Anti-grazing law: I can’t be intimidated by anybody – Gov Ortom

Anti-grazing law: I can’t be intimidated by anybody – Gov Ortom

Wednesday, February 7, 2018 1:01 pm


Governor Samuel Ortom:

…ready to die for the law

Benue State Governor. Dr. Samuel Ortom fielded questions from the media on the anti-open-grazing law, and the recent killings by suspected herdsmen in the state. TheNews was there.

Q:You have recently signed the anti-open-grazing bill into law in your State. Are surprised about the opposition that you are getting, with its implementation now?

Yes, let me agree that am surprised on one hand. But, on the other hand I an not surprised, because this has completely exposed the herdsmen and their sponsors. All the rigmarole on what is happening is not about grazing, it is about occupation, it is about taking over and thank God that today they have come out to their true colors to say that Benue land belongs to them. I am shocked that people can be thinking and talking like that in the 21st century. How do you defend such puerile claim?

I am aware that all of us migrated from somewhere. From history we were told that the TIV people migrated from Congo, the Fulani’s migrated from Guinea or Mali. It is like that with several other people. Yoruba also migrated from somewhere, likewise the Igbo. But, we all came here and God brought us together to sojourn in this part of the world called Nigeria.

What is important is for us to live together in peace. We have a constitution guiding and directing our activities. We are all required to obey that constitution.

I want to ask and know if the anti-open-grazing law is within the legal framework of the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s constitution?

Yes of cause it is. Nobody will challenge that and nobody has ever attempted to do so. Although, they may like to take us to court; that is legal and we are ready for them. All that we did are within the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. As Governor and as a Government, it is our constitutional responsibility to make law for the peaceful co-existence of our citizens and that is what we have done. The primary responsibility of any responsible government is to ensure security of life and property of its citizens, and that is what we have done.

Before the passage of this law, you will recall that from 2011 there had been killings all over the place. When we came in 2015, we applied the then existing law, bringing the people together and trying to educate them on why we must live together. That did not succeed. We did everything we could. But, the more we tried, the more crisis we saw, the more killings and the more destruction. So, we decided to look at the global picture and look at what is obtainable in animal husbandry in other parts of the world. That is why we came out with this law. It is a win win law for those who want to adhere to it. We appreciate both farmers and herdsmen and the law protects each group. As I talk to you, those who have accepted the law are living peacefully with other farmers.

Since the 1st of November, 2017 when we started the implementation of this law, everybody has been okay until we saw the practical demonstration of the threat of Miyeti Allah cattle Association about them attacking and resisting and opposing the law that was legitimately passed by the Benue people. Those who wanted to graze in the open, were told to find a state where they have a land where you can do your open grazing. It is not acceptable here. Open grazing is against our laws. Those who want to stay in Benue state have to acquire land to make ranch. We have also said because it is a new policy and it needs funding we are not looking for a standard ranch par say. But, once you are able to restrict your cattle within a place that will not trespass into somebody’s farm, we are ready to support your stay. That way, the farmer was happy and so was the herdsman. Then, suddenly the attacks came, and the aggression began. You can see where we are now.

One of the arguments why some people oppose the anti-open-grazing law is that there is no facility on ground for its implementation, water for instance for the cattle, etc.

See we did our research and all over the world, cattle rearing is not government business but personal/private business. So, it is not the responsibility of government to provide ranches for the people. Ours is about policy, regulating and monitoring to ensure compliance with the law. It is very simple you want to stay in Benue state, you can stay irrespective of your ethnicity, you are free to stay. But you must obey our laws. If you are a herdsman, you must ranch. You can choose a site where you can have easy access to feeds and water for your animals. It is as simple as that, it is not our business to go into procuring land or constructing a ranch for anyone. Our law is very clear about this. All that our government does is to receive application of those who want permission to do their ranch and once that is done, land is allocated. It is left for people to, just like an average farmer government cannot direct them where they can site their farm. You identify the land you want, if you are the owner fine, and if you are not ask for permission from land owners, you can lease it or hire it or outrightly buy. So that is it .

It is amazing. I used to think that immunity is the prerogative of the President, Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors. I never knew immunity can be given to other groups. It is not written anywhere or in the constitution of Nigeria, but herdsmen and their cattle have immunity to carry(Ak47) gun and commit crimes at will. No one apprehend them. It is only when people carry knife that they are being apprehended by security agencies. This is not fair and it amazes me when people try to divert attention from the main issue.

Recently, the minister of defense claimed the blockage of cattle route caused the killings in Benue state. How will you react to that?

