Last week, I was in Birnin Kebbi for the National Symposium on the persistent conflicts that have affected not only farmer-herder relations but has also posed one of the most serious threats to national security in recent years. The event was convened by the law firm of Dikko & Mahmoud in honour of their partner, the late Alhaji Abubakar Boyi Dikko who died on February 22, 2019. Alhaji Dikko was an outstanding legal practitioner who graduated from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1979. He served in various capacities in the course of his career including, Attorney-General in the Defunct Sokoto State (comprising, Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara). He was also the pioneer Attorney-General of Kebbi State before moving to Kano to help co-found the law firm of Dikko & Mahmoud.
Alhaji Dikko also was deeply embedded in his local community and had a lifelong interest in issues affecting pastoral communities. He served as a pro-bono legal adviser to the Miyyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association and was regularly involved in dispute settlement between pastoralists and farmers. It was for this reason that the Symposium was convened on the first anniversary of his death. The key objective of the symposium is to bring together various subject matter experts engaged in the field as researchers, activists, policy people, academics and legal scholars in a multidisciplinary setting to identify the objective causes of the problem and identify pathways to sustainable solutions to the conflict, which is threatening the entire country and indeed the Sahel region of West Africa.
The farmer-herder conflicts in Nigeria have grown, spread and intensified over the past decade and today poses a direct threat to national survival. Thousands of people have been killed, communities have been destroyed and so many farmers and pastoralists have lost their lives and property in an orgy of killings and destruction that is not only destroying livelihoods but also affecting national cohesion. What started as a crisis of pastoralism has today developed many dimensions including inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts, rural banditry, criminality and widespread kidnapping.
In his remarks, the Vice President, represented by his Special Adviser on Agriculture, Dr. Andrew Kwasari, was emphatic that that the work done by the National Committee on the crisis composed of governors and ministers have found out that essentially, it is a crisis generated by expansion of farming and transhumance agriculture based on access to land, pasture and water with easy solutions. The problem, he argued is that too many politicians and religious conflict entrepreneurs have a stake in deepening the conflict and making solutions difficult to implement. He argued that the ten-year National Livestock Transformation Plan is workable and the surest path to peace and development and should be allowed to work.
Nigeria has about 19 million cattle much of it in the hands of pastoralists while the country’s population has grown from 33 million in 1950 to about 200 million today. This phenomenal increase of the population has put enormous pressure on land and water resources used by farmers and pastoralists. One of the outcomes of this process has been the blockage of transhumance routes and loss of grazing land to agricultural expansion and the increased southward movement of pastoralists has led to increased conflict with local communities. This is particularly the case in the Middle Belt – notably in Plateau, Kaduna, Niger, Nasarawa, Benue, Taraba, and Adamawa States. The conflicts primarily involve Fulani pastoralists and local farming communities. As violence between herdsmen and farmers has grown and developed into criminality and rural banditry, popular narratives in the form of hate speech have exacerbated the crisis.
In his remarks, the Kebbi State Governor, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu explained that the massive expansion of rice farming and the product of three cycles of production by irrigation each year has increased farmer-herder conflicts in the State and we must collectively must seek urgent pathways to conflict resolution for communities while developing a live and let live approach. It is important to note that Nigeria has 98 million hectares of land out of which 82 million is arable. However, on 34 million hectares are cultivated so there is enough land for both pastoralists and farmers at the moment although the land surface devoted to cultivation is growing rapidly.
The Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, strongly recommended the development of water and pasture resources within grazing reserves to cater for the interests of pastoralists who could then be oriented away from areas where extensive farming is on-going. Of course, in the long run, Nigeria and indeed Africa have to plan towards the transformation of pastoralism into settled and modern forms of animal husbandry. Dr. Junaidu Maina argued that type of livestock modernisation that transformed poultry production has to be extended to cattle, sheep and goats in all communities in the country. Meanwhile, it is prudent to explore the use of grazing reserves to provide the opportunity for practicing a more limited form of pastoralism and is therefore a pathway towards a more settled form of animal husbandry. Nigeria has a total of 417 grazing reserves that could be used for this purpose.
Ambassador Chievelor Kaave, former Attorney General of Benue State contended that we allowed a simple crisis of the management of access to water and pasture resources to develop into a national security crisis. He added, for too long, we “Culpably neglected” the pastoral community neither helping to modernise their livestock method nor encouraging their children to go to school and we are paying the price today. He lamented the silence of Federal and State Governments and violence entrepreneurs openly espouse hate and dangerous speech that push communities to further violence.
In his contribution, Dr. Abubakar Siddique Mohammed queried our narrowing of the theme to farmer-herder conflicts because while that might have been the origin of the present security dilemma, the situation has been transformed dramatically. It is now gangs engaged in rural banditry, the pillaging of communities and mass kidnapping in vast ungoverned spaces as state authority and the police and other law enforcement forces have diapered from such communities. He therefore emphasised the need for a broader approach to re-establish law and order and above all State authority in the hinterland.
Jane Ezirigwe from the National Institute of Advanced Legal Studies described the legal quagmire that has presented challenges to seeking practical solutions to farmer-herder conflicts. Indeed, one of the greatest difficulties in addressing and resolving issues surrounding pastoralism is the politicisation of legal regimes and the blockages to the enactment of or implementation of laws that can redress the key challenges posed. In 2016 for example, a bill was proposed – ‘‘A Bill for an Act to establish Grazing Reserve in each of the states of the Federation Nigeria to improve agriculture yield from livestock farming and curb incessant conflicts between cattle farmers and crop farmers in Nigeria’’ was thrown out. There is an emerging conflict between the constitutional principle on free movement of persons and goods and laws emerging in some States restricting movement. Some States have enacted laws or are processing bills to prevent open grazing on their territory. There are four initiatives so far in Benue, Ekiti, Taraba and Edo States. Could such laws be effective in prohibiting pastoralism, which is practiced by millions of Nigerians?
According to Dr Ukoha Ukowe who heads an or organisation engaged in conflict management and peace building, many practical modules have been developed from all over the country that could be adopted. He called for more capacity building to draw the attention local peace activists and governments on methods they could use to stem the rise of violent conflicts in the country. The convenor of the Symposium, Mr. A. B. Mahmoud SAN, called for the development and implementation of a comprehensive policy framework on the farmers-pastoralists. The Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed and the President of the General Assembly, Professor Tijjani Bande sent video messages stressing the global nature of the crisis generated around the farmer-herder crisis and emphasised the need to contest diversionary religious and ethnic narratives propounded to confuse people for political purposes and called for the search for objective problem-solving approaches.