As the Federal Government mulls over an enduring panacea to the worsening deadly farmers-herders clashes, elder statesmen, civil society and socio-cultural groups are urging state governments not to cower, or bat an eyelid, but to resist any attempt by the government to undermine their authorities in favour of the herdsmen.
While a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Olu Falae, who described open grazing as a threat to national security, and kicked against the idea of herdsmen enjoying patronage from government as they engage in their private businesses, the Yoruba World Assembly (YWA) warned that the Apotheosisation of Fulani herdsmen by the Federal Government would have dire consequences on the polity.
On their parts, accomplished educationist and Professor of Archaeology, Zacharys Anger Gundu, and the Secretary-General of the National Association of Public Affairs Analysts (NAPAA), Jare Ajayi, carpeted the Federal Government over the way and manner that it has poorly managed the crises, and creating room for clashes with the current one having inter-tribal connotations.x
A security scholar at the University of Ibadan, Prof. Oyesoji Aremu, and professor of International Law, Prof. Jehu Onyekwere Nnaji, respectively urged the Federal Government to come up with sustainable policies to address the menace. According to the dons, the level of intimidation that is associated with the open grazing conducted by herders justifies the apprehension that ranches, if established at the state borders, will still be avenues of restiveness and occasional attacks going by previous experiences.
EIGHTY-TWO-YEAR-OLD Falae who was kidnapped by Fulani herdsmen on his 77th birthday in September 2015, and whose farmland has been attacked by herdsmen on a few occasions, in an interview with The Guardian, kicked against the idea of herdsmen enjoying certain privileges from the government since the cattle rearing is a private business.
The former SGF insisted that open grazing remains “a threat to national security because the height of it is to make the farmers, including someone like myself, subsidise the cattle activities for the herdsmen.
“Herdsmen bring their cattle to my farm, eat up my maize, cassava and rice free of charge; that feed their cattle, which they sell at a very high profit. So, the rest of us are farming for them. This is totally unacceptable. And when you put it in ethnic context, the herdsmen are not Yoruba people; they are largely Fulani from the North. How can it be the case that I, Olu Falae, and other Yoruba farmers will be farming for the cattle of Fulani? If they want to rear cattle, they can do it anywhere, but let them acquire plots of land from landowners, fence it round, and create cattle ranches. They can then feed the beasts with cattle feed, which they can manufacture themselves, or buy. That is the way it is being done in the rest of the world; that is the way it has to be done here,” he said.
He decried the sentiments attached to herdsmen/farmers’ rift across the nation by the Federal Government, lamenting that, “the Federal Government reacts to cattle issues as if the cattle belong to it.x
“Cattle belong to the Fulani, and the Federal Government is not Fulani. It should be reminded that it is Federal Government of Nigeria, and not of Fulani of about 10 million people. Since the cattle belong to private individuals, and not to the government, what’s government’s interest? When cattle and the Fulani went to my farm to destroy it, why didn’t the Federal Government show concern? This is absolute nonsense.”
GUNDU, in reacting to MACBAN’s demand for the provision of land for ranching nationwide, stressed that the Federal Government cannot compel states to provide land for ranching. “No! The Federal Government has no right. But why on earth would they compel a state to provide land for ranching, or for grazing?
On whether states are obliged to allow herders establish ranch within its borders, he responded: “Not at all! We are a federation and agriculture is in the concurrent list. So, you cannot sit in Abuja and say that every state must have a ranch, or cattle reserve. If Benue State, for example, decides that it doesn’t want ranches, so be it. If Enugu State decides that it doesn’t want ranches, so be it. Each state goes towards its own priorities.
The academic, who said that the Federal Government talking to herders amounts to talking to the wrong people, explained that until the cattle owners are brought to the table, clashes with farmers would be far from over because “any time these ones in the bush have a problem, they don’t stay there to start fighting immediately; they actually retreat and report to the owners. It is the owners that give them the logistics, plan the reprisals and then, invite their standing army, because the Fulani have a standing mercenary army that cuts across the entire West and Central African countries. It is this standing army that they go back and invite to come and attack, and it is those who own the cattle that can order those reprisal attacks.”
Asked who to blame for the level of incursion and destructions going on across the country, he said: “Well, we blame the Federal Government…”
NAPAA scribe, Ajayi while berating government’s handling of the clashes said: “It is very unfortunate that the government largely creates room for clashes. The current one has inter-tribal connotation. We are in an age, where cattle rearing is no longer done through open grazing, but by ranching. If the government sets up ranches for MACBAN members as being called for by the Southeast MACBAN, what then happens to other categories of farmers?x
Anybody who is into any private enterprise should determine how he, or she wants to run the business and must do it according to the law guiding the business. The duty of the government is to create an enabling environment and laws to follow. Yielding to the demands of MACBAN is not realistic; it will create more problems than it will solve.”
Ajayi, however, regretted that some governors have failed to assert their authorities and exercise powers bestowed on them by the constitution.
Ajayi said: “The land in each state is vested in the governor. Anyone who wants do any business on the land must follow laws that are operational in the state, as the Federal Government cannot use its might to dictate to the states. So, some governors who have laws, but fail to enforce the laws properly must be blamed. We are supposed to be running a federal system, but the way and manner that the Federal Government is operating is more or less like a unitary government. Some states are culpable because they belong to the same party at the national level; they don’t want to take steps that look confrontational, and by their action, they are not helping the growth of democracy and the attainment of true federalism. In spite of the fact that so much power is vested in the Federal Government, states still have a lot of room to manoeuvre and assert themselves, but they are not asserting themselves enough, which gives the Federal Government the temerity and audacity to undermine the states. The states should resist any unfriendly policies in a non-violent way.”
