Open grazing in Nigeria is gradually becoming a thing of the past with the enactment of laws in many states to regulate and confine the indiscriminate movement of cattle across Nigeria which has resulted in attacks on farmers and cattle rustling.
Lives have been lost and property worth fortunes have been equally destroyed for an ancient practice of cattle rearing, that has refused change; that has refused to tune itself to modernity. But its continuous practice needed to be stopped or at best retuned to meet current realities.
Indeed, the times are not as before, the land is no longer much available for open grazing as Nigeria’s population has upsurged. This was what Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State saw and brought the solution: Ranching, while others were asleep.
In 2017, Governor Ortom signed into law the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment bill and a few months after, its implementation began though with stiff resistance from Fulani groups such as the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, Fulani Nationality Movement and even some Northern elders and political leaders with threats of war on Benue State. The marauding Fulani groups lived up to their threats by attacking and sacking people from their villages while killing many and destroying properties.
For the Fulanis, they frowned at Ortom’s initiative and will power to change their age long tradition. They questioned why could Ortom dare the north?
The attack on Governor Ortom is not strange to many because he has dared where many dread. His intentions, though good but against those who think Nigeria is only for them. And just like Major Debo Basorun (retired), the caliphate came hard on Ortom.
Major Basorun was General Ibrahim Babangida’s Public Relations Officer when the latter was the Head of State. He later lost his job for suggesting that the Arabic inscription adorned on almost all Army paraphernalia be changed to English since Nigeria’s official language is English. Basorun had good intentions but not good for the North.
In his book, ‘Honour for Sale’, An Insider Account of Dele Giwa, Basorun said he discovered his request for the change of the Arabic inscription was too hot for General Babangida to handle.
“… nothing seemed out of place, but his failure to act for another long spell led me to believe that army or not, some things may not change.” He wrote.
For Ortom, he has sacrificed everything to make sure that the long, uncivilized method of animal husbandry which sees the movement of cattle from North to South and has been a source of attacks on farmers, as well as some pastoralists is improved and replaced with ranching.
Governor Ortom’s decision to ban open grazing in his state was a decision he knew was putting his life at risk and for which an assassination attempt was made on him in March this year (2021). Only a few people would brace the odds in this manner.
The good news today, however, is that the ban on open grazing has been widely accepted in the country even by those who first opposed Governor Ortom. The names of Governors Simon Lalong, Nasir El-rufai and Aminu Bello Masari readily come to mind.
While President Muhammadu Buhari is still searching for grazing routes to be reopened, almost all the states in the south have enacted the law to prohibit open grazing while recommending ranching.
Unfortunately, as Governor Ortom is being commended for his doggedness, sacrifice and unwavering commitment to effecting a national developmental change, he has also been denied the fruit of his labour.
After the Governors of some states in the North, notably Kano, Katsina, Kaduna declared that open grazing was no longer conceivable, the President has started giving attention to them to establish Ranches. For instance, the President has approved for Katsina State N6.2 billion for ranching, while Benue remains unattended to. Where lies justice? Benue would have ordinarily been the first beneficiary of such assistance as part of commendation for the novel idea. But not for Buhari.
As of today, Governor Ortom is still nursing the wounds of the attacks on him and his people as a result of the ban on open grazing which he started and, the President is less bothered about Benue State.
Today, there are over 1.5million internally displaced persons in Benue State with some living in various IDP camps whose daily feeding is taking a toll on the state government finances. The Federal Government had promised the state to be part of the N10 billion earmarked for the resettlement of IDPs in the affected states, but till date, the Buhari administration has not sent Benue State a dime to that effect, while other states in the North have continued to benefit.
In addition to the neglect of Benue State, some selfish elements from the state who are feeding from the crumbs at Aso Villa have chosen to castigate Governor Ortom. They have betrayed their people for a pot of porridge. Such fellows hold press conferences in Abuja to insult the Benue State Governor and brand their people as killers. They print copies of the press conference text and take to offices at the Villa to prove how hard they are working.
Governor Samuel Ortom has become a victim of his stand on a policy that would transform Nigeria’s economy regarding animal husbandry for many decades to come. But by every measurement and stretch of imagination, Ortom deserves to be applauded, rewarded, appreciated and not victimized.
Benjamin Ngutsav writes from Agbeede, Konshisha Local Government Area