Recently, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), comprising governors of the 36 states of the federation, unanimously banned open, night and underage grazing in all parts of the country.
The NGF expressed concern about the frequent clashes between the nomadic cattle herders and farmers across many communities and called for the introduction of modern systems of animal husbandry that could reduce contacts between the warring groups.
They advised state governments to put in place, systems to accelerate the introduction of the ranching initiative as prescribed by the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) in the country. However, the NGF warned that state governments and citizens must guard against ethnic profiling of crime as every Nigerian has a right to live and conduct business in any part of the country.
It also warned against the tagging of ethnic groups based on the misbehaviour of a few criminally minded individuals, as every group has its own share of good and bad eggs.
This consensus is significant, coming after a long period of confusion during which individual state governors approached the matter from different perspectives. In the past, while some states took the initiative to enact laws prohibiting open grazing, others were either indifferent or opposed to such laws. From the benefit of hindsight, it is obvious that each state acted based on its own assessment of the level of threat the cattle herders posed to its population.
Hence while Benue and Taraba states which were at the epicentre of the herders/farmers conflict and faced existential threats were quick to outlaw open grazing, many others not facing the direct heat of the violent conflict at that time, were foot dragging because they wanted to be politically correct.
With the armed herders making inroads into the forests of the South-West, South- East and South-South coupled with the daily incidents of rape, killings and kidnappings linked to these herders, the tide has turned against the practice of open grazing.
Those who had all along defended nomadic pastoralism as a way of life and culture of the Fulani ethnic group have begun to see the other side of the coin. Those who had supported the forceful occupation of forest reserves and sacred groves by the cattle herders on the claims that every citizen had a constitutional right to settle and do business anywhere in Nigeria, are also beginning to see the limitations of that right.
The practice of open, unrestricted and uncontrolled cattle grazing has so many negative dimensions and definitely poses a lot of threats to peaceful coexistence in Nigeria. It is largely responsible for rapid desertification as well as low crop yield and food shortage in hitherto productive agrarian communities.
It is the trigger to the violent clashes between herders and farmers, which has forced many farmers to flee from their farms for fear of being killed. It is the reason many women who rely on subsistence farming for survival can no longer go to the farms for fear of being raped and killed by armed herders.
According to the Global Terrorism Index, the armed herders are the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world and their conflicts with farming communities resulted in the death of thousands of people across Nigeria.
These needless conflicts and harvest of deaths could have been avoided had our governors and other stakeholders addressed this issue long before now. We, therefore, urge the NGF to go beyond the verbal ban on open grazing and encourage every state to enact the Open Grazing Prohibition Law to compel all nomadic herdsmen to confine their animals to ranches.
There should be no more excuses for herders to roam about with their cattle on the streets and into farms and forest reserves in search of pasture and water.
Available statistics shows that there are enough land and dams in the core northern states to support the development of modern ranches where the herders can settle and rear their animals in peace.
Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State has already started the process of resettling the herders in his state and we encourage other governors in that region to follow his footsteps to bring a closure to this ugly chapter. However, we must also not lose sight of the foreign dimension to the security challenges confronting Nigeria.
As far back as 2014, the National Conference of the Nigerian People, through its Committee on National Security, identified Nigeria’s long and porous borders as a major threat to national security.
It was identified that Nigeria had over 1,400 illegal routes through which illegal aliens including cattle herders from across West and Central Africa enter the country.
These illegal aliens usually find cover under the ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and Goods. So while our state governments make efforts to clean up the mess created by open grazing, it behoves on the Federal Government to seek a review of the ECOWAS Protocol and wake up to its responsibility of protecting our vast borders from nomadic cattle herders from neighbouring countries.
If we don’t plug all the loopholes, the ban and other efforts by our governors, would be as good as pouring water into a basket.