Nigeria is at a crossroads, delicately on tenterhooks, as non-state actors spread fear, violence and terror across the land of over 205 million people of diverse tongues, cultures, religions and worldview. Emboldened by official silence, non-committal or encouragement, a gang of bandits, parading as herdsmen wielding AK47 rifles, roams the countrysides, from North to Middle Belt to the South. As they move with herds of cattle, they overrun farmlands, sack villages, maim and kill indigenes, and rename communities and state forest reserves forcefully occupied.
However, the herdsmen’s unrelenting assaults have met a counter-resistance from one or two state governors, and some community people in the South-West geopolitical zone of the country. Responding to the cry for justice by his people, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State caused a stir by ordering herdsmen out of Ondo forest reserves, which they have occupied on claims of having bought parcels for grazing their herds.
The combination of Akeredolu’s quit notice, and the sacking of herdsmen from some communities in Oyo State by an activist, Sunday Igboho, has prompted warnings of another civil war in Nigeria, after the internecine of 1967 to 1970. How did we get to this juncture of facing down the barrel of AK47 rifles totted by herdsmen holding the country by the jugular, and all we did was to blame each other of fanning the embers of disunity by ethnic profiling of crimes? Clashes between herdsmen and farmers date back in history, and they were mainly as a result of the herdsmen straying into farmlands, and in the process, their herds grazing on crops. Because the herds were not intentionally set on crops, matters were easily and quickly resolved before they got out of hand.
But recent clashes stem from deliberate attacks on farmlands by herdsmen, whose cattle graze on entire farmlands and lay waste crops that took months and enormous strength and resources to cultivate. Sadly, most of the farm attacks occur prior to harvesting of crops, making the farmers to labour in vain.
Worse is the herdsmen’s abandonment of the sticks, used to whip their herds in line, for AK47 rifles deployed as means of intimidation, maiming, killing and depriving farmers of means of livelihood. With quit notices from several states for herdsmen to leave their communities and forest reserves, the bandits’ response is that they leased or purchased parcels of the community lands and forests.
If the herdsmen’s claim were true, why turn the forests into staging posts for kidnapping for ransom, and as dens for holding their victims? Why kill captives at will, and even some victims, who have paid up the negotiated ransoms? Why do the herdsmen rename forest reserves and communities they reside in? Is it part of their purchase agreements? Don’t their actions confirm the fears of indigenous peoples of the South and Middle Belt that the new-breed herdsmen’s aim is the occupation of their ancestral lands and forest reserves? Nonetheless, the spectre of a civil war may have roused state governors to collectively acknowledge, for the first time, the devastating activities of herdsmen, and call for a halt to open, night and underage grazing, and the adoption of modern methods of rearing cattle.
The governors’ belated intervention came at a virtual meeting of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), with a communiqué specifying their plan of action, but without a timeline for its execution. Had the governors’ individual and collective reactions to the bloody and destructive activities of herdsmen not tainted by politics, sectional and religious consideration, the issue of open grazing would have long been put behind the nation. Yet, it’s better late than never. We implore the governors to turn their words into action, in order to arrest the dangerous drift to anarchy and disintegration being foisted on Nigeria by herdsmen.
If the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has no other reasons for wanting to establish Cattle Colonies/Rural Grazing (RUGA) for herdsmen across the country, it should embrace the initiative by state governors without much ado. After all, the governors are better positioned to know the kind of grazing scheme suitable for herders, and they have accordingly cast their lot for modern systems of animal husbandry, “to replace open, night and underage grazing” in the country.
Time has long past for open grazing. Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State has demonstrated that with the right political will to succeed, ranching and provision of associated infrastructure for allied businesses are possible for the settlement of herdsmen. Ganduje had invited “all herders” to Kano, to ply their trade.
He followed up the invitation with the construction of a dam, a Cattle Artificial Insemination Centre, a Veterinary Clinic and building of houses for herdsmen at the government RUGA settlement in Samsosua Forest, which borders Katsina State. And aftermath of the surge in herdsmen’ clashes with communities nationwide, Ganduje has called for a law banning movement of cattle from North to South, as a way to containing the conflicts between herdsmen and farmers, and arresting cattle rustling. Northern governors in particular should emulate the Ganduje model on open grazing, even as the nation awaits commencement of the plan by the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, in line with the grazing initiative of the National Livestock Transformation Plan. Moreover, the enlistment of support of the Miyetti Allah Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) is crucial, as the umbrella body for cattle breeders has rabidly endorsed atrocities by herdsmen.
The association’s buy-in would prove to the herdsmen that the game is up, to avoid the ominous drums of war by traumatised indigenous people, whose backs are pushed against wall. The nation is facing not just ordinary herdsmen, but evidentially well-trained marksmen intent on redrawing the map of Nigeria. Patriotic Nigerians, both in and out of government, should not allow their plot to come to fruition. The time to act is now. No more dillydallying! No more procrastination!