Between curbing farmer-grazer mayhem and funding JTF
There are ongoing efforts to negotiate peace between farmers and cattle rearers in the country. It is of necessity to urge particularly governors, political and business leaders of the states of the North to take these efforts seriously if for anything, to stem the fratricidal conflicts in Benue, Taraba, Kaduna and Zamfara and recently, Katsina states to maintain peace.
There has been by far the most pragmatic effort at achieving a settlement in Plateau State being coordinated by some prominent leaders within and outside the state at the Centre for Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace, Jos. Sadly the effort suffered a hitch last week when one party to the conflict boycotted the talks citing a claim of 561 heads of cattle, allegedly stolen from the pastoralists. Reports quote a leader Shehu Buba, as saying that his people stopped further participation at the dialogue because the killing of herdsmen and theft of cattle has continued.
He said that his people would only return to the reconciliation table if their cows are returned to them. The reports also quote the Catholic Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama as encouraging the Fulani community to return to the dialogue table at the same time, appealing to all religious and ethnic/community groups to exercise self-restraint and to continue in the way of peace. Importantly, the communiqué also faulted the government for failing to quell the retaliatory killings of innocent people in the state and prosecuting culprits of cattle theft, and perpetrators of violence.
Noteworthy is the voice added by human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, who according to reports, blamed the recent upsurge in killings by herdsmen in Nigeria on government negligence. Said Mr. Falana, the Government should have implemented the official policy recommendations of the Sheikh Ahmed Lemu Presidential Panel set up by the Federal Government to probe the 2011 Post Election Violence and Civil Disturbances in some Northern States, which had revealed that the main cause of violence between the herdsmen and farming communities was the destruction of cultivated crop by cattle. The Panel recommended an already well known solution, which government ensured each state defined its cattle grazing routes, which would then be harmonised with those of adjacent states.
It is disheartening that in our country Nigeria, governments have deliberately shied away from simple solutions to an unending feud, risking instead, escalation to the state of insecurity in some states, and instability in the whole polity. It a a fundamental error to imagine that we can even ask the question as to whether Fulani herdsmen own land anywhere in Nigeria as many foolishly do. It is akin to asking if they and their animals have life. It is akin to standing in front of an Igbo owned shop in Malumfashi, Kaura Namoda or the Koma Hills and asking if the shop owner also owns the land. The issue of ownership of land cannot arise over a right to life and a traditional means of livelihood. Besides, there is the legal land use act, in addition to the Constitution’s provisions on citizenship. Obviously the solution is often avoided because political adventurers seize advantage of the conflict to gain political interests and in the process play into the hands of organised merchants of conflict, death, and insecurity.
In Jigawa State, Government heard the common folk speak. There the pastoralists and the farmers are almost one tribe for there are Hausa and Kanuri, but mono religious, and yet there were fatal conflicts. The two sides opted for peaceful coexistence. Government simply took 30 metres off the shoulders of federal roads, and 20 metres off the shoulders of state roads and designated the areas state-wide, as stock routes. This was followed by an intense enlightenment campaign with farmers and grazers complying fully. It is nearing 6 years now that major farmergrazer conflicts have not occurred in Jigawa State to the goodness of the people. This as recommended by Sheikh Ahmed Lemu should have featured in meetings of Governors for nationwide copy and implementation.
I come from the community of Numan and Lamurde in Adamawa State, where each time there was deviation from an age long traditional method of climate and land management, fatal communal clashes ensued. In the climate and land management, the Fulani herders maintain their cattle on harvested fields, feeding on dry corn stock which they pay in advance for, in addition to the cattle dung, providing natural manure for the farms. The Kwete Annual Festival has just ended, and Fulani Herders participated as they do each year. The Hama Bachama has pronounced the oncoming beginning of the rainy and hence farming season signalling the movement of cattle to River Benue sandy beaches with cattle grazing mainly in the “islands” within the vast river. The farmers cultivate the banks.
It does happen that a cow or cows get stolen, but the Fulani herdsmen in their way always follow the trail to the culprit’s home. The matter is brought before the Hama Bachama and guilt is traditionally established, and dues paid. It did happen the animals strayed into a farm and the farmer headed for the Palace and sought and secured justice and compensation. It did happen that tempers flew and fights broke out resulting in death. The matters still came before the Monarch, blames were traded and compensation ushered in amicable settlement. This balance once maintained ensured peace. There has been peace and quiet in the last two years with community confidence fully restored. No one should disturb this slumber for it proves again, that the entire crisis suffered in the past emanated from Governmental political partisanship and inability to deal promptly with grievance and deliver justice equally promptly.
Recently, one hears it mooted that the cattle rearers must adopt modern methods of ranching cattle. It is naive to imagine that pastoralists on their own should adopt modern ranching methods of farming on acquired fields. Such grazing reserves existed in the past and have now been turned into farmlands due of course to increases in population. Ranching needs to be promoted such that the significant shift in paradigm also happens naturally. After all, in developed economies, farmers are also cattle rearers. Here it is different. A Nomadic life has evolved dictated by climatic changes. Sadly, land resource is dwindling dictated by an invading desert and a growing population. Something must give. It should not be the peace we enjoy for daily living. We must develop reserves similar which can go far to minimise and eliminate farmerpastoralist conflicts, enabling meaningful integration of both groups into the mainstream national economy.
Meanwhile, the dialogues must continue. Governments and Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders’ Association must locate peace in the simple solution of live and let live. It is less costly than armed struggle. The crime of cattle theft needs to be dealt with through compensation by Government which has failed to deal with it, and lacks capacity to deal with the mass retaliatory killings of ordinary folk. It is lots cheaper than funding JTF with State revenues.