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Addressing the Lingering Herdsmen Issue in Nigeria, By Sanusi Muhammad

IF truth must be told, till date, one of the most marginalized and intentionally denied access to all the goodies of life by governments in Nigeria are the Fulani herdsmen who reside in jungles and minding their businesses not minding any denial or segregation in the scheme of governance despite their numerical and economic strength.

Whenever they are attacked and murdered or their animals rustled by their neighboring tribal militia groups, that makes no headline in newspapers because they are ‘abandoned orphans’ in wildness as no one cares in a country they co-founded and nurtured. But when they retaliate with superior fighting power, they are tagged terrorists, land grabbers or bandits.
It has reached a stage that even grazing reserves documented by governments for the benefit of herders, have been taken over by same government for one developmental reason or the other, while influential individuals were allocated most parts of the grazing reserves to raising orchards, luxury commercial gardens, large scale farms or estate development against the interest of the beneficiaries (herdsmen) without substitute and consideration to their plight.

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Therefore, the issue of Fulani herdsmen grazing right has been a long-standing and contentious one in many parts of Nigeria most especially in places like Benue, Plateau, Taraba and parts of South and Western parts of Nigeria.
Fulani herdsmen are a pastoralist ethnic group who rely more on cattle rearing for livelihood than on any government patronage unlike in the case with other ethnic nationalities engaged in farming etc.
They have a long history of migrating across the Sahel region in search of grazing green pasture and water for their animals at the risk of their lives not minding the hardship associated.

However, according to a respected academician, Dr Yusuf Maina Bukar (Director-General National Agency for Great Green Wall), “several factors such as severe changes in our climate, particularly due to the effects of global warming, increasing population and urbanization, erosion and desertification as well as deforestation in Nigeria, the availability of fertile land for traditional grazing as was the case in the past, has become limited and the Fulani herdsmen decided to migrate further south of the Sahel which has led to frequent clashes between them and farmers, resulting into bloodletting, sorrow and tears which can be avoided with good policies and implementation”

Dr Bukar further said: “Droughts, desertification, persistent bush burning and erratic weather patterns have made it difficult for Fulani herdsmen to find suitable grazing areas for their cattle. The development, forced several of the herdsmen to migrate to longer distances in search of pasture, increasing the risk of conflict with farmers and settled communities along the route”.
Those lingering and worrisome periodic conflicts between Fulani herdsmen, farmers and claimants of land grabbing have intensified and defied solutions over the years.

It has today resulted into violent clashes over land, water, and resources, leading to violence and displacement of several communities. The end results are indeed gory that in 2016, the Global Terrorism Index erroneously without substantial convincing facts named the Fulani herdsmen as the fourth most deadly terrorist group in the world, asides Boko Haram and Banditry while ethnic militia groups and other deadly self-independence seeking agitators such as IPOB were not included on the index. The menace of ethno-religious jingoists and tribal militia groups plus that of Boko Haram and banditry from sampled opinions remain the Nigeria’s biggest security challenge.

Of a truth, asides the issues of climate change, urbanization and population growth, the Fulani herdsmen also face the challenge of cattle rustling and have been victims of such crimes overtime, the issue of insecurity is a significant challenge and has created a volatile and dangerous environment for pastoralists especially in places such as Benue, Plateau, Taraba, parts of Kaduna, South-east and Western States, as factors.

For instance, the National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI) located in Vom, Plateau State, was established several decades ago for veterinary research, vaccines production and other sundry services with pastoralists as the main target. The institute was one of the most vibrant research institutes in the West African sub-region until 2001 or thereabout when ethno-religious crisis erupted on the Plateau courtesy of bad governance, deficiency of civilization and crass ignorance of history.

As usual and as expected of a frustrated ignorant natives languishing in poverty and penury, the host community to NVRI in collaboration with some ethno-religious bigots members of staff of the institute hurriedly joined the crisis to threaten the smooth operation of the once vibrant institute as renowned researchers and reputable veterinary doctors and other professionals were subjects of brutal attacks and gruesome murder for being Fulani, Muslims or friends by profession to Fulani pastoralists unjustifiably and those primitive actions affected operations at the institute as pastoralists were also attacked along the ways, robbed, murdered and their places of abode set ablaze by native terrorists.
The institute became deserted until the federal government intervened to restore sanity. But before then, stakeholders had called for immediate relocation of the all-important institute to a safer location for optimum results.

Therefore, coupled with the failure of security agencies to deal decisively with the issue, the herdsmen naturally resorted to self-help and commenced reprisal attacks against offending communities, killing, maiming, looting and raping all in retaliation. Such attacks have largely incensed Nigerians but till date perpetrators of both ills, the rustlers and reprisal attackers have in most cases not apprehended. In few cases if apprehended, nothing is heard of the case.
The cycle is thus allowed to continue and has bred terror gangs who have not only resorted to reprisal killings but also armed robbery, banditry and kidnapping for ransom.
The complex subject of land ownership, tenure and ownership of forests hasn’t helped matters, these disputes over access to such lands has also led to conflicts.
Thus, it is safe to say that the Nigerian Nation has a Fulani herdsmen problem and for years many have debated solutions to ameliorate its challenges, reaching a frightening crescendo during the administration of Buhari.
Truth is that while the Fulani problem had always been with Nigeria since the 80s and 90s, it gained national attention because of the dastardly nature of the Fulani herdsmen reprisals and allegation that security, government agencies and community leaders were in collusion with the herdsmen.
Several solutions were broached such as RUGA, ranching and the restoration of old grazing routes mooted to bring lasting solution to the problem but no sincere effort is made till date.
There was the hilarious idea of importing grass from other countries to meet up the demand for cattle feed. The solutions stemmed from lack of government readiness to wholesomely address the issues threatening the peace of the nation as a result of the herdsmen’s menace.
The failure by successive governments to develop and enforce comprehensive strategies to address the issue is the reason why Nigeria still suffers from such conflict when, it could have been managed effectively.
However, of all the solutions proffered, that of ranching seems to be the best of all options. A practice as old as civilization, it requires the herdsmen to remain in a particular environment which is to be given the necessary infrastructural facelift and security, those interested can reach established markets in those ranches to transact business, while the herdsmen can benefit from the provision of healthcare, veterinary service and educational services as well as other required services in their comfort zone devoid of any threat.
The lands for the ranching project can be licensed by government which will not only boast agriculture but can reduce the pressure the herdsmen heap on the environment and can reduce the propensity for clashes between herders and farmers or the herders and their neighbors or host communities.
Unfortunately, there are some Nigerian leaders who are opposed to such a laudable idea for selfish reason not far from ethno-religious, hate and inferior complex such as a former governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom who failed to proffer a better solution to the precarious situation for lack of any tangible and convincing idea until he became politically irrelevant and inconsequential in the scheme of affairs while Benue remains a battlefield.

Muhammad is a commentator on national issues

Coupled with the failure of the security agencies to deal decisively with the issues, the herdsmen have traditionally resorted to self-help and commenced to carry out deadly reprisal attacks against communities killing, raping and maiming all in their way. Such attacks have largely incensed Nigerians but till date the perpetrators of both ills, that is the rustling and the reprisal attacks have on most occasions never apprehended or brought to justice even if apprehended. The cycle is thus allowed to continue and has bred terror gangs who have not only resorted to reprisal killings but also involved in armed robbery and kidnapping for ransom.
The complex subject of land tenure as well as ownership of forests and lands hasn’t helped matters, these disputes over access of lands has also led to conflicts.

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