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The need for pragmatism in addressing cattle grazing squabbles

Last Wednesday, we heard that thousands of Benue youths took to the streets of Makurdi to protest what they termed endless massacre of their people by some blood-thirsty herdsmen in the state. That same day, we got the news that the Abia State government is about establishing modern grazing reserves to reduce clashes between rural communities and herdsmen in the state.

From both scenarios, it can be gleaned that the menace of Fulani herdsmen is at issue. They are at it again! It doesn't matter where grazing takes them, once they got there, these nomads always carry about as if they are in their homestead. Be it in the middle belt, the south east or any other geopolitical zone in the country aside theirs, they'll lead their livestock into free wandering as if they are in Katsina or Dutse. It doesn't cross their shallow minds that it is people's source of livelihood that is being toyed with.

They would lead their animals to wander into crop farms. It is not only that they feast on what is planted, the plants that survive their appetite get destroyed as they tread upon them. This explains why rural farmers always get petulant whenever they see the herdsmen and their flock. Yet, all that matter to the nomads is that their animals mustn't be starved of feeds.

And why must they starve? Isn't it for the purpose of finding feed aplenty that made them set out down south? How can it be that after tolerating the taxing trajectory of moving down south, their hosts couldn't even tolerate their animals encroaching one or more verdant farmsteads? Isn't there high demand for beef in these parts? And, shouldn't our famed African hospitality apply to animals as well?

The answers to these questions must have spurred them on. Also buoyed by the fact that they have been led into believing that they own Nigeria and have monopoly of violence. This orientation goes a long way in stimulating them to visit violence on any community that dared to stand on their way. As if it was they who had earlier cultivated the lush lea which they callously shepard their herd to.

Many have suggested that since they are ignorant we should overlook their indiscretion. But if these people can be ignorant enough to the extent of tipping some natives to sell out their own people like we saw in Agatu, Benue State, then would that be a sort of ignorance that shouldn't be ignored. Come to think of it, how can they be ignorant yet be so good at perennially planing and executing dastardly attacks that catch everyone off guard?

While we hear of disturbances from the Fulani herdsmen in most parts of southern Nigeria, it appears parts of the North are not spared of this madness. Just this Friday, it was reported of a family of seven who were killed by suspected Fulani herdsmen in an early morning raid in southern Kaduna. There have also been incidence of their operations in Plateau and Nasarawa states which have further threatened the lives of this endangered species called Nigerians.

Benue State seems to be the hotbed of this attacks. The very rich pastures and the availability of water in Benue make the state their centre of attraction. Virtually all parts of the state have stories to tell of the miseries these merciless herdsmen have caused them. The attackers usually come at dawn, sometimes late at night and as soon as the damage has been perpetrated, they would recede into neighbouring territories making it difficult for them to be caught.

Sometime last year, Agatu community was almost sacked by deadly herdsmen who kept invading the village with lots of death tolls in its wake. The situation was so terrible that the villagers had to desert their community, pouring in to Otukpo and other neighbouring villages. This allowed the herdsmen what they have always wanted: free movement and unfettered pastures for their animals. The attackers keep succeeding because they always come through the jungle which makes it difficult for security officials to track them down.

Speaking in a recent interview, the Senior Special Assistant on Media to the Benue state governor, Mr Cletus Akwaya said: “Fulani herdsmen do their business by grazing cattle and often times the cattle find themselves in the farmlands and come in contact with the farmers and this triggers violent reactions from the farmers when they have their crops destroyed.”

He went on to accuse the herdsmen of invading towns and villages mostly at night and dawn when most people are caught unawares “leading to mass killings, mass destructions, not of only of farmlands but also households and communities.” He noted that the Fulani herdsmen who "are heavily armed with various sophisticated weapons are ready to open fire even without provocation." Indeed, the activities of these herdsmen have caused much destruction of property, numerous killings and massive dislocation of people.

One would think it is only in our political space that impunity reigns supreme, now we know that impunity is also at play when it has to do with these nomads. They have consistently succeeded in planning and carrying out their countless attacks with the government and concerned agencies perpetually playing catch up. And while they are setting up committees and running in circles, things are getting out of hand.

I guess we can now appropriately situate why the Youth Wing of the Christian Association of Nigeria, YOWICAN, and some students resolved to protest. Some of the messages contained in the placards they were bearing reads: “Fulanis out of Benue, this is our home”, “Gov. Suswam, our lives are more important than cow meat” and “YOWICAN says government, help us remove Fulanis”

Addressing journalists, the state president of YOWICAN, Daniel Peverga Dam-Ayali said: “the incessant attacks by the Fulani herdsmen have become unnecessary and it is obvious that all efforts to end the mayhem seems abortive. We want urgent and total removal of these Fulanis out of our peace loving state.” It's a shame that these incendiary elements would let it get to this stage where they would be requested out of the state by aggrieved youths.

Every Nigerian citizen should be free to conduct his or her business in any part of the country, so says our constitution. But with the terror these nomads have wrought wherever they threaded, it becomes understandable when any section of our country slams a persona-non-grata on them. And when this continues to be the case, it will speed up the balkanization of our nation. That's all the more reason why this issue shouldn't be handled with kid gloves.

Since we need both the produce of the farmers as well as that of cattlerearers, our best bet is to take a cue from how the Abia government intends to bring a lasting solution to the issue. The state Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr Kenneth Nwosu, who was speaking with the News Agency of Nigeria in Umuahia said the recurring incidences of crop destruction by cattle was a major concern to farmers and the government. Thus, the establishment of modern grazing reserves is aimed at protecting farmers from such preventable losses.

This initiative is closely related to an earlier proposal submitted to the Federal Government by Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State which sought the creation of designated grazing areas across the country. It is high time the government adopted such a pragmatic way to deal with this issue before it degenerates into a more devastating headache than the current Boko Haram phenomenon bedevilling our nation. That is if it hasn't already!

Ugochukwu can be reached through [email protected] or followed @ugsylvester

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Articles by Ugochukwu Ugwuanyi