Taming the Herdsmen

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Onikepo Braithwaite
The Advocate By Onikepo Braithwaite, Email: onikepo.braithwaite@thisdaylive.com

Balance of Interests
Government must, as a matter of urgency, strike the right balance between the Fulani Cattle Herders and their need for grazing land for their livestock, and the lives and interests of the farmers and their farmlands, across the country. There needs to be a proper policy on grazing lands in Nigeria. There is a lot of land available for grazing in the country, but because of poor Government policy, they have not been effectively utilised. Possibly, the Grazing Reserve Law 1965, domesticated by the Northern Nigerian Government, which created an area mainly in the Northern part of Nigeria, exclusively for the Fulani Herdsmen to graze their cattle, should be revisited. A vast area of land spanning Sokoto, Bauchi, down to Ilorin, was demarcated for this purpose. With the huge increase in population and development even in areas that may have been demarcated for grazing, land in the North becoming bare due to encroachment by the Sahara desert, it seems that there is a scarcity of grazing land. Well, maybe not really a scarcity, but the Federal and State Governments, need to come together to map out a coherent policy, with new areas running throughout the country, exclusively for grazing.

As long as alternative grazing land/reserves are not provided, we will continue to see the type of violent bloody clashes that we have been witnessing, between the agronomists and pastoralists, in various parts of the country. It is unfair that, through no fault of theirs, because of Government’s failure to do the needful, it is farmers and their communities, that have been bearing the brunt of this problem, many of them paying the ultimate price, with their lives, since they are not armed like the Herdsmen, and have little or no protection. They are more or less ‘sitting ducks’.

Or maybe Miyetti Allah should be proscribed like IPOB. After all, people cannot just go around killing, raping, looting, threatening, maiming and destroying other people’s property, all in the name of cattle grazing! The fact that the Federal Government seems to be somewhat quiet and inactive, over such a serious crisis which seems to be escalating by the day, is rather worrying. Naturally, people in the South have started to ascribe tribal sentiments to the matter, concluding that because the President is Fulani, and many of the people in authority, especially those that head the law enforcement agencies, are of Northern extraction, they are allowing the Fulani Herdsmen to literally get away with murder!

Does it make any sense to graze your cattle anywhere, on another’s farmland, when it is their sole means of livelihood, just to be able to feed and fatten your cattle, in order to earn your own means of livelihood? I think not. Are the Cattle Herders and their livelihood, more important than that of the Farmers? No. Is it right for Cattle Herders, to forcefully enter a farmer’s land, kill or maim whoever they encounter on the land, destroy the crops that the farmer has planted and has waited for months to harvest, so as to nurture their cattle? An emphatic No.

The Riyom Massacre

A week ago, in Riyom, Plateau State, 11 people were allegedly murdered and 4 others injured, by Fulani Herdsmen, on their way back from the market. The vehicle conveying the victims from the market, was riddled with bullets. One even wonders, if these so-called Herdsmen are really Herdsmen, or just Criminals and Boko Haram Terrorists, pretending to be Herdsmen.

As a child, one would see Herdsmen carrying only sticks, or at the worst, a bow and arrow kit hanging around their necks, on their backs. Today, they are armed with machine guns, weapons and ammunition. Of course, the Chairman of Miyetti Allah (Cattle Breeders Association), Plateau State, Alhaji Nura Mohammed, vehemently denied the allegation that it was his members that killed the Plateau victims, stating that the unfortunate incident occurred probably as a result of an armed robbery attack and/or criminal activities. However, Honourable Daniel Dem of the Plateau State House of Assembly, begged to differ, and stated in an interview, that the driver of the vehicle who had survived the attack and pretended to be dead, claimed that he saw some uniformed men and Fulani Herdsmen, and even heard them conversing in Fulani language, saying they should destroy the tyres of the vehicle. The Riyom people, also insist that it was a reprisal attack, as the Fulani Herdsmen had vowed to take revenge on the Community, because one of their fellow Herdsmen had gone missing.

Grazing and Open Grazing

According to Wikipedia, “Grazing is a method of feeding in which a herbivore (plant eating animal), feeds on plants such as grasses, or other multicellular organisms such as algae.” Grazing is “to feed on growing grass and pasturage, as do cattle, sheep etc”. Open grazing, is “where cattle roam freely regardless of land ownership”, grazing.

Open grazing as we practice it in Nigeria, is a crude, outdated, archaic practice, which was obviously used in the past when people did not know any better, and there were not many rules and regulations. Apart from it being totally unattractive to the naked eye, to see cows running around the streets and so on, especially in a metropolitan setting or ‘megacity’ like Lagos for example, the environment becomes filthy and fly infested, with cow dung lying all over the place, stinking; plus livestock running around the streets, can pose as a danger to motorists. Unregulated grazing, such as what obtains in Nigeria, causes damage to soil, plants, streams and springs.

