West & Central Africa

Anti-grazing legislation to protect Christians from Fulani herdsmen

The Governor of Benue State, in the middle belt region of Nigeria, Samuel Ortom has said that hundreds of people, predominantly Christians, have been killed by Islamic Fulani herdsmen in the state in the last three years.

“Between 2013 and 2016 alone, Fulani herdsmen killed more than 1,878 men, women and children in cold blood from 12 local government areas of Benue State. Another 750 were seriously wounded while 200 are missing. Over 99,427 households were affected in Benue State and property worth billions of naira destroyed,” the Governor told Edward Kallon, Country Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees.

Governor Ortom explained that the conflict with the Islamic herdsmen has been long-term, “For over a decade, the people of Benue State have noticed the influx of armed herdsmen who have violently attacked many communities in the state. In 2014 alone, the destruction recorded across 10 local governments in Benue State exceeded N95bn,” Ortom said.

To curtail the killings and destruction of communities, the Benue State government, in May, passed and anti-open grazing bill. At the signing, the governor warned the herders that “fines for roaming animals will be heavy; such animal will be auctioned if the owner failed to pay the fine within seven days.” Ortom stressed his determination to protect local communities. “Now that the bill has been signed into law, the law will take its course on anyone that goes against it,” as those prosecuted will serve a five-year jail term or pay a fine of N1 million, (approx. £2000) or both. The governor warned both farmers and herdsmen against carrying any firearms.

The anti-open grazing bill was welcomed by both Christian and Muslims in Benue State. Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, (CAN) Reverend Akpen Leva, and Chief Imam of Gboko Central Mosque, Sheikh Ibrahim Bala, led supporters in a procession to express their gratitude to the governor. The Chief Imam said the bill will bring an end to the chronic conflict that has existed in the state.

Opposition to the bill, however, came from an Islamic Fulani herders’ association, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore – a branch of an Islamic political pressure group that had defended herdsmen in the killing of Christians in the Middle Belt said the bill is “wicked, obnoxious, repressive and a deliberate attempt to enslave them.” The herdsmen said they will resist its implementation in the state.

The Christian Association of Nigeria, through its Youth Wing President, Daniel Kadzai, said, “There is no developed country that is practicing open grazing now, what is being operated is ranches which reduce the high level of sickness the animals may contract, so we must embrace ranches in Nigeria,” he said.