Flak trail Dan-Ali’s call for abrogation of anti-grazing law

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Senate, Reps, Benue, Taraba, Ekiti states ask minister to withdraw comment

The minister of defence, Mr. Mansur Dan-Ali, has come under a barrage of criticisms for his call for the abrogation of anti-grazing laws enacted and implemented in Benue, Taraba and Ekiti states.

He said on Tuesday after a after a security meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa in Abuja that the suspension of the law will calm the tension in the volatile states, especially in the middle belt.

Dan-Ali had also called for the creation of safe routes for herdsmen.

But the Senate, the House of Representatives, Taraba, Ekiti and Benue state governments on Wednesday condemned the minister’s recommendation describing it variously as “illegal”, “unfortunate”, and “anti-democratic”.

Speaking on the floor of the senate on Wednesday, Mr. Barnabas Gemade (APC, Benue North East) expressed disappointment at the minister’s statement as he asked that the minister to withdraw it.

Making reference to an attack in his senatorial district two days earlier where about seven people were killed and many others wounded, Gemade said the state is “under siege by an unknown satanic force which has gone under several names; herdsmen, gunmen, bandits.

“While we are looking up to government and security agencies for protection, we get so dismayed by the attitude of those who lead these security forces.

“The security chiefs met with the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. We don’t know what they discussed. But after the meeting, the Minister of Defence came out and made a statement and in that statement, he said the states of Benue and Taraba that have enacted the law on anti-grazing must remove that law.

“It was very strange to me that in the mind of the Minister of Defence, the only way he can solve the problem of hundreds and thousands of people being killed in the states of Benue and Taraba is that the law they made against open grazing of cattle where you cannot control the conflict between herdsmen and farmers should be removed so that anarchy can go on as it was the case before,” he said.

He stressed that farmers and herders need the land but there should be a way where a law will be enacted to ensure that one person is using the land according to law.

“This is not the first time we’ll hear this kind of absurd statement coming from no less a personality than the Minister of Defence.

“He (Dan-Ali) is from Zamfara State and I wonder if all the killings in the state are also as a result of the anti-grazing law. And if the killings in Zamfara has nothing to do with the anti-grazing law, why does he think that killings in other states are because they enacted the law?

“It was very strange to me that in the mind of the minister of defence of this nation, the only way he can solve the problem of hundreds and thousands of people being killed in Benue and Taraba states is that the laws they made against open grazing of cattle – where you cannot control the conflict between herdsmen and farmers – should be removed, so that whatever semblance of law to keep law and order should be removed and anarchy can go on as was the case before.

“We must advise the minister of defence to promptly withdraw that statement that he has brought to the public domain,” said Gemade.

In his contribution, Mr. John Eno (PDP, Cross River Central) described the minister’s statement as “unfortunate” and called on the security agencies as well as the federal government to look beyond the anti-grazing law.

“Going against the anti-grazing law is not the solution to the killings going on. It is just most unfortunate that after a high level security meeting yesterday, the only thing that will come out of such meeting is the minister’s statement. The fact remains that, there is no solution yet. There is still no appropriate response yet.

“Is the idea to protect the herdsmen or to protect citizens of the country? Security apparatus of the country should look beyond the anti-grazing law. As a parliament, we need to understand that the anti-grazing law is not the reason why there are killings in the country,” he said.

The Senate, thereafter, called on Dan-Ali to withdraw his statement on his call for the withdrawal of the anti-grazing laws in Benue and Taraba States saying “the laws were properly enacted in accordance with the powers of the state Houses of Assembly.”

For its part, the House of Representatives called on the National Security Council not to direct states to suspend  their respective anti-open grazing laws.

The House said such a directive would infringe on the constitutional powers of the states to make laws for the security and welfare of their citizenry.

It passed the resolution after a member from Benue State Mr. John Dyegh, brought up the national security council’s decision under matters of public importance.

Dyegh, a member of the All Progressives Congress, reminded members that the 1999 Constitution empowered state Houses of Assembly to make laws for the states.

He cited some laws made by states before the anti-open grazing laws like the laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol and prostitution.

The lawmaker noted that it smacked of hypocrisy to say some laws were acceptable, while others were not.

He said: “The laws against sale of alcohol and prostitution are there. They are still being implemented as we speak, no matter how inconvenient they are to the victims.

“Why is the anti-open grazing law an issue? Under the Land Use Act, land is vested in the hands of the state to hold in trust for the people. Why is the law against open grazing such an issue to them?”

Rather than asking the states to suspend their laws, the House called on the federal government to submit a supplementary budget to develop cattle colonies in the 11 states that volunteered land for the purpose.

The session, which was presided over by the speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, passed the resolution in a unanimous voice vote.

In his reaction, the governor of Benue State, Dr. Samuel Ortom, faulted the minister and described his comment as “offensive”, Ortom tells minister

Also, the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom,  has faulted the minister.

