As part of its contributions to end the bloody clash between herdsmen and farmers, the Senate is planning a public hearing for all stakeholders. Besides, it has urged the executive arm of government to urgently check the proliferation of arms in the country. OLUGBENGA SALAMI writes.
Though the executive has made several efforts to end the incessant bloody clash between herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria, the new move by the federal legislature to back such efforts is seen by many Nigerians as timely. This is because several lives and property have been lost in the past with no immediate reasons and solutions for the attacks.
Coalition of civil society groups that visited the National Assembly to protest the latest killings in Agatu Local Government Area of Benue State claimed that 400 persons lost their lives in that orgy of violence. These killings by arms-bearing herdsmen are becoming increasingly rampant in every part of the country where they have gone in search of pasture to graze their cattle.
Four years ago, a serving senator, Gyang Dantong, and Majority Leader of the Plateau State House of Assembly, Gyang Fulani, were among those killed at a funeral ceremony of an earlier batch of citizens who had lost their lives to similar attacks.
It was against these incessant killings that the Senate penultimate Thursday advised the executive to urgently check the proliferation of arms in the country and retrieve them. This followed a motion, “Tackling the Perennial Conflicts between Farmers and Cattle Herdsmen”, by Senator Chukwuka Utazi (PDP Enugu North) on the high proliferation of arms and the recurring clash between herdsmen and farmers in parts of the country.
The Upper House adopted a resolution to urgently convene a public hearing on the causes and various dimensions of the crisis. Towards this, it directed its Committees on Agriculture, and National Security to put strategies in place for an important dialogue by all stakeholders with a view to finding a lasting solution to the problem. It also urged cattle owners to ensure that the grazing of their animals does not infringe on the rights of farmers who engage in settled agricultural production.
It particularly condemned the “criminal activities of some elements among herdsmen who use the cover of their trade to perpetrate harrowing despoliation of people’s farms and engage in other sundry criminal activities”.
The Senate therefore urged the executive to urgently establish ranches and grazing reserves across the country and adopt other strategies to enable nomadic cattle handlers settle to modern system of livestock keeping.
It further called for the negotiation of all grazing reserves that cannot be easily encroached, while also urging security agencies to check the alleged proliferation of firearms among Nigerians.
Leading the motion, Senator Utazi noted that the conflict between farmers in various parts of the country and nomadic herdsmen is posing a grave danger to national security, harmonious communal life and national unity. He noted with concern that “herdsmen with little sensitivity to the economic and cultural interests of settled farm owners, lead their cattle to graze across farms and lands indiscriminately, leaving in their trail devastation of high proportions and high economic wastage”.
The lawmaker also expressed worry that tales of herdsmen being heavily armed with modern firearms and the resultant criminal activities of some elements among them constitute security breach and is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.
Similarly, he was worried about the “increasing reported cases of armed robbery, human savagery, rampant rape, maiming and kidnapping of their victims who are mostly land or settled farm owners who try to stop the devastation of their farms”.
He, however, observed that President Muhammadu Buhari had in July, 2015 directed the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to initiate strategies to end the incessant farmers and herdsmen clashes across the country and the federal government is said to be considering creating grazing routes for the movement of cattle.
Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said Nigeria alone cannot resolve the crisis, stressing that “we should involve our brothers across the sub-region to help in finding a lasting solution to this perennial crisis”.
Speaking in the same vein, Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim (APC Yobe Central) affirmed that only the intervention of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, can end constant clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the region.
The former Yobe State governor, therefore called on all 15 member states of the body to intervene and resettle herdsmen, saying it is the only way to curb the deadly clashes.
Also contributing to the motion, Senator Banarbas Gemade (APC Benue North East) noted that it is time for the federal government to establish ranches across the country to allow herdsmen and their cattle graze in one place.
Senator Abdullahi Adamu (APC Nasarawa West) identified the collapse of discipline in the areas of either blocking or taking over of gazetted grazing reserves by the government or farmers and policy somersault as major factors causing the crisis.
On his own, Senator Gemade said the police was only paying lip service to the constant killing of farmers in Benue and other parts of the country. He said the police must rise to its responsibility of protecting lives and property as the army was already over-stretched and cannot be brought in. Gemade added that the report of the joint committee set up by the seventh Senate to find solutions to the problem be adopted for implementation.
In his remarks, the Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, urged the herdsmen and farmers to emulate their counterparts in other countries where cases of bloody clashes hardly taken place.
He called on the two committees to come up with a permanent solution to the incessant crisis between farmers and herdsmen. Saraki also commended the executive for the steps taken so far to resolve it.
Earlier in an interview, Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim said all the 15 member countries of ECOWAS must be involved, as only one nation cannot solve the problem since nomads will continue to move.
He noted that the problem which had been persistent for over 100 years will never abate unless ECOWAS countries settle all their herdsmen.
“The issue of the very volatile relationship between herdsmen and farmers; that means it is a war between all communities in the country by the time you take all the farmers and herdsmen. There is war in all the 15 West African countries and it is not a new problem. I was born into it, I am half Fulani half Kanuri.
“This problem will not go away until and unless the15 governments of ECOWAS do something drastic, revolutionary and fundamental about it. There is no other solution rather than the resettlement of herdsmen with the assistance of governments of the 15countries in the ECOWAS region,” he said.
Senator Ibrahim said neither the farmers nor herdsmen could be blamed as they are both in search of their survival which is a fundamental right, adding however that he is not in support of the killings. “What has happened in various parts of the world is to resettle the herdsmen with their cattle, goats and sheep,” he said.
There is no denying the fact that it is high time that the federal government rises to the occasion with a view to put an end to the weekly ugly occurrence of embarrassing attacks, which if not stopped on time, may be worse than the Boko Haram killings. In a situation where the heinous crime of sacking whole communities is committed and about 7,000 people were said to have fled their homes, government and indeed every stakeholder must not treat it with kid gloves.