NLTP, Anti Open Grazing Law As Instruments To Curb Herder/Farmer Conflicts in Benue

From Msurshima Andrew, Makurdi

Months after the Benue State government launched the National Livestock Transformation Plan, (NLTP), signalling its interest to implement the federal government policy on livestock in the state, many farmers and herders
are perhaps, still in limbo on what the policy is all about.

During the launching, Governor Samuel Ortom also amplified anuncompromising stand that the plan can only be implemented in absoluteadherence with the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches EstablishmentLaw, 2017.

Investigations however reveals that most farmers and herders are ignorant of the provisions and workings of the two policies. To many of them, farmers especially, the NLTP and the Anti OpenGrazing Law are two different policies hence, there is no compatibility between the NLTP and their most revered ranching law.

Their suspicion is that it may still be the rejected RUGA, grazing reserves, or cattle colonies in disguise and they may not be blamed for the confusion because those who spoke tou correspondent said there has not been enough sensitization on the part of government o enable understand and embrace it.

On the other hand, the herders have been throwing spanners on the supposed policies especially the law. Thisperception is buttressed by the stand of Miyetti  Allah Kautal Hore (a Fulani social cultural group), when it threatened last year that “any state that would not implement Ruga, or grazing reserves will not know peace.”

However, to ensure understanding and acceptance of the two instruments, it is instructive to sensitize the public, both the farmer and herders on the merits, demerits of the policies (NLTP, ranching law), a responsibility the governmentof Benue state must take seriously especially that it intends to domesticate the ranching aspect of the federal policy.

247ureports however spoke to some experts; the Commissioner forAgriculture and Human Resources, Dr Timothy Ijir and a legal practitioner, Barr. Joseph Gbagyo who gave to following analysis.

 To begin with, the NLTP is planned to “birth tailor-made-ranches where cattle are bred and meat and dairy products produced using modern livestock breeding and dairy method”. This, according Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, is expected to “solve the problem of grazing into farmlands,” which hitherto generates crisis.

As a plan targeted at supporting the development of Nigeria’s livestock sector, NLTP has a unique feature. It gives any participating state the freedom to determine and or choose its ownmodel especially as it suit their peculiarities. Suffice to say that,the plan has different models, and each participating state, includingBenue, is required to implement the model it deemed suitable without anyform of coercion. In other words, the federal government is not in theposition to choose for states which model to apply, hence Benue hasadopted the ranching model.

According to the Commissioner of Agriculture and Natural Resources inthe state, Dr. Timothy Ijir, Benue state government have asked questions concerning the policy and is convinced that it is a programme that they must key into. He enthused that one good thing about the programme is that it is not taking away land from Benue state to give to any foreigner. 

“That was one thing our people were edgy about. But the programme is for the development of livestock by Benue people for the benefit of Benue state. So, we have been allowed to domesticate and implement it according to our ownneeds and advantage and we are focusing on animals like pigs, sheepand goat and of course cattle and other livestock. We have formed the various steering committees to work out how it will be implemented.”

The Commissioner also expressed the belief that the implementation ofthe NLTP will go a long way in further reducing and possibly eliminating the herder-farmer clashes in the state saying the Benue’s Anti Open Grazing Law prohibits animals roaming about in the open grazing format and encourages the establishment of ranches. He said this will not only end the conflicts but will ensure economic development of Benue state.

Earlier in the launch of the programme, Vice President Osinbajo, had also emphasised that the NLTP is not RUGA, “because the idea of RUGAsettlements launched by the Ministry of Agriculture created problem when it was perceived as a plan to seize lands to create settlements for herders, and that is why the president suspended it”. He had assured that the plan is an all stakeholder inclusive project and will beimplemented as a collaboration project between the Federal and Stategovernments, farmers, pastoralists and private investors.

Instructively, any model of the NLTP requires, the State Government orprivate investors to provide the land, the federal government does not and will not take any land from a State or local government. In other words, any participating state will provide the land and its own contribution to the project. The federal government merely supports,particularly the funding.

