BY PETER DURU
MAKURDI – The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has cautioned that up to 350 million persons may have been adversely affected by the activities of herdsmen in Sub Saharan Africa.
The UNICEF Country Representative in Nigeria, Mr. Mohamed Fall made this known, Thursday, when he led a mission of the world body to Buruku local government area of Benue state which witnessed series of clashes between herdsmen and farmers.
He cautioned that the development required urgently intervention of the African Union in order to effectively stem the tide.
Fall who spoke when his team was received by the Buruku Council Chairman, Mrs. Justina Sorkaa said, “this mission is here to enable us meet the people and be in the field, to be close to the affected people and mainly the most suffering people.
“And if you defined yourself and your population as one of those that are worst off, I think it is enough to deserve our attention. It is true that as of today, Nigerian is challenged by a lot of issues, I mean socially and economically speaking.
“And in terms of peace and security, we all know that the country is confronted by many challenges. We know that their is a strong engagement in the North East but we feel that for reasons that linked the universality of some of the principles we stand for we cannot just look at one conflict or one challenge and forget the others.
“And more and more, the situation in the middle belt is being echoed as a situation that is generating a lot of human sufferings. A lot of suffering for women and children. So it is important for us to come to have a first hand information and look at the situation and see how we can activate our mandate within this context.
“We laud you for the outstanding partnership that we have established in this area. It is demonstrated through out the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, WASH, programme we have here.
“It is demonstrated not only based on those projects but mostly because of your leadership and commitment. We truly believe that UNICEF as an organization that will never put ahead the resources that we have. Many people could attempt to look at us a resource driven organization.
“In fact we are not a resource driven organization. And for a country like Nigeria I will say it always, that we will never have the resource that is needed to meet everyone’s need.
But what we are looking for is really to find the leadership that has the energy, that has the resources, that has the commitment and drive that can be put behind us and can be with us so that together we try to address the issues.
“And for me this is more important than financial or material resources. A leader who has the vision, a leader who has the drive, a leader who want to change his people’s situation, for me is more important.
“Once you have those prerequisite the resources will alway come. That is what we have come here to highlight because the success we have recorded through the WASH and Sanitation project we can see now, how we can transform these to something much bigger. Something that will be touching overall not only sanitation and water alone but something that is affecting the lives and wellbeing of women and children in your local government area and beyond.
“Hence the steps and the action we are taking here are targeted to serve also as a model and a blue print so that other local government areas will take them up and replicate them.
“So that it can be scaled up at the level of the state and beyond Benue state and also scaled up by the federal government of Nigeria and then reach other states in the north and south of Nigeria.
“It must be noted that any step that we make and any development initiative that we step up, the immediate understanding and vision we have behind it is to have that style of model to evolve.
“When we start something, we don’t even know the amount of resources that we build on the commitment but with the leadership, the acceptance and the ownership by the community, we take it from there, document, learn lessons, scale it up at the level of the LGA go beyond the LGA reach the level of the state, go beyond the state and reach the federal the level.
“That is our vision, that is how partners like us can help to change situations in Nigeria and this can be achieved with leaderships like yours.
“Now you have really moved us by having a specific focus on the situation of the conflict between farmers and herdsmen and its devastating consequences.
“Regrettably that is what we have seen and I can speak at length about it. I have served here before and the Central African Republic and the more you were speaking the more I was thinking of those kind of experiences I have gone through and the kind of sufferings and atrocities I was confronted with. But I think beyond those, I always insist that this call has to be made, and it cannot be yours alone but everyone’s voice.
“The conflict we are having now between farmers and herdsmen is going in a pattern which will be beyond your state but the whole region.
“By the way, I’m from Senegal, the herdsmen issues comes almost from that part of the world and goes almost up to South Sudan. If you see all the African Union service, today for example it’s climate change, it’s desertification and we are seeing that grazing land is becoming a challenge and the pattern and model of cattle grazing that we practice in this region is not adjustable to the kind of change that is happening in the climate and especially in the ecosystem.
“Someone was saying that up to more than 350 million in Sub Sahara Africa are affected by this dynamic and by this nature of conflict.
“Today the Central African Republic conflict started based on religious divide between Christians and Muslims but the front that the divide took to impact on the social fabric of the country is the divide between herdsmen and farmers.
“And I think that this is really a call that goes and needs to be taken not only at your local government level, but at state level, federal level, ECOWAS level and I think even the African Union has to be involved because it is something that is challenging the stability of this region. Starting as I said from Senegal going up to the North of DRC where you have these issues.
“It means that we have to invest a lot in the prevention. And prevention of course requires a lot of massive undertaking which goes into the education system, which goes into the value that we have in the society, which goes on our effort to bring peace and to build stability, to raise issues relating to social cohesion,
“I think this is something that needs to be addressed by yourself, by the state and by the government at the federal level. And on this process you can count on our voice, you can count on our partnership, you can count on our collaboration to be an advocate and to as much as possible lend our voice to discuss so that the government can see this dynamic and see danger that is ahead if the dynamic is not reversed.
