Nick Dugba, Jalingo
These are not the best of times for states along the Benue River valley including Taraba state- popularly known as ‘nature’s gift to the nation’. The states have been embroiled in series of attacks by militias, suspected to be Fulani herdsmen,who have not hidden their aversion to the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, popularly known as the Anti-open grazing Law. In this article, Correspondent Nick Yashi, tries to find out the present situation of the Law and why the idea of state police becomes necessary.
The incessant crises between Fulani herdsmen and natives in Taraba and neighbouring Benue- at least since the inauguration of the administrations of Gov. Darius Ishaku and Gov. Samuel Ortom in 2015, may not be unconnected to the promulgation of the anti-open grazing Law in those states. Even though, it may not be the remote cause since the farmers/herdsmen crises have predated the current administration. Going by the intractable nature of the present crises, it is obvious the factors responsible for the herdsmen/farmers crises are multi-dimensional and multi-faceted.
There are many theories as to why we have those crises. Some say the Fulani have an unfinished expansionist agenda started since 1804 by Othman Dan-fodio. Another school of thought have it that ‘scarcity’ of rich pasture land in the face of competition with farmers is the economic factor giving rise to the clashes. The domineering authoritarian nature of the Fulani tribes men and manipulations by political opponents aimed at crippling the establishment has been attributed as another factor. Yet, the effect of climate change on the environment which forces the herdsmen out of their traditional bases in the far north to the rich lands around the Benue valley and others is yet another factor.
The rest however is history and on the table now is a new policy- the Anti-open Grazing Law which the Taraba State Government says is aimed at checking the clashes between the two groups.
According to government, the implementation of the Law would be in phases and gradual. It intends to run pilot ranches in the three senatorial zones as a test-run. Speaking during a Channels TV program recently, the state Commissioner of Information, Anthony Danburam, revealed that the Taraba version of the Law was different from that of Benue state and that the practice of ranching was already well in practice in Sardauna LGA. Ironically and unfortunately too, Sardauna had experienced some of the most vicious clashes in the recent past between Native farmers and Fulani herdsmen.
So far, the government has begun the gradual implementation of the Law by setting up a public enlightenment Committee well represented across board, which is headed by a renown grassroots mobiliser in the person of Galadiman Muri, Abba Tukur. He usually appears on radio and Television stations to speak about the policy and also hold town Hall meetings across the state to sensitive the citizens. Also, dramas, playlets and jingles are been carried out in major Native languages as a way of reaching out to the people who may be ignorant of the Law.
Apart from that, the government has begun the training of what it calls ‘anti-grazing marshals’, preparatory to the full implementation of the Law.
Unfortunately, the plan by the Taraba state government to begin full implementation of the Law, has been overtaken by events. No thanks to the attacks in the State, specifically in Lau LGA and Gassol LGA, where over 70 persons perished in the hands of suspected Fulani herdsmen in this year alone. Coupled with the disaster that happened in Benue recently and parts of Nasarawa, Plateau, Adamawa and Benue, the authorities had no choice than to muster the political will long overdue, to deal with the menace headlong and this time, the Federal government intervened, to suggest that the issue is beyond the states.
In a meeting of the National Economic Council recently, chaired by Vice president Yomi Osinbajo, decided to set up a committee on Farmers/Herdsmen clashes in those troubled states to be headed by Zamfara State Governor and Chairman, Nigeria Governor’s Forum(NGF), Abdulaziz Yari. By extension, a sub-technical Committee headed by Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, was set up to visit those troubled states. Part of its terms of reference was to interface with the stakeholders aimed at bringing an end to the crises and having swung into action, the Committee was able to visit the states of Nasarawa, Benue as well as Taraba which it visited between 19 and 21 February, 2018.
Having met with stakeholders and Tarabans in a Town Hall meeting spanning 14 hours in three days, the committee concluded its findings and observed that the major feuding party, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association(MACBAN) did not attend any of the public hearing held by the state legislature for the Anti-open Grazing Bill, neither did it appear before or make submissions to the panel of Inquiry established to investigate the farmer/Herdsmen conflict in Sardauna. Yet it was quick to run to the courts over the issue. It also observed and recommended that Sections 23, 24 and 25 of the Law be amended to address the fears of the herdsmen.(these sections merely provided for fines to be paid by persons whose animals are caught straying in contravention of the Law).
