Herdsmen and the looming rage
As a prime indicator of the failure of leadership in the country, government at all levels and public officials seem to derive some inexplicable joy from a creed that requires the neglect of problems until they deteriorate and almost defy any redemptive measures. Let the citizens protest or wail over roads that have been rendered impassable by their dilapidation that is worsened by floods and decrepit drainage systems. The government and its officials would wait. For to them, the bigger the problem, the better. If at all they intervene after the citizens’ outrage, it would only be because the problem has festered.
This official neglect was the compost for the proliferation of the Boko Haram crisis. Now, after the crisis has hobbled the North East, the government is troubling the citizens and the rest of the world with how to redevelop the region. Yet, our leaders have not learnt their lessons; they have not realised the futility of waiting for problems to fester before deploying tepid measures to solve them. The current response of the Federal Government to the danger posed to national security by Fulani herdsmen who are now on the prowl is underpinned by the same attitude of not frontally attacking national challenges as they occur.
Of course, we cannot capriciously abridge the right of Fulani herdsmen to pursue their business like other citizens. But the problem is when the pursuit of their business is a danger to the existence of other citizens and their legitimate businesses. It is the herdsmen’s predilection for blurring the distinction between their right and the right of others to their businesses that has launched them onto a path that is paved with impunity and tragedy. They ravage farmlands of other citizens in the course of grazing their cattle. Worse still, they rape women and girls. As has become rampant, a whimper of protest from those whose farmlands are destroyed provokes a ferocious response from the heavily armed herdsmen who unleash violence on them. These confrontations have led to tragic consequences: thousands are left dead and entire communities sacked and the residents rendered homeless.
But a more worrisome development is that the Federal Government has embarked on a course to legitimise the impunity of the herdsmen. Or how else do we consider the plan by the government to establish grazing reserves for the herdsmen? Already, President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Audu Ogbeh to set up 50, 000 hectares of grazing reserves within six months first in the north before moving to the south. By this policy, the government would seize the land of other citizens and give it to the herdsmen. Under the auspices of the new policy, the herdsmen can now leave Daura in Katsina State and have grazing reserves funded by the citizens’ taxes in a community in Anambra State. Aside from the president’s move, there is a bill that has passed the seconding reading and waiting for the third reading to be passed into law that would empower the Federal Government to create grazing reserves for the herdsmen.
But rather than having any potential to end the conflicts between herdsmen and farmers, the approach of the government would rather aggravate them. For in the first place, no one wants a neighbour imposed on him or her. Not even the likelihood of the government paying compensation for the land acquired for the grazing areas would make farmers to accommodate unwanted and destabilising guests. And why must the host communities accept the government’s position when without a clear legal backing as it is now, the herdsmen are already causing so much havoc? If there is an official policy that legitimises their grazing in other citizens’ communities, would the herdsmen not be more audacious in wreaking havoc? And why should the government spend the citizens’ taxes on private businesses?
The position of the government shows that it does not sufficiently appreciate the seriousness of the crisis. It does not take into cognisance the need of the communities that are afflicted by the menace of herdsmen. And since it is getting clearer that the government has failed to solve the problem, we must all be alert to the possibility of the victims of herdsmen’s violence protecting themselves. In fact, but for the efforts of some leaders in the south where the herdsmen have caused so much havoc, the crisis provoked by them would have assumed graver dimensions. For instance, the anger of the south west was only assuaged when the herdsmen who kidnapped its prominent son Olu Falae were apprehended last year. But apparently, the arrest of the kidnappers is not enough deterrent as Falae’s farm was again invaded this week and his security man shot dead. But for the intervention of the leaders of Ondo State, there would have been reprisal with its attendant calamitous consequences. Indeed, the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) to which the security man belonged has threatened that one major way to appease them is for the suspected killers of the security man to be apprehended or else they would retaliate.
The likelihood is fast disappearing that the citizens would forever contain their anger in the face of provocation by the herdsmen. That the patience of the much-offended farmers is running out was demonstrated in a community in Delta State where a lawmaker, policemen and community leaders went into the forest to search for the herdsmen who were destroying their farmlands and raping their women.
Instead of pursuing a tendentious policy of establishing grazing reserves for the herdsmen, the government should find a lasting solution to the issue. It is shocking that the government cannot ask itself the simple question of whether in the countries of the world known for producing beef what the government is considering is the best practice there. Nigeria is not on the list of the largest producers of beef in the world. Countries such as the United States, Brazil , China, Australia and even Libya and Gabon are not riven by conflicts over cattle like Nigeria. In these countries, there are no herdsmen who wake up every morning, strap guns on their sides and begin a mission of destroying other people’s farmlands. The governments of those countries have better things to do with their time than settling herdsmen-farmers’conflicts. In these countries, those whose business it is to breed cattle have ranches for doing this.
The government should be concerned with how to improve the standard of living of the nomadic Fulani herdsmen. There is the need for the government to encourage their education. This can only be done when the herdsmen are made to settle in ranches with their families. This has an additional benefit of stopping the spread of arms. Indeed, the government must appreciate the urgency of resolving this matter without seeming to be protecting the herdsmen. This is the only way to check the looming rage of communities that have been ravaged by the herdsmen with remorseless regularity and seeming government’s complicity.