An AK47-wielding herdsman on duty. This is the new normal in cattle grazing

To effectively contain the increasing herdsmen/farmers crisis, ranching is ultimately the way to go, writes Olawale Olaleye

In a rare but shared interest, there seems to be an overwhelming consensus by a majority of Nigerians that the time to wholly address the constant herdsmen/farmers crisis is now. No thanks to the recent attacks by herdsmen on some communities in Guma and Logo council areas of Benue State.

The about 75 victims of the attacks carried out on the first day of the New Year were penultimate Thursday, given a mass burial at a sober memorial attended by the state governor, Samuel Ortom, amongst other stakeholders in the state.

In an opinion mooted by the Minister of Agriculture, the federal government had proposed ‘cattle colony’ as an idea that could help contain the herdsmen terrorism on villages and communities around the country. Unfortunately, some governors and many stakeholders have turned down the idea, first for improper communication of its functionality and second, for obviously jumping the gun.
Before seeking a genuine end to the crisis, it is imperative to properly understand the psychology of these herdsmen. These are people not trained either in formal education or the Arabic. Much more disturbing is that many of them do not even practice any religion, the least Islam. It is often an assumption that because they are Fulani, the tendency is high that they are Muslims. But that is an erroneous belief.

Like a majority of the members of the Boko Haram sect, they are not Muslims and hardly could recite rudimentary Qur’anic doctrines. However, what is common and true about them is that they have lived all their lives with their animals and therefore when people with such background are attacked by rustlers, who steal their cows, harm them and sometimes kill them, they are naturally inclined to fight back.

It is a known fact that a quintessential Fulani always settles account whenever he feels offended. Much more instructive is that whenever their cows are stolen and are left with nothing, they resort to crimes, which is why kidnapping is rampant in the remotest parts of the north today.
Whilst nothing justifies their brazen encroachment on people’s farms, during which huge investments of the farmers must have been decimated, it is almost certain that the Fulani attacks are reprisals, not necessarily over the death of one of them but most probably their cows, which they will never give up for anything.

It is therefore clear from some of the prevailing narratives that governments at all levels had failed over time to constructively engage the stakeholders and persuade them to embrace ranching, which in the long run is cost effective, lucrative, healthier and of course, allows the herdsmen to savour other markers of good living like education and access to sound healthcare delivery, through orientation and re-orientation but not necessarily integration.

Curiously, the cattle colony sounds like an idea that suddenly stumbled on the initiators but with no clear cut modus operandi, thus giving an impression that a community or communities are being created or carved out of the existing ones solely for the herders, such that could further avail them access to lands that are not theirs in places, where they are already dreaded.

Nothing is tidy about it in the event that government decides to run with the colony idea, because ultimately, it does not holistically address the future of animal husbandry as practised in civilised societies around the world. Although the fundamentals of the crisis are largely about land ownership which, the cattle colony is believed would address, it is still not one to provide the country with the opportunity to distinguish amongst rustlers, terrorists and of course, genuine herdsmen. Colony is not bad in itself, it is not just sufficient in addressing the inherent discontents.

But with proper ranching, supported by government and in some cases, backed by the private sector as a form of investment with long time projection, the society stands to gain the most and a lot.

This is because with such an idea, there would be the production of healthier animals, better and neater products, provision of employment to the teeming herders, who had been kept out of business by rustlers, an added value to the farm products, promotion of peaceful co-existence amongst the herders, farmers and other villagers and importantly it would help to sift the criminals amongst them from the real farmers doing their legit businesses.

For instance, the Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir El-rufai, is said to be working seriously on an ultra-modern ranch, being modeled after the types in countries like Denmark and Britain, following his visit to their ranches, an idea believed to be coming after he had successfully met with the herdsmen and their leaders in Nigeria and sold the idea of ranching with conviction.
It is evident that the herdsmen too desire better lifestyle and would buy into any initiative that presents such in the best way possible. This is why governors must team up with the federal government and other stakeholders with investment interest to set up ranches in good locations, like Alhaji Aliko Dangote is currently doing, for a promising future of animal husbandry in the country.

The preference for cows over human lives can only be addressed through methodical and practicable solutions, acceptable to all the parties concerned without necessarily taking away from them that which they hold dear. The answer is ranching and not some impossible colonies that would further aggravate tensions and take away the peace of the land, just because the idea is abstract in this context.