“In order to see how it can really affect the future not only in this part of the country but all the neighbouring countries and maybe become an international conflict that will be completely going out of the hand of the people.
“Like today we see that the conflict of Boko Haram has spilled over in all of the Lake Chad and even beyond. We have seen many of these conflicts that have taken sub regional of regional dimension. And I think that this issue of herdsmen if it is not addressed properly that is where I see it taking us.
“Hence I think it really requires some efforts that goes beyond this local government area, it really needs the effort of the international community.
“Let me just say we have a great advocate, the UN Coordinator in Nigeria was in Benue recently, and yesterday in the UN country team he made a strong and vibrant appeal for the humanitarian community not only the humanitarian community but the United Nations to pay attention to these crisis, the dimension it’s taking, the impact it has, the consequence it has so that at least we can start packaging and formulating a response to addressing situation and suffering the people are going through.
“Though I’m standing here for UNICEF but it is not only UNICEF that is engaged or concerned by the situation that you described but the entire humanitarian community in Nigeria and the entire UN family.
“Prevention is also something we need to address. But I think responding also to the sufferings of the people has to come in because the conflict is already having devastation and impact on the peoples lives.
“I think just working on prevention alone won’t be enough. Responding to the situation of people who do not have access to social services is important because they don’t have their stability.
“Hence responding to the situation of people who maybe have lost their livelihood, who can no more go to school, who can no more have their peace is vital.
“And I’m sure that deep down, there might be other ramifications to these conflicts. Who knows if children are being used among the parties in the conflict or women particularly are not being abused.
“These are situations we look at in any given conflict that we assess the world over. As I said earlier its a first hand information mission that we are conducting here which is to improve the understanding that we have in the situation and the impact that the situation has on the populace. That is the justification of this mission. I’m sure that our partnership is taking an important milestone through this visits.
“Moreover, with our sub office present here who are strongly engaged in advocacy in Nigeria we will continue to advocate at the highest level both for the prevention part and also for the response part and we will also rally more partners became most of the humanitarian issues are carried out with several organizations and the civil society.
“This means that we will be looking towards the possibility of developing a response here. But we will go through a prerequisite of building partnership with actors that are here.
“I’m sure the UNHCR is presently in the area we have also the ICRC already working in the area. Of course we will engage with them in the process of getting more information.
“I must say that we have not come for the sake of just being informed of what is happening but if we are informed we will react in line with what we receive as information.
“But at this stage we cannot quantify or measure the kind of proportion or dimension or scale or level of intervention we will give to the response.
“But it will be different. And as we say we look at drive like commitment, like vision and engagement and in this context you can count on us to be your real advocate and to use our voice at the highest level possible to make the suffering of the people known.
“We will mobilize resource and bring it to the world and international attention in line with our child right advocacy irrespective of any part of the country he or she comes from.”
Continuing, Fall who acknowledged that the conflict had devastated the people, said “the fact finding mission is about the alert we are receiving on the issues relating to the protection of women and children which was linked to the conflict that the area is experiencing.
“We also came to laud the government for the support they are giving to UNICEF intervention here in the field of sanitation, hygiene and nutrition promotion which have been extremely successful.”
Earlier, the Chairman of Buruku local government area, Mrs. Justina Sorkaa, had decried the effect of the crisis on the lives of the people saying that the council area which was rated one of the poorest in the country lacked the capability and capacity to deal with the devastation being suffered by the people,
She said, “the situation calls for intervention from well meaning organizations like UNICEF because the state government lacks the financial capacity to deal with the situation given the downturn in the nation’s economy.”
At the palace of the paramount ruler of Jemgbah, Chief David Afatyo, where the team paid an advocacy visit, the UNICEF Country Representative, sued for collaboration between the world body and the traditional institution to pave the way a successful implementation of its programme in the area.
Responding, the royal father assured the team of the support of the traditional institution and the entire people of the area to the advocacy and intervention of the organisation in the area.
While at the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, camp at Comprehensive College Ijer, Mr. Fall who lamented the effect of the crisis on the live of the affected persons especially the women and children, assured of the continued assistance of UNICEF to mitigate the effect of the crisis on their wellbeing.
After inspecting the WASH facilities, which included two sets of three compartment of VIP latrine at LGEA primary school, Yassar Bururu, the Country Representative expressed satisfaction with what he saw.
He said, “I’m satisfied with what I’ve seen with the quality of job and mostly with the maintenance of the facility because in cases where you have this kind of new facility, it is beautiful the first week and thereafter it becomes difficult to maintain it in order to avoid deterioration and degradation.
“But I have seen that it is well kept and there are things you cannot obviously hide in this kind of facility. Even if a latrine is cleaned before inspection, if it is not well taken care of the smell will be unbearable or if it was not properly maintained you will see it. I think from what I’ve seem so far at this WASH facility, they have done well.”