By: Desmond O. Oriakhogba
According to a report, the farmers-Herders clashes in Nigeria has claimed more than 10000 lives in the last decade, with almost 4000 of the deaths recorded between 2017 and 2019. Properties worth millions of Naira have also been lost to the clashes. Although, the North-Central geo-political zone remains the hot bed of these clashes, no part of the country has been spared as states in other geo-political zones (especially in the Southern part of Nigeria), as well as the North-Central, continue to experience loss of lives and properties in increasing numbers.
The clashes are usually between the predominant Fulani-Muslim nomadic cattle herders (Fulani herdsmen) and the largely non-Fulani-Christian “traditional crop-farming communities” (farmers). The crises continue to threaten the peace, the general and food security, and the corporate existence of Nigeria as both sides of the divide continuously claim victimhood and push narratives that emphasise our national ethnic and religious fault-lines, even though there have been great losses from both sides of the divide as studies show.
Significantly, however, at the heart of the raging Farmers-Herders conflicts is the struggle over the control of existing farmlands, and grazing routes/fields (especially in the Northern part of Nigeria) that continue to shrink as a result of climate change; the politics around resource control and the free movement of persons within the country; and the need to minimize cost and maximize profit, especially by owners of the cattle being reared by Fulani herdsmen.
It is important to note that the Farmers-Herders clashes are also a challenge within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sub-region. In fact, consultations are ongoing within the ECOWAS framework for a sub-regional solution to the crises. Empirical studies have been on the Farmers- Herders’ clashes and their impact within the sub-region, and the recommendations made form part of the issues being considered in the consultations. The recommendations are highlighted below.
It suffices now to note that the crises continue to disturb the peace and security of Nigeria and undermine the infrastructural and agricultural development reportedly being recorded by the Nigerian government. And unless a sustainable solution is found, the crises can lead to the avoidable disintegration of the Nigerian state. The lasting solution must adopt a balanced and holistic approach that addresses the political, economic, and environmental dimensions of the conflict. Discussions aimed at finding such lasting solution must be based on an understanding of the dynamics of the crises, the experiences of the victims of the clashes from both sides, and an appreciation of the existing proposals by experts, and policy and legal actions by government at all levels aimed at solving the national problem. I unpack these issues in the next part, while the options to solving the crises are discussed in the last part.
Dynamics of the Farmers-Herders Clashes
Like traditional crop-farming, nomadic cattle rearing is an age-long (agri)cultural practice in Nigeria. On the one hand, however, traditional farming largely involves the cultivation of crops in defined farmlands by the farmers. On the other hand, nomadic cattle rearing is a Fulani tradition which involves the movement of herds of cattle by herdsmen from one place to another in search of green grass and water sources for the animals.
As studies show, the movement of the herdsmen and their cattle were done in grazing fields, or through grazing routes/fields across West Africa, and especially in the Northern part of Nigeria. These grazing routes/fields continue to shrink as a result of desertification caused by climate change, hence necessitating movement of herders and cattle to greener and wet lands. The movement of herdsmen and their cattle from the Northern to Southern of Nigeria is also informed by the desires to discover new market opportunities for beef, especially in the highly social South. The ECOWAS Protocol on free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the sub-region, and the Protocol (and Regulation) on transhumance enable the migration of Foreign Fulani herdsmen within Nigerian territory. This increases the population of both herders and cattle that migrate to the North-Central and Southern parts of Nigeria in search of greener pastures and water sources.
The foregoing inevitably leads to the encroachment of traditional farmlands and the destruction of crops by the cattle that feed and trample on the crops. Traditional crop farmers would usually react to the destruction of their farmlands and crop by attacking and, sometimes, killing the cattle. This further results in retaliation by the herdsmen in form of maiming and killing of the farmers, which eventually spiral into a chain reaction of wanton killing, destruction of properties and sacking of communities. Other consequential or opportunistic vices such as rape, armed robbery, kidnapping (allegedly being committed by the Herdsmen), and banditry also result from the crises.
It should be emphasise that both sides of the Farmers-Herders’ clashes often suffer losses from the crises. This is supported by a number of empirical studies. For instance, an empirical study on the effect of the farmers-herders’ clashes in Nasarawa State, Nigeria found that farming communities suffered displacement resulting from the destruction of farmland, forceful takeover of their community, destruction of their livelihoods and human fatalities; while the herdsmen were agonized by the destruction of their livelihood (such as the killing of cows), cattle rustling and human fatalities.
