In May 2017, Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom signed the Anti-Open Grazing Bill into law, which he claimed would put an end to incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the State.
Mr. Ortom said the law would descend heavily on offenders of cattle rustling and destruction of crops by cattle, and warned those concerned against daring the State Government.
He further gave October ending, as the deadline for open grazing, which would be replaced with ranching by the 1st of November.
He clarified that the herdsmen were not sent packing from the State, as they can stay if they want to.
“The law does not provide that herdsmen should leave Benue; it only encourages herdsmen and any other individual, who wishes to rear livestock, to do so within ranches so as to minimise clashes between herdsmen and farmers.”
Ortom asserted that ranching has been the best way of rearing livestock globally “the law will take its course on anyone that goes against it.”
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
It defines Open Grazing as “the act of pasturing livestock to feed on dry grass, growing grass, shrubs, herbage, farm crops, etc, in open fields without any form of restriction.”
The law also states that a Ranch is a secured tract of land used as animal nurturing farm, particularly for the grazing and rearing of cattle, sheep, goat, pigs or horse and any other animal for the purpose of the Law.
In the light of this, an Agency would be established and known as “Livestock Promotion, Development, and Regulatory Agency”, and its objectives include:
1. To establish ranches from any part of the public domain excluding, however, State forest reserves, parks, and monuments, which are valuable for raising forage crops.
2. Provide for the protection, administration, regulation, and improvement of the ranches.
3. Adopt regulations and enter into cooperative agreements necessary to accomplish the purpose of this Law.
The Agency will also be responsible for issuing permits to interested ranchers, on the Governor’s approval, to graze livestock on such ranches, to Benue citizens, residents, and other livestock owners.
The permission comes with a “permit fee” which is to be fixed or determined from time to time by the Agency.
The permit is issuable to citizens of Nigeria only and must be for a period of not more than one year, with renewal subject to the discretion of the Agency.
Upon approval, the agency, within thirty (30) days, issues a ranching permit to the rancher, alongside regulations for fencing and other activities in accordance with this Law.
After the implementation of the law, no one is expected to engage in open nomadic livestock herding or grazing in the State outside the permitted ranches.
If anyone is caught, he is guilty of an offense, and shall, on conviction, be liable to five years imprisonment or one million Naira (N1,000,000.00) fine or both.
The law also prohibits movement of livestock on foot, as such movement should be done by rail wagon, truck or pick-up wagon.
If found guilty of moving livestock on foot across any part the State, first-time offenders would be fined Five Hundred Thousand Naira (N500,000.00) or one-year imprisonment or both, while second-time offenders would be fined One Million Naira (N1,000,000.00)or three years imprisonment or both.
Ranchers are also forbidden from possessing firearms (licensed or unlicensed) within and outside the ranch.
Any livestock owner, rancher or his agent who possesses or owns firearms or arms, shall be prosecuted under the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provision) Act.
The law also permits ranchers to engage the services of registered security guards for the protection of ranches.