Protesters against open grazing at the Plateau State House of Assembly

Seriki Adinoyi writes that the Plateau State Government should act fast to forestall clashes between herdsmen and farmers

In recent times, herders and farmers who are expected to be partners in providing food for mankind have become enemies in Nigeria, especially in the North-central states where they have been on each other’s throats for many years.

It’s either that the cattle of the herders are rustled/stolen or the farmers’ crops are grazed upon and destroyed by the cattle of the herders. In either case, the aftermaths have always been attacks, counter attacks, bloodbath and killings.

The federal government has either not been able to find a lasting solution to the problem, or has shown a relatively cold attitude to resolving it.

The security agents too though have tried, have not been able to tackle the challenges effectively because of the hydra-headed nature of the crisis.

To take the bull by the horns, some state governments including Ekiti and Benue have passed a law prohibiting open grazing in their states.

While the people of Benue have accepted the bill in good faith and are benefiting from the relative peace that came with it, some other states like Taraba and Plateau are still struggling to find a headway for the bill.

The Benue State governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom recently said that the bill has endeared him to his people, adding that the incessant attacks and crises between herders and farmers have significantly reduced.

In Plateau, the Executive and Legislature are still trying to harmoniously consider the bill in such a way that will not hurt the farmers and the herders.

The youths in the state and indeed in the Middle Belt are rather impatient with the government; they can’t wait to have the kind of peace their counterparts in Benue now enjoy.

The herders on the other hand are quite skeptical, not sure of what the bill holds and what effect it will likely have on their lives and business.

A few months ago, a group of Middle Belt youths from Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa, Niger, Kogi and Kwara States converged on Plateau State, where the crises between herders and farmers have been most prevalent. The aim was to pressure the various states’ executives and legislatures to look into the open grazing prohibition bill.

Comrade Emmanuel Zopmal, President of Middle Belt Youth Council, who led the delegation had revealed that the call was to compel governments of the six states in the region to ban open grazing in the entire region, adding that the recent gale of attacks across some local government areas of Plateau State, and indeed other states in the Middle Belt region, in which several lives were lost was worrisome.

Zopmal believes that ranching was going to pay off both for the herders and the farmers. “The farmers’ crops will be protected from destruction by the cattle, and it will also prevent the cattle from being rustled when they stray away from the herders.”

According to him, cattle kept in protected ranch will hardly be stolen by rustlers who take advantage of cattle that stray from herders. He also said that the herders also have another advantage of feeding the cattle with selected and choice feeds that will appropriately nourish the cattle. He added that the cattle will have the advantage of not contracting diseases from other animals in the field as they will be kept separate in a ranch where any of the animals that are sick could be separated and properly treated by veterinary doctors.

Shortly after the meeting in Jos, Benue State Government considered and passed the bill.

But in Plateau, while government was still yet to consider it, a stern warning came from a Fulani group also outlining that grave consequences that may follow the passage of the bill.

Secretary-General of Gan Allah Fulani Development Association of Nigeria (GAFDAN), Alhaji Sale Bayeri, warned that banning of open grazing in Plateau State would create more problems than it intends to resolve, noting that the Fulani do not know any other method of grazing their cattle, “and any attempt to confine them to a place was a sure invitation to anarchy. It would be tantamount to banning a people’s way of life.”

Bayeri said, “If you want to ban open grazing, you can equally ban open farming because the two agricultural practices go hand in hand, and you can’t have one without the other. You can’t eat rice without meat for the soup or stew.”

He warned that, “The resistance that will come with such measure is not what Plateau needs at this time. We are passing through turbulent times and we are trying to make peace. So, we should not put in place any measure that will make that peace unattainable.”

Trying to be political and at the same time tactical in handling the challenge, the state government began to train selected Fulani herders from the three senatorial zones of the state on alternative ways of rearing their cattle without necessarily going about with them.

Lalong understands that the votes that gave him victory in the 2015 election came from the Hausa/Fulani community in the state. Passing the law against their consent will count against his political career, especially as he wants to go for a second term and needs the endorsement of the federal government that is sympathetic to the herders’ cause.

But on the other hand, the destruction that has been wreaked by herders/farmers conflicts in the state in recent times is monumental. Many lives and properties have gone for it.

The governor, who is now torn between banning and allowing the open grazing in the state, needed to be tactical in taking his decisions that will neither hurt the herders nor his people.

Speaking during a section of the training organised for the herders in Jos, the Provost of College of Animal Health and Production Technology, Vom, Prof. Hamidu Sharubutu made frantic effort to convince the herders that ranching was better than open grazing. He said that it was regrettable that pastoralists have continued to rear livestock in a traditional and conservative way which has not resulted into the desirable growth of the industry.

He said, “We are calling for a modern way of rearing livestock in the state in order to boost the industry into a vibrant business enterprise. Our pastoralists have been rearing livestock in the old traditional and conservative way which has not resulted in any growth in the industry. I think it is high time we changed from the old norms.

He proffered that pastoralists ought to adopt the new ways of rearing animals in a settlement (ranching) rather than moving about as currently obtainable in the country.

