By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Last Tuesday, Minister of Defense, Brig. Gen. Mansur Dan Ali (ret.), drew the ire of Benue people after he called for the suspension of open grazing prohibition law in states where it is in operation, blaming killings by militant herdsmen across the country on the law.
The statement got the people, young and old, rallying round Governor Samuel Ortom administration.
Benue is one of the states where the law exists, following herdsmen’s trespassing on farms, resulting into bloody clashes with local farmers and killing of natives by rampaging herdsmen.
The state House of Assembly was the first to attack the Minister’s statement, warning that even President Muhammadu Buhari lacked the power to compel a reversal of the law.
The House’s position came after the National Assembly also unanimously urged Ali to withdraw his statement.
The state lawmakers called on the Minister to vacate his office for allegedly being insensitive to democratic norms.
Tribal leaders of the state, under the aegis of Mdzough U Tiv, Idoma National Forum and Omi Ny’ Igede, came hard on Ali, claiming that his statement exposed him to being complicit in the on-going killings.
The leaders, through their Chairman and President General of Mdzough U Tiv, Chief Edward Ujege, accused Ali of trying to drag the nation back to the era of jackboot governance.
“This is not the first time that the man, who is the Chief Defense Adviser of the President of a multilingual country like Nigeria, would be making utterances that smack of sinister motives on an issue that is testing the unity of the country”, they said.
“Lest it be forgotten, after the 2018 New Year Day attack on Benue, during which no fewer than 73 persons (including eight months pregnant woman, four year old child and septuagenarian) were killed, this same man justified the act when he told the press that the killings were as a result of ‘grazing law.’
“The Minister asserted that the law was the immediate cause of the killings in Benue. This is a Minister of a Federal Republic of Nigeria, after a National Security Council meeting, justifying why a section of the country would carry arms against another.
“Mansur Dan-Ali also seems to be hell-bent on enforcement of cattle routes with a skewed reasoning that, that had been the practice even before independence. At no point, though, he has considered to reply stakeholders’ question as to why Nigeria’s Policy on Education has been constantly changed with the present being the fourth since 1979.”
Continuing, they said, “We are tempted to deduce from the utterances of Mansur Dan-Ali that he thinks himself a soldier and that Nigeria was still under military rule.
“He is a biased Defence Adviser with tribal sentiments. He does not understand and or is not familiar with the letters and spirit of the Nigeria’s Constitution he swore to uphold.
“He is calling for anarchy. He is also pained that Nigeria is done with military rule.
“Otherwise, how do we explain when in a democracy, a supposed educated and professional would call for a unilateral suspension of an act of parliament? lt seems to us that Mansur Dan-Ali imagines that the current democratic dispensation is a military rule where decisions are taken unilaterally.
“He should to court, that is how it is done or, better still, go through the legislature that enacted the law for repeal; this is our candid advice.
“We make haste to remind President Buhari to call his aides to order by guiding their utterances, especially when speaking on issues that border on national security. Dan-Ali and Inspector General of Police Idris Ibrahim have left us without iota of doubt to agree with General Theophilus Danjuma that, indeed, there is colluding with our killers to displace us from our ancestral homes and take up our land.
“Let it be known that we are in agreement with the recent resolution of the National Assembly to Buhari holding the President accountable for the actions of his appointees as well as marching orders to security agencies to curtail the killings of Nigerians”.
Speaking further, the leaders said, “We are also constrained to conclude that the utterances of the Defence Minister have emboldened the killer herdsmen to continue their quest to decimate our communities, without limit to areas where their archaic practice of open grazing is prohibited.
“Hence, ‘grazing law’ cannot be the reason for the continued onslaught as erroneously reasoned by Dan-Ali in his desperate bid to protect herders. Less than 24 hours after he came public again, the herdsmen saw reason to continue with their dastardly acts, killing no fewer than 15 persons in Guma and Logo Local Government Areas of Benue State.
“We want to put on record that what is playing out, concerning the atrocities by herdsmen in Nigeria and the utterances of people in high places, is a declaration of war on ordinary Nigerians by the Federal Government.
“We say ordinary Nigerians because leaders of cattle breeders in Nigeria, especially Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Gan Allah Fulani Association of Nigeria, amongst others, have threatened communities in the country, yet none of them has been invited for questioning despite petitions to that effect from several quarters.
“When this is juxtaposed with statements by the Defence Minister and Inspector General of Police, the obvious conclusion is the the declaration of war on the people.
“It is high time the Federal Government be told and correctly too that this war it has called cannot have casualties on only one side.
“Perhaps, we have become used to daily reports of how our people are killed, maimed, communities sacked, our women raped, abdomen of our pregnant women ripped open and the unborn fetus sliced into pieces. Our food and cash crops turned to ‘Indomie’ for cattle.
“Nigerian youth may be lazy and this could be the Federal Government’s approach to getting them busy. The war will rage on and our children yet unborn will continue when we might have tired out.
“For now, there is no going back on the Anti-Open Grazing Law whether or not Mansur Dan-Ali likes it.
“We want to restate that Northern Governors met and agreed on ranching; the National Economic Council also upheld ranching which is the global best practices for animal husbandry.
“The National Security Council as constituted has no representation from the states that established anti open grazing law, so where is the justice?
“We make bold to say that the National Security Council, Federal Executive Council and the President have no constitutional powers to abolish any law constitutionally enacted by any national or state assembly.
“It is also a fact that herdsmen killings are not restricted to states that have enacted anti-open grazing law like Nasarawa, Plateau, Kaduna, Zamfara, Enugu, Ondo just to mention a few”.
In another reaction, the Tiv Youths Organization, TYO, through its President General, Timothy Hembaor, cautioned that the statement by the Minister was an assault on the constitution of the country.
“We find the call by the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan Ali for the suspension of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law as a direct assault on federalism and the constitution of this country”, TYO said.
“What the Minister has failed to explain to Nigerians is why there is no anti-open grazing law in states such as Zamfara, Adamawa, Plateau, Nasarawa and Kogi, among others, yet killings take place on a large scale in those states.
“The Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017 enacted by Benue State has come to stay and any attempt to force the suspension of the legislation will be vehemently resisted by the people”.
Also speaking, the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Mr. Terwase Orbunde, said the Benue grazing law was enacted to protect livestock and crop farmers, saying “it is therefore incumbent on the federal government to ensure its full implementation because whether we like it or not it is the world best practice in animal husbandry.”
In his reaction, the state Commissioner for Information lamented that the statement by the Minister had propelled herdsmen to unleash further killings in Benue which claimed 15 lives in Logo and Guma communities less than 24 hours after his comment.
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