Elder statesman, Chief Edward Ujege, President General of Mdzough U Tiv, recently led the leadership of the umbrella bodies of the three major tribes in Benue state to raise alarm over alleged impending invasion of the state by herdsmen ahead of the November 1st. Implementation of the Open Grazing Prohibition Law in the state. In this interview with Uche Nnorom, he lamented the federal government’s indifference to herdsmen menace in the country and it implication to the unity of the country, the open grazing prohibition law and others. Excerpt:
What has prompted the unease in Benue state and the alarm being raised over alleged impending attacks in the state by herdsmen?
The leadership of the three major tribes in Benue state which includes the Mdzough U Tiv, the Idoma National Forum and the Omi Ny’Igede, who invariably represent the entire populace in Benue State are worried about the misfortune that befell us leading to the wanton killing of our people and destruction of our property by herdsmen. The situation became so terrible that we had to call on the state government to do something. And due to our outcry, the government, through the House of Assembly following due process, enacted a law which is now known as the open grazing prohibition law to check the conflict between herdsmen and farmers in the state due to the limited land and the growing population in the state, considering that our people are basically farmers. When this law was enacted in good faith, which called for the establishment of ranches, the Miyetti Allah vowed that they would resist it by all means available to them. They even threatened to go to court to challenge it but that did not bother us.
Unfortunately, our calls for action from the federal government have been falling on deaf ears as nothing has been done to call them to order. It will interest you to know that in 2014 alone over half a million people were displaced in our state and the future of almost a million youths truncated in the various attacks carried out by the herdsmen while properties worth over N95 billion were destroyed. Yet not a single person has been arrested or prosecuted for these dastardly acts.
We have had enough of the conspiracy of silence against our people and state. We believe that this security intelligence just gathered about the massing of cattle and militia to invade Benue may be well known to the Federal Government and the security agencies but as usual, they may do nothing until Benue is over run. But this should not be allowed to happen this time around. If the Federal Government can effectively tackle the menace of Boko Haram, Niger Delta Militancy, IPOB and other acts of insurgency across the country, one wonders why they cannot tackle the herdsmen excesses particularly in our State.
We feel threatened because we know what they can do, we have experienced it before. They have even claimed that they settled in Benue for us, which means they now want to come and occupy the land and we will have nowhere to go. We have gone to the Governor to raise alarm and to tell him to reach out to people of goodwill to come to the rescue of the people of Benue state. He has to go to the President and to talk to the National Assembly. We are also going out to talk to other tribal associations, traditional rulers in the country and anybody who cares to listen including the international community that we are in trouble and that they should come to our aid. We are worried because of these killings.
We are appealing to those in authority to check their consciences, have they done enough to prevent this mayhem being visited on our people?
What do you think could be the reason for this latest threat?
It is actually because of the new law. But the point is that if they adhere to the law it will be a win win situation for the herdsmen and farmers. It will check the amount of killings and damages everyone suffers. The fact of the matter is that the said law in is in compliance with the provisions of the Nigerian constitution. It has no provision that is anti people. It ensures peaceful coexistence and the protection of lives and property of everyone.
What is the position of the people of the state on the enactment of the new law?
We are solidly behind Governor Samuel Ortom, our support for him is 110 percent. Come rain come shine we are with him. And come November 1st which is the date for the commencement of the implementation of the law, whatever legal means or action that is taken we are with him. We will make sure that the law is applied to each and everyone. I may remind you that the law is not only about cows; fortunately it is about every animal or livestock and owners of such irrespective of who you are or where you are coming from.
The law applies to everyone in Benue state but unfortunately it is only one group that is kicking against it. So when the law comes to being, even our people who breed animals are going to be affected.
I must also point out that the law makes provision for the protection of the herdsmen, because it has provided that anyone caught involved in livestock rustling would be prosecuted accordingly. So it is out to protect the herdsmen and farmers alike.
The law will finally rest the cases of bloodbath in our rural communities because we have been a very peaceful people. Our people go to their farms to produce for the country. So we are quite sure that when the law comes to being quite a lot will be achieved and not only in the area of animal husbandry but also the chain reactions making Benue peaceful, improving the economy, improving the socio-cultural advantages in all manners.