Calming the Communal Clashes

05 Mar 2013

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The displaced people during Gwari/Fulani clash in their relief camp in Abuja

Chineme Okafor and Senator Iroegbu followed through the recent communal conflict between Fulani pastoralists and Gwari farmers in Gwako village within Gwagwalada Area Council of Abuja and report that such tension could be attributed to a seeming rise in intolerance for the nomadic herdsmen by the host communities across the country

For the Fulani herdsmen who labour day by day to graze their cattle in communities across the nation, things are no longer the same. Nowadays, constant crisis between host communities and the herdsmen are forcing the cattle rearers to a retreat.

News of conflicts between nomadic Fulani pastoralists and farming communities across Nigeria have lately come to be regarded as one time bomb that could suddenly erupt from any part of the country where the nomadic shepherds tread.

Oftentimes, such conflicts leave behind  it ruins and blame games; lives, properties and means of livelihood would have been destroyed when dusts finally settle on such conflicts that in most cases become the harbinger of communal clashes.

Traditionally, experts in conflict resolution and management have argued that resolving cultured-based conflicts such as the lingering clashes between Fulani nomads and farming communities would usually involve fostering efficient communication among disputants, and evolving systematic problem solving with drafted agreements that meet underlying needs of conflicting parties with deliberations on sustainable win-win solution that includes mutually satisfying scenario for everyone involved.

These experts have also stated that in all cases, conflict will remain part of the human nature; people, communities, nations and indeed countries will have situations of different goals and needs that come into conflict and may create sustained animosities. Seeking to resolve rather than contain conflict situations have proved useful in managing real and legitimate differences between people before they snowball into unending crisis.

From Nigeria’s far northern region to its central region, reports of Fulani clashes with farming communities have been rife; Plateau and Nasarawa States as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja have at least witnessed such recent communal clashes that have left the government looking for quick-fix rather than enduring resolutions to what has gradually become a threat to national peace.

Recently, it was all familiar but tragic scenarios when in about two days to the turn of 2013, Nigeria yet again witnessed what would have ended up as an unfortunate bloodbath if the urgent and decisive acts of relevant stakeholders had not come to bare on calming a communal clash that was gathering in Gwako town at Gwagwalada in the outskirt of FCT-Abuja.

The controversy was between the Gwari and Fulani nomads based on the usual livestock encroachment on farmlands as well as boundary-related disputes. Accordingly, what started as mere disagreements between few people on that Saturday night of December 29, 2012, soon became full blown communal clash; it left two people dead, five injured victims and over 1,500 people displaced from about 27 settlements that were wrecked.  Yes, the ugly sight that remained of the settlements tell a simple tale of breakdown in communal forbearance.

While the situation was smartly controlled through the collective efforts of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and FCT Administration (FCTA) which jointly activated measures to checkmate reprisal attacks, it thus amplify concerns over the country’s “firebridgade” approach to taking up challenges in lingering communal clashes across the federation.

But unlike alleged delayed interventions in such regular clashes witnessed in parts of Plateau State, the prompt response of the Nigerian Police Force, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Nigerian military formation to curtail an escalation of the Gwari/Fulani clash was good enough.  But expert say, a proactive conflict resolution measure remains the best approach to minimizing such clashes in the future.

Sustaining peaceful co-existence

In the aftermath of the crisis, the Commissioner of Police in FCT, Mr. Aderenle Shinaba, insisted that the command had initiated adequate measures to foil possible retaliation from the Fulani nomads against its Gwari opponents. He also confirmed the arrest of 15 suspects in connection with the clash.

Shinaba sounded optimistic with security measures initiated.  A visit by THISDAY to the conflicting sites and temporary refugee camp at the University of Abuja permanent campus also confirmed the existence of a good measure of security cover for affected and vulnerable persons.

In the same way, efforts were also made by NEMA which provided temporary safety arrangements for the victims. The Director General of NEMA, Mr. Muhammad Sani-Sidi thus confirmed that over 1,500 internally displaced people were accommodated at the temporary relief camp while the Minister of FCT,  Senator, Mohammed Bala reiterated government’s resolve to address the cause of the crisis and resettle the victims back to their homes.

The FCTA provided relief materials that included food, water, mattresses and blankets to the victims and Mohammed immediately convened a stakeholders meeting which was held at Gwagwalada to resolve the crisis and restore normalcy in the affected zone.

At the meeting, Mohammed warned the warring parties against reprisal attacks, he also assured the people that all efforts were being made to restore peace in the communities, while at the same time pledged to take punitive actions against the offenders. The minister also backed up this step with the setting up of a 15-man investigative panel. The panel was headed by Shinaba and got one week to submit the report of its findings.

In line with the recommendations of a committee sets up by the FCTA on the crisis and headed by its Permanent Secretary, Mr. Anthony Ozodinobi, Muhammed  the FCT Minister subsequently approved the payment of N30 million as compensation to displaced victims of the clash. He also approved the immediate payment of N2.4 million in compensation to families of the two deceased and eight other victims.

The committee which asked the investigative panel to hasten up its job to allow it bring culprits to book on time, also requested the FCTA to accelerate plans with the actualisation of the movement of the Fulani’s to the permanent grazing reserve at Paikun Kure on the medium and long term.

Muhammed also pledged to implement recommendations of the committee within the next three months. Nevertheless, some of the victims who spoke to THISDAY in vernacular noted that the process of their resettlement was been done in good faith by the FCTA and that the government had been considerate to their plights.

Some of the Fulani herdsmen however expressed fears over a possible revenge by their Gwari brothers and told THISDAY that the crisis was an unfortunate event which they do not wish to happen again.

Grazing zones to break the cycle of clashes

Muhammed announced at the meeting that the FCTA would quickly initiate major steps to create a grazing zone in the FCT to minimise the reoccurrence of such communal clashes.

He said: “If people were not properly resettled, there may be food crisis in the FCT, and I have directed that the people displaced by the crises now squatting in a temporary site at the University of Abuja should be taken care of properly by Abuja Metropolitan Management Council (AMMC) and National Emergency Management Commission (NEMC).”

But, while the final outcome of efforts to implement recommendations of the technical committee is being awaited, it is instructive to point out that realities of clashes between nomadic Fulani herdsmen and indigenous communities in various states of the federation are evident in the number of lives lost to such incidents as well as the financial value of properties destroyed in the crisis which is fast spreading with consequences from the upper Middle Belt regions of Nigeria down to Southern parts of the country as recently reported in Delta state.

For instance in one of such clashes in July 2012 in Plateau State, some 200 persons, including a serving federal senator, Gyang Dantong, were killed in Matse and Kakuru villages. Dantong and others were attacked during a funeral for some people killed earlier by suspected Fulani herdsmen.

And penultimate week in Ngandum Village, Sugu district in Ganye chiefdom of Adamawa State scores of houses were burnt and several farms destroyed as pastoralists and farmers once more engaged in a fierce battle of control.

In that clash, at least six people were confirmed dead.  The chairman of the local government Mr. Muhammadu Farouk Adamu explained that “the violence erupted at the weekend, when pastoralists attacked the farming village of Ngandum.

"Herdsmen led their cattle into rice fields resulting in the death of a farmer."

Clashes between farmers and pastoralists over grazing fields are on the rise throughout the country as pastureland shrinks, according to experts.

They argued that the land reserved for cattle to feed is being taken over by farmers, especially in the North. “It becomes difficult for herds to move and graze without veering into crop fields and when that happens, there will be a clash."

Tags: Life and Style, Life, Featured, COMMUNAL CLASHES

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