In the back page “Missile” of Thisday newspaper of Thursday, September 5, 2019, Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom told his Taraba State counterpart, Architect Darius Ishaku as follows: “The history or tradition cannot supersede the Constitution, we are all Nigerians. People have come from different places to settle in Nigeria. The Constitution remains sacrosanct and we must obey it. The issue of describing some people (the Tivs) as settlers is where we get it wrong”
But Governor Ortom is the same person, who only two years ago, enacted a law that deprived a Nigerian “settler group, the Fulani,” the rights to live and to pursue their livelihoods in Benue State, which he governs. The anti-grazing law came into force within such a short period that it did not allow for any period for the herders to readjust. In fact, it implicitly banned the Fulani herder from buying and owning land in Benue State.
The anti-grazing law provides that anyone who wants to herd cattle must negotiate with the indigenous owners of the land and reach agreement that must be approved by the state government. Even if this is practicable, the governor must know that this is not a solution. First, the law came into force so suddenly that there was no time for negotiations and completion of all the processes stated in the law.
Under the constitution, upon which the governor now relies, an unoccupied land belongs to the community, not the individual members of any community. Land is held in trust for the people by the government for the time being in power and in control to determine how to use it for the common good.
For the sake of the wider argument, the Jukuns of Taraba State, until 1976, were part of Benue Province. They decided to leave Benue because they felt they do not fit there.
The complaint of the Jukuns is that the Tivs were taking over their land and dominating them, threatening them with extinction. This issue is not much different from the complaints that the Tivs have against the Fulani people and herders in particular. The difference is that the Fulani do not permanently occupy land. They are always on transit.
As Nigerians governed by the same constitution and entitled to the same rights and obligations, and in order for us to live in peace and harmony, we must all respect the constitution and the laws we make.
Ahmed Joda is President, The Pastoral Resolve (PARE)