Political In­trigues to the Blood­let­ting by Herds­men in Benue State

Even coun­tries that have more cat­tle than peo­ple – like Uruguay, New Zealand, Ar­gentina, Aus­tralia and Brazil, with Uruguay hav­ing the high­est cat­tle per capita in the world at 3.44 – their cat­tle breed­ers do not mur­der fel­low coun­try­men over graz­ing land

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Special Feature - By Martins Hile

The horror of vi­o­lence by no­madic cat­tle farm­ers across Benue State can­not be over­stated. No fewer than 16 out of 23 Lo­cal Govern­ment Ar­eas have been at­tacked by Fu­lani herds­men. From Agatu to Makurdi, Guma, Logo, Bu­ruku, Gboko, and other LGAs; thou­sands of in­di­genes have been killed and maimed by the in­vad­ing group of armed herds­men. De­fence­less women and chil­dren are not spared from the blood­let­ting. With peo­ple's crops ru­ined and houses burnt to the ground, the af­fected Benue peo­ple end up as refugees in their own state and their coun­try.

But the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Benue peo­ple and Fu­lani herds­men was not al­ways bel­liger­ent. For over five decades, no­madic herds­men and their host com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try gen­er­ally lived in peace­ful co­ex­is­tence, un­til the es­ca­la­tion of vi­o­lence in re­cent years. In his March 2017 col­umn in Fi­nan­cial Nigeria, Cheta Nwanze re­ported that as of the first quar­ter of this year, the death toll from at­tacks by the herds­men was nearly 5,000. The in­escapable im­pli­ca­tion is that the Nige­rian beef in­dus­try is soaked in hu­man blood.

Ati Kengkeng, a mem­ber of the Move­ment Against Fu­lani Oc­cu­pa­tion (MAFO) in Benue, told me that dur­ing a re­cent raid on a com­pound in Katsina-Ala, a cache of weapons was seized, as part for the Benue State Govern­ment's dis­ar­ma­ment of mili­tia and un­scrupu­lous youths. Ati, who has a B.Sc. in Sta­tis­tics and Com­puter Sci­ence from the Univer­sity of Agri­cul­ture, Makurdi, said he sup­ports the ef­forts of the govern­ment in this re­gard given that pro­lif­er­a­tion of arms is a big prob­lem all over the world. "But para­dox­i­cally, not as much as a jack­knife has been taken from a Fu­lani herds­man," Ati noted with ap­par­ent scep­ti­cism. Ac­cord­ing to Amnesty In­ter­na­tional, Nigeria handed down 527

death sen­tences in 2016 – this fig­ure was more than any other coun­try in the world ex­cept China. How­ever, not a sin­gle mem­ber of the mili­tia-herds­men has been pros­e­cuted for mur­der, il­le­gal pos­ses­sion of firearm, or even ar­son.

In the af­ter­math of the bloody Agatu mas­sacres, Myetti Al­lah Cat­tle Breed­ers As­so­ci­a­tion of Nigeria (MACBAN) – a body that de­fends the in­ter­est of the herds­men – claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tacks. Ati said a meet­ing was held at Govern­ment House in Makurdi, where the Benue State Co­or­di­na­tor of MACBAN, Garus Gololo, was in at­ten­dance. “I want you to know that the man was in that meet­ing. No­body ar­rested him; he walked out of the meet­ing un­touched.” Who­ever its pa­trons are, MACBAN is cur­rently one of the most in­flu­en­tial or­gan­i­sa­tions in Nigeria.

MACBAN of­ten claims the at­tacks by its mem­bers are ex­e­cuted in reprisal. But the care­fully co­or­di­nated at­tacks, the ris­ing in­ten­sity, the in­ac­tion by the fed­eral govern­ment, and the fee­ble re­sponse of the state govern­ment all smack of political con­spir­acy. So, my in­ter­view with Ati last month tried to ex­plore the agenda of the herds­men and the possible endgame for the Benue peo­ple.

In the ab­sence of laws re­strict­ing the move­ment of cat­tle in Nigeria, the ob­vi­ous rea­son for herd­ing live­stock across vast ter­ri­to­ries is to find graz­ing land. How­ever, Ati's opin­ion is that the herds­men and their back­ers have a ter­ri­to­rial and re­li­gious agenda. He said, “Our land is fer­tile, which is why they bring their cat­tle to graze on it. There is also a re­li­gious agenda. That is what we have come to be­lieve. They want to take hold of our land and es­tab­lish their cul­ture and re­li­gion here.” And the means to this end seems to be the path of de­struc­tion and blood­shed, ac­cord­ing to the MAFO mem­ber.