A:Am very sad and I am so sorry for Mr. president because as Governor is expect my lieutenants to support me to do this work. Mr. president cannot be everywhere. You have a minister of defense who is so ignorant about what is happening around him even on defense matters. I feel more disappointed for a man who retired in the Nigeria army as a General and now minister coming out to say that it is not about any other thing but it is about the law that brought this crisis. It is a shame on him as a minister and our country for having someone like him as a minister. It is not acceptable, here is a man who would have gone back to history, get down to memory lane he would have appreciated that this crisis did not start now. It started in 2011 and has continued. So, the law is just a way to finding a lasting solution so that our people can live in peace. What have we done wrong? We followed the procedure, due process was followed, the needful was done. For him to have said that the law is causing the crisis is completely ignorant and someone like that shouldn’t have been in charge of anything in this country. He should have known that in Plateau state several people were killed including yesterday people were killed, he should have known that in Taraba state the law was not in place there but the people were killed. He should have known that in Kaduna state killings are going because of farmers and herdsmen clashes. In Edo, Bayelsa, Ondo, Ekiti, and all over the place, there are violent clashes between herdsmen and farmers. Yet, no anti-open-grazing law in such places.

In the South, East and West this crises are going. Why should a minister come out to say it is the law? It is laughable and I feel so sad and sorry for the president having that kind of lieutenant. He is among the people who do not have the capacity to help Mr. President to deliver on the mandate that we give him.

Do you feel that this is the voice of the federal government on this matter? I have engaged with some citizen and what I get is that even though military personnel are deployed, they are not being given command to engage or stop the Fulani attacking the people. So is this the reflection of the body language of the federal government on this issue?

Well I don´t know about that. But, I know Mr. president is a man of integrity and I have always known him for that. Even and during our last meeting he said we are giving him a chance to prove that he is still a man of integrity. He is a man that we trusted and believed in. We trusted our security in his hands that he will be able to give us justice, to be fair and ensure equity as we have known him all these years. I don´t want to jump into conclusion about what he thinking. In fact at a point I wanted to disagree with those who came to break the news to me that the honorable minister of defense said this because I can´t believe that the minister of defense in the Federal Republic f Nigeria, will say that kind of thing. So I don´t want to believe that this is the position of president Buhari.


The other day DSS came here on the information that those people attacking Benue state are terrorists from Islamic State of West Africa. For God’s sake if terrorist come to attack Benue if we are part of Nigeria, whose responsibility is it to stop those terrorist? The minister of defense shows that he is ignorant of his duty by coming out to say that the people attacking us are foreigners, can foreigner just come into this country without any valid papers, is it because they are Fulanis?

However. the truth is that we are not satisfied with the response of the federal government on this matter. We are in a federation. In such a federation, we have the federal government, state and the local government. All of us have our different roles to play, it is about division of labour. Local governments have their role, state governments have their role and the federal government has its role. It is our duty to make law as far as it does not contradict the provision of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is the responsibility of the Federal Government to enforce the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and enforce the laws that are made by state or local governments.

We don´t have the coercive power which are the security agencies and we expect them to live up to expectation. This is our worry we expect them to give us security. That is why I have said that I will continue to cry, I will continue to talk and I will continue to shout, I will continue to jump, wherever I go to let the world know that injustice is being perpetrated on Benue people for reasons I don´t know. But, I think that they are in support of the invasion that is taking place in Benue state and until justice is done I will not stop talking. We will not back down on our laws. I cannot be intimidated by anybody. If they want me to stop talking, then they should give us Justice.They say, Ortom talks too much. Why won’t I talk, when there is no Justice?

The magnitude of the crisis in Benue state does not seem to register outside the state. I came here to find out that there are over six IDP camps and over 100,000 displaced persons and the attack is still growing. This is Benue state, the food basket of the nation. What is the impact of this on the agriculture and the economy?

The impact is massive I’ am afraid. I happen to be a member, as a person and then as a state of the Zero Hunger Program of the United Nations, U.N. I am afraid that all the plans that we have in a state whose economy is driven by peasant farmers and supported by the civil servant will come to nothing. We are in a situation where the resources are not enough to take care of the people with N7.8 billion wage bill, so salary are not paid as at when due because what comes in from the federation account and what comes in as I.G.R are not enough to cope with the N7.8 billion. So, actively Benue state economy is supported by agriculture. Now with this displacement at the time when people are supposed to be harvesting their products, the farms are now left at the mercy of the herdsmen who have immunity in this country Nigeria.

