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The Herdsmen And The Farmers

We advocate that for a permanent solution to the frequent clashes between herders and farmers, the culture of migratory grazing where animals are led to destroy farmlands must stop

The constant conflict between Fulani herdsmen and farming communities in Nigeria is an age-old problem. However, it has escalated in the last decade and assumed a deadly dimension.

These conflicts have been traced to Fulani herdsmen whose cattle destroy crops in settler communities. The farmers are thus provoked to acts of resistance such as preventing entry into their farms or communities, cattle rustling or poisoning of fields.

When these happen the herdsmen wage deadly attacks on the farming communities with heavy toll in loss of human lives and destruction of property. In recent months, many communities, especially in the North Central zone, have come under bloody attacks.

There were reports that 70 people were killed in about six attacks allegedly perpetrated by Fulani herdsmen in Plateau State. Similarly, about 100 people were allegedly slaughtered in Plateau and Taraba states by herdsmen who said their action was in response to the theft of about 400 of their cows.

Another 80 people, including women and children, were similarly murdered in Benue State recently. Not too long ago, the death of two cows allegedly by poisoning in Zankan, Kaduna State, provoked attacks on communities in Kaduna and Plateau states that claimed over 50 lives and rendered about 10,000 people homeless.

In some communities in the north-central states, the Fulani herdsmen contest ownership of land with the indigenes which is the main reason for the constant bloody clashes there. Attacks by Fulani herdsmen have also been reported in many states in the south-west, southeast and south-south regions of the country.

In virtually all the affected communities, the herdsmen graze and destroy crops at will and visit violence on any resistance to their depredation. In some instances their cattle block traffic in cities and some highways with impunity and without any consideration for the safety of road users.

Past attempts to curb the excesses of the rampaging herdsmen had been described as attack on the Fulani ethnic nationality and this perhaps explains why successive governments have shied away from dealing decisively with the problem.

The criminal impunity thus thrives because of government’s failure to maintain law and order and bring perpetrators of criminal acts to justice. We advocate that for a permanent solution to the frequent clashes between herders and farmers, the culture of migratory grazing where animals are led to destroy farmlands must stop.

Change is a constant thing in life and we believe the time has come for the country to discard the migratory herding culture which is not only detrimental to the health of the cattle and the nomads but has also become a threat to national security. Moreover it has been proved that ranched cows produce more milk than the grazing ones.

Audu Ogbe, a former minister and large-scale farmer noted that while the Fulani cow yields one litre of milk a day, the ones in Uganda and Israel that are ranched produce 15 and 40 litres a day, respectively.

Countries in Europe, America and Asia have long discarded the system of open grazing of cattle and they are reaping the socio-economic benefits. It is against the law in many of these countries to herd livestock in the open as is the practice in Nigeria.

It is not out of place for Nigeria to adopt the models of these countries with rich livestock management traditions where cows are confined to ranches and form the basis for the development of a viable livestock industry with all its value chain. Unfortunately northern leaders do not appear to have the vision and commitment to transform their livestock sector.

They are rather throwing their weight behind a bill now before the National Assembly which empowers the federal government, through a proposed National Grazing Reserve Commission, to establish grazing routes and reserves for Fulani herders in all states of the federation, including the federal capital territory.

We are of the view that this bill, if passed into law, will only entrench migratory herding which has become archaic and unproductive. It will also not address the root cause of conflicts between herders and farming communities. With the north having over 90 per cent of cattle in the country, northern governors ought to initiate policies and programmes to revive the grazing reserves that dot their vast region, establish more irrigated reserves, and encourage large-scale ranching with artificial sources of water – boreholes, dams, canals and aqueducts – in line with modern practices.

Livestock is a money-spinner in many countries and there is no reason why it cannot be so in Nigeria. If northern leaders tow the path of development, support will come from the federal government and international development agencies.

Within some years, the northern states can boast of a vibrant livestock industry that creates employment opportunities and boosts their internally-generated revenue.

There should also be a programme for the production of cattle feed by farmers and industrialists. This will help build a symbiotic relationship between cattle ranchers and farming communities even beyond the northern states.

So apart from modernising and boosting livestock production for local consumption and export, the programme would help to put an end to the needless massacre and destruction of property, particularly farmlands, which have been the fallout of the migratory herding system practiced in the country.

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