AS a problem-solving mechanism, the last Special Town Hall Meeting organised by the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, fell far short of expectations. Rather than deal squarely with the hydra-headed problem of Fulani herdsmen carnage across the land, it turned out to be a platform for not only providing excuses for their atrocious acts but also justifying them.
Instead of dealing with the issue of killings as pure criminality – which should be met with adequate punitive measures by the appropriate state institutions – speaker after speaker at the meeting provided tons of reasons why killer herdsmen do what they do and why they should be placated with an urgent provision of grazing reserves. To Ibrahim Birma, the Chairman, Council of Kingmakers in Biu, Borno State, the solution lay in grazing reserves or nothing, while the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria insisted that developing grazing reserves was the first step to take before embracing ranching.
Perhaps, the only reference to criminality was made by the minister of information in his opening speech and this was in relation to cattle rustling, not the wanton destruction of human lives and property wrought daily by the Fulani herdsmen. This is an issue that has resulted in the loss of thousands of lives and the sprouting of Internally Displaced Persons’ camps across a number of states. Yet, what was uppermost in the minds of most discussants was how to placate the killers.
But for as long as the government continues to bury its head in the sand, the problem of herdsmen killings will not go away. All the stories about shrinking grazing land as a result of desertification or climate change and population explosion should not be enough reason for a group of people to embark on a killing spree across the land. Although Mohammed mentioned some steps taken so far to contain them, such steps appear to be grossly inadequate. This is why the killings have continued, unabated, on a daily basis.
It should be noted, as the Governor of Kebbi State, Atiku Bagudu, rightly said, that every aspect of farming as private business – whether land tilling, fishing or animal husbandry – is affected by the vagaries of weather or manipulations by the invisible hands of nature. According to him, while the farmer is affected by inadequate farmland to cultivate, the fisherman faces the problem of inadequate water, as in the case of the receding waters of Lake Chad, and the herders face the problem of insufficient vegetation for the grazing of their cattle.
But these can hardly be sufficient reasons for trespassing on other people’s land or the wanton killing of people by herdsmen in the course of trying to feed their cattle. If herders continue in their criminality, what are the farmers and fishermen expected to do – just fold their hands and be resigned to fate? For instance, in the Niger Delta, where most of the water has been contaminated by oil spills and the farmland rendered useless for the same reason, why have the people not resorted to killing and destroying other people’s means of livelihood?
In fact, why should people cede their land to other people because they are herdsmen? What is so special about herdsmen? In a country where it is a crime for unlicensed people to carry guns, why should armed herdsmen be allowed, not only to roam freely but to use their guns to inflict mayhem on other peace-loving citizens across the country? Why is it so difficult to disarm the criminals who go about killing in the name of searching for grazing land?
Unfortunately, instead of rounding up the criminals and making them to face the law, the same government officials have come out to say that they are killing because they have been denied access to designated grazing routes. Even somebody as highly-placed in government as the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, said, “If those (grazing) routes are blocked, what do you expect will happen?”
Such an insensitive statement could only throw up more questions. For example, was the church in Benue State which the killer herdsmen invaded and killed 19 worshippers, including two priests, standing on a grazing route? When the herdsmen trespassed on Wole Soyinka’s premises, was it because the renowned playwright was blocking their grazing routes? The same question could be asked in relation to the encroachment on the farmland of a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Olu Falae, whose farms were violated and the man himself abducted. When people in authority refuse to refer to criminality by its real name, it casts doubts on their sincerity about tackling the problem.
The same Dan-Ali was unsparing when he was talking about the forest guards rightly constituted by the Benue State Government to enforce the grazing law promulgated by the state. He said, “Some people were caught with arms and they call themselves Forest Guards or whatever, with AK-47. There is nowhere in the country where arms are allowed to be carried (by people) apart from legitimate security forces.” If he believes that only “legitimate security forces” should carry arms in Nigeria, what has he done to stop the free-killing and freewheeling herders from doing so?
Ranching has been widely accepted as the modern way of rearing cattle globally. Not only does it improve yields, it also generates a lot of foreign exchange in a country like Brazil, for instance. The Amazon region of the country is home to approximately 200 million heads of cattle. Brazil is the largest exporter globally, according to Global Forest Atlas. This has been made possible through ranching. The practice is also in vogue in other major cattle breeding countries of the world. If Nigeria plans to reap bountifully the benefits of cattle rearing, there is no option but to go the way of ranching on a sustainable basis.
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