Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State is emerging as a dogged fighter as far as the issue of open grazing is concerned. He has been under intense pressure to water down the state’s Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law of the State 2017. Instead of playing ball, the unyielding Ortom on Thursday, January 20, gave assent to an amended version of the legislation that provides stiffer penalties to offenders.
By the amendment, the owner of an impounded cow, pig, sheep or goat, as well as bird or poultry, will now pay fines ranging from N50,000, N10,000, N5,000 and N1,000 respectively per cow, pig, sheep or goat and bird or poultry for violating the ranching law.
The amendment also provides that when the impounded animals are not claimed by the owner within 24 hours, an additional fine of N20,000 per cow per day, N1,000 per pig per day, N500 per sheep or goat per day and N100 per bird or poultry per day shall be paid compulsorily by the violator whose animals may have strayed.
According to the amendments, other expenses as may be determined by the Quarantine Department shall be considered provided the prescribed fines are subject to periodic upward review as deemed appropriate.
Section (8) of the law provides that “any person who employs, hires or involves a child to commit an offence under the ranching law shall be guilty of an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to 14 years imprisonment or N5 million fine or both.”
According to section (5) as amended, “any person found moving livestock on foot within or across urban centres, rural settlements or any part of the state or owner of those livestock or manager of a ranch from where the livestock emanates commits an offence and is liable to:
“For the first offender, a fine of N500,000 and subsequent offender, a fine of N1,000,000 and for the owner of the livestock or manager of the ranch, a fine of N500,000 or one-year imprisonment.”
Governor Ortom while giving his assent said it was discovered that there was a lacuna in the law which he noted came as a “child of necessity, following killings, maiming and destruction of villages by militia herdsmen which also led to the displacement of over 1.5 million persons.”
Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Titus Uba, who presented the amendments for the governor’s assent said it will make the law stronger and more effective.
The defiant Ortom is not new to Nigeria’s politics. He worked for different political parties in the state including the National Centre Party of Nigeria as State Publicity Secretary; State Treasurer of All People’s Party (APP) that later transformed into All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP). ANPP is one of the coalition parties that formed All Progressives Congress (APC).
Ortom was also State Secretary and State Deputy Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He was also Director of Operations of PDP gubernatorial campaign in Benue in 2007 and Director of Administration and Logistics of the Goodluck/Sambo Presidential Campaign Organization in 2011. He was PDP National Auditor before his appointment as Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in July 2011.
In April 2015, he contested for the governor of Benue and won on the platform of APC. In July 2018, Ortom announced his departure from APC as a result of an internal party crisis.
In March 9, 2019, Benue governorship election and March 23, 2019, Benue supplementary governorship election, Ortom was reelected as Governor having polled 434,473 votes while the runner up Emmanuel Jime of APC polled 345,155 votes.
Following the election, Jime challenged Ortom’s victory and filed a petition on the grounds of substantial noncompliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010 as amended. On January 21, 2020, the Supreme Court affirmed the election of Samuel Ortom as the governor of Benue.