Herdsmen/Farmers’ Clashes: Ogbeh Derserves Commendation Not Rebuke

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Innocent Adikwu

The article – “Ogbeh’s illogic on herdsmen, farmers clashes” – published at page 70 of THISDAY Newspaper of Sunday, September 17, must have jolted many readers, knowing that Chief Audu Ogbeh, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, is one of the few Cabinet Ministers in the Buhari administration that are rated highly for their achievements.

Nigeria did not experience food shortages in the midst of a recession and acute shortage of foreign-exchange precipitated by the monumental looting by the immediate past administration and compounded by the sharp fall in the price of crude oil largely because of the efficient management of affairs in the Agriculture Ministry.

The writer of this caustic article, Anayo Okolie, was angry that the Minister said at the National Conference on the Transformation of Nigerian Livestock Industry held in Abuja recently that planning and funding were needed to address the problem of frequent clashes between herdsmen and farmers. The question is: What can any Ministry or Government for that matter do without planning and funding through budgetary provision? Indeed, the National Conference on the Transformation of Nigerian Livestock Industry convened by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture is a strong indication of the eagerness of the Minister to find a lasting solution to a protracted crisis that past governments have failed to adequately resolve.

Anayo Okolie in his write-up quoted the Minister as having said the following at the conference, but curiously disregarded or failed to understand the nexus between the statements and the determination to tackle the root causes of the herdsmen/farmers crisis:-

“To solve this problem requires a great deal of planning and expenditure. You can’t think that after one meeting, then recommendations come, you want to solve the problem; you don’t have all the funds at once, because this is a problem that has been with us for quite a while, it’s just growing and getting worse.

“The budget we have can’t cope. The state governors must be involved. Other stakeholders, who want to keep ranches, cattle must be here. If we don’t have the money, we ask the FAO, the World Bank or AfDB, because that is their job – to help us out. Then, we draw our design, do a costing and pass it on to them.

“The reason for this new approach is to put this matter before all Nigerians. It’s our problem. Quarrelling, hauling abuses at each other, raising suspicions, anger and all that will not help. We have a problem, we must solve it and solutions are not that difficult to find, which is why we have invited virtually everybody we think will help in providing solutions – state governors, experts, ministries, consultants, the World Bank, the FAO – we want to sit together and design a solution. A country which has at least 45 million hectares of empty land has no business allowing farmers and cattle rearers to fight,” he stated.
It takes a lot of malice and prejudice to ignore the Minister’s statement and go ahead to attempt to ridicule him.

The atrocities committed by herdsmen around the country are well known and have been condemned. The Federal Government has directed security agencies to clamp down on the marauding herdsmen and many state governments are taking measures to protect their people from the excesses of the herdsmen. But the best solution to the lingering problem lies in addressing the root causes. It is a fact that when grazing areas shrink pastoralists compete over limited resources, increasing the potential for conflicts. Nigeria had a well-defined cattle route, supported by about 480 grazing reserves across the country. That’s almost all disappeared as states took control and put the land to other uses.

The herdsmen, however, have not been adequately educated on these changes and they continue to move their animals along the old routes that have new owners. The heavy cattle traffic is sustained by the strong demand for beef. About 80,000 cows are slaughtered and consumed in Nigeria daily. Nigerian cattle rearers don’t have that much. Therefore there is a lot of cross-border activities by herdsmen from neighbouring countries in search of new grazing terrain and for trade. ECOWAS treaty allows such free movement across the borders. Some of the herdsmen may not even be Nigerians, all the more reason why the national conference was desirable.

What many of us don’t know about the herdsmen is that they will be happy to stay in any location where they have adequate grass and water for their animals rather than taking risks roaming with their cattle in order to find fresh pastures on which to graze.

This underscores the wisdom in inviting state governors who are the custodians of land, and those who may develop ranches to the conference to talk with Food and Agricultural Organisation, the World Bank and African Development Bank to address the root causes of herdsmen/farmers clashes.

It is disheartening that Anayo Okolie could willingly ridicule a person whom he himself acknowledged “many Nigerians have respect for” for proffering a solution to an intractable problem without suggesting any alternative, except of course that he feels the Federal Government should have treated the herdsmen the same way it is handling the IPOB members. At this point, the veil was off and one could sense Anayo’s bitterness. He is in fetters of bitterness and is indiscriminately throwing brickbats at the Buhari government.

It is pertinent to mention that the Federal Government has taken measures to curtail the menace of herdsmen, but a lot still needs to be done. Developing grazing infrastructure that will guarantee the herdsmen pastures to feed the cattle in cattle colonies or ranches all year round will be a viable option as this reduces the need for livestock herding and roaming for the purpose of finding fresh pastures.

On the other hand, secession is treason and cannot and should not be equated with the criminal acts of herdsmen. It has something in common with the insurgency of Boko Haram which seeks to carve its independent caliphate out of Nigerian territory; IPOB wants to create a Republic of Biafra out of Nigeria.

One would have thought the type of comments by Anayo Okolie belong only on the internet where false and fake news thrive under anonymity, but to accommodate and dignify it in a reputable newspaper like THISDAY on Sunday, is to say the least unfortunate and disturbing. Anayo Okolie didn’t hide his motive when he fumed: “If the Federal Government could go all out to whip the Indigenous People of Biafra(IPOB) and its leader Nnamdi Kanu in line, what is difficult in reining in the herdsmen and farmers?” A Minister who brought together state governors, who are the custodians of land, representatives of the World Bank, Food and Agricultural Organisation and African Development Bank, representatives of farmers and herdsmen, relevant ministries and departments and experts to agree on a solution to the incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers; a Minister who strongly feels that Nigeria which has at least 45 million hectares of empty land has no business allowing farmers and cattle rearers to fight should not be ridiculed, but commended for his patriotism.

–––Adikwu is a Media Consultant based in Abuja.