Beyond the ban placed on open grazing of cattle by many states of the federation to curb incessant violent conflict between herders and farmers, some of the state governments have also come up with novel initiatives to forestall the menace in their domains.
The action of the states is guided by the realisation that the establishment of ranches, which both northern and southern governors point to as the way forward, would not come quickly and cheaply and herders must continue with their business pending when ranches are built.
The journey for the replacement of open grazing with ranching in the country actually began in 2018, when the Federal Government launched a 10-year National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) amid constant clashes between herders and farmers that have cost the country thousands of lives and property worth billions of naira.x
In 2018, the Federal Government estimated that the country was losing about N5.04 trillion annually to the menace. The National Economic Council (NEC) conceived the NLTP as a permanent solution to the problem.
While presenting the plan, the Technical Adviser to NEC, Andrew Kwasari, had explained that NLTP stemmed from meetings and recommendations by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the NEC in 2017.
The plan, he added, was built on six key pillars — economic investment; conflict resolution; law and order; humanitarian relief, information, education and strategic communication, and “cross-cutting” issues.
It was envisaged that the economic investment pillar would support and strengthen the development of market-driven ranches in seven pilot states for improved livestock production through breed (genetic) improvement and pasture production, among others.
Under the conflict resolution pillar, the government said it would rebuild social capital at the community level to promote mutual trust, confidence building, and consolidate the peace process, while the law and order pillar would support the strengthening of legal frameworks for improving livestock production, peace and harmony.
The fourth pillar, humanitarian relief, will focus on rebuilding and reconstructing common facilities – worship places, markets and individual homes that have been destroyed.
The fifth pillar would aid information, education and strategic communication on the development of grazing reserves in the frontline states and mitigate the consequences of these conflicts.
The cross-cutting issues pillar identified various issues necessary to realise the objectives of the programme.
“A Ranch Design Plan has also been proposed in models of various sizes clustered in 94 locations in the 10 pilot states. The government intends to transition pastoralism to ranching in order to reduce the struggle for common resources,” Kwasari had stated.
Adamawa, Benue, Ebonyi, Edo, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Oyo, Plateau, Taraba and Zamfara were identified as frontline states that would serve as the pilot states.x
The NLTP also projected that over a period of 10 years, predominantly nomadic pastoralists would be persuaded to move their cattle into ranches and public grazing reserves, where breeding farms and other mechanised livestock management practices would bolster the sector’s productivity. It targeted that by the end of 2028, there would be at least 119 ranches operating in all participating states, creating over two million jobs in the livestock production, processing and marketing chains.
Although the plan earned the endorsement of many state governments, poor political leadership, misperceptions about its purpose, budgetary constraints aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of personnel with the expertise to carry it out and widespread insecurity have no doubt hindered its progress. Consequently, not a single of the 119 projected ranches has been accomplished since the NLTP was conceived.
But penultimate Friday, the Federal Government approved N6.25 billion to kick-start the cattle ranching project with Katsina State serving as the pilot scheme.
Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, who disclosed this in a statement, stated that out of the sum, N5 billion had been released to the state government for the take off of the project.
Governor Bello Masari of Katsina State, who was quoted to have confirmed the development in Dustin-ma, had said the state would lead the way in setting up ranches in Nigeria.
Masari, who spoke at the commissioning of Zobe Regional Water scheme, which was completed after 29 years of commencement in 1992, appreciated President Muhammadu Buhari for consistently driving people-oriented development projects, with the release of the fund.
“Mr. President has graciously approved N6.25 billion for ranch development purposes in Katsina State. Part of this amount, N5 billion, is already in the account of the state government and within a few weeks, you will see advertisement calling for interested companies and consultants that will participate in construction,” he said.
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State swiftly reacted to the report by calling for disbursement of larger sum of money to his state for the same purpose. Benue is generally regarded as the hotbed of the herders-farmers conflict in the country.
