‘We can make killer herdsmen disappear from Delta’
By Fred Edoreh
One morning in February, farmers in Umeh, Isoko South, Delta State, woke up to find their Omohoror farmlands had been overtaken by herdsmen. They ran back to inform their leaders who, in turn, alerted the local government Chairman, Constantine Ikpokpo. He advised them to remain calm and to give him 48 hours to deal with the situation. Two days later, the herdsmen disappeared.
The apprehension that gripped the community on that occasion can only be imagined but noteworthy is that the community avoided any clash by refraining from self-help and the local council had capacity to intervene.
To engage the herdsmen who had journeyed from Port-Harcourt, Ikpokpo revealed he communicated with leaders of the Delta State Cattle Breeders/Dealers Association who contacted the leader of the particular herdsmen network in Owerri.
The nationwide concern is while communities look on their state governments to protect them, the states looked on the federal security agencies for action, but, often times, response comes usually too late in the face of the curious lethargy of the federal government to address the criminality of herdsmen with definiteness.
This has left the governors, burdened as Chief Security Officers, to device different measures which, sometimes, escalate into hostilities.
The Umeh incident came as one of many tests for the Delta State new initiative on herdsmen and community relations. Early in the year, Gov Ifeanyi Okowa called a meeting of traditional rulers, communities, herdsmen, cattle dealers, local government chairmen and the security agencies to fashion out a strategy to tackle the phenomenon. Significantly, while he was categorical that the state has no land to donate for grazing colony, he also recognized herdsmen as part of the communities and the importance of fostering understanding for their peaceful co-existence.
The main resolve of the meeting was to institute local government security committees comprising of stakeholders for the protection of communities and herdsmen. They are to monitor the arrival and movement of herdsmen, administer quick conflict resolution and enlighten both parties on self-restraint against trespass and destruction of people’s farms, and aggression on the herdsmen and their cattle.
Ikpokpo, who is also Chairman of the Delta State Association of Local Government Chairmen, explains: “It was Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s initiative to bring all stakeholders to work together to build confidence for peaceful coexistence.
The mechanism keeps us alert, that nobody takes us unawares, and that any conflicts are quickly resolved and not allowed to fester. With all parties working together, the herdsmen understand us and we understand them. By so doing, we can make them understand that we will not accept any criminal behavior. They also claim that the communities are aggressive to them, so we enlighten the communities on attitude friendly attitude towards them. We dialogue on all issues and I believe we can achieve and sustain peace through this strategy while we wait on the federal government to give clearer direction on cattle grazing.”
Alhaji Tanimu Sarkin Zango, head of cattle breeders and dealers in Warri area, also welcomes the initiative.
“We are very happy with the governor’s initiative. It is about investing in peace to avoid investing in war. It is the most responsible action of leadership as peace is the foundation of development. I have been in Warri as a cattle trader since 1968. I came to meet my father in the business and took over since 1973.
I know all the communities in Delta, their tradition and culture. I attend their festivals. We have never had any problem with the communities until the recent incidents. It could take us three months to walk our cattle from, say Maiduguri to Warri, without getting into any conflict with any community on the way.
This has been so for over sixty years. The Fulani herdsmen are divided into two groups. Some are permanent here. They receive cattle from those on the move and graze them a little before selling. Those causing trouble are not permanent residents. They make trouble and go away and have thus destroyed our age-old good relationship.
Notwithstanding the positive outlook, another leader of the northern people’s community in Delta, Alhaji Zubairu Mohammed Tajudeen Wazo, Chairman of the Non-Indigenes Association and Secretary of the State Non Indigenes Advisory Committee, calls for more commitment to sustain the initiative.
“The beauty and power of the new initiative is in its fairness. The committee is mandated to protect farmers, communities and herdsmen, not one against the other,” he said.
“Most importantly, the governor has to be serious to sufficiently fund the committees. They need vehicles and fuelling for monitoring. They need communication and quick response logistics as well as allowances for their time. The little successes of the initiative have been from skeletal operations. We need to be stronger on ground.”
- Edoreh, a journalist, is based in Asaba