Unleashing of Terror

It is unacceptable, that the Fulani Herdsmen unleash so much terror, so much so, that many farmers and communities are afraid of them, afraid of being murdered by them, and so they suffer in silence. Recently, in THE STATE v HARUNA USMAN, the Chief Judge of Kogi State sentenced the accused person, a 17 year old Fulani Cattle Herder to death, for the murder (culpable homicide) by stabbing of one Happy David, punishable by Section 221 of the Penal Code. The incident had occurred in July, 2015, on the farm of the deceased’s parents in Emiworo, Ajaokuta Local Government Area. Usman had gone to graze his cattle on the farm, and the deceased warned him not to do so, because a chemical had been sprayed on the land, which could harm the cattle. As the deceased turned around to leave, Usman attacked him from the back, stabbing him multiple times. Happy David died, as a result of the injuries that he sustained from Usman’s attack. It seems that, the Herdsmen can be extremely vicious. Many in some of the South West areas where these Herdsmen have struck, like Oke Ogun, Agbonle, Saki, Irawo, Iganna, and so on, say that the Herdsmen believe that they can kill human beings, just so their cattle can be nourished. Those South West areas are Savannah areas, which are rich in grass.

The Fulani Herdsmen also raided the Ondo State farm of Chief Olu Falae, the former Secretary to the Federal Government, about four times to graze their cattle, thereby destroying Chief Falae’s crops. Chief Falae, was also kidnapped by the Herdsmen in 2015. Some of the kidnappers were apprehended. However, on their last raid, Chief Falae called in the Police for protection. The Herdsmen opened fire on the Police, who ran for dear life. Nothing came out of this particular incident.

Recent Legislation: Ekiti State

With the increasing problems with the Cattle Herders and Farmers, some States like Ekiti, Benue, and Taraba, went ahead to enact anti-open grazing laws. The Ekiti State Prohibition of Cattle and Other Ruminants Grazing Law came into effect in 2016. In Ekiti State, it is an offence for Cattle Herders to graze their livestock outside the hours of 7am to 6pm, allow their cattle to graze on people’s farms or farmlands not allotted by Government. Penalty for violating these rules, invites 6 months imprisonment with no option of fine. A Herdsman caught with firearms and weapons during grazing, shall be charged with Terrorism.

Benue State

In Benue State, in the last 3 years or so, in Agatu Local Government Area alone, almost 4000 people have been killed in bloody clashes with the Herdsmen, while there has been a massive destruction of houses there as well. The Benue State Open Grazing (Prohibition) and Establishment of Ranches Law 2017, came into effect on November 1st. The law prohibits open grazing. Cattle Herders in Benue State must henceforth, ranch their cattle. The Benue State law prescribes a 5 year jail term or a N1 million fine, for anyone that engages in open grazing within the State. It is also an offence for Cattle Herders in Benue State, to carry arms or move livestock within and across Benue State by foot. I applaud Governor Ortom for trying to protect his people, by taking the bull by the horns.

Anambra Arrangement

Anambra State, even though it does not have an anti-open grazing law, through a high powered Committee which included Fulani Herdsmen and the Sarkin Fulani, they came to an arrangement whereby, if any Cattle Herders go into farmland and destroy crops, such a person will be arrested, the damage assessed, and the violator will be made to pay compensation. Likewise, if a cow is killed, the community pays compensation.

Ranching

Ranching is one solution to open grazing. It is simply a particular area of land, used for grazing cattle or livestock for meat. Why can’t the Cattle Breeders Associations, acquire land in the designated areas? The Cattle Herders have made excuses, that they need more time to get acquainted with the new system, before the law can be implemented. That in Kenya, it took 5 years or so, to be able to implement the Ranching programme. I do not buy that argument. They should be given another 5 years to feed their cattle at no cost to them, by destroying other people’s farms while continuing with the killing and bloody clashes? I think not. After all, the public is not given their cattle or meat from their cattle, free of charge. We purchase them.

It may even be more healthy, for cattle to graze in designated areas, where less herbicides and chemicals are sprayed or not at all, on the grass, because the grass is meant for cattle feeding. Ranching prevents the spread of disease and the issue of conflicts amongst people. In Nigeria, where Government is trying to promote the agricultural sector, especially for export, with less destruction of farmlands and crops, there will be increased agricultural output. In America, grass is even transported from grass growing areas, to other areas that require grass for their livestock. Why can we not do that here?

  • Garba Kano

    This woman Onikepo Breathwaste, has proved to be the daughter of those slaves brought back from US and dumped in the lagoon now Lagos. Those slaves whose ancestry cannot be traced often were said of Pygmy species from Congo. So as primitive as ill informed as her Pygmy relatives, one is least surprised at her level of understanding basic Nigerian history. SoThisday paper could hire this type of sand filled head as a columnist? Is it due to recession you can’t afford hiring a well read journalist for this all important task? Shame on you.

  • Tea

    GMB is giving full cover to his people. I expect state governors to stop complaining and arm their people too. enuf of these nonsense

  • Iskacountryman

    we own the middlebelt which was our traditional grazing lands…

    • Don Franco

      Dear Iska,

      Such cant! The indigenes of the Middle Belt, own their land; not you. You don’t “own” anything besides yourselves and your part of the country.
      This mentality that you own other people and that their natural abode belongs to you and is “your” traditional grazing grounds is responsible for the genocide in Agatu and the religious and tribal divisions that prevents Nigeria from becoming a great country.

      • Grelia O

        The guy is not to be taken seriously. All he does is provoke outrage by stating blatant falsehoods. Don’t waste your time on him.

      • Iskacountryman

        which is my part of the country?

    • Lawrenece Ifo

      Don’t mind them.