Odimegwu Onwumere writes that despite lives and property lost to the clashes between farmers and Fulani herdsmen nationwide, the authorities seem incapable of finding a lasting solution to the menace
â€œWhen we talk to the Fulani herdsmen over the gratuitous destruction of our crops by their cows, they would point guns and arrows at us. And this is why we hardly question them in our farms, because we do not want to die.â€
Those were the words of Mrs. Nkechinyere Nwosu, the wife of the Ekwu I of Umuekwune-Ohoro, Igbo-Etche, Etche Local Government Area (LGA) of Rivers State, while leading the women of the community in a peaceful protest recently, to the palace of the monarch to register their plight in the hands of Fulani herdsmen and correspondingly call on Governor Nyesom Wike of the state, not to tarry in saving them and their crops.
Known as nomads from the Northern part of Nigeria traversing towns and villages in the Southern part of the county with their cattle for the purpose of grazing, some school of thoughts were of the scrutiny that the Fulani herdsmen resorted to violence, when rustlers started making a career of rustling their cows. Investigations by this writer, conversely, showed that the incessant reports by the herdsmen to the authorities in the hands of rustlers, which were attended to with wave of the back hand, pushed them to be carrying arms, not minding that illegal possession of arms is outlawed in Nigeria.
According to a source that would prefer to remain anonymous, “The herdsmen have reportedly encountered cattle rustlers as they move from place to place and made complaints to the relevant authorities who fail to investigate the issue, hence their purported reason for carrying arms about.â€
The source further said: â€œDuring their journey, they frequently trespass farmlands owned by locals in their host communities, destroying crops and valuables. Attempts by farmers to prevent them from causing havoc are met with stiff and violent resistance.
â€œMost times, the farmers are overpowered, injured and killed, while others are evicted from their homes. Sometimes, the herdsmen are accused of taking these opportunities to steal, rape, raze houses and kill innocent members of the communities they pass through.”
Against this backdrop, a former Military Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar, at a forum organised by Search for Common Ground, Nigeria, in collaboration with Abdulsalami Abubakar Institute for Peace and Sustainable Development on October 30, 2017, said that Nigeria loses 13.7 billion dollars annually as a result of farmers-herdsmen conflicts in Benue, Kaduna, Nassarawa and Plateau States.
Farmers and their ordeals
While some women and men farmers who have encountered Fulani herdsmen in Igbo-Etche have stories of alleged rape, killing, destruction of their crops meted out to them to tell, the senator representing Nasarawa West Constituency in the National Assembly, Senator Abdullahi Adamu equally noted in a public presentation, saying that disputes between famers and herdsmen typically arise from disagreement over the use of possessions such as farmland, grazing areas and water.
A former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Olu Falae experienced this â€œdisagreement over the use of possessionsâ€ when he was abducted by some Fulani herdsmen during his 77th Birthday on September 21, 2015, at his Ilado farm in Akure North Local Government Area of Ondo State. Sources said that until the conviction of the abductors in April 2017 in the persons of Abubakar Auta, Bello Jannu, Umaru Ibrahim, Masahudu Muhammed, Idris Lawal and two others, Falae was released after paying N5m ransom four days after his abduction. Farmers in Igbo-Etche nonetheless believe that the herdsmen have ulterior motive, because they prefer their cows feeding on crops than grass. This, however, has led to incessant complaints by the villagers.
Farmers cry for govt interventions
Across the country, farmers have been lamenting the deadly stumbles-upon with Fulani herdsmen in their farms. Many of the farmers weep about the sorrowful attacks the Fulani herdsmen have made as a career against them.
For example, in Ogun and Oyo communities, especially in Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State, there has been heightened tension for over 12 years, when herdsmen numbering nearly one thousand started using the Eggua boundary every December to April for grazing.
In most cases, the herdsmen authoritatively venture into homes of their host communities and open the barns to feed the cows with maize, yam, cassava and others found in the barns. Like the women of Igbo-Etche, if the inhabitants of Ogun and Oyo communities ask questions, the herdsmen would pull out their guns and cause troubles.
School farms not left out
Then-again, just in September 2017, the Vice Chancellor, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko, Ondo State, Prof. Igbekele Ajibefun lamented what he described as illegal moves by the Fulani herdsmen in grazing their cattle in the institution’s farm sites.
