Tuesday, 10 May 2016

OPINION: HERDSMEN’S/FARMERS’ CRISIS; SILENT NO MORE



By Sale Bayari


“If you’re not ready to die for it, take the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary” – Malcolm X

There is palpable grief, anger, agony and anguish in the land. Everyone can feel the need and urgency for something drastic to be done to douse and arrest the ugly trend and tension in the country. To every discerning and insightful mind, danger signals are everywhere. Only the anarchist and unpatriotic will go to sleep with his two eyes closed. The nation is in very dire straits and tension. No sane Nigeria can dispute this state of our nation as far as the socio-political, sectional, economic and ethno-religious driven herdsmen and farmers crises are concerned.


Let me sound a warning, at the outset of this article, to all Nigerians, especially the government and her security agencies, that we must be very careful about this national looming catastrophe which shall not be allowed to happen and benefit international, fundamental Jihadism and Judeo-Zionist-Crusader Christianism. The emergence of Boko Haram, its expansion, atrocities, the difficulty in its arrest and extermination are our reminders that every spark can turn into an   inferno. There are bad omens in the horizon; Nigerians must be told to look up and see the lurking danger.


Back to our main issue, how do you cater for a landless population of over 27 million people with an about over 30 million herd of animals roaming the width and breath of this nation? This is the one million dollar question, I want Nigerians to ponder and contemplate on dispassionately and patriotically. What do you do with this kind of people who have relations and neighbours in every country in the West African Sub-Region, with an ECOWAS protocol that states thus “That community citizens have the right to enter, reside and establish in the territory of member states.” And the UN Charter of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Dec. 10, 1948 which provides for a right to freedom of movement under Article 13? And the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria under Chapter IV, Section 41 that guarantees every Nigerian the freedom of movement and settlement?

Within the contemplation and analysis of the above issues, could we, as Nigerians, say we don’t give a damn about the fate of other Nigerians that constitute such a population as an endangered species under a national stress? Are there no risks worth taking as a nation and a country for such citizens to have a peaceful, prosperous means of livelihood? Are there sacrifices too much to be made for such a state of tranquility and prosperity to exist? Before we see the light in order to answer these questions, we must first of all keep aside our primordial socio-political, sectional, ethno-religious sentiments aside first and assume the seat of national patriotism and global humanism. How difficult for us I know, but we have got to do it. We have no choice. What is left is – when, how and why?

It is today 51 years since the Northern Grazing Reserves and Stock Routes Law was established that saw the emergence of four grazing reserves namely. (1) Kukar (2) Jangarai (3) Udubo and (4) Wase, created in 1964; since then there have been persuasions and coercions for the herdsmen to accept this facility without much success, mostly due to the farmers infiltration of these grazing reserves and chasing away the herdsmen. In most cases, this happens with the instigations, support and acquiescence of the States’ and Federal Governments. Due to tradition, culture and the human need for freedom most of these herdsmen prefer to continue their cultural nomadism as it has existed from time immemorial. Customs, die hard. However, due to persistent and consistent pressure and especially with the introduction of the Nomadic Education in 1980 in the country, the need for some form of settlement began to be discussed and accepted among some few Fulani herdsmen.

This need further escalated with the increase in the population of the country and farming activities as well as the increasing number of the herdsmen and their animals which have very serious demands on land resources. The country has since also witnessed a very serious socio-political, sectional and ethno-religious awakening with the advent of the 1999 democratic political dispensation. Since 1999, to date, elections have been fought, won and lost on these divisive anti-national sentiments. Little wonder, therefore, we now appear to be at the precipice and only God can save us as a nation. Recent developments between herdsmen (Fulani) and farmers appear to have brought into sharp focus the fragility of our national ethos. The crises have exposed our partisan sectional, ethnic, economic, social and religious rascality and indecency. And as a result, here we are, with a small national problem that has escalated beyond simple, rational and realistic solutions, to a crisis of national dimension and possible disintegration and even a civil war.

Looking at the uproar that was generated by the Cattle Route and Grazing Reserves Commission Bill, sponsored by Sen. Zainab Kure and Hon. Karimi, Sunday Steve in 2011 and 2012 respectively, shows a nation at the cross roads, with no way forward in sight up till now. If you have not seen this bill or read it, you will think it is a war document for the extermination of an entire human race. But see what the Bill says in Part II, under (Functions of the Commission) Section (C) “Prescribe the persons who may use the grazing reserve and the number of stocks that may be permitted therein.” Section (E) says “Providing for the issue of grazing permits to persons using the grazing routes and prescribe the fees payable for the usage of such grazing reserves.” Sections (G) and (H) provide for “Regulating the conditions of entry into the grazing routes and reserves” and “Imposing of penalties for breach of any of its regulations under this section.”

