The persistent herders’ attacks

[FILES] A member of the security forces stands next to a burnt out vehicle in the Nghar Village, near Jos on June 27, 2018, after Fulani herdsmen attacked the village. Plateau State in Nigeria has seen days of violence where more than 200 people have been killed in clashes between Berom farmers and Fulani herders, Nigeria is facing an escalation in clashes between farmers and Fulani herders over land use and resources that is deepening along religious and ethnic lines. STEFAN HEUNIS / AFP

The carnage on innocent Nigerians by Fulani herdsmen that reached its zenith with the mass killings in Benue and Plateau state in early 2018 seems to have resumed with the recent mass killings in Numa village in the Andaha community of the Akwanga Local Government Area of Nasarawa State.

Only a few would have forgotten so soon the gory scenes of the dead in array of coffins bound for mass burial. Those who forget to learn from history are bound to repeat it. It appears so with the Nigerian authorities.

As usual, there has been no decisive response from the federal authorities that have control over security matters. This again is frightening.

Amidst this ongoing carnage, the federal government is curiously preoccupied with recreating the controversial grazing routes.

President Buhari in what is clearly assuming an ambivalent pattern in far away Dubai put the blame of killings on herders from Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and elsewhere. He then urged Audu Ogbeh, the Minister of Agriculture to re-establish the grazing routes based on a so-called Gazette of the first republic as his panacea to the killings resulting in herders-farmers clashes. Not altogether strange because the Minister had on his own insisted on re-establishing the grazing routes.

Much earlier, a federal executive council meeting presided over by Vice President Osinbajo also approved about N91 billion for establishing ranches.

This insistence of the federal authorities on recreating grazing routes amidst a range of laws banning open grazing by some state governments in the country is a recipe for chaos and would not help the cause of peace in the country. It will, for sure, worsen ethnocentrism, which has been on the ascendancy since the incumbent government assumed office in 2015. Besides, it will constrain effort by regional bodies to find lasting solution to the herders-farmers conflict in West Africa.

It would be recalled that a couple of months ago, the ECOWAS parliament had indicated its interest in finding lasting solution to the herders-farmers conflict, which had claimed many lives and impacted on the economy in ways that are overly negative.

The body with long experience in conflict resolution in major crises, namely, the Mano River areas, Al-Qaeda invasion of Mali and Liberian civil war among others, has its mind on a broad framework for conversation on the issues to restore peace.

A solution hinged on the outdated idea of re-establishing the grazing route is disingenuous and would obviously be met with resistance by communities and state governments that have been on the receiving end of the prevalent killings in the country.

For example, the Benue state government has restated its extant law that meets the requirements of the business of cattle rearing globally and that could be emulated by anyone to put a halt to the senseless killings of innocent Nigerians.

It is sad that despite several wise counsels to the effect that cattle rearing is a private business and should basically be left to the initiative of the owners, the federal authorities have carried on in ways that evince partisanship to particular group interest and as a consequence reinforces the notion that the whole game plan is one of land-grab.

The point needs to be stressed that, that task of creating grazing reserves falls within the ambit of state government and not the federal government. The Land Use Act domiciles control over land in the state governments, which do so in trust for the people.

It is to be noted that over the years the Land Use Act has been manipulated. The contents are not only disempowering for the people who own the land, it is licentious in terms of access by the state. This was acknowledged by Dr. Segun Osoba who co-authored the minority report on the 1979 Constitution with Dr. Bala Usman.

In his words, the Land Use Act, “Falsely advertised in 1978 as a legal instrument for making land easily accessible to “genuine developers”, has become the device through which lands belonging to local communities or the whole country, but held in trust by the President or state governors, have been largely shared out in vast acreages among the high and mighty in the ruling class.”

However, it is doubtful that the Minister of Agriculture appreciates this fact when he said the other day that the government would not venture into any state that had no interest and would not appropriate anybody’s land.

It is important to reiterate the point that the resurgence of the mindless killings post-election by herdsmen will only lead the country into a precipice that is hardly remediable.

Nigerians are getting weary of excuses that are unreasonable. It is wrong for herdsmen to bear arms illegally, main and kill without scruples and without a corresponding response from authorities of state.

As many observers have warned, weaponising internal relations among Nigerians will only lead to unquantifiable disaster. The government must act; and do so decisively. A stitch in time they say saves nine.

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