Besides that, the committee did not find anything wrong in the Law and therefore asked all citizens to accept the Law and not resist it as by doing so, a wrong signal might be sent and a negative precedent set in the citizens’ attitude to Laws at the federal, states and local government levels- a situation which might lead to anarchy. Such a situation might not after all augur well for a nation seriously desirous of peace.
By and large, the Umahi Committee had succeeded in interfacing with all the stakeholders including the Taraba government, tribal and religious groups, politicians, herdsmen and farmers, youth associations and critical stakeholders. It was more like a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” popularised by the Aparthied regime of South Africa and if we are to go by statements by Chairman of the sub-committee, Gov. Umahi, the findings, observationa and recommendations were agreed upon by all parties. To this end, he disclosed that there was a caesation of hostilities-meaning Taraba and the other troubled states might not experience further attacks by reason of the Anti-open Grazing Law.
Also, the committee had asked the feuding parties to withdraw any court case to allow for a committee known as the Peace committee to articulate and implement the recommendations in the interest of all parties.
Gov. Ishaku and the prospects of State Police
Having come this far in the quest to resolve the Farmer/Herdsmen conflict, there still remains a vacuum and more questions than answers to the problem. For instance, if it has been agreed that the attackers are Aliens, who then are their sponsors? Is the Fulani socio-cultural group, MACBAN, aware of these attackers and do they have control over these attackers? Are the Anti-open Grazing marshals currently being trained by the government, able to police Taraba State with a landmass of 54,473km2 in the face of a highly weaponized and anonymous enemy? Well, these are questions that have not been addressed in the various findings of the Umahi Committee.
But in an event held recently in Jalingo, by office of the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the Governor on Public Affairs, the State Commissioner of Justice and Attorney-General, Yusuf Akirikwen, simply said there is no cause for alarm.
According to him, “all these marshals are drawn from each locality in the State and if you see a sinister movement, you report it to the Law enforcement agencies. They are the ones that would enforce it. It is just like the vigilante. You have the right to arrest but if the person you want to arrest is stronger than you, you will use wisdom and ask the man that has bigger authority to help you do that…One, the marshals are picked from every locality in the State and their purpose is to enforce the Law and the enforcement is as directed by the rules”, he stated.
However, an on-the-spot assessment of the workability of the Anti-open Grazing Law in the State, carried out by this reporter, using one of the affected communities as a case study, leaves much to be desired. In the wake of the attack at Wuro-Jam community in Gassol LGA, a team of Journalists were at the scene of the incident. One noticeable factor that might work against the seamless implementation of the Law is the state of infrastructure. The entire stretch of the untarred road to the scene of the attack is straddled by hamlets and farmsteads tens of kilometres into the bush with no presence of a police post and means of communication. It was a journey that almost all members of the team were convinced, upon arrival at Jalingo, that they took an uncalculated risk. Yet people live there and they belong to a community that produced some of the highest volumes of yams in the State. Therefore, the issue of infrastructure, must as a matter of priority, be addressed before the Law can be successfully implemented in the state.
This then brings us to the issue of state police, in which the State Governor, Darius Ishaku, had always hammered on. The necessity of it was even brought to the public domain by no one else but the vice president, Yomi Osinbajo.
The nation had been inundated with debates on State Police in the recent past. Perhaps, the variegated opinions might have been shaped by those who have need for it and those who don’t. The often imaginary fears that it could be used by those in authority against their political opponents, have now been overshadowed by the real threat of its absence. The Taraba Governor has however, never hidden his preference for a state police and to him it could be a solution to the killings been experienced at his backyard. Recently, during a function in Jalingo, Gov. Ishaku did not hide his fears over the current structure of the nation which has helped in exacerbating the security situation in his State. “We swore as leaders to defend the lives and property of Nigerians… unfortunately, we are given the powers as chief security officers. We have the crown without the staff. How can you be the chief security officer when you don’t control the power that goes with it? I always believe if I have the police under me, i will not have the troubles at all because I would have rooted all the crimes”, he boasted. Shockingly, a few days after the Governor exposed the plan to attack the State, WuroJam community was attacked and a family brutally murdered.
As a matter of fact, the fears that state governments might resort to self-help by raising ‘militias’ might not be far from realisation if there is no deliberate step taken to give states the power to run their own security apparatuses. An unfortunate scenario took place recently when the Emir of Kano, accused the State of training militias. He might have percieved the anti-open Grazing marshals, as ‘militias’. All these are recipes for future disasters. Ultimately, should state governors be forced to run their “security outfits” in order to contain their predicaments, we might end up triggering what we initially feared- a state of anarchy and disorder.They need constitutional backing.