He added that it was intended that from the training, participants would put the new techniques into practice so that they can encourage the government to want to do more for them.

Also speaking, Director of Plateau State Microfinance Development Agency (PLASMIDA), Mr. Haggai Gutap said that the training will improve pastoralists’ skills in modern techniques of livestock keeping, leading to high productivity which will form as a part of the state government’s empowerment programme.

He added that Governor Lalong, in his quest to run an inclusive government has considered the huge contributions made by the pastoralists, who are mostly Fulani, in the development of the states’ economy and has therefore introduced capacity building programmes to enable them improve their skills in modern techniques of livestock keeping and best practices.

Gutap observed that the agricultural sub-sector has the potentials of contributing to the growth of the state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as well as increase protein intake among citizens, adding that improving on the industry will also promote raw hides and skin for artisans in the leather works sector.

But in spite of the warning by the Fulani groups and the effort by the state government, another Plateau youths and women group came up with another protest to the state Assembly, alleging a cold attitude of government towards the bill, and insisting that the bill must be considered and passed quickly before the Fulani annihilates all their people in the villages.

The group, called Plateau Youths G-17 for Peace and Progress, led by Mr. Dachung Musa Bagos had protested to the state House of Assembly with placards in their hands, where they presented the bill again, citing persistent attacks by herdsmen as its reason.

Claiming that the bill was not targeted at any group, the protesters vowed to continue to pursue it until it is passed by the Assembly.

Though Lalong had on several occasions publicly declared that he has sent the anti open grazing bill to the Assembly for consideration, some of the lawmakers have described his claim as deceptive. Mr. Daniel Dem said that the governor has been reluctant to transmit the bill to the Assembly for consideration by the lawmakers for political reasons.

Corroborating Dem’s position on the bill, a member representing Rukuba/Irigwe constituency, where the herders have also ravaged in recent past, Mr. Ahile Kudu Simon accused the governor of insincerity. He said that at no time did the governor send any anti open grazing bill for consideration by the lawmakers, urging him to be sincere with the people over the matter.

But Lalong insisted that that the state government was fully in support of a ban on open grazing in the state, adding that government was also worried about the security of its citizens.

The governor, who received the leadership of Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) in his office, this time said he had long developed a blueprint for the implementation of a ranching policy in the state when he was misunderstood to be in support of grazing reserves, pledging to forward a copy of the document to the state legislature for passage into law. The clerics had also visited to express their support for the ban on open grazing.

Lalong also said that the state command of the Nigerian Civil Defense Corps has been equipped to handle the enforcement of the law when passed.

Speaker of the Assembly, Mr. Peter Azi, who received the G-17 group on alongside other principal officers of the House, simply said the presentation of the bill was constitutional, adding that the House will carefully study and consider it as was done in Ekiti, Benue and Taraba States.

But in a swift reaction, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), a Fulani group in the state warned the state House of Assembly not to yield to pressure mounted on it from various quarters to pass the bill, adding that it will brew trouble in the hitherto restive state.

A statement signed by the state Chairman of MACBAN, Alhaji Muhammadu Nura, said, “the Fulani view the agitation by a group known as G-17 for a ban on open grazing as nothing but political, and trying to incite trouble in the state that is trying to consolidate on the attained relative peace currently being enjoyed.”

MACBAN said it was convinced that “the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which is the supreme law of the land guarantees freedom of movement and the right of citizens to live in any part of the country and embark on any legal business of their choice without any let, hindrance, restriction or molestation.

“Also, the bill has negated all international, regional and sub-regional laws, conventions, charters and treaties which also guarantee the above rights including trans-human to all and sundry.”

Nura observed that some of the provisions of the bill were barbaric anti-human and borne out of ethnic and religious sentiments. “The bill also poses serious threat, intimidation and harassment to the herders.”

He said, “As Nigerians and people of Plateau State, we will not stay back to look at trouble makers trample on our fundamental rights. So, we vehemently reject any attempts by any group or the state lawmakers to formulate a bill that is harmful to us and our existence.

“Let me categorically make it clear that we will not succumb to any politically sponsored bill seeking for passage into law to ban open grazing in our state. We understand that the G-17 are agitating for the seizure of cattle route, grazing reserves and grazing corridors in the state and giving them out to farmers. That is unacceptable. We are against any plan for cattle ranching, and we would also not buy any land for the purpose of rearing our cattle as being proposed by the G-17.

“We are therefore urging the lawmakers to desist from doing what will eventually plunge the state into avoidable confusion. As peaceful and law-abiding citizens, we would continue to not only live peacefully with others, but will also support and promote peaceful coexistence. We also urge our people not panic because of the ill-conceived bill.”

It is feared that the tensed atmosphere currently generated by the pressure being mounted by the Fulani and the indigenes on the state House of Assembly may degenerate into physical violence in Jos and surrounding villages, if not properly managed. Government must therefore shed off political encumbrances and begin to objectively engage the groups in dialogue with a view to finding a lasting solution.