Situating the Ranching Debate

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The decision by the South-east Governors’ Forum to decline land allocation for ranching is understandable, ensuring peaceful co-existence at this time, however, requires the support of all, writes Tobi Soniyi

When viewed against the lacklustre response of the federal government to the seemingly intractable herdsmen-farmers’ clashes, it is difficult to fault the decision by the South-east governors not to cede any land within their territory for ranching.

Since he became president in May 29, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari has not hidden his displeasure for the South-east. The South-east zone’s offence, perhaps, was that they chose to side with former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan during the 2015 presidential election.

During the Indigenous People of Biafra’s uprising, the president failed to show leadership by engaging with the people of the region. Instead, he unleashed the military on the people and proscribed the group, a move that further alienated the people from the main stream politics.

Take away the Niger Bridge project, which is not even being handled like a priority project, the All Progressives Congress-led government has not made its presence felt in the South-east. The government has failed to give the people any sense of belonging.

In view of the cold shoulder treatment given to the South-east by the president, coupled with the prevalent anti-Buhari sentiment in the zone, no governor in his right sense would agree to grant land for ranching. The president has not done enough to earn such gesture. Simple!

Besides, many have argued that cattle rearing is a private business, just like trading in cars spare parts, and therefore those engaged in it should be able to buy the land they would use for ranching.

Although it is difficult to fault the arguments raised above, they generally missed a point which is: the Fulani herdsmen are as endangered as every other vulnerable group in the country. The Buhari-led government did not just fail the South-east; it has also failed the Fulani-herdsmen too.

Many of the herdsmen wanted peace. They are only interested in feeding their animals. Farmers and herdsmen have always lived peacefully together granted that there were frictions once in a while. But those were the exceptions not the rule.

The proper question the South-east governors should ask themselves is: what has the Buhari government done to help the herdsmen? The answer is nothing. The Fulani-herdsmen would like to send their children to school, but the government has not helped them to achieve this.

They want their cattle to feed better so that they could get better return, no one is helping them. They are as endangered as farmers and other vulnerable groups. This government has failed the herdsmen and to a larger extent, past administrations also failed them.

Government at all levels must therefore find a common way to integrate the Fulani-herdsmen into the society. Fulanis are not wired as killers. It is the collective failure of the people as a nation that has led Nigeria into the wilderness. The leadership must as a result chart a way out. The South-east governors and people would have to be part of that effort.

For starters, while the country is still working on a final solution, in each local government, the government can set up a farmer-herdsmen relation committee, comprising representatives of both farmers and herdsmen.

If animals trample on a farm, the owner of the farm should report to the committee. Similarly, if an animal is killed, the owner of the animal should report to the committee. Immediately, the committee is alerted, they should identify the culprit, assess the damage and get the erring farmer or herdsman to indemnify the person whose property was destroyed.

The clashes the country is having today are largely fuelled by the lack of accountability. When an animal belonging to a herder is killed and there is no assurance that compensation would be paid, the herder naturally goes on revenge. The same is also true of the farmer. Accountability is a serious issue. But the leadership appears too biased to see the point.

Therefore, the narrative that farmers and herders and by extension, the entire country can no longer live together is false. The people can, regardless of their differing backgrounds and have been living together. What needs to be addressed is the issue of injustice, which manifests in various ways. Let government uphold the laws. Let there be consequences for misbehaviour. Crisis will not disappear, it will only reduce.

Sadly, however, the Nigerian leaders appear to lack the ability to figure out the problems. Pronouncements emanating from the Presidency are to the effect that those in government are not ready to take the critical steps needed to stop the crisis.

For instance, the excuses given by the government for the clashes continue to shift every other day. First, it was the passing of anti-grazing bills. But hundreds were killed in Plateau, where there was no anti-grazing law. Then the president blamed the killings on rebels from Libya.

Later, it was climate change. Suddenly, politicians are behind the killings. And now, the president is saying politicians are using the killings to blackmail him. Blaming the killings on everyone else is unhelpful. It portrays the country as one that is incapable of identifying and addressing issues.

By now, the president should have summoned a meeting of herdsmen and farmers to be held in Aso Rock Villa and televise live for all to follow. Let them sit together and tell Nigerians their grievances. From there, a joint solution can be worked out.

In the interest of the nation, the South-east governors should reconsider their position and be part of a solution to this national malady.