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Middle-Belt: The ‘Failed State’ & Cash Cattle Prisons In Benue

Miyetti Allah
At the no-nonsense rate the Benue State Government is going in arresting cattle, enormous public funds would be required in building prisons for the valued Fulani animal. The arrested cattle and their convicted nomadic herders need to enjoy the same prison space. After all, both jointly committed the crime.

For a better understanding of this theme, the Encyclopedia Britannica defines prison as ‘’an institution for the confinement of persons who have been remanded (held) in custody by a judicial authority or who have been deprived of their liberty following conviction for a crime. A person found guilty of a felony or a misdemeanour may be required to serve a prison sentence. The holding of accused persons awaiting trial remains an important function of contemporary prisons, and in some countries such persons constitute the majority of the prison population. In the United Kingdom, for example, generally about one-fifth of the prison population is unconvicted or unsentenced, while more than two-thirds of those in custody in India are pretrial detainees.’’

Continuing, it said until the late 18th century, prisons were used primarily for the confinement of debtors, persons accused of crimes and awaiting trial, and convicts awaiting the imposition of their sentences—usually death or transportation (deportation) overseas. A sentence of imprisonment was rarely imposed—and then only for minor crimes. And with what is happening in Benue State of Nigeria, it could be added that a prison is also where erring cows are held!
Governor Samuel Ortom in a keynote address at the 2019 annual convention of the Idoma Association USA on Saturday in New York, said the implementation of the law against open-grazing has brought relative peace to the state with no fewer than 81 herdsmen convicted and 3,000 cows arrested for infringing the state’s Anti-open Grazing Act.

The disclosure by Governor Ortom came as the Middle Belt Forum (MBF)) was claiming that the breakdown of security and various national institutions is an indication that Nigeria is a failed state. The forum which alleged that the government had no will to maintain public order, noted however, that the implementation of the 2014 National Conference recommendations could address many of the crises facing the cracking country.

The obviously excited governor told his audience, ‘’we are implementing our law, and there is relative peace. As at today, we have convicted 81 herdsmen. Some have paid fines; others are still in prison as I talk to you. We have gone a step further. Anywhere we see cattle doing open grazing, we go after them. So far, we have arrested over 3,000 cattle. The law stipulates that within seven days, owners of such cattle should pay fines and reclaim them. We have been collecting fines from them.’’

While insisting that ranching remained the best solution to the farmers/herders conflict, the governor challenged anyone with a better alternative to bring it forward, Ortom who spoke on the topic, Security and Economic Challenges in Benue State, which was a modification of the theme of the conference that centred on Idoma land, said all parts of the state were facing similar development challenges, including insecurity, infrastructural deficit, unemployment, health and sanitation issues, among others, hence his decision to broaden the scope.

According to him, ‘’only four of the 23 local government areas in the state, namely Otukpo, Konshisha, Ushongo and Vandeikya, were spared of conflict between locals and herdsmen in the last six years. As at today, herdsmen have attacked 19 of the 23 local government areas in Benue, claiming over 5,000 lives between 2013 and 2018. Over 195,000 homes and 30 churches worth billions of Naira were destroyed in the attacks.’’

While thanking the Idoma people in the US for their support to victims of the Agatu attack in 2016; award of scholarships to Benue students, among others, the governor also lauded them for being of good conduct, noting that to the best of his knowledge no criminal case or report had been brought against them.

Apparently displeased, a group of cattle herders, Miyetti Allah Kautak Hore Social-Cultural Association, has appealed against the judgment of the Federal High Court in Abuja which validated the state’s anti-grazing law of 2017, officially referred to as Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017.

The association with two of its members, Abdullahi Bodojo and Saleh Alhassan, had challenged the law at the Federal High Court in Abuja but lost the case. They filed their 10-ground notice of appeal before the Court of Appeal in Abuja on July 30, praying the court for an order setting aside the July 4, 2019 judgment of the Federal High Court in Abuja.

They arguing that the lower court’s verdict which described their suit as lacking in merit, robbed them of fair hearing and ‘’occasioned a failure of justice’’, contending further that the filing of ‘’an irregular and voidable amended originating summons on May 31, 2019, without payment of default fees’’, was a mistake of their counsel which ought not to be visited on them.

‘’The lower court ought not to shut out a litigant by dismissing his claim when the process of court amended in error without seeking extension of time to amend same’’, the appellants said through their counsel, Aliyu Ahmed, maintaining that ‘’underassessment’’ or ‘’failure of payment of default fees cannot be a basis for punishing the litigant with an order of dismissal of the suit’’.

Meanwhile, the MBF’s stance which is likely to be viewed as ‘’blackmail’’ by the Presidency, is contained in a communiqué issued by the geo-political bloc after a one-day conference of their ethnic nationalities held in Abuja on Monday.

MBF’s National President, Dr Pogu Bitrus, and National Secretary, Senator Shem Zagbayi, in a statement said, ‘’Nigeria is a failed state. We may not like it but Nigeria is now a failed state. It is a nation where the institutions have broken down, the state has no credibility to maintain public order, the youths feel that their future has been mortgaged, and there is a grand corruption. At current path dependence, Nigeria will not survive by 2030. American War Colleges have been using Nigeria as an example of failed states predicting now and again the collapse of Nigeria, from 2011 to 2015 and now 2030.’’

While the conference condemned the ongoing bloodshed in the region, stating that the infiltration of the area by attackers must be resisted, the participants said the country has been in a state of war for over a decade, noting that Nigeria could no longer attract foreign investment flow because of instability. They accordingly called for the re-engineering of the flawed federation, insisting that Middle-Belt governors and lawmakers should begin to agitate for the implementation of the national conference recommendations.

Their communiqué however, noted, ‘’all governors and members of the National Assembly from the Middle Belt should begin the agitation for the implementation of the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference as a panacea for the survival of Nigeria; restructure and remove the structural imbalances that occasion the terrible injustices against the peoples of the Middle Belt. The amendment to the constitution should work towards providing special rights for minorities in our laws.’’

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