In search of permanent truce between farmers and herders

Everything is being done to devise a permanent solution to farmers’ herders’ clashes in the country. ELEOJO IDACHABA reports on the unique effort by the Kano state government in that regard.

For years, Nigerians have lived with communal crises in many parts of the country. For instance, Nigerians could remember the Ife/Modakeke crisis, Aguleri crisis in Anambra state, Azumini/Iwukem crisis between former Imo and Cross River states, Kano riots, Jos riot, Tiv/Jukun crisis to mention a few.

At the moment, it’s the herders, farmers’ clashes that had engulfed a greater parts of the North-central states like Benue, Niger, Nasarawa, Kogi, Southern Kaduna, Plateau extending to South eastern states of Enugu, Anambra, Ebonyi and Imo. Even some South-west states of Ondo, Ekiti and Oyo are victims of herders/farmers clashes. In all of these clashes which many also refer to as communal clashes, lives are lost, property are destroyed and many are displaced.

However, the magnitude of these clashes in the past never assumed a worrisome dimension unlike what the farmers/herders clashes have done leading to the establishment of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in most parts of the country where persons affected in the form of displacement from their ancestral homes are sheltered.

Even at the moment when everyone thought that the crisis was fizzling out, killings resurfaced in parts of Kaduna and Benue lately.

It was because of this in particular that a peace summit was midwifed by the government of Kano state in Abuja recently with a view to addressing the root of those problems while seeking solutions to them.

It was gathered that the conflicts between farmers and headers in Nigeria has led to loss of over 4,000 lives within seven years, with several others injured. The conflict has caused tensions and negatively affected the image of the country.

Government at the centre had taken various initiatives to end the problem, but fruitlessly; however, Kano state government recently gathered 500 experts from across the country, including researchers, security experts, government officials, academia and representatives of international agencies to prepare a blueprint on what should be done concerning communal clashes across the country.

In the beginning

The state governor, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, had set up a 27-man committee led by the former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Atairu Jega, to work towards planning and organising a befitting national conference on farmers-herders conflicts in Nigeria.

As part of the terms of reference, he mandated the Jega-led committee to select an appropriate theme for the conference, select chairman, speakers, panelists, special guest(s) and others.

Aside from other terms of reference, it was also to examine the ECOWAS protocol pertaining to the movement of cattle across member countries.

Memory lane

Ganduje used the opportunity to recall that in 2019, the federal government launched a 10-year National Livestock Transformation Plan to curtail the movement of cattle, boost livestock production and control the country’s deadly herder-farmer conflict; sadly, he said the lack of political will plus leadership uncertainties derailed the project, even as he noted further that Covid-19 also frustrated its implementation.

He noted the move by the federal government to establish the Ruga Settlement which was received out of misconception resulting in the suspension of the project in which contracts had already been awarded.

Ganduje, however, said, “There is also a clear sense which I think must be appreciated. That the federal government cannot dictate to states what to do with their land. This is so because the Land Use Act of 1978 puts land under the control of governors on behalf of their states. Even for use of federal lands in the states according to the Supreme Court, building or development control permits must be sought from the governors of the states.

“I am a strong proponent of restriction of herders’ movements into Nigeria from neighbouring countries as part of a solution to tackling herder/farmer clashes. However, another issue worth taking into account is the ECOWAS Protocol which Nigeria signed in 1998. This guarantees free movement to pastoralists, herders across the sub-region. As signatories to that protocol, Nigeria is obliged not to restrict the movement of herders and their cattle from other ECOWAS countries. This is an issue to be looked into.

“This has added a further complication to the problems we already have; besides most foreign herdsmen are exposed to the firearms market and are unknown to the local farming populace.”

His administration, he said, had been at the forefront of pioneering development interventions of the sector to mitigate farmer/herder conflicts.

“In Kano state, you may wish to know that until our intervention, activities of cattle rustlers such as rape, killings, abduction and banditry had paralyzed economic activities which left a lot of cattle readers and farmers in a state of despair.

“We started by mobilising security agencies and hence the formation of a Police Anti-Cattle Rustling Squad, Ambush Squad and Tactical Observation points along the Falgore Forest. The police teams were deployed to Tundun Wada, Doguwa and Sunmaila local government areas of the state, and were given all the support they needed to arrest the rustlers and prevent further loss of cattle in the state.

“A military formation was also established in the forest to further reinforce the police effort, in addition to the construction of four prototype security dormitories at Kano entrances that included rearing industry from socio-cultural to socio-economic venture. This helped at putting an end to the persistent wandering of herdsmen and also helped to expand them economically.”

No holds barred

In what many saw as a way of expressing his frustration, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, used the conference to declare that people were angry and hungry; hene, the need to look for ways of dousing tension in the land.

Without minding whose ox is gored, the Sultan remarked that the clashes between farmers and herders in Benue state had continued because all the suggestions made to the government were not implemented.

“Let’s keep politics aside. I have been to Benue at least two times as Sultan to sit with the governor and traditional rulers to discuss peace in the Benue valley. At the end of it, the suggestions were thrown away. Let this conference not be in the same manner, let’s do it and let’s do well and now.”

Need to invest in sector

According to Ganduje, while speaking earlier, “Modernising the livestock sector is not only key to resolving the herder-farmer conflict, but was envisaged that this economic investment pillar would support and strengthen the development of market-driven ranches for improved livestock production through breed improvement and pasture production.

“It is also very important that we avoid the dangers of allowing these conflicts to engender religious or ethnic conflicts. This is the responsibility of political, religious and all other parts of our leadership elite in Nigeria.”

National calamity

Dr. Mansur Muhtar, the vice-president of Islamic Development Bank, said various farmers, herders clashes that took place at various times across the country have claimed the lives of 4,000 people with several thousand others injured.

He said while fatalities were initially confined to the North-central, it has since spread across the country.

Muhtar said northern Nigeria has been the epicentre of the conflict “given the relatively poor performance of the region in terms of education, health and other human development indicators, a situation, he said is unacceptable.”

However, Prof. Jega said the conference was designed as an all-inclusive process to generate ideas that would contribute to addressing an acute national problem.

“As Nigeria searches for sustainable ways and means of diversifying its economy, a national strategic focus on the livestock sector and its perennial challenges is an imperative that has assumed significance.”

Way forward

According to a communiqué signed by Prof. Jega, it said, “In the alternative, federal and state governments should expand the scope of existing Departments of Livestock Production to address the broader needs of the industry.

It stressed that there was a need for the creation of additional research institutions for beef, dairy and pasture production as a strategy for expanding funding and enacting policies and programmes for the development of the sector at all levels of the government while at the same time calling on the United Nations (UN) agencies, bilateral institutions, regional organisations (AU and ECOWAS), national and international CSOs and other support organisations to increase the level of funding and support to Nigeria in mitigating the Impact of climate change, addressing technology gaps, addressing poverty and skills gap and improving people’s livelihoods.”

It also stressed the need to strengthen and improve the security architecture for the prevention of violent crimes including cattle rustling, raiding of villages, kidnapping of persons for ransom and trade in illicit arms and drugs.

“There is the need to strengthen the process of litigation for more effective dispensation of justice and handling of the various litigations relating to violent crimes and other perpetrators of violent conflicts.

“There is the need to reform the security and judicial architectures to ensure the curtailing of farmer-herder conflicts, cattle rustling, illegal arms trade, importation and proliferation in the country.

“Political leaders at all levels need to refrain from politicizing the issue of farmer-herder conflicts and other associated issues while pursuing inclusive processes that will strengthen unity and cooperation In the country.”

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