The lingering controversies over the herdsmen/farmers’ clashes across the country may persist for a long while, as the laws and policies put in place to curb the ugly trend are obviously not being implemented or enforced dispassionately. The police, as the chief law enforcement agency have, contrary to their constitutional mandate, demonstrated an open and unabashed bias in favour of the herdsmen, a critical party to the conflict. The Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr. Ibrahim Idris, in particular, has been a passionate critic of any legislation that targets open grazing and, by implication, reduction in herdsmen’s atrocities across the country. He comes across as an official who, by his pronouncements, erroneously believes that the herdsmen have inalienable rights to do whatever they please within the Nigerian territory, including destruction of farm crops and killing of innocent citizens. The anti-open grazing laws have been passed and are being implemented by three sub-national governments of Ekiti, Benue and Taraba, yet the Inspector-General of Police who statutorily should lead the enforcement of the laws has continued to publicly condemn the legislation.
A few days ago, the following statement was credited to Idris at a security meeting with northern leaders in Kaduna State: “To reduce the incidence of clashes between farmers and herders, state government should endeavour to establish grazing ranches in their various states before enacting laws to prohibit open rearing and grazing.” This is a patently biased submission that a state official of his calibre should not have made, especially in his capacity as the IGP. Does that mean that the people and governments of the three states that have put the cart before the horse, in the IGP’s estimation, should continue to bear the brunt of the herdsmen’s blatant disregard for the anti-grazing laws? Does it mean that if the herdsmen kill people in the states where anti-grazing laws subsist, the IGP will not arrest them?
Curiously, the IGP has continued to point in the direction of the anti-grazing laws as the reason for the escalation of clashes between farmers and herdsmen. But the truth is that some of these states had witnessed more brutal clashes before the advent of the laws. The anti-open grazing laws were a practical response by the affected state governments to the menace of the armed herdsmen. Indeed, it was the absence of diligent enforcement of the laws and sloppy response by the police to threats of attacks by herdsmen that created a sense of impunity and the subsequent upsurge in clashes. And given the IGP’s pronouncements, especially the one insisting that states must prioritise the establishment of cattle ranches before enacting anti-grazing laws, it is little surprise that the clashes have yet to abate. But who is the IGP to tell states what to do? Is he bigger than the state Houses of Assembly or how is his opinion superior to the duly enacted laws by some federating units within a federal structure? Is the IGP claiming ignorance of the atrocities of the herdsmen?
It is most unfortunate that the IGP appears to have willfully descended into the political arena. It is also unconscionable of the IGP to imply that the anti-grazing laws were being hastily formulated and implemented when the daunting challenges the laws are meant to tackle have always been there. Should the people at the receiving end of the open grazing menace wait until they are totally decimated before addressing the attendant challenges? And in any case, it is not the place of the police to tell which law is good or bad; its duty is to ensure diligent and dispassionate enforcement of duly enacted laws by all levels of government. After all, the judiciary is always there to interpret the laws whenever it is approached to so.
To be sure, we believe and have always preached that ranching is the way to go, in order to boost livestock production and rein in cattle rustling and herders/farmers’ clashes. However, it is not the business of state governments, many of whom are finding it difficult to pay their workers’ salaries, to establish ranches for private cattle herders. If the Federal Government has any support programme for ranching, it can give the support through the states or directly to the pastoralists within the context of assistance to private businesses. It is by no means the right of the herders to be officially provided with ranches, but if any government chooses to support them, it should be done in such a manner that it does not create any sense of entitlement that may become another problem in the future.
The cost of this avoidable conflict across the nation in terms of loss of human lives can hardly be quantified, even though Mercy Corps, a UK-funded global humanitarian agency, has estimated the total cost to be in the region of $14 billion annually. Therefore, what is required at this moment is genuine and pragmatic solutions to the conflict which would reflect the reality on the ground and not reckless pronouncement like the IGP’s that only inflame passions and exacerbate the problem.