The idea of mapping out grazing reserves across the states, which the Buhari government seems to be pushing fiercely, is doom-laden and portends greater danger for the relationship between itinerant pastoralists and crop farming communities, as experience has shown. The government must note the telltale signs of disaster and steer the country away from calamity by embracing the modern idea of ranching. Vincent Obia writes
Frequent bloody clashes between crop farmers and cattle herders in Nigeria are living proof that crop production and herding of cows cannot be conducted peacefully on the same space without strict demarcations. The reasons always given for the clashes are a loud confirmation of this fact from both groups.
While the farmers accuse the herdsmen of destroying farmlands, the herders allege that their cattle are being rustled. These accounts recur any time there is a conflict between farmers and cattle rearers as a clear testimony to the futility of the attempts to force-foot the two groups onto the same free space. Unfortunately, this effort that has proved calamitous is exactly what the President Muhammadu Buhari government is seeking to experiment yet again with the grazing reserve proposal being pushed through the National Council of State.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Garba Shehu, said on Monday that the federal government planned to carve out grazing reserves as part of measures to end the clashes between farmers and cattle rearers. These clashes have resulted in the killing of hundreds of people. Shehu said troops had been deployed to some communities that had recently witnessed such bloody conflicts to try to maintain security.
“The president took the matter to the National Council of State where the governors sit with the vice president to solve problems of security,” Shehu stated. “Their decision was that they will go back to all the ideas that had been there before, which is to carve out grazing reserves for cattle rearers.”
He said, “With that, there will be a clear difference between farmlands and grazing land, because it is when cattle are driven into farmlands” that the trouble arises.
“As a long-term policy, ranching will be there. But do not forget that ranching also has its challenges in so many ways.”
The idea of herding cattle from one part of the country to another to graze on some reserved land has proved to be a recipe for conflict, rather than a formula for harmony or solution to the hostility between farmers and cattle rearers. All too often the animals stray into farmlands and cause untold destruction to crops and the livelihoods of the crop owners. Very often, too, the cattle wander onto highways and cause accidents. The result has been deaths, hostilities, and strained relations between the farmers and the pastoralists.
It has been impossible to restrict nomadic herdsmen to any portion of land, and the proposal being pushed by the Buhari government would surely not make any difference.
Returning to the same idea of grazing reserves that has proved unworkable and calamitous would amount to running dangerously on the spot. This is what Nigeria cannot afford at this time.
Popular opposition to the creation of grazing reserves from within the communities where the government plans to carve out such lands has been loud and clear. Communities and organisations in many parts of the country have rejected the grazing reserve idea. The pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, and Ondo farmers, as well as the governments of Ondo, Benue, and Plateau states, among others, have voiced their opposition to the creation of grazing reserves.
In the past few weeks, there has been widespread resentment to a rumoured attempt by the National Assembly to resurrect the controversial National Grazing Reserve Commission bill, which died in the seventh session of the legislature. The senate came out on Tuesday with a denial of such attempt, obviously, to try to calm frayed nerves.
Add these to the constant hostilities between farmers and herdsmen in many parts of the country due to alleged atrocities, such as rape and murder, by the cattle herders, and the strain in the relationship between host communities and the pastoralists. What you get is an enormous picture of danger in the plan to establish grazing reserves.
There is no doubt that both the government and the people of Nigeria are agreed on the fact that a permanent solution to the menace of farmers/herders conflict lies in the establishment of ranches where animals will be kept and fed with hay and other modern feeds.
Buhari told a delegation of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in January that the issue of grazing areas will be a temporary solution to the frequent conflicts until cattle owners were persuaded to adopt other means of rearing their cattle.
Last month, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, was quoted as saying, “We are also sending a bill to the National Assembly to legislate that cattle should no longer roam in our cities and villages.
“We will equally raise the issue at the level of the African Union, to compel member-countries to take steps to prevent their herdsmen from grazing into neighbouring countries. It will be a major international crisis if we do not stop it now.”
With the general agreement that grazing reserves cannot be a lasting solution, adopting it, as the president is proposing, would amount to deliberately returning to an archaic and hazardous idea when there is a chance to make progress. Nigeria has lost too much already to afford such experiment.
Hundreds of people have been killed in farmers/herders hostilities across the country. Many more have been maimed and displaced, while countless property has been destroyed.
Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian group funded by the British Department for International Development, said in a report launched on April 14 in Abuja that Nigeria was losing at least $14 billion annually in potential revenues due to the perennial conflict between farmers and herdsmen in the North-central alone. Country director of Mercy Corps, Iveta Ouvry, said the finding was based on a research it carried out between 2013 and 2016 on the causes and effects of the clashes between herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria.
Buhari must halt the horrific human and material loss by stopping the grazing experiment that has doomed farmers and herdsmen to precarious cohabitation for too long.