The problem of farmers and herdsmen’s recurrent clashes has cost the nation thousands of lives and property. SAM TYAV writes from Jalingo detailing suggestions made by stakeholders in order to stem incessant conflict between the two parties
It is no longer news that crisis involving herdsmen and farmers is a regular occurrence in Nigeria with high casualty figures each time it happens. In Taraba State, for instance, from December 2013 to date, 1,159 people have reportedly lost their lives in herders/farmers related crises according to investigations. But Taraba State chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, Alhaji Mafindi Umar Danburam, said over 17,000 cattle of his members have been rustled in Taraba from 2003 to date.
Regrettably, despite spirited efforts of Governor Darius Ishaku to bring peace back to the state, there are still villages across central and southern parts of the state, according to findings, that are still regarded as “no go areas” for farmers as the herdsmen have laid siege on their farm lands. This casualty figure is just one out of many others in states under Fulani herdsmen attacks. From Kaduna to Kwara, Abuja to Benue, Plateau to Nasarawa, Kano to Katsina cases of cattle rustling and herders/farmers crises have left hundreds killed and property destroyed.
Perturbed by the persistent clashes between pastoralists and farmers, which has taken massive toll on human lives, property and the economy, the federal government has inaugurated a special committee on strategic action plan for the development of grazing reserves and stock routes nation-wide. President Muhammadu Buhari, according to reports, directed the permanent secretary of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to consider recommendations of the studies commissioned by the Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF, and the Northern Governors Forum on the same subject with a view to developing a pragmatic strategic action plan to develop grazing reserves and stock routes nation-wide, so as to proffer appropriate solution towards addressing the unfortunate incidences.
But prior to this latest development, Benue State governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom was leading campaign for the establishment of modern cattle ranches, which he said remained one of the simplest ways to completely deal with the problem of farmers/herders crisis in the country.
Also sharing in this line of thought is the Catholic Bishop of Makurdi Diocese, the Most Rev. Wilfred Anagbe who said the establishment of cattle ranches will not only stop farmers/herders clashes, but would create jobs for thousands of youths roaming the streets of the country. The Bishop informed that the creation of grazing reserves and cattle routes would not solve the problem as cattle routes do pass through people’s houses, adding that the creation of grazing reserves would not stop the movement of cattle which is always the cause of conflict between herdsmen and farmers.
But a Fulani community leader, Alhaji Dodo Oroji differs on this. According to him, it was important for the federal government to provide strategic grazing reserves and social amenities including schools, water and health services across the country, to keep the herders from moving about. He argued that if government creates the reserves and settle the herdsmen in one place, it will maximally tap the economic benefit of their vocation.
“Once you halt cattle breeders from migrating from one country to another in search of food for their animal and families, you will not only ensure their safety but also have the opportunity to tap the vast economic benefits from their occupation. Most herdsmen would prefer to remain in one place if the government would take care of some of their basic problems,” he said.
For Alhaji Mafindi, chairman of Miyetti Allah in Taraba, “you can’t take away somebody’s livelihood completely and you expect the person to keep quiet and calm”. He alleged that in the past few months, 500 cattle were rustled in Jibu town, Wukari Local Government by people suspected to be Jukuns while in Kashimbilla, Takum Local Government, 200 cattle were also rustled by people he claimed were Tivs.
“My members have over the years been losing cattle to rustlers across five local government areas of Wukari, Bali, Takum, Donga and Gassol. We made several complaints to security agencies and the government but nothing has been done.”
Mafindi, like many of his kinsmen, backed the establishment of grazing reserves and cattle routes as a solution to frequent herders/farmers crisis in the country, in addition to compensation to his members who have lost their cattle to rustlers.
Clearly against this move for grazing reserves is Bishop Anagbe of Makurdi Diocese. While kicking against the move recently in Jalingo, he advised the Nigerian government to borrow a leaf from the United States of America, Kenya and other countries with zero grazing policy, but who rather keep their cattle in ranches. According to him, while grazing reserve is good, creation of ranches will solve the lingering herdsmen/farmers crisis in the country and create employment for thousands of jobless youth roaming the streets of the country in search of jobs.
“It is only in Nigeria that you could hear that cattle stop flights from landing, which is strange. Most of the accidents on our highways are sometimes blamed on cattle trying to cross the road and we can’t continue like this”.
In the midst of this raging controversy over the best option to stop farmers/ herders crisis in the country, the federal government said it has released the sum of N310 million as compensation to land owners and the exercise has already commenced in Bauchi, Plateau and Kano in the past weeks.
The federal government went further to say the last administration paid N145 million to land owners with the support of the World Bank and the committee on strategic action plan for the development of grazing reserves and stock routes. The committee is to identify existing and planned infrastructure, facilities and water points, develop short, medium and long term strategic recommendations that will end the persistent farmers and pastoralists’ conflicts in the country among others.
Antagonists of this policy including Tanko Yohana, Yakubu Dan-Asabe and John Chen all argued that the committee on grazing reserve should consider setting aside portions of land for farmers in core northern states of Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Kebbi and Jigawa amongst others so that farmers from other states can also go there and farm without hindrance.
They said the killings of farmers by herdsmen across the country will not end with the creation of grazing reserves; hence the grazers will not restrict their movement in the confines of the reserves, which are farm lands that they may not be comfortable parting ways with.
“There is no way they will keep their cattle in those reserves which in themselves are farm lands. The best way out of this is the establishment of cattle ranches with modern facilities as is done in other parts of the world,” they argued.
Though the committee on strategic action plan for the development of grazing reserves and stock routes nation-wide may have commenced work according to reports, it was advised that the committee should carefully honour views of the people in areas with anticipated resistance and if possible consider the establishment of cattle ranches in such areas as against grazing reserves.
Many lives have been lost as a result of Boko Haram insurgency and the herders/farmers crises, in addition to loss of precious property in some parts of the country. What Nigerians expect now is a permanent solution to the insecurity facing the nation, be it Boko Haram insurgency or herdsmen/farmers crisis among others.