Ortom said: “It is hypocrisy for the Federal Government to approve money for ranching in a state and leave others out. And in fact, the governor of Katsina State in his remarks said N5 billion had already been remitted to their coffers. So, I begin to wonder, where are we headed? If the President has approved N6.5 billion for Katsina State, they should also approve N100 billion for Benue State with an apology to me because we started it.”x
Ortom’s position indicates that the initial distrust about the project is gradually giving way and this might pave the way for accomplishment of the plan. Nevertheless, many states in the country have adopted many methods of ensuring peace between herders and farmers pending when the NLTP would hatch out.
In Enugu, beyond the ban on open grazing by governors of the Southeast states in the geo-political zone, the state government constituted a committee headed by the traditional ruler of Ibeagwa Kingdom, Enugu East Local Government, Igwe Emmanuel Ugwu.
The committee, which meets once a month, comprises traditional rulers and representatives of the police, military, forest guards, farmers and herders in the state. They visit communities to resolve conflicts and recommend adequate compensation where there are infringements.
Ugwu told The Guardian that the state had become peaceful from clashes between herders and farmers.
According to him, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s peaceful disposition has encouraged regular meetings of members of the committee, who have established a principle that in operating one’s business, it should not in any way be allowed to encumber the business of another person.
The monarch said: “My committee is doing well. Our governor is a very peaceful person and has the skills to know how to handle issues of such nature. My committee, in compliance with state programme, has been able to create understanding that both herders and farmers must coexist in peace to be able to do their businesses. As you can see, this understanding is reasonably controlling such crisis in Enugu. We try to settle issues when they arise; the communities know the herders and know how to relate with them. The herders also now know that they must respect the farmers by not releasing their cow to eat up their crops. This has helped in the peace building efforts,” the monarch explained.
Ugwu said that beyond building the understanding, compensation would be paid to any of the parties that suffer damage, as a way of curbing crisis. He noted that problems arising between herders and farmers are being easily resolved when those involved are the real owners and not hired hands in the business.
On how ranching could end the incessant crisis between the farmers and herders, Ugwu stated that it might be difficult to practice in the Southeast without the involvement of the indigenous members of the community.x
“Cattle rearing is a private business. It can be seen as a tribal business. You cannot be talking about ranching here. If you are into rearing cow and have you own land, you can talk about ranching or unless government is trying to support individuals doing that. All the noise is about the way the people understand the business. If you are doing your business, there must be understanding such that your business will not be destroying mine and mine will not be destroying your own. I think this is what our governor saw and decided to set up a committee to handle the problem. I don’t know how ranching can work here. It can be possible if indigenes are involved. When you are talking about Katsina State, indigenous people are involved in the programme,” he said.
A farmer, who is a member of the committee in the state, Chief Friday Onah, explained that the regular meetings of the panel had helped to reduce frictions arising from both sides. “We have tried to minimise destruction of crops in our farms.”
He reasoned that the position of the state government on open grazing helped the committee in its work.
The Kebbi State government has also been holding town hall meetings with herders and farmers with a view to maintaining peace while waiting for a lasting solution to the conflict.
Recently, the government held series of meetings with the two parties at School of Nursing and Presidential Lodge, Birnin Kebbi.
Governor Atiku Bagudu Abubakar, who addressed the warring parties, urged them to leave in peace and harmony with each other. He also assured them that his administration would continue to sustain peace in the state.
“I have inaugurated a committee that will look into the herders and farmers crisis. The committee which comprises religious leaders and some stakeholders was mandated to visit the Ruga Fulani and educate them on how to control their cows and make peace,” he said.x
The Benue State government has also adopted several measures to curb the conflict between herders and farmers but to no avail. The ugly development has caused loss of thousands of lives and properties in Benue even as the status of the state as the Food Basket of the Nation keeps dwindling because farmers are scared of accessing their farms.
The sour relationship between herders and farmers in the state, which became pronounced during the administration of former governor, Gabriel Suswam, assumed a more dangerous dimension under the current administration of Governor Ortom.
