There is no doubt that Nigeria is at crossroads on how to deal with the killings and maimings by Fulani militias. As the killings, kidnappings and destruction of properties continue on a daily basis, the government is just confounded and only able to manage the daily occurrences without any hope for a long term solution.
The menace, however, started as farmer/herdsmen clashes in the north and the excuses given were that the herdsmen lack pasture to feed their cattle due to climate change and so sometimes had to trespass on farmlands in order to find pasture. Also, it was claimed that the old grazing routes were taken over by farmers which makes those clashes inevitable.
But today, the clashes have turned to unprovoked attacks, kidnappings and destruction of innocent lives and property by persons that are evidently of the Fulani ethnic group.
Unfortunately, the spate of Boko Haram attacks in the North-East and banditry in the North-West, have added more burden on the government and overstretched our military, making stakeholders to go helter-skelter looking for solutions.
There is almost nothing that the governors, under the auspices of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) and the Northern Governors’ Forum, have not done to find solution to a seemingly northern problem, without any headway. The problem even threatened the South-West, but the government and people of the region were already prepared, having learnt from the experiences of the Middle-belt States. Infact, the steadfastness and uncommon courage of the Ondo State governor in facing the challenge, created enemies for him, even among his own counterparts.
The Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed, defended his Fulani kinsmen by claiming that the Fulanis have the right to settle in any part of the country. That was his response to the ultimatum given to the Fulanis to vacate Ondo forests by Gov. Akeredolu.The rest is history but the South-West States governments and people were resolute that the criminality being perpetrated by these Fulani herdsmen in their domain must stop. At least, we have had a bit of calm in that region since then.
In essence, the political blame game did not only stop with Gov. Akeredolu and Gov. Mohammed but continued when the Bauchi governor accused Gov. Samuel Ortom of Benue of starting the whole problem. But in his response, Gov. Ortom threw caution to the wind and even accused Gov. Mohammed of belonging to the fulani terrorist group causing mayhem. Infact, the war of words is still ongoing.
Regrettably, it is now evident that the inability of governments, both at the State and national level to deal with the farmer/herdsmen problem at the initial stage, has led to this new dimension of blame game. A typical case of criminality has now been politicised by the very ones in government. But evidently, the reason why we are where we are today is because some governments have refused to act or simply support each other when it mattered most. Now that the ‘jungle has matured’, they have resorted to the political blame game. Unfortunately, that would not solve the problem- rather it would worsen it.
Kudos must, however, be given to the Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom and his Taraba state counterpart, Darius Ishaku, for rising to the occasion when it mattered most. Both of them promulgated the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranching Establishment Law in 2017 and 2018 respectively. I was part of the process at that time and witnessed all the drama that ensued as a result of that legislation. I am therefore bold to say that they did what they did for purely altruistic reasons and not for any selfish or political reasons, considering the insecurity in their domains. History, I am sure, would be kind to them for pursuing peace. They would also be blessed by the Almighty for pursuing peace because as the Holy Bible says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall see God”.
Unfortunately, the Federal Government and some northern governors did not support Ortom and Ishaku at that time. The opposition was open and direct. The body language of the Federal Government might have even emboldened the Fulanis under the umbrella of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN), to issue threats to the two States without the nation’s security agencies raising an eyebrow. Like in the case of Taraba, the Fulani body even boycotted the public hearing sessions towards passing the Bill into Law and instead staged protests and threatened mayhem when the Bill was eventually passed into Law. Is this how democracy works? Don’t States have the right to make Laws for the good governance of the people? These questions were never answered. Instead, we witnessed bloodletting in Benue and Taraba States, never witnessed in their histories. The culprits did not hide the fact that they were responsible for the killings.
Today, the north has become a killing field. The blood of the innocent has continued to haunt us because someone somewhere has refused to see reason and act when it mattered most.
I am convinced that the Benue and Taraba Laws would soon be a rallying point because they hold the promise of solving the long problem of farmer/herdsmen clashes. The failed RUGA and the now-canvassed National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP), are infact a near replica of the Benue and Taraba Laws. As a result of the prevailing realities, most northern governors are looking for home solutions based on their local peculiarities, to the farmer/herdsmen crises. Zamfara, Kano, Sokoto are considering grazing reserves, ranching and RUGA. Therefore, the Taraba and Benue models must be implemented fully. Kudos must be given to the Taraba Government for starting a ranching model farm in Takum. The people must embrace and support it for it to succeed. Other states should begin to think of their own models too.
But the Federal Government must lead the way first. President Buhari must swallow his pride as a Fulani man and be courageous enough to ban open grazing through an Executive Order. After all, he is a herder, only that his own cattle are in a ranch. The National Assembly must likewise make a legislation banning open grazing. Nigeria cannot afford to be left behind as Africa’s largest economy.
Finally, the benefits of ranching and the ban on open grazing touches on the economy, security and politics. Its economic benefit must not be overemphasized. The APC government could also carry the ace as the first to ban this centuries-old practice that has benefitted just a few. Ultimately, when ranching and grazing reserves are fully implemented and all cattle owners are settled, that would isolate and expose the criminally minded Fulani herdsmen, whether foreign or local, who hide under the guise of herdsmen to perpetrate evil in our society.