Nigeria’ grazing reserve law was established in 1965. This created an area, mainly in the north, for exclusive use of the Fulani nomads to graze their animals. It was the first attempt at incorporating the interest of the grazers into national development. The law protected herders against intimidation and deprivation by sedentary cultivators, cattle ranchers and commercial intruders. In the same year, the northern Nigerian government, as it were, domesticated the law in the region by incorporating a Fulani amenities proposal into the grazing reserve law to protect herdsmen who lived and carried out grazing activities at the mercies of farmers that made themselves lordliness of occupied and unoccupied land.
The Fulani amenities proposal was the article that suggested the establishment of grazing reserves. It had also called for the improvement of Fulani welfare and the transformation of their herd management system. Over 6.5 million hectares of forest reserve and 98 percent in the savannah was gazetted for that purpose. The area spanned from Sokoto, in the west, through to Bauchi, in the east, and then south to Ilorin, present day Kwara State. But an increasing population and development within the areas that were earlier marked as grazing reserves led to changes in grazing; from surpluses to subsistence and survival methods that brought to fore our unthinkable experiences of this day.
The reason, when we hear about Fulani attacks against farming communities in parts of Nigeria or other innocent citizens, it is not a battle of hate but that of survival, for their cattle over insufficient pasture. This scarcity means the Fulani’s now increasingly take their herd to forage further south, through towns and large villages as they traverse from north to south, roaming cattle, goats and sheep, sometimes scavenging playgrounds, school compounds, residential areas and national highways. In doing this, they intrude and cause traffic obstructions and in extreme cases, bring violence on farming communities when confronted in remote villages for trespassing on farm lands. There have been recurring clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the central Benue, Plateau, Nassarawa states and further south in Delta. It was reported that the late Obi of Ubuluku Akaeze Edward Ofulue III was kidnapped by Fulani herdsmen in Delta state. The suspects were said to have been traced to Fulani settlements in Adamawa and Sokoto states. Only last week, there were more attacks in the Agatu communities of Benue State where at least 300 villagers including women and children were savagely mowed down by assailants suspected to be Fulani herdsmen.
His pain and anguish was palpable as Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state spoke to journalists at the Aso Rock presidential villa after his talks on the carnage with President Muhammadu Buhari. Clashes and casualties could have been avoided if government had taken time to review and repeal laws in line with new boundary adjustments and demarcations in the 51 years since the grazing reserve law were established. When the law was established in 1965, Nigeria was a country with only four regions comprising the north, east, west and the mid-west. The population was also about 52 million. Few roads had been constructed at the time with less infrastructures and absence of new towns and settlements. There were also no plans to even relocate civil servants from Lagos to a new capital in the central region or present day Abuja. And I believe Abuja was probably part of that grazing belt region.
That is how far gone things have been. Of note is the role played by successive military governments in over 30 years of our development in downplaying and not visualizing the problems posed by herdsmen, whose lands in the north have become bare due to the encroaching Sahara desert, migrating further south. In their desperation to feed their livestock, herdsmen continue to encroach on farmlands, hence the clashes with farmers and their communities. Democracy didn’t bring much relief to the situation. Instead, politicians have taken advantage of the perennial clashes as a political tool to entrench their interests.
Politicians would be better served working with herdsmen to help organize them into groups or even cooperatives in the various regions and create grazing ranches instead of wooing them through their associations for selfish agendas. This is a major reason various administrations are now arm twisted and unable to wield the big stick in instances where lives have been lost due to savage attacks on farming communities. Without mapping out modern cattle rearing routes or grazing areas to curb these clashes that have now taken on a national face and increasingly polarizing the country along ethnic, regional and religious divide, the farmer – herdsmen clashes is keg of gunpowder waiting to be ignited..
President Buhari is trying to douse the tension, especially after the Agatu incident, and also work to reduce the casualties because of these clashes. Agriculture Minister Audu Ogbeh announced the government’s plans to import grasses from Brazil for use to produce hectares of grass plots for grazing. But he did not say where they will be planted, even though the imported forage will arrive in three months. He did not disclose at how much it will cost task payers to import these grasses or when the bidding for the procurement was done in line with the change agenda of the administration.
Apart from laws establishing grazing reserves, the scheme has been a drain pipe on tax payers over the years. Billions of naira has been appropriated at different intervals to develop grazing routes and reserves whenever these clashes between herdsmen and farmers threaten to bubble over. In 2008 and 2009, 415 reserves were said to have been revived with additional 15, 000 cattle route of 4000 kilometers to curb incursions into farmlands. It was the same period that 57 billion naira was also appropriated for an agricultural land mapping project. Maybe the Fulani herdsmen can tell us how they benefitted from these projects. But I doubt they did.
However, except for politics these people need not to be spoon fed in this age and time instead their excesses should be treated and curtailed according to the law. A country that is in need of investors in the agricultural sector and wants to add value to its produce should not be breeding or pampering cold blooded assassins who kill in the course of providing for their cattle. It should instead introduce them to ranching and encourage them to build ranches. After all their ventures are private and commercial initiatives. Nigeria is not a communist neither a socialist country where the state owns and supervise the production circle be it agriculture or industrial.
The federal government needs to also punish those perpetrating heinous crimes against their own people. The government also needs to further investigate and fish out the aliens among them, directing appropriate government agencies to arrest and detain for the purpose of repatriating those who are not Nigerians as alleged by Ogbeh and at other time the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase. Though, the Fulanis could be good brides at election seasons they should not be seen to be above the law. If it is a crime for an average Nigerian citizen to move around publicly with weapons-arms and ammunition, then the Fulani nomads should not be allowed to roam about in our towns, villages and hamlets with weapons especially the unregistered. Nigeria signed the charter on the non-proliferation of small arms at various times even at the AU, we have to abide by its protocol in the West African sub region. There have been enough carnage already it is therefore time to halt these bloodbaths to allow our country grow in all aspects of human endeavors with the arrival of change.