could snowball into a major crisis. We, therefore, hold that we cannot repeal the law because we stand by it.”
Ruling, the Speaker of the House, Terkimbi Ikyange, upheld the position of members and advised the Defense Minister to immediately resign.
The law stays in Ekiti — Fayose
Reacting to the Minister’s statement, yesterday, Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State said implementation of the law was irreversible.
In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Fayose wondered why it was difficult for the federal government to support cattle ranching.
The governor said the federal government should be concerned with finding a way of taking the herdsmen out of the bush, in view of giving them a better life through ranching.
“Call by the FG through the Minister of Defence, Dan-Ali, that states should suspend implementation of the anti-grazing law is an affront on federalism that is practised in Nigeria. It is amazing that at the level of the Presidency, they still see states as appendages of the FG.
“In January this year, the Minister of Defence blamed passage of anti-grazing law in some states as the cause of killings by herdsmen. Today, he is still singing the same song. Is there something to this old system of nomadic cattle rearing that they are not telling Nigerians?
“Why is @MBuhari not rearing his cows through open grazing? Why is it so difficult for the FG to support cattle ranching? Here in Ekiti, the anti-open grazing law stays. It is the Presidency that should stop looking the other way while herdsmen go about killing Nigerians.
“Methinks the Presidency should be concerned about how to take the herdsmen out of the bush and give them decent life by embracing cattle ranching. How can anyone be pleased subjecting his own people to a life of following cows through the bush from Yobe to Lagos?”
“According to the provisions of our constitution, the state governor is the Chief Security Officer of the state and is empowered by the constitution to make laws for the good of the state through the House of Assembly.
“On this subject, the Federal Government has no control and cannot interfere. This is a matter of law.
“Let them know that the Ekiti State Anti-grazing Law has come to stay and we have no apology for that. Where were they when our farmers were being hacked down in various parts of the state?
“Thousands of farmers and other innocent people have been killed by herdsmen since January this year in Benue, Taraba, Adamawa, Nasarawa, Plateau states among others. Thousands of people have been displaced. Millions of naira worth of properties destroyed. The killings have become daily occurrences.
“The Muhammadu Buhari administration does not have any solution to it. The Federal Government should find solutions to the problems and not trying to reverse the gains we have recorded in Ekiti State and which is being replicated by other states where the leaders have the interest of their people at heart”, Fayose said.
The minister is deceiving Presidency — Taraba Gov
Similarly, Governor Darius Ishaku of Taraba State said the state government had no intention of rescinding the law.
The governor, who spoke through his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mr. Bala Dan Abu, accused the minister of being insincere in his claim that the law was responsible for the current spate of insecurity in the land.
He asked the defence minister to explain to Nigerians why there were massive killings in Zamfara and Kaduna states, which do not operate anti-open grazing law as Benue, Ekiti and Taraba.
He said: “The minister is pretending and trying to deceive and confuse the Presidency and the security agencies with his suggestion.
“We reject his suggestion in all ramifications and make it very clear that no amount of threat or blackmail will make us to rescind the law.
“Let the minister be told that the killings in Taraba precede the passage of the anti-open grazing law. The killings peaked in 2012, three years before the current administration came into office.
“As the defence minister, he should be bold enough to advise the Presidency and the service chiefs to give the right command to the security agencies to deal with the killers and bring their sponsors to book as a deterrent to others.
“If the minister pretends not to know, the anti-open grazing law in Taraba State is meant to protect both the herders and farmers and maximise the use of land.”
Withdraw your statement, Senate tells Defence Minister
Reacting to the statement, Senate also yesterday directed the Defence Minister to retract the offensive statement.
Senator Barnabas Gemade, APC, Benue, had raised a motion under matter of public importance, stating that on Tuesday, seven people were killed and several houses burnt in his senatorial district.
Gemade said: “Most disturbing is the fact that upon all that was discussed at the security meeting held on Tuesday, what came out from the Minister was that the anti-grazing law should be withdrawn.
“Killings and burning of houses is fast becoming a daily occurrence in my senatorial district and we are under the siege of all known satanic forces called armed herdsmen, rustlers, faceless fully armed people killing our people and the matter is endless.”
The Benue lawmaker further explained that “the national security agencies we look up to for protection are not helping matters and after the national security meeting presided over by the Commander-In-Chief, we do not know what was discussed but all the Minister of Defence announced is that Benue and Taraba states must remove anti-grazing law.
“The Land Use Act vests power in the state governor on behalf of the people and we do know that farmers need land, the herders too and if the law is removed, is the minister calling for anarchy? And if he is calling for anarchy, who do we run to?
“Zamfara, where the minister hails from, has experienced killings almost in the same magnitude as Benue State or even more and the killings started seven years ago, even before the law was enacted.
“I think the Republic of Nigeria is being misadvised by those advising the President on security matters and the Minister should withdraw the statement.”
He also prayed that one minute silence be observed for the departed souls.
In his contribution, Sen John Enoh, APC, Cross River, said: “The motion is a straightforward one, the killings have been on going for the past four years, so the anti-grazing law was not the reason for the killings and this Parliament should go above all primordial reasoning on this issue.”
According to Senator Emmanuel Bwacha (PDP, Taraba), the killings in the minister’s own state of Zamfara are even more than those of Benue and Taraba states, even though there is no anti grazing law in Zamfara.
The presiding officer, Bukola Saraki, put the motion to a voice vote and it was unanimously endorsed.
The lawmakers, thereafter, observed the one minute silence for the departed Nigerians.
In the same vein, the House of Representatives kicked against the Minister’s statement at plenary, yesterday.
The House’s position was sequel to a motion under matters of urgent public importance raised by John Dyegh, APC, Benue, and resolved that the call on states to suspend the law should be rescinded.
Dyegh said there was no need for suspension of the law when about 11 states have agreed to donate lands for cattle colonies in a bid to end the clashes between herdsmen and farmers.
Contributing to the debate on the issue, Nkiruka Onyejiocha, PDP, Abia, said the minister’s recommendation was uncalled for and that the issue of colonies should also be dropped.
She said: “We can’t be talking of colonies. What people are doing is ranching. It’s not proper to say a state should suspend a law passed for the welfare of its people.”
Adopting the prayers of the motion, the lawmakers also urged the federal government to “immediately submit a supplementary budget to the National Assembly to develop colonies in those states that have agreed to donate lands (for them).”Related