Determined to restore peace, some top leaders in Benue State have opened talks with Miyetti Allah on how to resolve clashes between farmers and herders.
The secret talks were however without the involvement of Governor Samuel Ortom whose administration has enacted an Anti-Open Grazing Law which is herders must comply .
But the two groups have resolved to reach out to their members on some of the issues raised during the preliminary talks.
According to investigations, those at the session included Miyetti Allah leaders, a former Benue State governor, some retired military officers, retired senior civil servants, and some notable politicians.
Although our correspondent spoke with some of those involved in the ongoing covert negotiations, all of them do not want to be quoted in order not to jeopardize the peace talks.
They also said their first agreement was to keep the negotiation away from public focus until a concrete pact has been reached.
A source at one of the sessions told The Nation said: “The ultimate objective of Benue leaders was how to resolve the conflict between farmers and Fulani herders in Benue State. They said they wanted an amicable resolution in order to restore peace and allow the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to return to their villages and towns for the farming season.
“The talks started when Benue State was marking the third anniversary of its Anti-Open Grazing Law. It was a confidence-building session and the two parties have decided not to make any disclosure until some agreements are reached. They have been talking.
“The affected Benue leaders opted to meet with the Fulani herders, under the auspices of Miyetti Allah, without the involvement of Governor Samuel Ortom. They said they did not want the ongoing talks to become beclouded by politics. But the issues agreed upon will eventually be tabled before Governor Ortom.
“The Benue leaders said it was time to return peace to the state by protecting hapless farmers and citizens in all villages and towns. They asked Miyetti Allah leaders to prevail on herders to stop arsons and killings of farmers.
Some of the demands of Benue leaders include:
No more killings, attacks on farmers by herders
Farmers, herders to live peacefully in any part of the state
Benue citizens/farmers in IDP camps to return home
Compliance with the relevant law in the state by herders
Herders to pay for value of the crops destroyed/ damaged
Ongoing trial of 400 herders to continue
Benue leaders, Miyetti Allah to always discuss issues amicably
”The leaders made it clear that the law will always take its course, including the ongoing trial of some herders.”
Asked of what transpired during the preliminary discussion, another source said Miyetti Allah said the herders have assured to live peacefully with farmers in Benue State.
The association’s leaders clarified that most herders are not violent.
They also claimed that there are herders that are “indigenous to Benue State” who should also be protected by the state.
It was learnt that the Miyetti Allah leadership gave the following terms:
Amendment of Anti-Open Grazing Law which is considered discriminatory
No problem with the law as long as it protects herders’ fundamental rights as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, ECOWAS Treaty and international conventions.
Herders should have the right to take care of their flocks within the ambit of the law.
Farmers who attack Fulani herders should face the wrath of the law too.
Benue law to take cognizance of cattle routes in the laws of Northern Nigeria
To check the excesses of Benue Livestock Guards along the Benue-Nasarawa axis
The source added: ”The Miyetti Allah restated its members’ commitment to peace in the state.
“The … herders demanded amendment of the Anti-Open Grazing Law because it is discriminatory and a form of apartheid. They said the law should protect the rights of herders and sanctions for farmers who also attack them.
“The … herders said they have no problem with the law as long as it protects herders’ fundamental rights as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, ECOWAS Treaty and international conventions.
“They said the law must be fair to farmers and herders and justiciable in a manner that it will foster peace.
“That the law should take cognizance of the fact that there were laws of Northern Nigeria that recognized cattle routes. They said Benue State should include these routes in its law.
“They said pastoralists should be allowed to operate within well-defined rules of engagement. Any Fulani herder that is new in Benue State will be told the rules before settling down.
“To demonstrate their commitment to peace and the law of the state, Miyetti Allah leaders said out of 400 herders arrested in the state, about 200 have been convicted.
“They said erring herders are ready to pay for the value of the crops that they have damaged. But they decried the excesses of Benue Livestock Guards along the Benue-Nasarawa axis.”
The Benue State Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017 was as assented to on 22 May but it became operational in November of the same year.
The state enacted the law having discovered that between February 2013 and May 13, 2017, it recorded 46 attacks by suspected herdsmen and 1,541 deaths.
The state claimed that over N400 billion properties were destroyed within the same period.
Out of 400 suspects arrested, 261 got convicted, 21 discharged, 36 cases pending and investigations were still ongoing on the remaining cases.
When contacted, Governor Otom’s Chief Press Secretary to the state governor, Terver Kaase said: “I am not aware of any discussion with Miyetti Allah as far as I know, I don’t think my boss is even aware.
“We have a law that prohibits open grazing and Miyetti Allah has never said it will respect that law. Since I don’t know those who are discussing with Miyetti Allah, let me not make comments on what I don’t know.”