Irked by the development, Benue people had, at a stakeholders meeting in Makurdi, asked the state government to initiate a law banning open grazing of cattle, which was seen as the major cause of the clash between the two parties. In 2017, the House of Assembly passed a bill banning open grazing of cattle, which the governor signed into law.
To speed up implementation of the law, the government further created the Livestock Guard to complement the efforts of conventional security operatives in maintaining law and order.
Also, Ortom’s administration procured assorted patrol vehicles and donated them to the security agents. The government also organised meetings aimed at enthroning harmonious relationship between the farmers and herders.
A famous farmer in Agatu Local Government, Achiogu Attanu, who lamented the invasion of their farmland by marauding herders, said the ugly development had seriously affected the economy of the state.
Attanu attributed the hunger in Nigeria today to negative activities of herdsmen, asking President Muhammadu Buhari to sanction them.x
There have been calls for repeal of the Benue Anti-Open Grazing Law, but Governor Ortom has ruled out repeal and vowed to ensure that it is effectively implemented.
In Plateau State, the Chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders’ Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Mallam Mohammed Nura, told The Guardian that he was not aware of any programme or project put in place by the government to de-escalate the herder-farmers crisis.
“I should know if there is any state government programme that concerns herders and farmers in Plateau. The government should have engaged me if there is anything like that as the chairman of the MACBAN in the state. I don’t think there is anything in place,” Nura said.
But a civil servant in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mr. Barde Danladi, stated that some steps being taken by the incumbent administration, which include regular meetings with herders and farmers could be recognised as efforts towards de-escalating the crisis between the two parties. “It is being vigourously pursued and it is yielding the desired result,” Danladi said.
According to him, it was the peace mission of the administration that led to the emergence of Shehu Bala Usman as the caretaker committee chairman of Jos North Local Government and Alhaji Abubakar Mohammed as Commissioner for Transport.
Danladi said the Livestock Transformation Programme of the government had taken off in Wase, Dengi and Kanam local government areas as pilot schemes. He described the programme as a further proof that Governor Simon Lalong was working hard to quell the conflict between herders and farmers in the state. He added that the programme would be expanded to the remaining local councils.
“The idea is that land will be given to whoever is interested in the scheme whereby you can bring in your livestock – cows, goat, rams – to be caged in one place without having to go out,” Danladi explained.
In Imo State, farmers have continued to decry the incessant invasion of their farmlands by the herders despite the efforts of the state government to maintain harmonious relationship between both parties.
Some farmers in Ohaji in Ohaji/Egbema; Irete in Owerri West; and Uratta in Owerri North local councils who spoke with The Guardian said they had incurred heavy loss of crops to activities of herdsmen.x
A farmer in Ohaji, who identified himself as Geofrey, said: “Many of us, farmers here, have been overpowered by these herdsmen. They take their cattle freely with dangerous weapons into our farmlands, eating up the crops. We cannot guarantee sufficient yields this year, even next year, because of that. They also rape our women.”
Some months ago, a herdsman killed an old man on his farmland in Izombe, Oguta Local Government. The slain farmer had gone to his farm for weeding, only to find a herder grazing his cattle inside the farm. His refusal to allow further grazing of cattle on his farmland earned him a gunshot, which killed him instantly. It took the intervention of the state government to calm the tension raised by the murder.
Governor Hope Uzodimma dissolved his cabinet about three months ago and has not constituted a new one. Consequently, the state currently has no Commissioner for Agriculture that could have provided more insight into what the government has been doing to ensure a harmonious relationship between herders and farmers.
However, it can be observed that the Southern governors’ ban on open grazing is not effective in the Imo State as cattle still roam freely.
A few days ago, The Guardian witnessed some herders grazing their cattle on the premises of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO).
The immediate past Vice Chancellor of FUTO, Prof. Francis Eze, who spoke on the matter recently, described the activities of the herders as one of the intractable problems the authorities of the institution were facing.
“One of our greatest problems in FUTO is the activities of the headers who grace their cattle freely on our premises,” he said.x