THESE days of reckless slaughter, all manner of decisions including bizarre ones are being taken in the name of ending the bloodbath and ensuring peace. The federal government’s plan to map out grazing routes and reserves for herdsmen’s animals is one of such wacky decisions. One is not ignorant of the need to stem the blood-flow. As hinted in the opening line, the wanton killings can move a stone statue. Boko Haram fighters are running wild in the North, wasting thousands of lives and wrecking businesses and social infrastructure valued in millions of naira. They have sent families fleeing their homes and sources of livelihood. They have attacked military facilities, even claiming lives in those confrontations. Three states in the North are under emergency rule, yet insurgency seems to be increasing in frightening proportions, one of the latest instances being the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls in Borno State. Any wonder why the Jonathan administration, among other things, contemplated talking things over with the terrorists? Lay down your arms and renounce violence, and we will forgive your atrocities, even rehabilitate you, the federal administration told the fighters. What was the answer? We will have none of your overtures, Boko Haram replied. If anything, we are the ones to forgive you if we choose to. Deadlock? Yes, deadlock, but the bloodletting has worryingly continued apace.
Consider, too, the onslaught of the presumed herdsmen. They have run riot across the land. Of the 36 states in the federation only a tiny few have been spared their attacks. In Ogume in Ndokwa-West Local Government Area of Delta State, 10 youths were reported killed by invading herdsmen on April 6, 2013. The killings reportedly resulted from a disagreement with host community farmers. Nigerians are well acquainted with plenty of such invasions and killings in Plateau State. Although many attacks go unreported, everyone knows that herdsmen’s clashes with farmers are as much an issue in Taraba as they are in Nasarawa, and indeed in much of the federal land. In Benue, local residents have been reduced to refugees, huddled up in primary schools or open camps after their homes were attacked and their farms and produce wasted by invading herdsmen.
Any wonder that federal authorities are about to establish tracts of land, from the North to the South, where cattle will literally have right of way?
A panel has been reportedly set up to, as we say, work out the modalities of such dedicated grazing reserves. This is strange and unlikely to help in any way. It may well be argued that since the herdsmen are Nigerians, they reserve every right to graze their cattle everywhere within the confines of their country. This argument is cheap, too simplistic and even likely to create more problems than it may solve. Here are the reasons why. One, the days of innocence seem over in the country. To the shame of the populace, ethnic harmony has since been replaced by mutual suspicion and in some cases even hostility. In Jos where I lived for a decade and relished my time there, I hear the tin and temperate table land has since been divided along ethnic lines, destroying the peace and harmony we knew back in the 80s and early 90s. Back then, the sight of Fulani herdsmen in their wide-brimmed hats and trademark sticks across their shoulders was not frightening. They led their animals up and down the rocky hills with hardly any incident with farmers or locals. In all my time in the Tin City, I never saw a herdsman clutching an AK 47. That is why some of us ask, why do otherwise simple herdsmen now carry sophisticated weapons? Where do they get such arms from? Who is backing them?
There is another reason why the dedicated grazing reserves will not solve any problem. There is nothing to convince anyone of the willingness of the authorities to genuinely resolve herdsmen’s squabbles with farmers? How many troublemakers have been tracked down and punished according to the law after such clashes? How many of those who killed the 10 Ogume youths have been arrested at least to explain why they did what they did? How many killers in those Plateau attacks have been apprehended? Has anyone been held by the police and the law for throwing Benue farmers out of their homes and farmlands and into misery? Why should anyone be hopeful that the grazing reserves will end the hostilities? Before cattle start roaming and grazing freely in reserved land from North to South and from East to West, the federal government should consider these few points. Since some of the reserved land is likely to be someone’s source of livelihood, what compensation, if any, will be adequate for the farmer? Will it be fair to dedicate a Northern community’s fishing waters to, say, the Ijaw who mostly depend on water and fishing for sustenance considering that much of their waters is polluted by multinational oil firms? What about hunters from the Southwest and Southeast having the go-ahead to hunt game in designated parts of the North, and as frequently as they please?
In the final analysis, it is even unhealthy, crude, backward, risky and costly to take animals across the length and breadth of this vast country in search of grazing fields. With the huge resources available to government, it is wiser, healthier and more economical to breed and graze cattle in the home states of their owners. What is required is developing and fertilizing the land for the animals. That way you solve more problems than you would create allowing the animals a free roam up and down the country.