Ajibefun disclosed this while speaking at a security forum organised by the Ondo State Police Command to interact with stakeholders including security agencies, heads of institutions, royal fathers, religious leaders, artisans, students, farmers, cattle rearers, hunters and other concerned persons and groups, in Akoko South West Local Government area of the State.
In his words: â€œWe are aware that the issue of security is very complex. And because we donâ€™t want to make it more complex, we have been trying to manage our experience with Fulani herdsmen each time they intrude on our campus.
â€œIt is a very bad situation the way they invade our farm and destroy the place. I would like to appeal to our security agencies to come to the aid of the university by finding a lasting solution to the problem.â€
Heads roll for cows to feed
Reason for this is not farfetched: In some views, the Fulani herdsmen when interviewed have said that theyâ€™d be no option than making sure that their cows feed.
The outcome of this is in the statistics provided by the Institute for Economics and Peace, saying, “1,229 people were killed in 2014, up from 63 in 2013 and Benue State seems to be the hardest hit in the farmers and Fulani herdsmen conflicts in recent times.
“Barely five days to the end of Governor Gabriel Suswamâ€™s administration in May 2015, over 100 farmers and their family members were reportedly massacred in villages and refugee camps located in the Ukura, Per, Gafa and Tse-Gusa local government areas of the state.â€
It was further noted that in July 2015, â€œSuspected herdsmen attacked Adeke, a community on the outskirts of the state capital, Makurdi. Last December, six persons were killed at Idele Village in the Oju Local Government Area. A reprisal attack by youths in the community saw three Fulani herdsmen killed and beheaded.”
Locals counting losses
In some localities like Asa, Agon-Ojodun, Ayetoro, Ogunpa, Kodera and Igbonla, the locals said that they have been sacked in many occasions by the herdsmen when they resisted them feeding their cows with their farm produce.
From Ayete, a lethargic town in Ibarapa North Local Government Area, Oyo State, to the 10 local government areas in Oke-Ogun, the story is the same. In many occasions, the authoritiesâ€™ interventions have yielded little or no result.
The House of Representatives had encouraged all stakeholders to an open hearing in order to tackle what it once illustrated as â€œincessant clashes between herdsmen, farmers and their host communities.â€
However, explorations revealed that just in February 2016, “40 more people were killed (as a result of a clash between herdsmen and farmers in Benue State); about 2,000 were displaced and not less than 100 were seriously injured.â€
The source added: “Most recently, more than 92 Nigerians were massacred by suspected Fulani herdsmen in Benue and Niger States. Also, before this time, there have been reported attacks by the Fulani Herdsmen in Southern states of the country, including Enugu, Ekiti and Ondo States.”
Calling herdsmen to leave
There is a belief that some farmers in some communities across the country have said that they do not want the herdsmen in their communities. This, though, has generated some rebuttals suggesting that since every Nigerian has a right to reside in any part of the country without prejudice, the call against Fulani herdsmen is uncalled for.
According to a source that would not want the name mentioned, â€œThe solution is not for the herdsmen to leave the communities. There are a lot of political intrigues attached to the development and some people create mischief out of it.â€
The source enthused that some elements want to create an impression that the clashes between herdsmen and farmers are prevalent in the present administration forgetting that from time immemorial, before democracy, herdsmen and farmers have been fighting.
Among all odds
Some communities and their traditional rulers are not sleeping on their oars in making sure that agriculture is boosted in the country, no matter the over $13.7b that have been reported lost to farmers and herdsmen conflicts yearly.
The Otaru of Auchi, Alhaji Aliru H. Momoh, Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo State, even with the fears of farmers and herdsmen clashes, braced up on Sunday, June 18 2017, to advise all the 25 village heads in the kingdom to influence their wards, to embrace farming. In the highlight of this, Momoh motivated that his traditional council had donated 5,000 hectares of land: Being their support to the federal government agricultural project, in order to revolutionise agriculture.
