The Federal Government’s plan to establish ranches in parts of the country as a solution to the unending farmers/ herders clashes may not have gone down well with the generality of Benue people who collectively felt it was against their struggle to establish peaceful coexistence in the state through the state’s grazing law.
From the tribal leaders to youth groups and leaders of thought, they argued that the proposal posed a threat to their collective wellbeing and the grazing law which they collectively ensured came into force to protect the interest of farmers and herders alike.
The backlash that trailed the proposal in the state has no doubt brought to the fore the determination of the people to protect a law they gave their all to ensure its enactment in order to end the mindless killings and sacking of their communities by suspected militant herdsmen who mercilessly destroyed their communities unfettered and unhindered.
They queried the wisdom and rationale behind the decision of the federal government to plow over N179billion to establish ranches for cattle breeders who run individual private businesses for massive profit across the country.
According to them the proposal was a classical example of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ in a state where private business owners should play by the rules as stipulated by validly made laws as was enunciated in defined terms by the Benue gazing law.
Reacting to the proposal, the tribal leaders in the state under the aegis of the Mdzough U Tiv, MUT, Idoma National Forum and Omi Ny’Igede who rejected the plan expressed fear that the intent of the government could be a grand plan to grab and hand over Benue land to herdsmen in the name of ranches.
In statement issued sequel to the announcement of the new policy which was jointly signed by the three leaders of the three tribes in the state; Chief Edward Ujege, President-General Mdzough U Tiv, Chief Amali Amali, President General Idoma National Forum and Chief Ben Okpe, President General, Omi Nyi’Igede, they insisted that the provisions of the Benue grazing law should be the benchmark for grazing in the state.
The statement read in part, “the proposal is for the federal government to establish pilot cattle ranches in 10 states of the country including Benue and it has a 10-year plan estimated to gulp N179billion and N70billion is to be sourced by the government to commence the project.
“While we appreciate the position of the Federal Government to accept ranching as the global best method of animal husbandry, which has been our position in Benue State, we reject the idea by the Federal government to use public funds to construct ranches for private business of cattle rearing.
“We wish to state that cattle rearing remains a private business in the world and Nigeria in particular just like crop farming and should be treated as such.”
Continuing, the leaders said, “there is a law on Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment enacted by the Benue State government and the law makes explicit provisions for those interested in the business of rearing cattle to come forward, acquire land and build ranches.
“These herders will also have to abide by the terms and conditions of the land acquisition and the host communities will also have a sense of belonging.
“As we reaffirm our support and stance for this law and all its provisions, we view the attempt by the Federal Government to build ranches for herders in our state as a grand plan to grab our land and give it to herdsmen in the name of ranches.
“We wish to also reiterate our earlier call on the Federal Government to arrest and prosecute the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore for their complicity in the Benue killings.
“If these people are not arrested and interrogated for threatening to invade our communities and carrying out their threats, we will continue to treat both the Federal Government and our killers as one.
“We unequivocally reject the Federal Government’s continued push to actualize grazing routes and cattle colonies which Nigerians have vehemently rejected.”
On her part, a Woman leader and former House of Representatives member and Convener of the Benue Women Forum, BWF, Mrs Rebecca Apedzan maintained that the decision of the federal government was a misplaced priority which is at variance with global norm.
She said, “We have continually said that the federal government is behaving as if other parts of the country do not belong to the government.
At least we have businesses and we have business people. I had earlier said that ranches and private businesses are owned by individuals and they are lucrative and people are making a lot of money from them.
“Secondly, the people who own these cows are very wealthy people who gave them out to herders to graze in other people’s land. These herders go around killing owners of lands where they graze. Has the government made any attempt to arrest the masterminds of these killings? They should start by arresting the killers first. They have not stopped the killings but they are talking about establishing ranches.
“The first thing is to arrest those who issued threats to kill our people and eventually carried out the killings, these are the leaders of Miyetti Allah. They had gone to the press to threaten that the killings would continue until the Benue grazing law was repealed.
“They know the masterminds of the killings but they have refused to arrest them. Instead they go about arresting small boys of Tiv extraction calling them the killers. It is terrible, is that how you treat a people who don’t have protection? In fact we are supposed to be protected by the federal government. What kind of country is this? If I may ask, of what economic value are these cows other than to their owners? The owners are wealthy people. They obviously know countries where ranching originated from, but did they find that in those countries government built ranches for cow owners?
“I have been to several countries where ranches exist. Owners of cows build ranches and at the end of the day, they pay taxes to the government. That is what is obtainable everywhere. Why is it different in our country? Here, government will rather use that kind of money to build ranches for private persons who will derive huge benefits from it at the expense of others. We have a country where we have no roads, no schools, no functional hospitals and we lack social amenities. We have that kind of money and the government is not willing to invest it in social amenities. Our universities are glorified secondary schools. They want to put that huge sum in ranching when Nigerians are suffering. I weep for my country. We are vehemently against it and women or any person in Benue state will not support the plan.
“We can all see what Nigerians are facing presently, most state governments cannot pay salaries and we cannot blame the state governments because they don’t get enough to do that. The federal government is sitting on huge funds and want to build ranches for private business owners.
Public schools where the children of the masses attend are in sorry state, have they funded and developed them? They have failed to pay teachers well, they have failed to also pay doctors and nurses well. They want to take that huge sum of N179billion to build ranches for private individuals.
“Herdsmen came and killed our people and are still killing now but they want to build ranches on the graves of the innocent people killed by the marauders.
“Will the government also come and build our poultry farms, food and cash crop farms which have been destroyed? Or is it when we also rise and kill that they will build them for us?
“Those behind all these are reserving their land up North for the cultivation of food and cash crops but want our land for their grazing while they preserve their land for economic purposes.
They are now cultivating rice and other crops up North but we cannot go to our farms here because they have sacked our communities. Is it fair?
“Though it’s not my personal money they are using, but I pay tax and my husband paid his taxes before he died so I can speak on this matter because it’s our money. They should ask the herders to access land and build their ranches and pay taxes to government, that is how it works in other climes,” the widow added.
In his reaction, the National President of Tiv Youths Forum, Comrade Terrence Kuanum decried the decision of the federal government stressing that it was not in the best interest of the people of Benue state.
Kuanum said, “we the people are for ranching which remains our position in our struggle and we cannot negate it for any reason whatsoever.
The federal government policy does not go down well with us because we have a law in place and the decision to collect our land and give same to herders is against the Benue grazing law.
“We strongly feel that the policy is to undermine the law. Though we commend the federal government for finally accepting ranching as the best global practice of rearing animals but for Benue we have a subsisting law in place and it must be respected and used as the benchmark for any other policy that comes after. Anything short of that is certainly not acceptable to the people who in unison came out with the law devoid of government’s interference.”
The same position was reechoed by a former Chairman of the Benue State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, and chairman of the Benue State House of Assembly committee on information, Bem Ngutyo who commended the federal government for opting for ranching but maintained that the state’s ranching law had come to stay and should be respected by all parties including the Minister of Defence, Masur Dan-Ali.