The herders-farmers conflict Nigeria remains a thorny issue. The
death, destruction and displacement arising from the conflict have been
incremental, and have extended beyond the Middle-Belt region into
various Nigerian communities. Besides, killings by herdsmen have assumed
a sectarian nature, a fact confirmed in a June 15 report titled,
“Nigeria: An Unfolding Genocide?” by the U.K. Parliament All-Party
Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief,
wherein it was noted that “this violence has manifested along religious
lines, as the herders are predominantly ethnic Fulani Muslims and the
farmers are predominantly Christians.” That assertion mirrors concerns
variously expressed domestically by some well-placed Nigerians. Only
public policy indifference and inaction can elicit the frightening title
of that report. It need not be.
While the drivers of the herders-farmers conflict are increasingly
complex, for many Nigerians, the single underlying tripwire is the
unbridled desire by the herdsmen for unfettered access to and ownership
of land. Contextually, the herdsmen-farmers conflict is reminiscent of a
past American era, relative to land ownership and land rights. There
was a long running argument between two founding fathers of America:
Thomas Jefferson (the third president of the United States) and
Alexander Hamilton (the first treasury secretary of the United States).
Jefferson’s ideal republic was of small land owners, while Hamilton
wanted America to be an industrial behemoth, using his “Report on
Manufactures” delivered to the U.S. Congress in December 1791 to lay out
Those Nigerians who support the view that the herdsmen should retain
their existing herding practises would appear to belong to the
Jeffersonian school; while others who advocate the development of the
entire value chain of the political economy of cattle rearing would
utterly belong to the Hamiltonian school. Given contemporary
technological and organisational advances in the breeding, processing,
distribution and sale of cattle and its ancillary products, it is
befuddling that some political leaders would continue to insist on
current herding practices. Argue as they may, that the Nigerian National
Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) represents an effort to place
cattle rearing on a modern commercial path; yet that was never the first
option by the federal government. The country arrived at the plan after
treading paths that ran from restoration of colonial and post-colonial
migratory routes for cattle, to creating grazing areas, cattle colonies,
and now rural grazing areas within the NLTP. Moreover, the failure of
Nigeria to adopt global best practices in cattle rearing is the reason
that the country is not among the top twelve countries with high cattle
inventory. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO),
Nigeria is ranked 14th on the global cattle inventory, well behind fifth
ranked Ethiopia; seventh ranked Sudan and 11th ranked Tanzania.
Astoundingly, creative solutions to reducing the herders-farmers conflict have been on offer since 2018. One was the invitation by Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano of all the herdsmen to relocate to Kano State and engage in all facets of the cattle value chain there. In a federal system that operates a well-functioning economy, this eminently sensible approach offered by Kano State is a prime example of how sub-national units compete for private investment, whether in the agricultural, industrial, or commercial sectors. Private sector agents respond to enabling environments and incentives offered by policy makers. Some political elites, surprisingly, pushed against Ganduje’s offer.
The second policy option was articulated in a 2018 paper titled, “Pastoralist-Farmers Conflicts and the Search for Peaceful Resolution,” prepared by nine esteemed experts, convened under the auspices of the Nigerian Working Group on Peace building and Governance. One of the authors of that plan, Professor Ibrahim Gambari is the current chief of staff to the president, who has served the United Nations in various peace building and peacekeeping capacities. That group’s report advocated “need for permanent settlement of the pastoralists…with commercial ranches established in the sparsely populated zones in the North East (Sambisa Game Reserve in Borno State) and Northwest (Gidan Jaja Grazing Reserve in Zamfara State).” The adoption of any or both of these approaches would have had broad salutary effects: Reduced the killings and displacement of fellow citizens, overcome the continuing tensions between farmers and herdsmen, avoid the damage to property rights, and eliminate the economic disruptions suffered by the communities where herders-farmers conflicts persist.
Sadly, the insidious, persistent and multiplying signs of the herders’ problem were laid bare by a number of recent incidents. First, the president of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore Socio-cultural Association claimed that they owned Nigeria, and as such could settle anywhere and that they were at an advanced stage in forming their own security outfit in every state in federal Nigeria. His remarks elicited strong adverse reactions from many Nigerians, including the Christian Association of Nigeria and various political groups, prompting a denial by the president of the association. Second, the minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola shocked Nigerians by saying that “there is no known law that prevents cross border movements.” As if an afterthought, he added that his ministry was working with several stakeholders in border communities and countries to checkmate people who are of threats to the country on either side of the border, especially herders who freely come into the country to unleash terror on the citizens.
Minister Aregbesola’s assertion was in response to Governor Ganduje’s
June, 6 appeal to the federal government to put an end to the movement
of herdsmen from other African countries into the country. Governor
Ganduje said his call had become imperative since foreign herdsmen “come
into the country with guns and other weapons, which flame the clash
between herders and farmers…[and] that movement is what brings to us all
sort of clashes between herders and other communities, apart from
farmers.” Third, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State made two
noteworthy points in his interview published by The Guardian on
June 13. First was that while he had no problem with the herdsmen
husbanding their livestock in Benue State, “their agenda is beyond
rearing of cattle, it is about taking over and they have not hidden
that.” Second, he asked: “why should they be carrying arms? And when you
hear government officials at the federal level defending these people,
saying they are protecting their cattle, it is laughable. Is a cattle
more valuable than human life?”
The intractable herders-farmers conflict is largely the result of a
combination of policy dissonance and initial insufficient policy
initiatives. Effective public policymaking usually draws on
evidence-based analysis and global best practices. It is high time that
Nigeria seeks to overcome the herders-farmers conflict by embracing and
enacting public policies that draw on the global best practices. To do
otherwise is to be in denial about the ineffectiveness of the approaches
currently in practice.
Ejeviome Eloho Otobo is a non-resident senior fellow at the
Global Governance lnstitute, Brussels, Belgium, while and Oseloka H.
Obaze is managing director/CEO of Selonnes Consult, Awka, Anambra State.