It is amazing. I used to think that immunity is the prerogative of the President, Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors. I never knew immunity can be given to other groups. It is not written anywhere or in the constitution of Nigeria, but herdsmen and their cattle have immunity to carry(Ak47) gun and commit crimes at will. No one apprehend them. It is only when people carry knife that they are being apprehended by security agencies. This is not fair and it amazes me when people try to divert attention from the main issue.

Governor Samuel Ortom:

What do you mean by divert attention?

People who have sworn to give protection to, you have abandoned this and are talking about Ortom or Benue state raising 6,000 militia. Where are the militias? If we have militias with AK47, the one they were displaying on TV, for God’s sake how will my people be slaughtered right under my nose, in my own local government and ward? The Federal Government should stop this kind of distraction. We are not ready for this. I tell people that I am a Christian, the Bible says you shall know the truth and that the truth shall set you free. Until we begin to say the truth, work in truth or we begin to practice the truth; this country will not go anywhere.

I want to see my country do well, getting the right people in place. Not like the minister of defense who will want to turn black to white. Which kind of country are we in? It is laughable when people try to twist fact and try to divert attention. You talk about militias, the other day DSS came here on the information that those people attacking Benue state are terrorists from Islamic State of West Africa. For God’s sake if terrorist come to attack Benue if we are part of Nigeria, whose responsibility is it to stop those terrorist? The minister of defense shows that he is ignorant of his duty by coming out to say that the people attacking us are foreigners, can foreigner just come into this country without any valid papers, is it because they are Fulanis?.

It is not accepted. Benue people are not ready to allow foreigners without valid papers settle in our land. We say no to illegal migration. This thing we are saying is war. It is about occupation and they have exposed themselves. We heard one professor saying that they conquered Benue in 1887. It never happened. It’s all camouflage and they are trying to deceive people. We are in the 21st century and we are too wise. It is a fight that we would fight with our blood. We will not relent. We will continue to stand against injustice.

What is the practical solution to this problem?

A: The solution to it is for people to be obedient to the law, to obey the law. Globally, in America, Europe, Asia all the country that have made laws, they have learnt to obey their constitution, laws of the land. It is our constitutional right to make law so people have to obey it. There are no two ways about it. The land we have here is for agriculture and ranching. Not for open grazing.

They are talking about cattle colony. The Nigeria we have now, is different from the Nigeria of the last century. Nigeria with a population of about 200 million persons is not the same Nigeria of the 1950s with a population of about 50 million, when cattle routes and open grazing was practiced. In the 1950s our land size was 926,000 square kilometers with that population. Today our population has increased but our land size has not increased. In fact it has reduced, with the ceding of Bekassi to Cameroon. Our development efforts like roads, hospital, companies etc have also taken part of the land. Where is the land for colony? We must migrate from the colonial or nomadic ways of thinking and doing things. It is impossible to live in the 21st century and think you will do things the way it was done in the 1950s. That is not development. It is anachronistic.

They are talking about cattle colony. The Nigeria we have now, is different from the Nigeria of the last century. Nigeria with a population of about 200 million persons is not the same Nigeria of the 1950s with a population of about 50 million, when cattle routes and open grazing was practiced. In the 1950s our land size was 926,000 square kilometers with that population. Today our population has increased but our land size has not increased. In fact it has reduced, with the ceding of Bekassi to Cameroon. Our development efforts like roads, hospital, companies etc have also taken part of the land. Where is the land for colony?

The Miyetti Allah Cattle Owners Association have issued threats against you. Are not afraid about your safety?

No. Not at all. Life belongs to God. I am a Christian. If you read 1 Samuel chapter 2 from verse 1 to 9, it talks about the Lord giveth, and it’s He that taketh away. The Lord gives life and is the only one that can take it away. I am not afraid of anything. It is true, I have had threats that they are going to kill me or do this and that. I God does not permit it, there is nothing anybody can do to me. Nothing happens. I am not afraid of any human being. No human being can take away my life. I believe in God. I also believe in love, fairness, Justice and equity. I believe the right things should be done and in fighting for it, I am ready to sacrifice anything and everything. That is what I stand for.

Going by some recent utterances form the minister, the IGP and the Professor that claimed conquest, do you suspect a gang up against your people?

Sure. Not that I suspect. There is a gang up and I have said it over and again. It is not about grazing. Their interest is the land. They want to forcefully take our land from us. We will not allow it. There is a gang up. I am not suspecting anything. I am saying it that it is a gang up to take our land by the powers that be.

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