TAIWO, echoing the views of the Yoruba World Assembly (YWA), said: “It is of no use deceiving ourselves anymore in this country. We all know that the government we are running in Nigeria is the government of the Fulani, by the Fulani, and for the Fulani. So, all the things that the Federal Government is talking about should be thrown to the dogs. The government seems to have turned Nigerians to puppets that can be thrown up at will, and for fun.”
He continued: “What we are talking about here is what I want to call Apotheosisation of the Fulani. How can you make sacred cows of a tribe in the country, where special provisions must be made for them among the several tribes in the country? What is happening is as good as moving to Sokoto, dropping your things on any portion of the farms there and start cultivating and building shelter without reference, or regard to anybody, all in the name of right to live in any part of the country. Which portion of the constitution guarantees that nonsense? Surely this country has been turned into the zoo where all absurdities are permitted.x
“It is up to our state governors to do what is right, and what is justifiable. But my fear is that they are always exhibiting the politicians in them, by playing politics with everything for the purpose of what they want for themselves. I never trust the post-Awolowo era politicians in Yoruba Land.”
THE Director, Institute For Peace and Strategic Studies (IPSS), University of Ibadan, Prof. Tajudeen Akanji, who said several suggestions had been made on how to stop the clashes, lamented that the neglect of the recommendations created the current problems facing the country.
Akanji said: “The problem we have is that of governance deficit where we make all these commissions, but by the time the next government comes in, it discontinues them and or even looks at what political dictate of that time that pushed them to do. It is because of the neglect of all these suggestions and provisions on the table that a number of these issues have been created.
“During the Western Region administration, Oyo State had Fashola Farm. It was one of the most successful ranches in the country. We only need to go back and don’t wait until crises occur before we start running helter-skelter and be doing things that are just cosmetic.”
Akanji, who also urged states to resist anything that is unfriendly to them, blamed the current developments on the faulty constitution that the country operates.
AREMU, a security scholar said: “Internal security especially in respect of clashes between farmers and herders have impacted heavily on national life. So, the Federal Government has to be more forthcoming as regards sustainable policies that would not only be a win-win strategy, but which would also appease the two parties and other stakeholders.
He said: “While the call by MACBAN may appear on the surface to be solution-driven, it may also not be given some peculiarities of some states. Nevertheless, the obvious is that the operation of open grazing is not only no longer fashionable, the challenge of increasing urbanisation makes it difficult for some states to give out lands for ranches. But it is the way to go as we have in other climes.
EMERITUS President General of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, on his part stated that the Buhari-led administration has handled Fulani herdsmen issues as national priority.x
“The Fulani demands for this and that have become very daring. Fulani herdsmen have destroyed farms with impunity. The casualties of such actions are ignored. The sense of entitlement is baffling. But more distressing is the reaction of the government. The presidency prefers to talk about the cattle rustling in the North West. The President in his full military regalia visited Zamfara in an attempt to intimidate the rustlers. In Benue State, the President asked the surviving farmers to accommodate their killers, feel sorry for their brothers. The Presidency is also more interested in removing the identity of the herdsmen and kidnappers,” he added
On the demands by MACBAN, he dismissed the group as “a pretentious group of cattle owners, who want to leach off the country,” stressing that their demand for lands is “brutally selfish.
“If the group is really smart, it would have expanded the demand to include all animal husbandry. But no, the group thinks we are indebted to it. The offer of N1b for RUGA-hosting state and the desire to please Buhari are driving some governors to bow to the herdsmen demands,” he added.
PROF Nnaji, who expressed disgust at the “unwarranted and wanton destruction of lives and property” occasioned by this crisis, noted that the rate, at which women have been raped, dehumanised and killed in their farms has skyrocketed. “Of late, people are afraid of going to the farms as a result of very potent and debilitating fear of the influx of herders in the farms. What is poignant to the mind is that these herders are armed with AK 47 and other automatic and semi automatic weapons. It is inconsistent with our system of cohabitation that a person who intends to market his commodity in another’s territory does so with high level intimidation and causes mayhem along his path,” he said
BUT an Ohanaeze Ndigbo Chieftain, Chief Chekwas Okorie, however, reasoned that operating the 1999 Constitution (as amended) that vested ownership of land in the authority of state governments has limited the direct intervention of the Federal Government in such conflicts to the arrest, and prosecution of those involved in criminal activities.x
He argued: “It is the lackadaisical approach of the security agencies in the arrest and prosecution of the criminal attackers that has created the impression that the Federal Government is in acquiescence with the culprits. It is obvious that where State Houses of Assembly have established the legal framework to regulate the activities of herders, the Federal Government never interfered with the operation of the law in such states. States that have failed to take advantage of their state assemblies to follow the legal process should not hide under any cover to blame the Federal Government for failing to do what their more proactive counterparts are doing.”
THE President, Civil Rights Realisation Advancement of Nigeria (CRRAN), Olu Omotayo, a lawyer, argued that the reluctance of the Federal Government to appreciate the principles of federalism in a democracy has led to the continued herders/farmers clashes and the deterioration of the issue lately.
“The federal government has refused to follow the provisions of the law, and allow the Rule of law to operate because even though the Constitution provides that state government can compulsorily acquire land in overriding public interests, but not to take over land just for the sake of private business of a group of persons,” he said.
He continued: “The call by MACBAN on states to provide lands for ranching has no legal basis, but can just be seen as a mere talk based on the wishes of the members of the group. It is to be noted that cattle trading, or business is a private commercial venture, which in serious climes would not have been the priority of the Federal Government. It’s very demeaning and disgraceful that private commercial businesses of some group of persons will now be an issue of national interest and major priority of the Federal Government. It’s important to also note that the governors of respective states of the federation lack the power to acquire either private, or public lands to satisfy the interest of a group of people who are carrying out their private businesses.”