Tackling the worsening herder/farmer conflict

Chief Timawus Mathias
The Gazette Staff
Written by The Gazette Staff

Nothing has occupied my mind and body through this week as much as the thought of finding a solution to the heightening herder/farmer conflict in Nigeria. I believe in the peaceful resolution of conflict. I abhor human suffering. It is disheartening that when it is clearly more beneficial to live in peace, bloody clashes have escalated. As I write this column, the entire Bachama land with all its water and grazing plains is without grazing cattle. Thirsty herds surround the area with frustrated herders, distraught at the negative turn of events. The peace to return to in safety of man and livestock has been destroyed. The elite who promoted this bloody disharmony is in the big cities, sleeping in cozy hotels and talking tough on radio and TV, unmindful of the peril of the ordinary herdsman. I have interacted with simple folks at the personal level. There is no hatred of one another, they all admit and indeed ask what went wrong that people who all these years had lived harmoniously suddenly began to kill each other. “See how we have all become victims. Our people have lost all their homes, and their people have lost all their cattle”, one told me ruefully.

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I was privileged last week to be in the delegation when the Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo invited the twin monarchs of Bachama and Batta, Homun Honest Irmiya Stephen and Homun Alhamdu Gladstone Teneke

At the meeting, Vice President Osinbajo was circumspect in outlining the agenda. It was not going to be one in which we went over our litany of woes. The Federal Government was well aware of all those woes and was keen only on solutions. Under the guidance of the two monarchs, we had prepared not a litany of our woes but our offering of a solution to the crisis.

We were lucky to have a son of the soil in the delegation, Professor Alikidon A Voh who all his life had devoted his time on the study teaching and development of livestock production and was a well-known authority on cattle breeding and even artificial insemination. Professor Voh as we had resolved, underlined the importance of sorting out the predicament of the Fulani nomadic pastoralist, the recurring factor in armed attacks nationwide if we are to have peace in our country. He argued that “the Fulani, Nigeria’s traditional cattle, sheep and goat rearers, are in continuous search for pastures, water, livestock markets, and inputs. As they continue to move (nomadism and transhumance), they must avoid the tsetse flies, harsh weather, tribal enemies, livestock bandits, tax assessors, hostile social environment, etc. They have no consciousness of borders or regulations. Despite their contributions to the economic life of the country, the Fulani are among the most neglected ethnic groups. Untouched by modernity and controlling little of their economic and political destinies, the pastoral Fulani wander ceaselessly with their animals in treacherous weather conditions especially the tropical rain, heat, and Harmattan.”

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The challenges were presented to include the dwindling land, fodder, and water resources; the squeezing of pastoral production into marginal areas with resultant overstocking, overgrazing and environmental degradation, the increasing competition for common resources and propensity to fatal farmer/pastoralist conflicts and the declining trends of pastoral livelihoods and its effects on the nation’s economy.

We concluded to the Vice President that “these trends, therefore, challenge Nigeria to quickly address this vulnerability by revisiting the entire agricultural system in general and animal agriculture in particular”, concluding that Nigeria could not run away from “SEDENTERIZATION AND SETTLEMENT OF THE NOMADIC AND TRANSHUMANT PASTORALISTS/CATTLE REARERS”; and that eventually, this would take place on its own disastrously.

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Professor Voh revealed the alarming statistics that Nigeria has 68 million hectares of arable land, 267 billion m3 of surface water, 57.9 billion m3 of underground water, 3.14 million hectares of irrigable land, 15 million cattle, 22million sheep, 35 million goats and 313 (or more ) grazing reserves covering 2,819,249 ha. Yet Nigeria has effectively remained a net importer of food. It is ironical that with this natural endowment, Nigeria is still performing sub-optimally in livestock production largely because of the operation of the traditional and unmodernized livestock production system.

We offered for a fundamental solution, immediate response to challenges emanating from the demographic, social, economic, environmental and political changes and in turn affecting peace. We demanded that the Federal Government should appropriately respond also to the disarming of armed herdsmen and farmer militias, immediate rehabilitation and restoration of all the displaced communities to include compensation by Governments at all levels. We made it clear that we strongly support the ranching of cattle as an economic venture, against the setting up of cattle colonies and nomadism. We felt that President Buhari could have brought his appeal to bear on the crisis personally to stem further strife and save more lives.

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At the meeting Agriculture Minister Audu Ogbe revealed that there are 415 grazing reserves covering 2,819,249 ha, of which only 141 are gazetted, and stock routes immediately redefined. Indeed the plight of the pastoralist is made worse by the fact that prominent personalities have acquired titles to vast lands and some of these reserves depriving the herder, even as they obviously do not herd any livestock. We were of the view that governments should intervene, regards the reserves and open them up to the pastoralists with simple watering points of solar-powered boreholes and manmade ponds. On the basis of available scientific and applied research data, and of all the available options, the settlement of pastoralists on Grazing Reserves and Ranching remains the most technically and economically feasible option that will, in addition to improving productivity, also address the current security and other challenges and problems bedeviling the livestock production system.

In order to address the problem of land acquisition and/or availability, we demanded recovery of all encroached grazing reserves, use of the already gazetted ones, (and there are 141 of them) and the gazetting the non-gazetted ones.

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This change cannot come overnight. There has to be awareness creation, enlightenment, and advocacy of the policy to farmers and pastoralists. The leaders of the Fulani have a major role to play towards seeking peaceful and nonviolent access to land and water resource, enlightenment adoption of modern livestock production methods, taking advantage and use of available improved stock, forage and concentrate feed as well other available livestock production technologies.

Written by Chief Timawus Mathias

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