MAFO and other civil so­ci­ety move­ments are putting con­sid­er­able pres­sure on the govern­ment to stop these at­tacks on Benue peo­ple and pro­vide sup­port for the hap­less ones whose farms and homes have been de­stroyed. "That is why we formed MAFO. It is a col­lab­o­ra­tion among in­di­vid­u­als who are wor­ried about the in­ep­ti­tude and docil­ity of govern­ment whose pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity is pro­tec­tion of lives and prop­erty." Other groups with sim­i­lar agenda in­clude the Van­guard Against Tiv Mas­sacre (VATIM) and the Tiv Di­as­pora Fo­rum (TDF), which re­cently wrote a let­ter to Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari, specif­i­cally de­mand­ing for the lead­er­ship of MACBAN to be in­ter­ro­gated over the at­tacks.

Fol­low­ing sev­eral peace­ful protests, MAFO proac­tively sub­mit­ted a bill to the Benue State House of As­sem­bly in March 2016. In June of last year, the state govern­ment even­tu­ally sub­mit­ted its own bill, called Open-Graz­ing Pro­hi­bi­tion and Ranches Establishment Bill, which sort to outlaw the itin­er­ancy of cat­tle across peo­ple's farms. The bill, which MAFO and oth­ers ap­plauded, also aimed to es­tab­lish a Live­stock Spe­cial Mar­shals Corps, whose role would be to iden­tify, ap­pre­hend, and charge to court erring herds­men.

Af­ter scal­ing the first and sec­ond read­ing stages in the leg­isla­tive process, the bill was scut­tled. By Oc­to­ber, it was re­placed with a Live­stock Pro­tec­tion Bill, which sim­ply seeks to pro­vide pro­tec­tion for cat­tle and pro­mote cat­tle ranch­ing by Fu­lani herds­men in Benue State. "If you see the bill, you would think the Gover­nor is a Fu­lani man," Ati told me. This has left a bit­ter taste in the mouths of many peo­ple.

MAFO led protests against the new bill. The group pick­eted the law­mak­ers and in­sisted on the en­act­ment of the bill the group had pro­posed. But Deputy Speaker of the House of As­sem­bly, James Okefe, went on ra­dio to deny the legislature was in cus­tody of any bill by MAFO. Ati said the group re­sub­mit­ted the bill to the lead­er­ship of the House of As­sem­bly.

Dur­ing one of its protests, Speaker of the House of As­sem­bly, Terkimbi Ikyange, ad­dressed the group promis­ing an open­graz­ing pro­hi­bi­tion bill would be passed by end of March 2017. The bill has not been en­acted, giv­ing weight to possible con­spir­acy to pre­vent the All Pro­gres­sives Congress (APC) ad­min­is­tra­tion of Gover­nor Sa­muel Or­tom from tak­ing de­ci­sive ac­tions.

“Gover­nor Or­tom has good in­ten­tions. But in­ten­tions don't get prob­lems solved. We de­mand for ac­tions from Or­tom,” Ati said, as he switched gears to in­tone the praises of the Gover­nor's cam­paign prom­ises to solve the prob­lems in Benue. But un­for­tu­nately, Or­tom has failed the farm­ers by not ad­dress­ing the pas­toral con­flict. "Fu­lani herds­men can at­tack any part of Benue, in­clud­ing Makurdi and noth­ing will hap­pen," Ati, who is also a Di­rec­tor and Se­nior Part­ner at Think Benue Youth Ini­tia­tive, was em­phatic.

In a tepid re­sponse, Gover­nor Or­tom made the head­lines in March of this year when he said herds­men must leave some Benue com­mu­ni­ties. He gave herds­men a two-day ul­ti­ma­tum to leave Tom­boMbal­agh in Bu­ruku. Talk­ing tough, he said “My job as the gover­nor is to pro­vide se­cu­rity for lives and prop­erty. I can­not watch see­ing peo­ple be­ing killed un­pro­voked. It is not right.” But the at­tacks have con­tin­ued in other parts of the state. Last month, sus­pected herds­men at­tacked his own Lo­cal Govern­ment Area, Guma. While re­spond­ing to this lat­est at­tack, he re­it­er­ated his call for the idea of ranch­ing as the panacea to the herds­men/farm­ers con­flict. He said “We must ranch our cat­tle. Nigeria must come to­gether to sup­port herds­men ranch their cat­tle.”

While the main­stay of the Benue State econ­omy – which is farm­ing of crops, not an­i­mals – is on the de­cline, the govern­ment's so­lu­tion is to ac­qui­esce to the

herds­men. Gover­nor Or­tom gave N10 mil­lion to Fu­lani herds­men as an ap­pease­ment and com­pen­sa­tion for their cat­tle that was rus­tled. Mean­while, Benue State, as the food bas­ket of the na­tion, has no agri­cul­ture pol­icy to lever­age its re­sources – both hu­man and nat­u­ral – and de­velop the com­mu­ni­ties.

