Sunday, April 10, 2016

Resolving the Nigerian herdsmen and farmers conflict

In February 2016, some fiends alleged to be Fulani herdsmen swooped on 10 communities in Agatu Local Govern­ment Area of Benue State killing about 500 persons and setting ablaze properties worth billions of Naira. This was said to be a repris­al attack for the killing of some of the cat­tle of these nomads when they grazed on the farmland of the Agatu people. For the records, it was not the first time this hap­pened, just that the February faceoff was of genocidal proportion. It is not also in Benue alone that such armed conflict between the herdsmen and farmers had happened in Ni­geria. It has occurred and still does in sever­al places across the country. Elder Statesman, Chief Olu Falae similarly was victim of this menace in 2015 when part of his farmland was destroyed by herdsmen who brought their cattle to graze there. It is thus a peren­nial problem with a long history.
Researchers are of the opinion that climate change has a role in this. For example, deser­tification in the savannah region of northern Nigeria, due to low rainfall, has substantially reduced the grazing land and water sources for cattle. Thus, the herdsmen in order to feed their animals have to migrate to where they could get grass to nurture them. In the course of doing that, the cattle swoop on farmlands and destroy crops planted by farmers. Of course the farmers have to fight back over the destruction of their means of livelihood hence the bloody conflict between the two set of people helping the country to solve its food security challenge.
Some ignoramuses have attempted to give ethnic and religious identities to this recur­ring conflcit. Far from it! It is largely an eco­nomic issue as two set of entrepreneurs’ battle for survival. Among the victims of this crisis are people of the same religion, tribe and so­cial class. Fulani farmers have suffered sim­ilar fate in the hands of their brothers who are cattle-rearers.
I reliably learnt that many of the cattle be­ing reared by the Fulani nomads do not be­long to them but to some wealthy individuals who gave it to them to nurture on a mutual­ly agreed terms of payment. In fact, it was al­leged that it is these wealthy owners that gave arms and ammunition to these herdsmen to fight the farmers anytime they kill their cattle. I was also told that some of the lead­ers of the communities where there is con­flict between the herdsmen and the farmers were paid reasonable sums of money to al­low the nomads to allow their cattle to graze in those areas. What that means in effect is that some of the community heads sold-out their people for pecuniary gains. At a recent peace meeting between the Agatus and the Fulani herdsmen which was held in Abuja, it was also alleged that some of the herds­men who mastermind the grazing of their animals on farmlands and murder farmers are actually non-Nigerians. They were said to be from neighbouring countries such as Chad, Mali, Niger Republic and even far away Senegal.
There is gender dimension to this cri­sis. Many of the farmlands destroyed by the cattle are owned by women. Not only that, when these herdsmen take their cattle to drink at community rivers, the water is polluted by the animals as they indiscrim­inately urinate and defecate in them. Thus, women and children who source water for household use are put through a lot of stress seek­ing clean water for drinking and cooking. It has also been reported that some of these Fulani herdsmen kidnap, beat up, rape and murder some of the women that dare to challenge them about the destruc­tion of their farmlands or pollution of their water sources.
From the Agatu episode, we know that thousands of people have not only lost their lives and means of livelihood to this crisis but have become internally displaced per­sons in their country. This is mind-bog­gling! Over twenty thousands persons are reportedly in different IDP camps in Benue State right now. These are able-bodied men and women who are breadwinners in their own right now turned beggars and para­sites who have to survive on government and peoples charities. Their children, who should be in school, have now had their ed­ucation truncated due to no fault of theirs. Very unfortunate!
In seeking a lasting solution to this men­ace, a number of options have been high­lighted among which is the need for grazing reserves, banning of itinerant cattle- rearing and making it compulsory for cattle owners to establish ranches. It was reported that in the First and Second Republic, federal gov­ernment established grazing routes and re­serves much of which has been taken over by transgressors who have either turned them to farmlands or build on such. It is important for government to recover these grazing reserves and even establish more. Am not sure the banning of nomadic cattle rearing will work given that it is a cultur­al practice of the Fulani herdsmen. I think it was in recognition of this that made pre­vious government to establish nomadic schools for the children of these herdsmen. I must confess that I’ve not researched into the effectiveness of this form of education.
The most effective solution is ranching. That is the best practice in civilised coun­tries. Poultry and animal husbandry are supposed to be done in an enclosed envi­ronment. It is pathetic to see cattle grazing at our airports and major highways. Eve­rywhere in Nigeria you see these herds­men with their cattle on the roads and ve­hicles have to park for them to cross. This is preposterous! I do know that a large ex­panse of land is needed for ranching and government will need to help out to secure such plots for the herdsmen. They can form themselves into cooperative societies and jointly operate a ranch. Government can also grant them soft loan to aid the estab­lishment of such ranches. Effective border control is equally needed to ward off Fulani herdsmen who migrate from other countries to wreak havoc here in Nigeria. It’s going to be tough to implement all these measures but they are doable if the political will is there.