Ranching: Beyond kow-towing to ortom. Prof Pita Agbese wrote.
Benue’s Anti-Open Grazing Law was ostensibly enacted to eliminate violent clashes between livestock farmers and cultivators. Those clashes had claimed many lives and resulted in huge economic losses to individuals and the state at-large. The gains of this law may yet manifest themselves but at the moment, its costs are visible and incalculable. Contrary to lies and propaganda from the Benue State Government, the law has not reduced the number of deaths or the magnitude of destruction characteristic of the violent clashes from these two sets of farmers. The law has stymied debates on the way forward as Ortom and his supporters have foreclosed any other option beyond ranching. Yet, livestock in Benue have not been ranched. I don’t know of any new ranch that has been established since the law came into effect. In parts of Benue, the law is observed in open breaches. It seems Benue has put itself in an untenable position. The law is not working and yet, we cannot even discuss how to make it work. We cannot move forward and yet, the law is not achieving its intended objectives.
People displaced by the violent clashes remain wharehoused as Internally-Displaced Persons IDPs) without much prospects of returning home anytime soon to pick up the pieces and restore their shattered lives. They cannot regain their human dignity living in squalid conditions at IDP camps. Many of them were highly productive farmers who have been reduced to living on other people’s charity. Conditions in the IDP camps are deplorable with many of the children receiving their education under mango trees. Huge resources are expended by the state to keep them in those deplorable conditions of the camps. Expenditures, by the way, for which no comprehensive accounting is given. I have pointed out several times in the past that no Benue indigene should be a displaced person in Benue. If conditions are still too dangerous in places where our fellow citizens were forced out of, then efforts should be made to resettle them in other parts of the state. Keeping them in IDP camps so as to keep the issue alive for nefarious political purposes by unscrupulous politicians is as immoral as it is heartless.
Benue pays a high price for this law in other ways too. Maybe even if this law had not been the consuming passion of Benue, Ortom would still have been an ineffective and atrocious leader but Ortom hides his incompetence and his inertia on other issues on opposition to pastoralism and the violent clashes between cultivators and livestock farmers. To Ortom, nothing else matters. No salaries. No pensions benefits. No infrastructural development. If anyone raises concerns about this state of affairs, one is told that lives are more important than material goods and that Ortom is busy saving our lives from Fulani marauders to pay attention to our welfare or any other issue. Supporters of Ortom have often asserted that one has to be alive to receive salaries and pensions. Theoretically, that would be a very valid argument except that in the case of Benue under Ortom, both salaries and the safeguarding of lives are a mirage. No life is saved and civil servants and pensioners are owed a huge backlog of salaries and benefits. It shouldn’t even be a choice between the devil of security threats by terrorists and the deep blue sea of no salary. Moreover, lack of salaries and pensions benefits has taken a heavy toll in the death and serious illness of many Benue citizens. So, Benue has been reduced to fake claims about Ortom single-handedly defending the state against “external invaders” while those supposedly saved continue to die in droves as a result of poverty.
The singular focus on this issue has also driven a wedge between Benue and other communities, with the most vivid examples being the relationship between Benue and the Fulani people and between Tiv and Jukun. No attempt is made to bridge the yawning chasm that has been created by the insistence on ranching as the only solution to the imbroglio between cultivators and livestock farmers. Yet, no effort has been made to encourage ranching.
All Benue is known for now is Anti-Open Grazing Law. There is no plan on the ground to move the state forward and even if such a plan exists, Ortom has no interest or the zeal to pursue it. His stance on ranching is working so well for him personally that nothing else matters. Adoring ‘men of God’ come to pay him obeisance. There are talks of him running for the Senate and even the presidency in 2023. If Ortom and his spokespersons appear on the media, the only thing they have to talk about is how Ortom has saved Benue. The reality is that it is a Benue that has been devastated and crippled by Ortom’s ineffectual leadership.
While the benefits, if any, of the Anti-open Grazing Law are unclear and unspecified, its benefits to Ortom personally are immense. He rode on the popular sentiments behind the law to a successful re-election