Part IV deals with how to acquire the grazing routes and reserves, where Section 16 says “The Commission shall approach the governors of all the 36 states and FCT and express its desire to establish grazing routes and reserves in accordance with this Act.” Section 17 says “The Commission shall undertake a physical geographical analysis of the land use in each of the states in order to ascertain the best and most appropriate place to locate the Federal Government Reserves and Routes within the said state.” “Whenever any land has been transferred to the Commission by the Governor, the Commission shall pay the compensation necessary to the persons, communities whose interest in the land has been affected by such transfer” the Act orders. What I find interesting about the bill, is, there is nowhere it says that the Grazing Reserves or Routes are the properties of the herdsmen or that they are given to them free. In fact, it is a business venture that may bring huge profit to the Government and by extension-Nigerians, especially with current go back to Agric policy of the Government.  

In addition, the Bill says under Section 28 “It shall be unlawful for any non-Nigerians to enter the Grazing Routes and Reserves, unless expressly authorized by the Commission” “The Commission shall set forth expressly the conditions for allowing foreigners/non-Nigerians access into the Grazing Routes and Reverses,” section 30 provides. Section 29 stipulates “It shall be unlawful for any pastoralist to graze livestock outside the established routes and reserves except authorized by the Commission.” Going through this Bill, that as of March 2013, had passed Second Reading and Public Hearing, makes me wonder what really is this hullabaloo all about that is threatening to tear this country apart? About 70% of the herdsmen are unwilling to settle down in these grazing reserves due to their traditional and cultural age-long transhumant pastoralism, yet the same farmers and other Nigerians that should have benefited from it are also mortally opposed to it, on sentiments of religious, ethnic and sectional loyalties!

Looking at the security checks and balances against mischief, insecurity contained in the Bill for the identification of those in the grazing reserves, both Nigerians and foreigners, gives hope and guarantee that all the herdsmen in any given grazing reserves shall have no option than to be law-abiding or else face the consequences as there will be no hiding place. I think, for any good citizen of this country, this Bill would have served this purpose of ensuring that both the herdsmen and farmers live side by side in peace. After all, this Bill did not mention any tribe as its target beneficiary. It is a Bill for a Grazing Reserves and Routes Commission for herdsmen and not for Fulani herdsmen. So the deafening, vociferous, brutal and extremist bigotry against it appears to carry an agenda that is beyond the problem.

Is the issue being used to destablise the President (as a Fulani man) and his government by political opponents and to also polarise the country on ethnic and religious basis and make it ungovernable? Why are mostly all these agitations and crises located within the areas of political opposition of this current government, where also ethnicity and religion appear to be playing very serious roles? Are these man-made crises created to justify the clamour for and desire of some people agitating for the breakup of the country or its balkanization? Otherwise, why now is this crisis assuming an ethno-religious, socio-political and sectional ferocity more than ever before since 1999? Why was President Jonathan not forced to make a condemnatory statement against the Niger-Delta militants, over their security and economic sabotage of the nation that led to the bombing of people at the Eagle Square on Independent Day Celebration? But instead he came out to defend them. Why was President Olusegun Obasanjo not forced or coerced to condemned Oduduwa People’s Congress (OPC), when they were visiting mayhems on the country when he was president?

On a final note, let me enlighten some people on the difference between grazing reserves and ranches. Grazing reserves are areas specifically set aside and protected by government for grazing purposes while cattle routes are demarcated and protected ways that provide right of way for animals’ movement to and fro grazing areas within and across national and international boundaries. Cattle ranches are individually and personally    owned by animal rearers in fences who feed them under zero grazing conditions, while grazing reserves are communally and collectively held, in trust, for government. 

Can’t the state government donate, sell, give land to the Federal Government to address national crises and threats to national security as the herdsmen’s and farmers’ violent crises pose today in this country? Is this not a national call to duty on all Nigerians, to bury their primordial sentiments before we become like Southern Sudan which started with the attacks from the Arab tribes by the Janjaweed (a man with a gun on horse) against Southern Sudan’s Dafur Region farmers which heralded and culminated in the breakup of the country and the current war and genocide in Southern Sudan?  If the herdsmen will not be given grazing reserves, then they should be allowed to continue their traditional  transhumance pastoralism, no matter what the consequence will be, because there is nowhere in the world where cattle pastoralism is completely outlawed or banned.

Sale Bayari is the
National Secretary of the
Gan Allah Fulani Dev.
Ass. of Nigeria (GAFDAN)

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