This is perhaps where the Benue state government is expected to intensify commitment to the actualization of this project. The land use act empowers only States government to administer use of land, and they must be seen to be willing to provide the required land for itspreferred ‘Ranches Model’ to be constructed as specified in the NLTP.

Remarkably, while the plan requires that ranches be built for herderson the land provided by states, the ravaged homes of victims (farmers)of the conflicts are to be rebuilt under these plans amongst other benefits. This part, if properly and promptly implemented, will answer the call by Benue state government and victims of the crisis that their homes be rebuilt to enable them go back to their ancestralhomes.

Summarily, NLTP is built on six key pillars; economic investment,conflict resolution, law and order, humanitarian relief, informationeducation and strategic communication and cross-cutting issues.

According to the plan, the economic investment pillar would supportand strengthen the development of market-driven ranches in seven pilotstates (not in Benue) for improved livestock productivity through breed (genetic) improvement and pasture production, in addition to efficient land and water productivity.

This pillar of the NLTP seemingly agrees with the already existing Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law in Benue State, as it seeks to develop ranches in gazetted communities for herders. It is said not to be “RUGA” in disguise as feared by many.

Here, just like the herders, farming communities in Benue also stand to gain economically as the herders will be made to partner the farmers in providing food for the cattle perhaps, during the dry season through hay. This may be another means of livelihood or sourceof income for farmers who may decide to venture into hay trading.

The Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Mr Kwasari while rolling out the document recently informed that the plan include creation of large ranches in each of the 10 pilot states.

According to him “A Ranch Design Plan has also been proposed in models of various sizes clustered in 94 locations in the 10 pilot states. The governmentintends to transition pastoralism to ranching in order to reduce thestruggle for common resources,” Mr Kwasari stated in his presentationof the plan.

In terms of size, the proposed ranch size models are: “Cluster 30, 60,150 and 300 cows’ ranch models in a location within the donated gazetted grazing reserves and “a minimum of 1000 cow breeder ranch in seven of the 10 pilot states.”
While the people of Benue are highly expectant that everyone in thestate will embrace this alternative form of animal husbandry, it is hoped that the FG plan which also upholds ranching model will neutralize their fears and give peace a chance through this policy.

Under the second Pillar of the plan, which is “Conflict Resolution”,the government also said it would rebuild social capital at thecommunity level to promote mutual trust, confidence building andconsolidate the peace process.

This according to analyst may foster coexistence through dialogue,forgiveness, reconciliation as well as restitution. It is, of course, a truism that the social bearings of the people including the farmers and herders were lost while the crisis lingered, but there is need to redevelop trust and the courage to live together again amidst thegenuine efforts of the Federal Government. The ugly past must be leftbehind. This must be the resolve of the farmers – communities andherders if the conflict resolution pillar is to yield results.

The plan also showed that the “law and order pillar” would support thestrengthening of legal frameworks for improving livestock production,peace and harmony.

This pillar lends credence to Benue ranching law, especially as it concerns its implementation. The ranching law seeks to abolish open grazing, and by doing this, offenders are to be called to order. The law also require the state government to build ranches. This iswhere the FG’s plan compliments the limited efforts of the stategovernments in enforcing compliance to the already existing laws of the land.

Spontaneously, the ranching law of Benue state and FG’s NLTP seeks tobenefit both the farmers and herders as well as avoid indexes that spark hostilities as well as protect the means of livelihood and economic base of both the farmers and herders.

The fourth pillar, humanitarian relief will focus on rebuilding and reconstructing of common facilities, worship places, markets, schools, health centres and individual homes that have been destroyed.

Expectedly, this pillar is long overdue. Many believe that if the victims of this crisis who are suffering various set backs are rehabilitated, the Federal Government would have solved the problem by almost half.

They also state that the psychological trauma of becoming destitute in their fatherland, need wholesome healing that will bring relief to them and gradually rebuild trust and courage to co-habit again.

