By Oludayo Tade
FIELDING questions from journalists in Katsina, recently, the Kano State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, said his administration has been able to stem the tide of banditry by establishing a ranching culture in the state. He said: “We are building a RUGA settlement in Samsosua forest, our border with Katsina, and we have succeeded in curtailing the effect of banditry in that area. So, we are building many houses, constructing a dam, establishing a cattle artificial insemination centre. We are establishing a veterinary clinic and already, we have started building houses for herdsmen.”
Ganduje advocated for the abolishment of nomadic herding which features the transportation or trekking of herdsmen from the North to the Middle Belt and Southern part of Nigeria. “There should be a law that will ban it, otherwise, we cannot control the conflicts between herdsmen and farmers and cannot control the cattle rustling which are affecting us greatly,” he said.
For Benue State deputy governor, Benson Abounu, Ganduje’s advocacy is worth embracing, adding that having seen it all, Ganduje, who was once a cattle rearer, is highly informed about the situation, and his recommendation of a law prohibiting nomadic grazing should be given a chance to bear fruits across the country. There is no gainsaying Olayiwola Adeleke, the Chairman of the Igana Local Council Development Area, LCDA, and his constituency appreciates in no small measure, Governor Ganduje’s intervention and suggestions concerning the herdsmen-farmers conflict.
Not even Adeleke’s position as the chief security officer of Igana could earn him respect of preferential treatment when kidnappers accosted his vehicle and pounced on him. The beating he endured and humiliation he suffered in the hands of his assailants are better imagined. According to him: “All of a sudden, we heard gun shots. These people came out from the bush with guns in their hands. They ordered us to open the door. They began to slap me and my driver, they beat us mercilessly. They were even shooting to scare people away. They are young boys.”
On the heels of Adeleke’s travail, the chairman of the Ibarapa Northwest Local Government Area, Daniel Okediji, explained that the insecurity rocking Ibarapa metamorphosed from highway robbery to kidnapping. He said: “Initially it was the case of herders attacking the farmers on their farms; when they destroy the farm, farmers would want to react but instead of pleading, some of them will start attacking the farmers with machetes.”
According to the International Crisis Group, ICG, escalated conflicts between farming communities and criminal herders are six times deadlier than Boko Haram insurgency because of the number of civilian casualties. Between 2010 and 2015, 850 violent clashes were recorded between farmers and herders in the Middle Belt region claiming the lives of 6,500 people and displacing 62, 000. In 2016 alone, ICG recorded 2,500 deaths arising from these violent clashes majority of the victims were from Benue and Kaduna and other southern states. From 2018 when the crisis took a new dimension, an estimated 300,000 peoples have reportedly fled their homelands. As farmers flee their communities, criminal herders acquire their lands and settle.
Victims of kidnapping have also confirmed the identities of their abductors. Similar experiences of ‘terror’ by people of Ibarapa and Oke-Ogun led to the eviction of the Seriki of Fulani from the Igangan community in Oyo State, for allegedly aiding and abetting criminal herders and mediating payments of ransom to the kidnappers. The community claimed to have paid over N50 million and lost over 15 people with many still nursing gunshot and machete wounds. Those who were kidnapped are still battling post-traumatic stress disorder. Many of their victims are female farmers who were reportedly raped, while some died in the process.
According to Okediji, the Chairman of the Ibarapa Northwest LGA: “In one week, three persons were kidnapped. They collected N2 million on the first victim, N3.5 million on the second and N7.5 million on the third.” Sunday Oyebisi is another victim of farm plundering and violent attacks by the herders. Oyebisi, who owns 30 acres of a cashew farm, suffered a raw deal in the hands of his assailants. He said: “They would just drive the owner of the farm away and eat up (plunder) the farm. They have destroyed my 30-acre cashew farm and I reported to the police at Ayete but when Seriki Fulani got there, nothing was done to the case.”
The response of the state is rather slow and downplays the magnitude of the impending danger. The Federal Government, like some states, preaches peaceful living without serving justice to the victims many of whom accuse the Federal Government of pampering criminal herders, thus emboldening other transnational criminal gangs of Fulani extraction to compromise national security and threaten food security.
The recent hike in prices of food products is not unconnected with the insecurity being experienced by traders and the displacement of farmers from their homelands by herders. The food blockage from Northern to Southern Nigeria and the consequences of that action is also instructive, emphasising an urgent need for improved protection for farmers in order to guarantee food security and sustainability.
Adewale Moses, another victim of herders’ violence, said: “We can’t farm without anticipating attacks. One cannot send women to farm without them being raped.” Maybe this is why, James Olagbenro, a traditional ruler in the affected area of Ibarapa maintained that the herders needs to leave the community for them to enjoy peace. This is by no means ethnic profiling. The association of criminal herdsmen with rape, farm plundering and kidnapping in Southern Nigeria derives from the data extracted from victims of these crimes.
Unchecked invasion of farming communities and their displacement may create graver troubles for Nigeria. When farmers are chased off farms by herders and nothing is done to arrest them, the implication is that Nigeria cannot meet at least five of the Sustainable Development Goals and will not be able to feed her people. These are ‘no poverty,’ zero hunger, reducing inequality, sustainable cities and communities, peace, justice and strong institutions.
To resolve the conflict, experts have called for better management of the country’s security and intelligence system. There are increased calls for justice in dealing with reports and arrests of criminal herders. Porous borders must be manned and movement of transnational herders controlled. In the Southwest, for instance, open grazing and child grazing, among others, have been banned in the wake of outrage and riots in Igangan and Sasa in Oyo State.
While Northern governors explore practical initiatives like Ganduje’s RUGA settlement, herders have been urged to conduct their activities in line with the laws of their respective states. Nigeria may also take a cue from Tanzania where government is tackling the conflict between peasant farmers and pastoralist communities by making land available for private commercial interests.
Dr. Tade, a sociologist and journalist, wrote via email@example.com