For a few years now, there has been a raging battle between cattle rustlers, Fulani herdsmen and farmers in the Middle Belt and some northern states of Benue, Plateau, Kogi, Nasarawa, Adamawa, Kaduna, Taraba and Zamfara states.
With the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east, having appreciably diminished over the past year, the conflict between farmers and herders and cattle rustlers have shot to the top of the nation’s internal security problems.
SAMSON BENJAMIN looks at the unexplained issues.
The problem Unfortunately, the conflicts have led to the loss of hundreds if not thousands of lives and millions of stolen cattle in these states.
More worrisome is the fact that these manysided tragedies are intertwined with banditry.
Specifically, cattle rustling has evolved into a dangerous and sometimes bloody criminal activity in Nigeria.
It is a damaging ivity that affects the economic livelihoods of farming communities and threatens the national meat supply.
In the last few years, crimes related to cattle rustling have increased across many states.
Gunmen with automatic weapons storm herdsmen settlements, killing them and taking cattle away.
Also, robberies in highprofile farms, along with constant reports of ruthless killing of cattle owners, has left the herdsmen between the devil and the deep blue sea.
In 2013, it was reported that armed gunmen stormed the commercial farm owed by the then Vice President, Namadi Sambo, along Birnin Gwari road in Kaduna state and took away over 1,000 cattle worth more than N100 million.
In a similar incident, another group of rustlers invaded the farm of the Emir of Zazzau, Alhaji Shehu Idris, in Zaria and made away with over 200 cattle worth millions of naira.
Interestingly, while farmers and rural communities accuse herdsmen of destroying their crops and killing them, the herdsmen on the other hand accuse local communities and bandits of cattle rustling.
The real culprits Significantly, some of the violent clashes between farmers and herdsmen have been attributed to cattle rustling by local communities.
However, speaking to Blueprint Weekend, an anonymous source accused Fulani herdsmen of complicity in cattle rustling.
“Daily reports of alleged cattle rustling in these states raise many questions seeking answers: Who are these rustlers? Who are the buyers of these stolen cattle? It is not possible for cattle to be rustled in large numbers without elements of Fulani kinsmen being involved,” he said.
Similarly, it would be recalled that the Plateau state Police Command in January 2018, arrested a Fulani herdsman, Bala Yahaya Mohammed, who conspired with three others to kill their kinsman, Mohammed Ibrahim, and rustled 15 cattle and 14 sheep from their victim.
Addressing a press conference at the Police Headquarters in Jos, the state Commissioner of Police then, Mr.
Undie Adie, said: “On the 26th of January, 2018, one Alhaji Ibrahim Usman of Sabon Layin, Jos, reported at Laranto Police Station that on January 24, 2018, he was called on phone by one Bala Yahaya Mohammed to see him at Zaria Road cemetery, which he did.
And that Mohammed handed over to him 15 cattle and 14 sheep for safekeeping in the pretence that he was going to look for his child.
And that he, Usman, waited for Bala to return for his cattle, but he never did.
“Preliminary investigations at the Division later revealed that the cattle and sheep belonged to one Haruna Ibrahim of Agigi in Basa local government area of the state which had been stolen with the connivance of certain herdsmen.” Attacks by bandits not Fulani However, speaking to Blueprint Weekend, Engr.
Salleh Alhassan, the Secretary of Meyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, the pan-Fulani socio-cultural group, Abuja branch, exonerated his members of any complicity in cattle rustling.
“If we begin to attach criminal identity to criminals, then we have a problem in this country.
We must clearly define who a herder is.
A erder is someone that has a herd of animals.
If you have your herds of cattle why would you go and rustle somebody’s.
If you are a rustler, you are a criminal and you are a thief,” he said.
Another prominent Fulani leader, Dr.
Addo Mainoma, a lecturer at the Federal Polytechnic, Nasarawa, told Blueprint Weekend that the “bandits operating in the Middle Belt and some North-west states are strange people who also rustle our cattle and they do not spare us too, even as Fulani people.” “We condemn the attacks, but those engaged in the killings are not Fulani.
They hide under Fulani garb to cause disharmony among us.
Some people wear our garments in the night to confuse others that we are the ones.
We are also their victims.
They steal our cattle and when you challenge them, they kill you.
I have lost several cattle to them and as I talk, I am yet to recover them.” Why rustling persists Significantly, several military operations have been initiated by the federal government and the security agencies and in an attempt to end cattle rustling, but it seem all the initiatives are yet to yield the desired results.
President Muhammadu Buhari had in 2016 launched a special military operation tagged Operation Harbin Kunama in Dansaudu forest of Zamfara state in a bid to rid the state of armed cattle rustlers and bandits who have killed dozens of residents, while also rustling cattle.
Similarly, in January 2018, the 1 Division, Nigerian Army, Kaduna, launched a follow up special operation in parts of Kaduna and Niger states to tackle the rising cases of kidnapping, armed robbery and cattle rustling.
