Governments, both at the state and federal levels, must as a matter of urgency proffer lasting solutions to the deadly herdsmen/farmers clashes around the country. Shola Oyeyipo writes

What started as farmers/herdsmen clashes had since graduated to become herdsmen attacks on farmers, resulting in deaths and serious injuries in some states across the country. It has remained one big problem that the President Muhammadu Buhari leadership is grappling with.

But then, there is the need for proper understanding of the issues. The herdsmen are naturally nomads, moving from one place to another grazing and in so doing, they encounter cattle rustlers. In the absence of proactive actions from relevant authorities, they resort to self-help by carrying arms as a form of protection.

In the course of grazing, these herdsmen trespass on farms, consequently destroying crops. So, stories of clashes between herdsmen and farmers are usually a fallout of attempts by farmers to stop herders from encroaching on their farms. This is usually met with stiff and violent resistance by the nomadic herdsmen, resulting in deaths or serious injuries.

While there are also reported cases of herders and their cattle coming under attacks by farmers, there are more instances of farmers or farming communities coming attacked by herders. Such attacks, which involve razing of houses and farmlands, and killing and maiming of people, sometimes displace the farmers from their ancestral land.

There are however views in several quarters that it appears that the government does not seem to appreciate the enormity of the herdsmen/farmers crisis as it continues to treat the rampaging AK47-wielding herdsmen with kid gloves compared to how it reacted to similar security challenges in other parts of the country.

In fact, after a meeting with the president penultimate Friday after herdsmen attacked Benue communites, the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, made a statement considered inappropriate in various quarters, when he was quoted as saying: “Obviously it is communal crisis. Herdsmen are part of the community. They are Nigerians and are part of the community. Are they not?”

His position did not go down well with a lot of Nigerians. Leaders from the Southern and Middle Belt regions under the auspices of Southern and Middle Belt Forum were so upset about the IG’s utterances that they called for his sack.

While Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State said the killings in Benue State and other parts of the country by herdsmen was “high level terrorism and ethnic cleansing,” Deputy National President of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Comrade Mohammed Kudu Abubakar, called on President Buhari to immediately declare herdsmen terrorists.

Generally, the federal government has been on the receiving end. Many have pointed fingers at the failure to bring the killer herdsmen to book. The president himself has been castigated on the social media for not rebuking the nomads vehemently and deploying the military to check their deadly activities. Some have even attributed government’s handling of the issue to tribal sentiments.

Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, attributed the continued killings by the herders to government’s decision to “look the other way” as the assailants went on rampage across the country.

Soyinka, in a statement titled, ‘Holy Cow: Impunity Rides Again,’ said: “Indeed the government is culpable, definitely guilty of “looking the other way. Indeed, it must be held complicit.”

The position of the presidency on the matter, which seems to ultimately affect how the matter has been handled, was recently conveyed by President Buhari’s Personal Assistant on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, while sharing comments by the Secretary to the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, Baba Othman Ngelzarma, on her Twitter handle.

She faulted the alleged killing of about 200 Fulani herdsmen and cattle in various attacks across the country, saying “Every life is valuable.”

The truth is that with sectional sentiments spreading across the country, if left unchecked, the killings and massive destructions that have characterised farmer-herdsmen attacks are capable of sparking religious and ethnic crisis in Nigeria.

Looking at the various arguments around the deadly rivalry between the farmers and the cattle rearers, it is obvious that there are as many solutions to the ugly trend as there are people who hold views about the issue. Disturbed by the development, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, waded into the matter, when earlier in the year, he met with the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) with the hope to look into the challenges leading to the clashes between the pastoralists and farmers. Among other things, the revered traditional leader urged herdsmen not to graze their cattle on farmlands.

The Southern and Middle Belt Forum is not only bothered about the level of killings in Benue State, they have called for the removal of the IG for purportedly making excuses for the murderers against the call of his duty, which is to protect lives and property.

For them, the best way to prevent the mayhem, restore faith in the government and prevent a resort to self-help in the face of existential threats from killers, is “Immediate removal of the IGP and his replacement for having failed to effect the law against murders and justifying crimes; immediate arrests of the killers and their sponsors and government must disarm all herdsmen across the country immediately.”

They also called for the unbundling of the police structure so that states can have their own police to enforce laws made by their Houses of Assembly and that the president should address the country on these incidents and announce concrete measures to assure citizens that his government has not abdicated the primary responsibility of protecting lives and property.

As an immediate step after the killings, President Buhari ordered IGP Idris to relocate to Benue and personally take charge of the situation. In compliance with the presidential order, Idris has deployed several police mobile units to the troubled state.
But an All Progressives Congress (APC) stalwart, Mr. Tunde Ajibulu, does not consider the herdsmen-farmer clashes as a job for the police, because according to him, “The Nigerian Police are not trained for warfare. This is a special type of war, which needs specialised warriors to fight it.”

His argument is that a special military squad would be required to put a stop to the menace, noting that “This is even beyond an ordinary soldier in the Nigerian Army. This kind of warfare, as I said earlier, needs specialised warriors – something like a reconnaissance battalion (Recce Bn) replete with scouts and trackers is what is needed here.

Government has equally expressed worry about the situation and is working to end the killings. Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, while addressing participants at the Army War College, urged the military to come up with possible and lasting solutions to end herdsmen/farmers clashes, kidnapping, cattle rustling and communal clashes in the country. He said the menace of herdsmen was an embarrassment and source of worry to government. He suggested that the solution to such crisis could only be tackled at strategic level, which is what the college is all about.

On its part, the umbrella body for the herdsmen, Miyetti Allah, has continued to insist on the creation of grazing reserve commission. Just last week, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, said the federal government had concluded plans to establish cattle colonies that would solve the continued herdsmen/farmers conflict in parts of the country. The cattle colonies would be made up of several ranches.

This is in tandem with the position of the Managing Director, Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), Mr. Aliyu Abdulhameed, who suggested that ranching would not only stop the fracas but also guarantee high milk production and that the cows would grow fatter, which would translate to more meat and more money for cattle owners, as well as, greater contributions to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

According to him, “The clashes are because of the herders’ nomadic lives. Put them in a location; do a basic feed finishing, put them in one place. Let them eat, drink, sleep and put on weight. That weight is money for us. If they eat and walk around, they waste the energy and don’t put on weight. They lose weight.” Many believe that while solutions are being sought to address the matter, anyone – both the farmers and the herders – found to have carried out attacks should be apprehended and brought to book. It is only by doing this that the perpetrators can be properly checked.