By Ya’u Mukhtar
One of the biggest problems Nigeria is being faced with is the issue of insecurity. Farmers-herders clashes is perhaps one of the key security challenges that have escalated and transformed to many aspect of crimes which are being perpetrated in the form of cattle rustling, armed banditry and kidnapping thereby heightening the tension in the country.
Farmers-herders conflict in Nigeria is mainly associated with quarrels over land resources mostly between Muslim Fulani herders and predominant Christian farmers across Nigeria. However, this tussle is more pronounced in the Middle Belt/North Central states of Jos, Nassarawa and Benue.
A 2019 report by Foreign Affairs puts the death toll as a result of this violent clashes at 10,000 within the span of two years while thousands of individuals were displaced. Alas, these violent economic struggles have been politicized and then reduced to ethnic and Northern Nigeria problem. But today, the south, specifically southeast and southwest states also share in the pie of these violent clashes.
The latest 2019 released manual for National Security Strategy opined that violent conflicts between pastoralists and farmers are widespread with severe consequences in terms of loss of lives, property and disruption of the normal functioning of society. These conflicts undermine the fabric of our corporate existence as they exacerbate various fault lines with grave implications.
The fundamental trigger for these clashes is mainly land control. As a result of industrial revolution, the beginning of 21st century witnessed an expansion of land for agriculture and non-agricultural purposes due to increase in population pressure and these enlargements were mainly done at the expense of the already pasturelands/grazing lands in the Middle Belt and other geopolitical regions. As a result, transhumance routes of herders were no longer available as they have been converted to farmsteads and other structural buildings.
Several factors that cause incessant herders-farmers conflict in Nigeria are illiteracy, water scarcity, desertification, increasing unemployment rate, porous national borders, encroachment into grazing routes and reserves, nomadism, ignorance about the grazing routes and laws, quest for land, crop damage by cattle, indiscriminate bush burning, fake news and media propaganda, politicization, rural banditry and cattle rustling, insecurity in the Sahel region, deficient government responses, and hate speeches among others.
Climate change, population explosion and growth of new settlements are also veritable sources and causal factors of most of these conflicts as stated in the latest Nigeria’s 2019 National Security Strategy document. In the documentary, it is further argued that the significant threat posed by pastoralists-farmers conflict makes it a critical issue that needs to be addressed quickly and comprehensively.
However, it is imperative to note that as long as the root causes of herders-farmers conflicts are not overcome or eliminated by the government(s) and key stakeholders (academics, religious bodies, ethnic groups, statesmen, political parties, civil society groups, media, and the international community), the desired peace necessitating sustainable socio-economic development of rural and national economies will remain elusive and a mirage.
The solution to herders-farmers violent clashes in Nigeria has remained subtle due to lack of consensus, especially between the Federal Government of Nigeria and affected north-central and southern states’ Governments, regarding the right methodology for curbing the menace. This lingering lack of consensus is attributable to the sentimentalization of this sensitive national issue given the wide ethnic and religious differences existing between the two warring groups – the ‘herders’ who are predominantly Muslims and Fulani, and the crop farmers who are predominantly Christians from the middle-belt and south.
Two recommendations that have been proffered are “ranching and anti-open grazing bill”. The FGN has demonstrated a preference for ranching and has in 2019 tried to create a Rural Grazing Area [RUGA] settlement, but the proposal was met with fierce critics. The FGN justifications for ranching are that it would constrain cattle movement and herders will be settled in an organized locality with basic amenities like schools, hospitals, veterinary clinics, markets and manufacturing entities that will process and add value to meat and animal products.
In contrast, some state governments in the middle-belt and south have prioritized Anti-Open Grazing Act saying that the bill is premised on the need to protect the lives, crops and properties of indigenous farmers and to forestall the perceived Islamization of the Middles-Belt and South-Eastern states of Nigeria by the Fulani tribes through herding.
Conclusively, it is advocated that in order to completely arrest this lingering scuffle to its final resting graveyard, application of conflict resolution mechanism, impacting of literacy, mass orientation and education of farmers and herders on grazing laws, confinement of cattle rearing to ranches and grazing-reserves and strengthening of grazing routes remain the viable solutions to persistent problems associated with herders-farmers violent clashes.
Moreover, the RUGA settlement proposed by the FGN should be piloted in some affected states in order to appraise its real potentials rather than totally rejecting it without subjecting it to any form of experimentation.
[email protected] writes from Madobi, Kano State