Open grazing of cattle is a grave source of conflict between farmers and the herders throughout the country. The rate at which the clashes regularly occur is very alarming and indeed unsettling. This ever rising conflict has become a notorious national tragedy which has failed to draw the deserved urgent attention of those in authority. Many local farmers and herders alike have lost their lives while crops worth millions of Naira have gone down the drain as a result. Therefore, the expediency of banning cattle grazing openly in Southern Nigeria cannot be overemphasised. It was reported by International Crisis Group that; “the surge of attacks and counter-attacks has exacted heavy humanitarian and economic tolls, with potentially serious political and security repercussions.
The humanitarian impact is particularly grave. From September 2017 through June 2018, farmer-herder violence left at least 1,500 people dead, many more wounded and about 300,000 displaced – an estimated 176,000 in Benue, about 100,000 in Nasarawa, over 100,000 in Plateau, about 19,000 in Taraba and an unknown number in Adamawa.” The major factor feulling the killings according to group are also; “climate-induced degradation of pasture and increasing violence in the country’s far north, which have forced herders south; the expansion of farms and settlements that swallow up grazing reserves and block traditional migration routes; and the damage to farmers’ crops wrought by herders’ indiscriminate grazing.” According to Amnesty International, “the Nigerian authorities’ failure to investigate communal clashes and bring perpetrators to justice has fuelled a bloody escalation in the conflict between farmers and herders across the country, resulting in at least 3,641 deaths in the past three years and the displacement of thousands more. In a new report, “Harvest of Death: Three Years of Bloody Clashes Between Farmers and Herders”, Amnesty International found that 57 per cent of the 3,641 recorded deaths occurred in 2018. Security forces were often positioned close to the attacks, which lasted hours and sometimes days, yet were slow to act.
In some cases, security forces had prior warning of an imminent raid but did nothing to stop or prevent the killings, looting and burning of homes.” The losses in both human and material resources and the dangers it poses to greater peace, unity and corporate existence of Nigeria should have been a reason for government to take drastic measures aimed at peace building and ensuring return to normalcy. Apart from banditry, kidnapping, Boko Haram, the killings and arson carried out by unknown gun men, there is no state in Nigeria at the moment not contending with one farmers/herders crisis or the other.
The conflicts have overwhelmed many state governments. As a result, they frquently run to the federal government at the centre for help and in turn come back downcast and empty handed. The governors are the supposed chief security officers of their states but it is only effective on paper. Commisioners of police and other heads of security agencies do not take instructions from them. The rising frustration in safeguarding the lives and properties of citizens in the states is glaring and disturbing too. Citizens now see their governors as accomplices to their daily insurmountable tragedy. There is an indication that the federal government is working at cross purposes with the states on finding a lasting solution to the issue of farmers/herders clashes. While all the Southern State Governors rose from a meeting in Asaba recently and declared total ban on open grazing in the entire region, the federal government is insisting on providing grazing routes for the cattle. A statements from Garba Shehu – the Senior Special Adiviser to the president on media claiming that; “the southern governors’ proposed plan to enforce the ban on open grazing is of “questionable legality” and a show of power,” was a pointer to the federal government’s position. Also, with the recent directive of President Buhari to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the federation Abubakar Malami to dig out gazzettes on grazing routes; it is clear that government’s position is an invitation to anarchy. While many have rightly asserted that the Land Use Act of 1978 has rendered the Grazing Reserve Law of 1965 promulgated for the Northern Nigeria ineffective or completely dead; it is yet to be understood how the federal government which has no legal right to matters related to land administration will force its policies down the throats of state governments. From 2015 – date, the number of deaths related to farmers/herders conflict has proved to be alarming and on the increase too. Therefore, every right thinking, peace-loving individual and government should embrace the ban on open grazing and buy in to ranching. There is no gain repeating the fact that ranching and sedentary tendering of cattles and other animals are more healthier and productive all over the world. It is also less cumbersome for the herders.
Basic amenities like schools, hospitals, houses, water and electricity are made available which are a far cry from what is obtainable in the bushes. It then beggars reason why, some people including a federal arm of government should support an archaic tradition of animal husbandry. This was even when it was obviously identified as a source of internal conflagration. It is most baffling that those who champion the sustenance of open grazing are living in choice cities enjoying the good things life could offer with their families while they deviously encourage others to live in the bush, trek and accompany cows from Sokoto to Bayelsa and back in the name of a traditional farming culture. Some of them have recently asked government to provide alternative to open grazing. One is at loss why a private business should ask the government for ideas or logistics on how to improve on and sustain its business. There are many known crops, fish and poultry farmers across the country. At no time did they pose any threat to their communities or compel government to do their bidding in order to sustain their personal businesses. Even if they do, they understood their roles and limitations to their demands. The question is why should it be only the cattle herders trying to box the entire nation into a corner to ensure their business flourishes against others? People have concluded that the federal government has in its body language given tacit support to the contentious activities of herders. Another vital point to note was that; many politicians and policy makers from all the regions own cows. Prohibiting their cows from roaming the streets will incurs heavy financial burden as it means denying them of free grasses, water etc.
But the interest of a few should not override that of the nation. They should not be allowed to perpetually put the country under undue pressure with their personal businesses. The right thing is right and should be done in the interest of peace. It is not enough to make an ordinary pronouncement and issue a communique at the end of a meeting. The collective decision of all the southern state governors should be backed up by an Act of the State Houses of Assembly. A state like Ekiti has an existing Anti-Open Grazing Act before 2015 while Abia and Bayelsa recently took a cue from Ekiti. Others states should make haste and follow suit by sending an anti-open grazing bill to their various state houses of assembly. Moreover, for states home and dry with anti open grazing law, the beauty of every law is a reflection of its effective implementation.
Eze, a Media and Communication Specialist writes via firstname.lastname@example.org
Credit: Daily Sun