2023 Governorship aspirant in Benue State on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Mr Terver Akase has been speaking on his plans for the state, if elected next year. In this interview, Akase unveils what he will do about the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law and berates APC for criticizing Governor Samuel Ortom without telling the people what they would have done differently.
Question: Talking about the Anti-Open Grazing Law that you earlier mentioned, one of the biggest instruments intended to address the problem of herdsmen and local farmers in Benue State. There seems to be misconception about the law, one on the part of herdsmen and two, others in state saying that the PDP is using the law to hoodwink the people for political gains. What do you have to say?
Akase: When people say such a thing, I don’t understand what they mean. Do they mean that there are no herdsmen attacks on Benue people? And if there are no attacks, why has the federal government deployed Operation Whirl Stroke here for almost five years? That’s simple; it answers it. When they say that, know that they are the ones playing politics with the lives of the victims. People have been chased out of their homes and are living in camps. Or do they think that the people who are living in camps love to leave their homes and come and stay in camps? What is there for anyone to leave his house and do in IDPs camp? Maybe the person has two wives and eight children, and they are forced to leave the comfort of their homes to come and stay in one classroom in the camp for four years. And now someone is out there saying that it is all gimmicks, it is all lies, PDP is only playing politics?
By the way, we started talking about this when Governor Samuel Ortom was in APC. And at that time, the same people who are criticising this law now and criticising everything that has been said were the same people calling on the federal government at that time to do more. I remember what they said.
On 11th January, 2018, when the mass burial of the 73 people was done, we were in APC. And if you were at IBB Square, the people who spoke, many of them were APC. The mass burial was conducted by a government that was APC and they believed that there were truly attacks. How come suddenly they seem to have amnesia? They don’t believe anything again; they don’t seem to remember. They are the ones playing politics with this and it is quite unfortunate. It is like drumming on the graves of the slain people; the people that have been killed by Fulani herdsmen. It is quite, quite unfortunate.
Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law has come to stay. Those who are dreaming that one day the law will be repealed are wasting their time and better get up. If it is God’s will that I take over from Governor Samuel Ortom next year, I will strongly uphold the law and all the other good policies, programmes and projects that he has provided for our state. Governor Ortom has laid a solid legacy and I will sustain and preserve it. I hear some of them have gone to promise some people somewhere that if they are given the opportunity to govern Benue State they will repeal the law, and I am wondering: Why? Why do they hate our people that much? When you want to lead a people, is it not good that you care for those people?
PDP has never played politics with the issue of enforcement of the law. The governor is the one presiding over the people of the state. He has the constitutional duty to protect the people and he has been doing that. So, anyone who feels otherwise should better come up with a superior argument. So far, they have not convinced anyone of us.
Ask them, what would they have done differently, if given the opportunity? I don’t think they will answer this question. Your people are being killed and as a Governor, you won’t do anything or you will be happy? Governor Ortom was the one who led a crusade to convince the president to deploy operation Whirl Stroke here. When Operation Ayem a Kpatema was deployed, they said it was an exercise; it wasn’t an operation. So the governor kept saying, look, we need a full military operation in Benue State. We don’t need an exercise. Military exercise is a training. They got new recruits and they were training them on warfare. When Operation Ayem a Kpatema was scrapped and Operation Whirl Stroke was deployed, we saw the difference. For four years, that military operation has done very well.
So, ask these people, what would they have done differently? Let them answer this question. If they are saying repeal the law, what is the alternative? Where in the world do we still see cattle roaming the streets like we see them in Abuja? Which capital of any nation would you go and find animals roaming the streets and stopping vehicles from passing? There is no nation like that on earth except Nigeria. If they are saying that is good then, it means they are the ones who don’t want the development of this country.
The position of the Government of Benue State, which some of us have adopted as well as our position, is that open grazing of animals is no longer fashionable and that the alternative, which is credible and the global best practice, is ranching.
Question: But there are no ranches in Benue State?
Akase: That’s why I said we will have to go into animal production. People have been into crop farming more. When we go into animal production you will see ranches. Remember, agriculture is private business. When somebody has pigs or cattle or goats, that is when the person has to put a pen or fence and keep the animals in there or make a standard ranch.
Government is not supposed to create ranches for people. You farm. Government does not farm for people. I farm as well; the rice you saw outside there (referring to the parboiled rice that was sun dried in his compound), is from my farm. Government did not come to farm for us. So, if I have animals, the government doesn’t need to come and farm for me. I have my own animals. I have to do a ranch and put them in there and feed them.
Agriculture is a business. Animal husbandry is a private business. If the government has its own demonstration farms, that’s a different thing.
Except when the government has such institutes, which are used as training grounds for farmers, it is not the duty of the government to establish farms for citizens. Apart from that, the government does not come to farm for people. You are supposed to have your own farm for your survival with your family, and even produce for marketing. So the government has no business going to establish ranches for people. If the government does demonstration ranches that is just a demonstration. When you want your own ranch, you contact the Ministry of Agriculture, that’s what the law says, with a request. If you don’t have land you ask for land and the landlord gives you land. He takes your application to the ministry of agriculture, which looks at the application and takes the request to the governor, just like Certificate of Occupancy (C of O). The governor looks at the request and decides whether or not to approve.
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Remember that the Land Use Act is very clear on lands. All lands in the state are invested in the Governor. That is why he is the only one who signs C of O. That law (Anti-Open Grazing Law) has borrowed from that. When you want to have a ranch, if you have land, fine, you only notify the ministry of agriculture to go and supervise your ranch because the government says there is a standard for establishing ranches, so that animals don’t break to go and destroy other people’s farms. There is also provision for lease. It’s a private business and people have to realise that fact.
What the APC has been criticising the government of PDP is faulty criticism. I advise them to pick copies of that law and read. And they will understand that the law is very clear, just like rent, just like C of O acquisition. No one is using it as a political chip. And let me ask them, is that why they have refused to visit the IDPs camps? That means they don’t believe in the suffering of those who are in the camps. If they believed and they had compassion, they would have bought items, taken to the IDPs and donated to them, as humans with compassion. They have done no such thing which means they don’t believe that the people who are in camps are suffering. It’s quite unfortunate and I will advise that they have a rethink and allow human feelings to run through their veins.