Undoubtedly the most talked about subject in Nigeria today is Cattle rearing and the attendant dangerous dimension the trade has taken, vis a vis, the destruction of farm lands and the killing of farmers as well as settlers in many parts of the country, particularly in the middle belt states of Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa, and some parts of the south west region of the country.
Cattle’s rearing is an age long engagement of principally the Fulani people in Nigeria. The Fulani are predominantly nomads who move their cattle round vegetations for grazing. They move southwards mainly during the dry season for grazing when the savannah can no longer sustain them. They move upwards during the rainy season.
Until a few years back in Nigeria, the grazing activities of these cattle have gone on, almost without a single hitch, as there were no distortions in human activities. But this has changed over the last few years.
Today, for reasons yet unknown, the cattle now feed on farm lands while the owners of the farm have also become victims of attack by the herders. The herders, now heavily armed with sophisticated riffles as against the stick for which they were known, have moved their cattle to the very interior of our vegetations, sparing nothing at sight. This has created tension and distractions.
The first implication of this trade that is meant to contribute to the GDP of the country, is the destruction of farm lands, with the concomitant outcome of food insecurity. Farmers might abandon their farms if their crops are not safe. And should this happen, the very source of human survival (food) is threatened. Once we have food insecurity, we may have on our hands hunger and an implosion of epidemics.
Perhaps more worrisome is the spate of killing of farmers and settlers by these Fulani herdsmen. These raids and attacks have continued unabated in the last couple of years. More worrisome is the seeming helplessness of the federal government, which some have arguable attributed to the encouraging body language of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Muhamadu Buhari, himself being a Fulani man and owner of cattle. The preponderance of opinion is that president Buhari has found it extremely difficult to check his Fulani kinsmen and “business colleagues”.
Apart from the perception that the president’s feet has grown cold due to ethnic consideration, some are of the view that the negative activities of the herdsmen, have gone unchecked or at best addressed with kid gloves, as a reflection of the general slow pace with which the federal government has attended to issues since inception. Whereas, those in defense of the president’s seeming slowness have argued that all is in a bid for the government to follow due process. The contradiction to that however, is seen in the swift manner the government moved against the Indigenous people of Biafra and the militants in the creeks of the south. Nigerians woke up to various military operations from Python Dance to Crocodile Smile. These men were checked and reined in in no time. Mr. president must develop the political will, rise up and brace up to confront the menacing herdsmen. Otherwise, his administration will rightly be tagged as one enmeshed in nepotism, as it is already being murmured in many quarters.
While it has been argued that cattle rearing serves both gastronomic (food) and economic (business) needs of our country and cannot be stopped, allowing it to serve as a source of threat to life and farmlands can only be an example of cutting the nose to spite the face. That simply is one step forward and two backwards. What we will have on our hands will be cyclical movements without progress, or what some have termed acceleration without motion. Removing the blocks of a section of a house to build another part of the house is an exercise in perpetual retrogression.
Cattle trade must go on but it cannot be at the expense of other businesses. Herders must ply their business, but not on the fringe of criminality as we are witnessing today.
The Way Forward
The world over, open grazing or nomadic system of cattle rearing has become obsolete. Cattle farmers now operate in ranches. The federal government has even proposed what it calls “cattle colony”, which of course has been rejected by majority of the states of the federation, claiming they cannot surrender their lands for private businesses of certain individuals. Lands in Nigeria are owned by the states, the federal government has no land of its own, except the federal capital territory, FCT. With cattle ranches or cattle colonies, there will be decency and peace. The cattle will be raised in most hygienic manner. We will not have wanton destruction of our farms and farmers. But this the Fulani herdsmen, through their association, Miyeti Allah, have rejected. They said the ranching system is not acceptable to them because it is not good for their cattle.
While some states have made laws against open grazing, quite a number of our states haven’t done so for reasons best left to the realm of conjectures. Some have argued that the anti-grazing law should be passed by the federal government, because Mr President is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of Nigeria from whom all the security agencies take order and to whom they report. Mr. President must therefore keep to the oath of office he swore to, by protecting the lives and properties of Nigerians.
So, the federal government, in solving this problem, must as a matter of urgency, put in place enabling laws to stop open grazing. This will help the security agencies and strengthen their hands to operate; for if there is no law, there cannot be sin, and if there is no sin, there cannot be punishment, and whatever act is not punishable is subject to abuse and inpunity. As at today, there is no law against open grazing. And for us to move out of this national embarrassment there must be a law regulating the business of cow herding. The federal government must rise up and save this country from imminent chaos which might be necessitated by self defense and reprisals. We cannot afford another civil war.
22nd January, 2018.