OPINION

SIMPLIFYING THE HERDSMEN/FARMER CRISES DEBATE – Dr. Uche Diala

I have been accused of over-simplifying this issue simply because I vehemently refuse to join the bandwagon of those who want to over-complicate it so it won’t get solved, probably so they can continue to use it to further advance their political and ethno-religious gerrymandering.

As a person whose day job is solving problems albeit medically, I know that problems have root causes. What we observe and see are the signs and symptoms of the disease. Until we identify the root cause(s) and treat them systematically and adequately, treating the signs and symptoms is a waste of time.

The argument over the above issue is such a no brainer that sometimes one wonders what the plenty chatter is all about. If not that most arguments are either ill informed or downright mischievous.

Let me try to break it down in a simple manner.

As we all should know the major cause of this problem is the dynamics of the need for grass and water for Cattle and Land for Farming. Period. Every other thing revolves around it. That’s the root of the security challenge.

The major issue is Herders in search of grass and water for their cattle, with the encroachment of the desert due to climate change, need to move more and more inland towards the South.

With increasing human population and development into hitherto bushes and forests, hitherto delineated (I add obsolete) Grazing Routes are no longer available/feasible thereby bringing Cattle and Herders into increasing conflict with farms, Farmers and the larger human population.

This results in clashes as farms get increasingly destroyed and run over by cattle and occasionally Farmers react since traditional means of settlement of such conflicts are largely no longer aavailable.

More often than not, these clashes and misunderstandings lead to unnecessary and unfortunate loss of human lives and also cattle and the cycle goes on ever more frequently.

The government after studying the pattern realized that the only practical way to begin to address the crises is essentially to separate the cattle from humans and farms.

This gave birth to the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) which was approved by the NEC under the Vice President, arising from a Committee headed by the Ebonyi State Governor, HE Dave Umahi. The Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) Initative on the other hand is a separate initiative of the Ministry of Agriculture which is narrower in outlook and scope.

It’s not true that the NLTP was born because or after the RUGA was suspended. Please let’s endeavour to seek accurate information.

I’ve already said elsewhere that the entire national information architecture, agencies and agents of Government, from the Ministries of Agriculture and Information, National Orientation Agency (NOA) to the involved spokespersons of the President and VP dropped the ball unforgiveably.

But that’s not enough to throw away the baby with the bath water.

It would help at this juncture to recall that the current Administration of President Buhari is not the first to realize this. The President Jonathan Administration set up a Committee headed by HE Gabriel Suzwan, former Governor of Benue State which arrived at a decision to set up Ranches nationwide as a way of addressing the problem.

Consequently N100B was approved and disbursed for that purpose. Curiously as at May 29th 2015 when Buhari took over and to date, no Ranch was built and the money remains unaccounted for. I will leave that for now.

The thinking is actually simple. If most of the cattle can be contained and restricted to a particular area with all they need, the clashes will reduce and by extension the needless loss of lives and livestock through reprisal attacks and Cattle rustling. Sounds simple but hey solving most difficult problems start with simple, sensible steps.

Some people have asked how will that stop the killings? Is that not easy to figure out from the above simple explanation?

Some go further to talk about killer herdsmen. Well that’s a different kettle of fish. Yet the solution or at least the beggining of the solution starts with these plans. We know that most herdsmen are peaceful men and boys herding cattle, most times for wealthy owners of the Cattle.

The most they carry are sticks, bow and arrow and daggers/knife which they traditionally use to protect themselves and their flock from wild animals and occasionally to kill any Cow that falls so sick that it can’t survive, before it dies.

We are also aware or we have heard stories of AK-47 wielding herdsmen and terrorists even though I’ve not seen any myself. But we know on good authority the proliferation of small arms and that the fall of the Ghaddafi government in Libya precipitated the spread of armed militants and illicit arms across the West African subregion.

Now if we are able to situate the ‘good herdsmen’ and their cattle in a controlled location, won’t we be able to now say that any person(s) with a herd of Cattle seen outside the prescribed area should be considered an enemy or at least a law breaker and deal with that person accordingly? It that not common sense. Wouldn’t that make the job easier for our security agents?

Furthermore some have taken issue with the proposed “Fulani Radio”. It’s actually a Fulfulde Radio service on the SW Frequency.

That is also a defective argument and misplaced fear. Getting the Fulani herdsmen to change their nomadic life style and embrace the Ranching or RUGA model requires information and orientation from the start.

The Radio service therefore comes into play here. When one reads some arguments, one would think the Radio station would be run by Fulani herdsmen themselves or Fulanis alone or that it’s only Fulanis that understand Fulfulde and only they can tune into the station when operational. That’s totally untenable.

And that’s part of the challenge – stereotypes and fear mongering. Some even ask you; Why Fulani and I reply why not Fulani? Are Fulanis not Nigerian citizens?

We often reference Ranching in other climes but we forget it started from somewhere and gradually got better and perfected. We are yet to start after all these decades and now a government has the political will to start and we don’t want to give it a chance. How then will we solve the problem?

Unfortunately politics has fed into the purely security challenge. Fifth columnists and mischief makers have doubled down and fear mongering has taken over. These have added to hamper efforts at resolving the crises which cannot be solved only militarily.

A dozen or so states voluntarily keyed into the RUGA Initiative and there was minimal complaints from those states. The majority of the complaints or rather noise came from states not participating which raises the question of if they are really sincere.

The case of Benue is particularly curious. This is a state that has suffered a good number of these clashes in past years even before the Buhari administration came on board. Benue state passed a law against open grazing and upheld Ranching.

Now the opportunity came to get support from the Federal Government and set up structures that would separate the cattle from the Farmers, isolate the cattle and hopefully begin to contain the crises and end the unfortunate deaths and it said no. Even the NTLP it was part of, it’s still giving difficult conditions. How does one square that?

I sincerely wish we would all leave the stereotypes and misconceptions and see the plans for what they are – a pragmatic and bold effort to address a long term problem.

It’s not perfect but it is a plan all the same and I believe it has the potential to begin to end this blood letting and transform our Diary industry. It will surely be a long, difficult and gradual process but I believe if we get started, as we begin to see the success of the pilot schemes, more states will join in and capacity and efficiency will increase and more people will key in, not only Fulanis because Cattle rearing in Nigeria has never being an exclusive preserve of Fulanis.

For those who can bet with their lives that Buhari has a hidden agenda in all this, well I’m sorry. There’s nothing I nor anyone can do to help them.

The RUGA Initiative has been suspended alright. I have dutifully presented details of the NTLP elsewhere. Anyone who cares can study it. But sadly, if I know us well, those who are against this will never be satisfied with any plan no matter how good.

I’m not trying to convince anyone here. I have only done my bit as a responsible citizen.

I only pray we all begin to tone down the rhetoric across board and support these efforts to solve an age long problem. It’s our choice.

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