According to the monarch, â€œWe have allocated some hectares of land to the federal government for the planting of cashew, cassava, maize and groundnut, and we are expecting them to come and inspect the land.â€
Checks revealed that over 200 women have been encouraged in Auchi to go back to agriculture in the tone of N5 million. According to Momoh, â€œBecause of the Fulani herdsmen issue, we gave out some money to farmers to ease them of the threat of Fulani herdsmen who threaten them in the farm.â€
Dissenters over ranches
In making sure that the stalemate between farmers and herdsmen are resolved across the country, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh had assured that some states, which included Plateau, Kaduna, Kano, Gombe, Katsina, Taraba, Niger, Adamawa, Jigawa, Sokoto and the FCT, among others, had provided hectares of land for the business of ranches to control clashes between farmers and herdsmen in their states.
According to Ogbeh, â€œThe way forward is to strive to attain self-sufficiency in animal protein by checking constant exposure of our cows to long distance trekking in search of pasture which affects their productivity.
â€œThis administration has therefore set out to establish ranches to be planted with high quality improved tropical grass and legume species. We shall provide irrigation for all year commercial fodder production to enhance settlement of pastoralist and ensure cattle, sheep and goat improvement through an expanded breeding programme that would use artificial insemination.â€™â€™
But Dr. Mohammed Ahmed, a former Chief Executive Officer of the National Veterinary Research Institute, Vom, Plateau, was afraid that a typical Fulani herdsman wouldnâ€™t accept the initiative.
According to him, â€œRanches are capital intensive; government must ensure that there is enough water and all-year-round grass for grazing. The herdsmen must also be encouraged to cut grass in the rainy season and store same for use during the dry season in addition to being educated on how to manage limited space.
â€œI am not sure that the typical Fulani man in Nigeria will happily embrace a ranch, but with the current realities, settling them in one place is the best way out, especially if they can have what they want where they are settled.â€
While government has taken a move for ranches, Alhaji Sale Bayeri, the spokesman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breedersâ€™ Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) in Plateau, the sunshade body of the Fulani herdsmen, said, â€œThe herdsmen will not accept ranches; we shall prefer to explore our traditional grazing routes/reserves.â€
That was contained in a media chat last year with MACBANâ€™s National Legal Adviser, Mohammed Bello Tukur, saying, â€œstakeholders should rather demarcate routes and cattle resting points with support from technical and financial partners.”
According to the source, â€œMACBAN rejects the setting up of ranches and supports the establishment of grazing reserves; we want government to create a Ministry of Livestock Development to ease the establishment of the reserves.â€
Local farmers must be included in ranches
Some farmers nevertheless said that if government wants the scheme to succeed, local farmers must be included.
In the views of Senator Jerry Useini representing Plateau South, â€œWe just woke up and heard that cattle ranches will be established in parts of Plateau. Such decision cannot be popular because no one was consulted and neither was any wide enlightenment carried out.â€
This was even as Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau said, “No human policy or plan can be perfect, but we want those with reservations about the ranches to suggest something better. It is not enough to just oppose what is being worked out since what we are doing is in the interest of peace.â€
According to Mr. Timothy Golu representing Pankshin/Kanke/Kanam in the House of Representatives, â€œRanches are far better than grazing reserves if we are to check incessant clashes between farmers and herdsmen, but we must be able to listen to what the ordinary farmers feel about what is being worked out.
â€œWe must carry the farmers and traditional rulers along in carving out the affected areas. We must carefully work out and ensure payment of compensations; otherwise we shall only be breeding another recipe for even worse crises.â€
Against this influence, the Minister of Interior, retired Lt.-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau was of the view that herdsmen and farmersâ€™ gridlocks are a threat to national peace.
According to him, â€œThe effect of this conflict has been loss of lives, dislocation of people and communities and the disruption of socio economic activity. Even more importantly, it is a threat to the integrity and peaceful co-existence of the Nigerian state. The objective, therefore, is to identify any laws and regulations that impact on the conflict; this will in turn inform the design of a definitive policy intervention.â€
On the contrary, the authorities have done little or nothing to arrest the farmers and herdsmen standoffs. Once more, the standoffs have infused fears into the women and men farmers in the areas to attend to their farms, thereby causing a setback to their agricultural productivities. This is due to unyielding peace agreements that some states have signed in respect to farmers and Fulani herdsmen conflicts. Thereâ€™re also the rejected cattle ranches proposed by President Muhammadu Buhari government.
However, for Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue, â€œThe ranches remain the generally acceptable practice and will serve as the permanent solution to the unending clashes between the herdsmen and farmers.â€