The Horizon By Kayode Komolafe email@example.com 0805 500 1974
The horrifying footages on television of the devastation of Agatu communities would remain a chilling monument to the frequent clashes between herdsmen and farmers in some parts of the country. There have been heart-rending reports of lives lost and homes destroyed. Farmlands have been deserted. The wounded and the displaced are in need of proper care and support.
Mercifully, relief is coming the way of the poor victims of the bloodletting. Security forces have also stepped up efforts to restore law and order in the affected areas.
It is the hope of lovers of peace that the displaced villagers would all soon be back to their communities. Doubtless, the latest round of violence in parts of the Middle Belt should force an official answer to the lingering question: what is to be done to end the episodic clashes between herdsmen and farmers? If the government was waiting for a wake-up call to respond to this question, what happened to the Agatu communities should be a sufficient alarm. Two broad issues of economics and law and order could be isolated from the tragedy. They are the protection of lives and property as the primary duty of the state and the articulation and implementation of a policy incorporating pastoral farming.
The question of security is urgent. It is highly distressing that communities could be so cheaply invaded by armed attackers for days. Were there any intelligence reports that such violence was about to erupt? The helplessness of those so brutally attacked cannot be rationalised under any guise by the officialdom. In some reports it is even alleged that many of the attackers are foreigners, thereby further complicating the matter. Whatever happened to the security at the nation’s borders? It is scary to contemplate that the violence could not be prevented.
And when killings and destruction begin in communities, it is expected that there would be a swift response to protect the people. It is also important to make an example of perpetrators of violence. You are not going to curb killings when killers go unpunished. It would be interesting for the police to give a comprehensive report on those involved in similar clashes, for instance, in the last one decade. How many of the suspected killers have been successfully prosecuted and punished?
The episodic killings around the country constitute a categorical challenge not only to the police, but the whole of the justice sector. Whatever the motive of killings, a credible system should be able to account for every life lost and ensure that justice is done. It is the least expected from a social order with integrity. It would be useful for the various security agencies to draw lessons from the recent round of violence.
The second issue is the failure (or is it lack) of policy on grazing. As you ponder the tragedy arising from the clashes of herdsmen and farmers, you are bound to wonder why the problem persists as if it has no solution. The outcomes of the numerous studies and investigations into the problem have not been put into use. Apart from panels of enquiry, academic findings have been made on what to do in solving the problem. It is ironic listening to experts talk about the solution while the tragedy unfolds. The herdsmen are in need of pastoral farms as they move their cattle round the country while the nation is lacking in policy. So the herdsmen are actually moving round their cattle in a policy vacuum.
When discussing issues of food security and production, Agriculture Minister Chief Audu Ogbe is even more eloquent than his younger predecessor, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina. Both men can wax lyrical when telling you about “agricultural value-chain.” They are ardent at reeling out figures to convince you about the possibilities in the agricultural sector if developed. But all this would not be a substitute for a proper agricultural policy articulation and implementation.
The consequence of this huge policy deficit is playing itself out in the convulsions. In this specific case, there is the policy challenge of integrating the nomadic herdsmen into the modern agricultural system. It is beyond dispute that the herdsmen are playing an important role in the economy. The cattle they move round communities are a major source of protein. However, as economic players they should act within the law. On this page, columnists of this newspaper have questioned the practice in the 21st century of moving cattle in hundreds of kilometres in the process of producing animal protein.
In particular, Dr. Chidi Amuta and Mr. Femi Falana have raised important points in this regard. The nation has been reminded of the efforts to create grazing land in the past as part of agricultural policies.
However, it is easier for the political elite to focus on how to exploit the tragedy politically instead of facing the policy challenge squarely. Hence are they are more interested in qualifying the herdsmen with the adjective “Fulani” and describing the farmer as “Agatu “ or “Kanuri” or “Yoruba.” It is important to go beyond the superficial if the problem is to be solved.
The contradiction between the cattle herdsman and yam farmer is not based on their respective nationalities. The conflict is not primarily ethnic. The underlying force is economic. It is not because the farmer is Tiv, Agatu or Yoruba that clashes happen; it is because the production process of the herdsman is incompatible with that of the farmer. The farmer defends his farm as a source of livelihood.
So policy should assist the nomadic herdsman to produce beef in a way that is compatible with the modern system of production. The herdsmen are stuck in a pre-capitalist mode of production in an age when beef is made available to the market in a sophisticated manner. Technology has even made the process so advanced that the atavistic method of the herdsmen would have no place in it. So, it is time the government designed up-to-date agricultural policy that would include programmes on development of grazing land and production of beef.
The problem is further compounded by the destructive impact of climate change on the ecosystem. In the northern part of the country from where the herdsmen move downward to clash with farmers there is an ecological battle with desertification. It is suggestible to Ogbe as he works on the solution to pay more attention to the interplay of the forces of economics and ecology as a policy is being designed.
For instance, the recovery of the ecosystem to create vast grazing land to grow livestock in the northern part of the country could be part of the programme. The scientific management of the grazing lands would also pose its own challenge when they are created. All these are to be squarely addressed in a carefully designed policy. And that would be a fundamental way of looking at the problem.