The plan will benefit the communities greatly. Ravaged homes of victims, schools, worship centres, markets places and basic facilities are to be constructed and equipped by the federal government. Suffice to say that with this plan, the likelihood of those suffering invarious Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camps to resettle at theirancestral homes is inevitably close in sight.

The fifth pillar will aid information, education and strategiccommunication on the development of ranches in the frontline states and mitigate the consequences of these conflicts such as wanton loss of lives, destruction of properties, including schools and facilities.

It is believed that accurate and adequate systemically sensitization and education of the average or illiterate farmer/herder on the policy will go a long way in addressing misconceptions and misunderstanding of the plan which may lead to negative or adverse reactions.

The ‘cross-cutting’ pillar identifies various pressing issues necessary to realise the objectives of the programme, which include monitoring and evaluation and research to contribute evidence base in programme implementation as well as gender mainstreaming, the planshowed. This is where the people expect to see how genuine the government is in implementing this.

In the same vein, just like the specifications of the NLTP, the BenueState Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law voidsgrazing in the open. According to Barr. Joseph Gbagyo, the ranching law sees movement of cattle by foot from one destination to another as a violation punishable by the law. It also prohibits sale of leased land by the rancher or his agent.

“It prohibits cattle or animal rustling and sees it as a contravention that is punishable by law. It goes ahead to prohibit open nomadic livestock rearing and grazing in the state, as well as unauthorized entry into individual ranches.

The law explains that any contravention that causes damage to farm, crops or property of any person, the owner or Manager of such livestock shall, after evaluation by the authorized Department, pay the prevailing value of monetary compensation of the farm, crops orproperty so damaged, to the owner.

It also explains that any person(s) who rustles cattle or other animals from any ranch commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than three (3) yearsor N100, 000.00 per animal or both. Also anyone caught moving cattle on foot within or across the urban centres, rural settlements or any part of the state commits an offence and is liable to pay a fine of N500,000 or one year imprisonment or both for first offenders while second offenders will be fined N1,000,000 or three years imprisonmentor both. The law prohibits crisis, injuries, maiming and killing of anyprovocation with stringent penalties.

Gbagyo however, noted that unlike the ranching model of NLTP which requires state governments to provide a large portion of land where the ranches will be constructed, possibly in clusters, Benue ranching law requires anybody interested in livestock business (Rancher) tosecure a “ranching permit” (from the state Ministry of Agriculture) that gives the legal authority to set up and operate a ranch.

He said these are perhaps the grey areas of the law that deserves to beharmonised by the Benue State government, if the NLTP must beimplemented compatibly alongside with the Open grazing prohibition and ranches establishment law. He further suggested that state government who are key decision makers in theallocation of lands must cooperate and collaborate with all stakeholders for the actualization of this policy.

He also said the herders and especially its Miyetti Allah Kauta Hore socialcultural group must, as a matter of necessity, shelve derogatorystatements targeted at undermining the progressive process of peaceand security that is being canvassed variously.

Similarly, the farmers who are obviously in the vicious circle of fear and distrust must be willing to build fresh ties with the herders whom they long lived with. They must be seen to be willing to accommodate the herders as long as their herding business does not affect orhamper their means of livelihood which is farming.

Most pertinently, governments on their part must be handy in ensuringfull implementation of the six focal pillars of the National LivestockTransformation Plan in Benue State. By this, prudent management andappropriation of the N100 billion meant for the project must be upheldin the spirit of sincerity, honesty, accountability and fair play without any iota of compromise.

Of course, to give peace a chance, all hands needs to be on deck, and the time is now. The peace initiative and efforts of stakeholders including federal and state government, non-governmentalorganizations, civil society organizations, religious/community leaders, groups and individuals must be acknowledged and sustained to yield positive results. But it is instructive also to maintain thatthis tempo of collaborations be taken to another level that would permanently resolve the herder-farmer conflicts for the overall, peace, security and progress of Benue state.

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