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Fact Check: No public evidence showed President Buhari supported Anti-Open Grazing Law

THE Presidency may not entirely be right about President Muhammadu Buhari’s support for the Anti-Open Grazing Law enacted by the Benue State Government to check killings between the herdsmen and farmers in the state.

Senior Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the President, Garba Shehu, on Sunday had issued a statement reacting to alleged hate campaign from Governor Ortom against the President, claiming that Buhari supported the anti-open grazing law.       

“The allegations coming from Ortom were particularly unfair, when one considers how much support the governor received from the Federal Government, which supported his grazing laws as a means to end the farmer-herder crises that have plagued the state.

“If not for President Buhari’s insistence that the governor be given a chance to effect the law, he would have faced resistance from different sources and found it difficult to implement,” the presidency claimed.

But contrary to claims by the presidency, state and federal lawmakers including other prominent Nigerians publicly appealed for President Buhari’s support the law, without success.  

The law, initiated by the Benue State Assembly and implemented by the State government and led by Governor Samuel Ortom in 2017, was part of measures to restore peace in Benue.

But findings revealed that there was no time where the President categorically supported the anti-open grazing law which was outrightly kicked against by the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN)), Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore Fulani Socio-Cultural Association among other pastoral groups.

Member of Buhari’s minister of defence,  Mansur Dan Ali in January 2018 asked states implementing the anti-open grazing law – Ekiti, Benue and Taraba to stop the law and repeal it.

The National Executive Council (NEC) chaired by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo also insisted on ranching.   

“Whatever crisis that happened at any time, there has to be remote and immediate causes. What are the remote causes of this farmers/herders crisis? Since Independence, we know there used to be a route whereby these cattle rearers use.

“Cattle rearers are all over the nation, you go to Bayelsa, you see them, you go to Ogun, you see them. If those routes are blocked, what happens? These people are Nigerians, it’s just like you going to block river or shoreline, does that make sense to you?

“These are the remote causes. But what are the immediate causes? It is the grazing law. These people are Nigerians, we must learn to live together with each other, that is basic. Communities and other people must learn how to accept foreigners within their enclave, finish!”, Mansur Dan Ali had stated.

In February 2018 the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris during his appearance before the Senate had reportedly canvassed for the suspension of the anti-open grazing law attributing it as the root cause of killings, especially in Benue State.

The summon was after a 14-day ultimatum issued by the Senate for the Police to arrest and prosecute killers of 73 Benue State residents.

“He asked for stoppage of implementation of the law until ranches are provided, then the law can be gradually implemented again. He also asked for further equipping and funding for police to assist their work in the area and across the country,” he allegedly stated.      

In March 2018, the House of Representatives chaired by Hon. Yakubu Dogara asked the President to direct security operatives to begin implementation of the anti-open grazing law.

Mr. Hassan Saleh, a federal lawmaker from Benue State had reported the killings to the House and accused the Police and other security operatives of their refusal to implement the law in his state.    

Beyond that, Dr. Paul Unongo, Chairman, Governing Board of the Nigeria Educational Research and Development Institute further appealed to the President to support the implementation of the law.     

The Amnesty International (AI) in its recent report titled, Harvest of Death: Three Years of Bloody Clashes Between Farmers and Herders”, also blamed the federal government over the loss of 3, 641 lives in the three years clash between the herders and farmers.

“Governor Ortom’s campaign is clearly designed to stir division and hatred, and to divert the people’s attention from his inability to pay staff salaries and pensions for several months.

“It has been noted that the governor has been visiting churches in the state where he falsely tells congregations about President Buhari’s so-called plans to Islamise Benue State.

“This nonsense has formed the basis of his campaign because he has nothing to offer Benue people,” the presidency stated.

It reads further that, “While advising Ortom to immediately stop his dubious attacks on President Buhari, the Federal Government calls on the people of Benue State to not fall for Ortom’s deception and allow themselves to be hoodwinked by such a negative campaign”.

“They should instead, ask him why he has refused to pay staff salaries and pensions for months, and what he did with the funding from the excess crude account which should ideally have gone towards addressing such payments”.

“The Presidency calls on Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State to desist from basing his campaign for re-election on falsehoods concerning President Muhammadu Buhari and instead focus on the dire issues confronting the State”.

This position shows that the presidency, rather than support Ortom’s anti-grazing law, wants the law fizzle away unenforced.

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