By Usha Anenga
When Governor Samuel Ortom said there was no land in Benue State for grazing and then sent the law which prohibits open grazing while encouraging establishment of ranches to the state assembly, we thought we had a plan – to deny Fulani herdsmen access to land in Benue State, shut the door permanently with an anti-grazing law and then generate revenue for ourselves with ranches. However, the events of the last week has left many bewildered and wondering what the new plan is.
Benue State Government has allocated land to Fulani herdsmen for grazing in the Agatu, where over 500 people were killed less than one year ago by same herdsmen. They claim this allocation is to “indigenous Fulani” – a word whose meaning is still being search for, but let’s face the fact, there is no place for open grazing in this era of civilization whether for so-called “indigenous Fulani” or those from Mali and Chad or anywhere else in the whole wide world.
Once upon a time when Fulanis were practicing nomadic farming, our ancestors who are farmers were also practicing shifting cultivation which is also a crude method of crop farming where a piece of land, after being used for a while is completely abandoned for another, and that too abandoned for another after a while and on and on.
Over time, with civilization, nobody practices shifting cultivation nowadays, it has no place in today’s society, people are encouraged to acquire land to farm. Even as Benue State is dominated by farmers who are the real indigenes, the government does not allocate land to anyone for farming.
Fulani herdsmen are the only people that have refused to modernise the modus operandi of their business, they are still practicing 17th century nomadic farming in this jet age, whipping cattle from Sokoto to Porthacourt, selling unpasteurized milk, spreading sleeping sickness and shedding blood in their wake. We cannot begin to encourage this, government certainly should not moreso that this issue is claiming lives, thousands of lives, it should not be encourage.
The decision to accommodate and give land to herdsmen in these times is clearly anti-people and devoid of the input of the people of Agatu and Benue at large. I’ve been to Agatu, I’ve taken humanitarian aid to IDP camps in Ugbokpo in Apa local government and interacted deeply with the victims. They would never cede an inch of their lands to any type of Fulani herdsmen if they had the choice.
If democracy is really government of the people, by the people, FOR the people and we have one, let’s take a second look at this issue and retrace our steps back to the former path of prohibiting grazing temporarily while we put laws in place to finally put the issue to bed Or it will amount to cheap prophesy to say that what happened last year will repeat itself. My heart goes out to the victims of the future, my heart goes out to me.