Speaking through the commissioner of information and orientation, Mr. Lawrence Onoja Jnr., the governor asked Dan-Ali to withdraw the statement.

“We call on Mansur Dan-Ali to, as a matter of urgency, withdraw this highly offensive statement against Benue State and the victims of herdsmen killings in the state.

“Over 500 Benue indigenes have so far lost their lives to herdsmen invasion of the state since the New Years Day,” he said.

Ortom, said the minister’s outburst was at variance with the position of the National Economic Council, presided over by the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, which had endorsed ranching as the best global practice.

He added that while  the minister was dissipating his energy on the law, he had yet to call for the arrest and prosecution of the Miyeiti Allah leaders who had allegedly openly and consistently threatened more bloodshed in Benue on account of the law.

He said that the state government had acted within the ambit of the constitution, which empowers states to make laws for the good governance of the people.

Ortom said that there was no going back on the implementation of the law as prosecution of offenders was going on smoothly.

“We have no apologies to the Minister of Defence or anyone,” he said.

For his part, the governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayo Fayose described Dan-Ali’s comment as “affront to federalism.”

Fayose who took to his twitter handle said: “Call by the federal government  through the minister of defence, Dan-Ali, that states should suspend implementation of the anti-grazing law is an affront to federalism that is practised in Nigeria. It is amazing that at the level of the Presidency, they still see states as appendages of the Federal Government.

“January this year, the minister of defence blamed passage of anti-grazing law in some states as the cause of killings by herdsmen; today, he is still singing the same song. Is there something to this old system of nomadic cattle rearing that they are not telling Nigerians?

“Why is @MBuhari not rearing his cows through open grazing? Why is it so difficult for the Federal Government to support cattle ranching? Here in Ekiti, the anti-open grazing law stays. It is the Presidency that should stop looking the other way while herdsmen go about killing Nigerians.

“I think the presidency should be concerned about how to take the herdsmen out of the bush and give them decent life by embracing cattle ranching. How can anyone be pleased subjecting his own people to a life of following cows through the bush from Yobe to Lagos?”

Later in a press statement, Fayose said the federal government lacked the power to suspend or abrogate the anti-grazing laws enacted by the state governments to prohibit open grazing of cattle in their states.

Said the governor in a press statement issued in Ado Ekiti and signed by his chief press secretary, Mr. Idowu Adelusi: “The country is a federation and that Ekiti is one of the federating units and the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is clear on what each unit can legislate on.

“On this subject, the federal government has no control and cannot interfere. This is a matter of law.

“I want the federal government to know that we are operating a democratic system and that we are not in the military era when the government is run by decrees and fiats. Those in the federal government contemplating to suspend a law enacted by the state can only be appointed by a quasi-military government and not a pure civilian government.

“Let them know that the Ekiti State Anti-grazing Law has come to stay and we have no apology for that. Where were they when our farmers were being hacked down in various parts of the state?”

Similarly, the Taraba State governor, Mr. Darius Ishaku said “there is no suspension of our anti-grazing law.”

The senior special assistant to the governor media, Mr. Bala Dan Abu, who responded on behalf of Ishaku, said the defence minister and the federal government lacked the power to ask a state to dump its law.

“I’ve read about his call that the anti-open grazing laws by state governments should be suspended. I think his position is a misconception of what the laws by the various state governments are set out to achieve or maybe he’s just pretending not to understand the issues relating to killings by herdsmen. Killings have not just started in the Middle  Belt states, in the North and other parts of the country.

“If the open grazing law is the problem, how does he want to explain killings in Kaduna, Zamfara and Kogi states that have no such law? He is pretending, he understands the issue and that is why we, in Taraba State, are rejecting his call for the suspension of our anti-open grazing law.

“We will not suspend our law because we are running a federal system of government and so a state is free to make laws that will suit its people. Anyway, the suspension of the law is not the solution to the problem of killings in the country particularly killings carried out by Fulani herdsmen.

“The solution to the problem rests with the Federal Government because it has all the mercenaries to deal with the issue. The Federal Government is in control of all the security apparatus of the country, the problem is that the security agents are not getting the right instructions and even when they give them the right instructions, the political will to do the right thing is not there. So, the defence minister and all his security chiefs and the police should do the right things and they should not take sides like they have been doing.”

However, Dan-Ali said in his reaction to the torrent of criticisms that “I only made a suggestion” and pleaded that his recommendation should be treated as a suggestion and no more.

The minister’s spokesman, Col. Tukur Gusau, explained that the minister had only made suggestions, adding that he was not aware of any such comments from the senators.

“The minister is only making a suggestion. Of course, we agree states can make laws, but he is only making a suggestion. I am not aware that the senate has made any such pronouncement. Let us give it time. Let us hear what they said. For now, I cannot say anything,” he said.

With Punch and Premium Times reports

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