By Rotimi Fasan
THERE was in this past weekend at least one reported incident of a ghastly nature between Fulani herdsmen and hunters. This happened in Koh village in Adamawa State. Five lives including that of one hunter and five herdsmen were lost in that encounter. This would be the latest in a long series of bloody encounters between cattle herders who have since replaced their prodding staff and concealed daggers with the more modern and effective assault rifle. While clashes between farmers and herdsmen have a long history in different parts of the north, there has been an exponential increase in such clashes in different parts of the country, mostly outside the north, in the last one and half years. As always in these recent cases the herdsmen have been the main aggressors for the simple reason that they’ve been responsible for leading their animals into other peoples’ properties, practically turning such persons’ means of livelihood into grazing fields. But like the herdsmen, farmers are in their line of business to make money.
Beyond leading their cattle into farmlands herdsmen or people who pretend to tend cattle have been known to engage in wanton acts of criminality. They are involved in armed robbery, raping and abduction of women and children in isolated communities. But the one aspect of the activities of these herdsmen that have been most controversial is their readiness to place their rights as diary farmers over and above the rights of food and cash crop farmers. For them, their activities seem to say, their cattle is worth more than human life to say nothing of anybody’s farm. They would kill at the least provocation just in order to assert their right to graze their cattle. And with assault rifles now part of their paraphernalia of business, their criminal tendencies go unchecked. They’ve decimated families and sacked villages from places as far-flung apart as Benue and Adamawa to Ekiti. From Oyo, Plateau, Enugu to Eboyin, it’s been a harvest of deaths and destruction. Yet, the response from the authorities has been one of accommodation if not outright appeasement.
Rather than taking a firm hold of the issue and tackling it headlong, state and federal authorities have tended to be weak-kneed in terms of what they ought to do. But this ought not to be so. The number of lives that have been lost to clashes between herdsmen and farmers or members of other communities ought to make our civil authorities ashamed. They’ve practically abdicated their responsibilities as Nigerians saw recently with the Agatu and Nimbo massacres. People are now contemplating self help in the face of the irresponsible abdication by municipal, state and federal authorities. So far the only thing that the federal authorities have thought fit to do is to propose a so-called grazing bill that would allow for the establishment of grazing reserves in different parts of the country. To this end nearly N1 Billion, precisely N940 Million, was set aside in the much-abused 2016 Appropriation Act for the establishment of grazing reserves in different parts of the country. This proposal has been opposed by law makers in different parts of the areas affected by the menace of herdsmen who choose to graze their cattle in farmlands, destroying economic trees, plants and food crops in the process.
From the look of things the grazing reserve plan is a non-starter. It is an act of appeasement that is bound to fail as it provides only short-term solution to a perennial problem. In execution the plan to establish grazing reserves would be no more than a land grabbing activity. For how else can other people be expected to give up their land by executive fiat in order to provide grazing land for herdsmen? Are we being told that cattle grazing, an economic activity, is intrinsically more important than farming, another type of economic activity? This is an invidious act that is not likely to make for peaceful co-existence. Nigerians should all be guided by a common morality that is enshrined in our constitution. To create different moralities for different reasons for the same people is to prepare an unworkable brew. Our law makers and political leaders realise this. Which is why they’ve been mealy-mouthed about the proposed grazing bill which we hear has passed its second reading at the National Assembly even when law makers continue to deny its existence. Why is it difficult to address this matter squarely? Is this unconnected to the fundamental injustice that resides at the foundation of the plan to establish grazing reserves that are euphemistically called grazing routes? Which farmer would allow such routes through their farms? And which community would want an outpost of adversaries created in their backyard in the name of grazing reserves?
The issue here is not about the ethnicity of the Fulani herdsmen as it is about the propriety of promoting the right of some Nigerians over and above that of others. More importantly the grazing reserve proposal is a blind and heedless rejection of modernity by a people and a government that is locked in a time warp. Ultimately, it amounts to a failure of leadership because where people fail or refuse to recognise what is in their interest, it is the responsibility of their leaders to show them the light. While not all changes are desirable, some changes are simply inevitable. Herdsmen cannot insist on the right to graze their cattle from one end of the country to another in the mistaken notion that it has been their way of life since-God-knows-when, where there are more convenient, economical and rewarding modes of diary farming. What are ranches for? This would not make sense to a people who turned their foremost ranch, the Obudu Cattle Ranch, into a mere holiday resort. Why should we all wait on the Fulani for cattle anyway?
In centuries of grazing their cattle have our herdsmen produced more cattle than others who subscribe to ranching in different parts of the world? Why must the Nigerian government always bend over backwards to hold back the overall development of the country just simply because some people choose not to modernise? In the 1980s, Jubril Aminu, as Nigeria’s Minister of Education, wasted so much time and resources on a so-called nomadic education plan to take care of cattle Fulani. This rather than educate the herdsmen on the need to adapt to a modern mode of stable existence. If we had tried to train the herdsmen on the virtue of allowing their children to attend conventional schools, we would probably not have to be appeasing them while inconveniencing others today with plans to establish grazing reserves. A time comes when the right thing must be done. On the question of animal husbandry that time is now.