The ab­sence of a co­her­ent re­sponse to the herds­men at­tacks in Benue is the Nige­rian so­ci­ety writ large. Even coun­tries that have more cat­tle than peo­ple – like Uruguay, New Zealand, Ar­gentina, Aus­tralia and Brazil, with Uruguay hav­ing the high­est cat­tle per capita in the world at 3.44 – their cat­tle breed­ers do not mur­der fel­low coun­try­men over graz­ing land. The rea­son isn't far­fetched – there are proper leg­is­la­tions guid­ing the cat­tle in­dus­tries, thereby for­mal­is­ing the in­dus­tries and at­tract­ing for­eign in­vest­ment. No govern­ment in Nigeria has con­sid­ered the prospect of for­mal­iz­ing the cat­tle in­dus­try, a po­ten­tially win-win propo­si­tion given the vastly huge global beef mar­ket.

With over 213 mil­lion head of cat­tle, Brazil is the world's largest beef ex­porter, gen­er­at­ing $5.5 bil­lion in beef ex­ports last year. But Brazil's much smaller neigh­bour, Uruguay, has one of the most so­phis­ti­cated beef pro­duc­tion sys­tems in the world. Uruguay be­came the first coun­try in the world to elec­tron­i­cally tag all its cat­tle at birth. While most peo­ple who con­sume beef in Nigeria do not even know where the meat comes from, the com­puter-con­trolled tag­ging sys­tem in Uruguay makes it possible for in­di­vid­ual cuts of meat to be traced back to the sin­gle an­i­mal and the farm it came from. The coun­try's strin­gent laws on how beef is pro­duced has earned it the rep­u­ta­tion as the world's premier sup­plier and pro­ducer of qual­ity beef. Its beef ex­ports gen­er­ated $1.5 bil­lion in 2015, ac­count­ing for 16% of the na­tion's to­tal ex­ports.

Al­though cat­tle ranch­ing has been re­spon­si­ble for much of the de­for­esta­tion in the Brazil­ian Ama­zon, an en­vi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect the rain for­est has seen sig­nif­i­cant com­pli­ance level by the cat­tle in­dus­try. As of 2013, 85% of ranch­ers and meat­pack­ing com­pa­nies had signed an agree­ment to re­duce de­for­esta­tion to zero.

Some en­vi­ron­men­tal ex­perts have tried to link the cur­rent pas­toral con­flicts to the cli­mate change ef­fect of de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion in some re­gions of the north. For­mal­is­ing the beef mar­ket in Nigeria will pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment and pre­vent il­le­gal de­for­esta­tion ac­tiv­i­ties by herders, in ad­di­tion to fore­stalling clashes be­tween the gen­eral pub­lic and cat­tle breed­ers.

To start the for­mal­i­sa­tion process in Nigeria, the fed­eral govern­ment and the Na­tional As­sem­bly would need to en­act leg­is­la­tion on cat­tle farm­ing. But un­for­tu­nately, what is be­ing dis­cussed at the high­est level of govern­ment is how to im­port high-nu­tri­ent grass from Brazil for ranches and graz­ing re­serves in Africa's largest econ­omy. An­other at­tempt at ob­fus­ca­tion is an up­com­ing na­tional con­fer­ence in June that the Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture and Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment, Audu Ogbe, said would prof­fer so­lu­tions to the herds­men/farm­ers con­flict. It is a clas­sic case of play­ing to the gallery. And not un­ex­pect­edly, MACBAN – whose lead­er­ship sup­ports the killing of hu­mans to pro­tect live­stock – is a key part of the group fly­ing this kite. The ele­phant in the room is the jus­tice cry­ing out for the nearly 5,000 dead peo­ple across var­i­ous states.

But while jus­tice for the vic­tims of these at­tacks re­mains a mi­rage, the agribusi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties in Benue and across other states should not be un­der­mined on ac­count of some political or re­li­gious agenda. “We are send­ing in­vestors out,” Ati be­moaned. “This is part of the rea­son our agri­cul­ture re­mains at sub­sis­tence level.”

There­fore, the pres­sure from civil so­ci­ety and the me­dia must con­tinue un­til the govern­ment rises up to its re­spon­si­bil­ity. The cam­paign to boy­cott beef as MAFO and other groups have em­barked on could at best be sym­bolic. Nev­er­the­less, as Ati him­self ac­knowl­edged, “We may not be able to con­trol the ap­petites of all the peo­ple; but we are try­ing to send a mes­sage.” Martins Hile is Ex­ec­u­tive Editor, Fi­nan­cial Nigeria pub­li­ca­tions.

Nige­rian Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari

Gover­nor of Benue State Sa­muel Or­tom

Youths from Agatu Lo­cal Govern­ment Area, Benue State protest­ing on March 2, 2016, in Abuja, the killings by Fu­lani herds­men in their com­mu­ni­ties

Cat­tle be­ing herded along a ma­jor road

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Nigeria

© PressReader. All rights reserved.