The operation, code- named Karamin Goro, covered the Minna-Birnin GwariPandogari and Minna-Sarkin Pawa general areas.
A statement by the then Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, Col.
Muhammad Dole, said “the special operation involved the Nigeria Airforce, Police, DSS operatives and Nigeria Civil Defence Corps.” However, Alhasan insists that the security agencies have done their best given the circumstances.
“The security agencies have tried their best, especially in the North-west, they have been on top of the situation, but you know all this criminality cannot be wished away.
And there are task forces working, particularly in the North-west.
However, they are also finding it difficult because we don’t regulate our abattoirs and our cattle
Butchers not helping matters He also fingered some of the butchers across the country as the major buyers of these stolen animals.
“Some of these cattle, when stolen, are also moved from one state to another.
They are usually loaded in vehicles by night and transported to different markets across the country.
We, as an association, don’t have any mechanism to check animals in transit, so it is very difficult to track some of these animals.
What we did at our level is to put together a vigilance group to assist our members in recovering some of their stolen animals.” Possible solution However, the Acting Secretary, Agriculture and Rural Development Secretariat, Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), Dr.
Musa Aliyu, is optimistic that the introduction of cattle tracking and monitoring could bring an end to cattle rustling and clashes between farmers and herders.
Aliyu said the device, “when fully implemented, would help security agencies in curtailing the problem of cattle rustling.” “My only fear is how far the cattle breeders will be able to imbibe this technology soon enough to be able to use it to tackle the menace of cattle rustling in Nigeria,” he said.
Government intervention Like rustling, in a bid to look for a lasting solution to the incessant farmers, herders’ clashes, the federal government came up with so many initiatives yet the killings persist.
Initially, government proposed grassing up 50,000 hectares of reserves with grass seeds from Brazil and later changed its mind to cattle colonies.
Speaking on why Nigerians should embrace ranching, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, said: “Colonies are areas carved out for any species of animal, whether by nature or human design, found in a large community sharing the same terrain.
“Why are we talking of colonies? We are talking of colonies because 20, 30, or 40 ranchers can share the same colony.
A ranch is usually owned by an individual or a company, sometimes with very few cattle.
Some have more than 200 or 300 cattle.” Continuing, he said: “In a colony you could find 30,000 cattle owned by different herders.
The reason we are designing the colony is that we want to prepare on a large scale, a place where many owners of cattle can coexist and be fed well because we can make their feeds.
They can get good water to drink.
We can give them green fodder.
“A team from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, was here, and one of the professors there produces cattle feed seed.
The different kinds of seed will go for cattle.
We’ll grow this on a large scale, harvest and feed the cattle.
“We’ll give them veterinary services, and, above all, protect the cattle against rustlers.
By a special design, we have to make sure that rustlers can’t cross into the ranches and steal cattle and walk away.
That’s what we mean.” Once the colonies begin, he said “we are also going into large scale artificial insemination to improve the breed of cattle so that the yield of milk can increase.” Ranching option However, after much criticisms, and outright rejection of cattle colonies, especially by all the southern states and some Middle Belt states which are in the centre of the crisis, the federal government again jettisoned cattle colonies and proposed ranching.
The ranching initiative is part of a new roadmap, tagged “The National Livestock Transformational Plan” aimed at finding lasting solution to farmers, herders’ conflicts and cattle rustling.
It is a mediation strategy that emanated from meetings and recommendations of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development as well as the National Economic Council (NEC), headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo which began in 2017.
The disclosure was made by NEC representatives, including Governor Samuel Ortom, Audu Ogbeh, and the Coordinator of the plan, Dr.
Andrew Kwasari, at a session with editors in Abuja.
Again speaking during the session, Ogbeh said: “We are going to have 94 ranches in 10 states.
We have received 21 gazetted grazing reserves from seven states.
Plan focuses on pilot intervention in the frontline states Adamawa, Benue, Edo, Ebonyi, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Oyo, Plateau, Taraba, and Zamfara.
“A Ranch Design Plan has also been proposed in models of various sizes clustered in 94 locations in the 10 pilot states.
We will have clusters of 30, 60, 150, and 300 cow ranch models in a location within the donated and gazetted grazing reserves.
“The total spending for the 10-year period is slightly in excess of N179 billion.
Funding for the first three years of the pilot phase is about N70 billion.
“The ranch is also designed as an integrated business which makes provision for (a) the development of commercial crop production to support livestock through the supply of quality fodder and other feed materials (b) the formation of producers into clusters to create viable ranch herd sizes, and (c) creation of cooperatives to facilitate improved access to inputs, infrastructure, finance, markets, and support services.” Drawbacks Surprisingly, the proposed ranching initiative is currently receiving criticisms from socio cultural organisations, religious groups, civil society organisations and some pilot states who allegedly participated in drafting the road map, particularly Ebonyi and Benue states.
As it stands, until measures involving all stakeholders are taken to address the deadly and multidimensional herdsmen, farmers’ clashes and cattle rustling, more killings that could possibly destabilise the nation may occur, especially as the nation prepares for general elections in 2019