President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive to the security agencies, to deal with herdsmen rampaging farming communities, mostly in the North-central and Southern states of the country, cannot be the panacea to the terrorism. First, it is belated and imprecise, as if no lessons were learnt from the Boko Haram debacle. Are they to be engaged like the insurgents or are they only to be arrested for criminal prosecution? The desperate herdsmen have hordes of militia, formidable in formation and lightening in attack and retreat, which may not be lightly dislodged if challenged while bearing arms. That is the crux of the matter. It is imperative that they are first disarmed and demobilised, with their sources of weapon cut off and their principals fished out, if they are to be reined in at minimal cost any time soon.
Our security agencies always cue to the body language of the powers that be. For example, they stood by while Western Region’s political crisis escalated from 1962, simply because it favoured the agenda of the ruling Northern Peoples’ Congress for the domination of the country. That crisis then triggered the first military coup d’etat of January 15, 1966, leading to events which redefined Nigeria for worse. In the present case, they might have read Mr. President as indifferent to the terror of the herdsmen believed to be of the same Fulani stock as he and for the fact that he has always been quick to commiserate with other nations whenever life was lost or property destroyed but had seemed unperturbed over the massacre and ransacking of the communities. Without precise empowerment on the line of action, our security agencies might still dither. Otherwise, the Police, at least, would have been booking them for trespass, rape, murder, arson and illegal possession of firearms.
Second, the deployment of force may only yield temporary reprieve because there can be no lasting peace without justice, even in a garrison. But the complementary measures must be ones whereby farmers can possess their farmlands in peace, without further trespass and loss while herdsmen become less nomadic and yet able to bountifully feed their cattle and earn better returns without incidents.
In this regard, it is most sagacious to have cattle-growing states (and other interested states anywhere) collaborate with the private sector to develop commercial feedstock farms and state-of-the-art ranches where cattle can be best husbanded to global health, productivity and return-on-investment standards, without hindering crop farming. It will galvanize employment and internal revenue as well. The option of grazing routes and reserves or settlements nationwide – in the face of diminishing arable land and vegetation (owing to environmental challenges, population explosion and urbanisation) and given the diversity in agricultural practices among geographical zones – is predatory, prone to incident, unsustainable and antithetical to lasting conflict resolution. Land is particularly scanty in the South and, in most cases, individually (rather than communally) held. The whole of the South-East will be smaller than the typical state of the North. The opportunity cost of the reserves would be too high in that case.
Third, no matter what leaders of the North may now spin, the Fulani are the dominant cattle entrepreneurs of Nigeria and must be the reference point in the terrorism of the herdsmen who have mostly been identified as Fulani in all the narrative of incidents. Though gentle in mien, the impression is that the Fulani (including the herdsmen among them) are, generally, master-strategists, conquest-oriented and brook no opposition, as can be evidenced in the attacks. In the absence of resistance from both the government and the communities to the raids, they will now be conditioned to a higher degree of suzerainty.
Their forefathers had also conquered the larger part of the North and imposed Islam. And they have outwitted everybody in the political arena since setting foot on Nigeria in 1804, through to the days of British rule, till today. Given this propensity for the subjugation of others, including well-wishers (remember Dan Fodio vs Yunfa and Alimi vs Afonja) a lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea of the Federal Government carving out titled districts (amounting to federal territories) for them, in the name of grazing reserves and settlements, throughout the country. The psychological and sociological dimensions cannot be ignored. Perception could be stronger than reality as a motive force.
Fourth, if we had not been laid back, we would not be in the chaotic conditions of today. There is the Ministry of Agriculture at both national and state levels. We have a multitude of research institutes, extension departments and universities. But there is insufficient evidence of cross-fertilisation of ideas between them and the farmers, most of who are still burning farmland and cultivating with hoes and cutlasses the way our forefathers did.
The herdsman and his cattle are still nomadic, exposed to the vagaries of the environment without safeguards. Cattle ranching, large-scale farm settlement and mechanisation initiated by the enterprising regions of the First Republic have been disembarked. The story is the same in other sectors because there was crude oil rent (produced by foreigners) to share. Our conditions would have been radically different if the production of food and other needed goods and services had been propelled by the machineries of government!
This situation brings to the fore the need to restructure Nigeria. The First Republic was economically successful because substantial fiscal, political and administrative independence was devolved to the regions to take their fate in their hands. The leadership of each region was compellingly Spartan and frugal, with a sense of mission to make the best of the region’s assets for the benefit of all the people.
Conversely, concentration of political and economic controls on the Federal Government, with states as vassals for revenue sharing (rather than generation) has resulted in the predatory attitude to one another by individuals and groups, which the terrorism of herdsmen for random grazing and the excision of farmlands, from both cattle-growing and non cattle-growing states, for grazing reserves for a group, at the expense of other citizens and occupations, exemplify. We are like spoilt children of a polygamous home squabbling over limited food in the kitchen instead of each mother daring the weather to the farm with her children to compete and harvest food in abundance. “The harvest is plentiful but labourers are few”, as if the Lord Jesus Christ was talking about Nigerians. Significant fiscal independence will compel federating units to exploit their respective resources to produce and galvanize Nigeria to prosperity.