Indiscriminate grazing, the law and the herdsmen

Notwithstanding, amidst the harvest of carnage arising from clashes between these herdsmen and their host communities, some state governors have decided to keep quiet and live in denial.

The report and images of cattle grazing inside the National Stadium, Abuja, remains, indeed, a grave embarrassment to the government, an assault on the senses of and a gratuitous insult to the people of Nigeria. Apart from the effrontery and wanton recklessness with which the herdsmen carried on with the violation of the stadium, what was more disgusting about the situation was the glaring inaction of those who should act. According to the reports, whilst security personnel at the stadium claimed to be too incapacitated to do anything about it, officials of the Ministry of Youth and Sports remained silent. This is sad and exasperating.  It is a dangerous precedent that must not be allowed to fester.

Perhaps, it is the need to guard against this kind of irresponsibility demonstrated at the federal level right under the nose of those at the commanding heights of the nation’s leadership that informed the anti-grazing law which has just been passed by the Taraba State government, as well as its condemnation by the Fulani community. The misgivings expressed over the anti-grazing law by the Kawtal Fulbe-Nigeria, the umbrella body of Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria, is, of course, understandable given the deployment of self-preservation devices by many governors and communities. But barring extraneous factors such as witch-hunting or any naked show of power, the gesture is a bold expression of the government’s primary function of safeguarding lives and properties of its citizens.

Conversely, the case of the embarrassment at the National Stadium, Abuja, immediately advertised the level of government complicity or timidity and how irresponsible silence could give room for others to treat state facilities with the same kind of impunity.

Grazing is not a recent activity in Nigeria. For as long as Nigerians can remember, this agricultural activity has contributed immensely to food security. That Nigerians enjoy ample beef supply in their diets and cuisines is largely due to the animal husbandry of the cattle rearers. Besides, grazing activities have fostered socio-cultural relationship amongst communities and promoted unity and harmonious existence. In short, it has always been considered normal, and Nigerians, farmers, host communities and herdsmen, have enjoyed good relationship.

That being the case, why then does the country have the current harvest of carnage, destruction and occupation? The other day, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, as if speaking on behalf of the herdsmen suggested that the armed herdsmen causing mayhem everywhere were not Nigerians? If they are not Nigerians, why are some influential Nigerian chieftains opposed to anti-grazing laws or such measures that seek to address the menace of these ‘foreign’ herdsmen? If it is common knowledge at the federal level, as the minister suggested, that the armed herdsmen are from neighbouring countries, why has there not been any arrest and prosecution of these itinerant killers? Inaction, silence and selective prosecutions, especially in cases where communities resort to defensive action against the herdsmen, have caused many to believe that there are very powerful people behind the herdsmen, thus giving the impression that there is an agenda. Furthermore, it is even speculated that the menacing grazing method currently carried out by herdsmen is another form of ethnic domination.

This ought not to be the case if grazing is simply agricultural. The argument is this: If somebody is going to use another man’s land for grazing, he has to negotiate the terms of use or pay for it. If he negotiates to a point of mutual agreement, all will live in peace so long as there is no breach. The argument that justifies the indiscriminate pillaging of farmlands by cattle grazing, on the pretext of being an unchangeable cultural practice of the Fulani, is cheap blackmail.

Since the Senate has ruled that issues relating to grazing are matters for the states to handle, states should enact laws to address the menace of herdsmen in the same manner Ekiti, Benue and recently Taraba did in passing by-laws. States that have not passed laws concerning the activities of herdsmen should do so now.

Notwithstanding, amidst the harvest of carnage arising from clashes between these herdsmen and their host communities, some state governors have decided to keep quiet and live in denial. This is cowardly and irresponsible. To such lily-livered state administrators, it must be pointed out in clear terms that they do not have the interest of their citizens at heart. Whilst they must guard against executive rashness and foolhardiness in handling this issue, they should realise that there is nothing virtuous in looking the other way, or suing for false peace in the face of glaring injustice. Their positions as the first citizens in their states demand courage and prudence to speak against injustice. To be silent over indiscriminate grazing and the attendant violence is to feign blindness and dumbness to atrocities against helpless citizens. This is betrayal, a brazen display of treachery.

When leaders refuse to do anything in the face of crisis, they give room for people to help themselves in whatever way they think they can.

Nigeria needs peace. This country needs progress. But present indicators do not suggest peace or progress. This is because peace cannot be imposed, for it is a state that evolves from a people’s self-awareness.

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