From an economic point of view, both the farmers and herdsmen are involved in formal and informal agri-business either in small, medium or large scale. As such, both sides, especially farmers, employ a good number of the Nigerian workforce. Also, both forms of agri-business contribute to the availability and sustainability of food in the country and need a rancour free environment to thrive. Thus, the lingering crisis can affect jobs and seriously implicate the ability of both the farmers and herdsmen to earn a living from their agri-business.
As a side note, it is observed that while the farmers are usually stationed in farming communities and often pay land taxes, levies and other rates, as the case may be, the herdsmen move around and graze their cattle freely and openly. Historically, the penchant for free and open grazing was a reaction to the cattle tax (Jingali) introduced in the colonial times. The goal was to avoid the payment of the tax that came with rearing cattle in approved grazing reserves. Interestingly, the herdsmen are largely not the owners of the cattle they graze. The cattle are largely owned by businessmen who would rather minimize cost and maximize profit in their cattle business, and, as such, are motivated to continue free and open grazing against the need to establish private commercial ranches in Nigeria.
Options for solving the farmers-herders’ clashes
Professor Chidi Oguamanam opined that solving the farmers-herders’ crises in Nigeria “requires thoughtful intervention”, which “should include a combination of policy options rooted in technology and innovation, as well as political and sustainability policy responses”.
On his part, Professor Job Odion viewed the malaise from an economic point of view and argued that since farming and cattle rearing are private businesses, the crises are “avoidable or at least manageable through negotiated consensus between the affected parties”. He, however, believes that the government can play a role through effective policy and useful guidance and enlightenment for the largely illiterate farmers and herdsmen to dialogue and reach sustainable settlements of the crises.
Interestingly, the Nigerian government (both states and federal) have been active in proffering solutions to the crises. But implementation of the proposed solutions remains elusive owing to weak political will, mutual distrust, and lack/scarcity of resources. For instance, a number of state governments (Benue, Ekiti, etc) have passed anti-grazing laws aimed at preventing free and open grazing within their territories. Bayelsa state will soon join the league if its currently being deliberated Livestock Breeding, Rearing and Marketing Regulation Bill, 2021 is passed into law.
In 2014, the Federal Government (FG) established two committees with the responsibilities of proposing strategies to end the farmers-herders’ crisis. The committees are the inter-ministerial technical committee, and the political committee on grazing reserves. The political committee headed by the then governor of Benue State – Gabriel Suswam – recommended, among others, the recovery and improvement of all grazing routes encroached upon by farmers and recommended the disbursement by the Central Bank of Nigeria of N100 billion to the 36 states’ governments for the creation of ranches. The FG accepted the recommendations and disbursed the N100 billion to state governments. Unfortunately, the state governments failed to implement the recommendations at their level. Thus, the ranches were not built.
Between 2015 and 2018, the FG also recommended a comprehensive livestock development plan, which included the establishment of grazing reserves and stock routes (cattle colonies or Ruga) in all states as a short-term strategy to solving the problem. The long-term solution, which would run from 2018-2027 under the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) involves the creation of ranches in the states through the assistance of the FG. This was followed by a National Grazing Bill aimed at prohibiting cattle from roaming in cities and villages. Owing to the reactions/rejection mostly from the Southern part of the country, this plan to established cattle colonies was not followed through and nothing has been heard about the National Grazing Bill. Nonetheless, discussions are still ongoing around implementing the long-term NLTP.
Based on its examination of the dynamics of the farmers-herders’ crises and the responses of the differently levels of government in Nigeria to the problem, the International Crisis Group (ICG) recommended a number of sustainable, balanced and holistic solutions, which I completely agree with. Accordingly, the ICG is urging the Nigerian government to end impunity by both farmers and herdsmen; bolster security for farmers and herdsmen; elaborate on, and commence implementation of, the NLTP; freeze enforcement of, and reform, state anti-grazing legislation; and encourage famers-herders’ dialogues and support local peace initiatives. I should only add that the government should aggressively implement policies aimed at managing and controlling the impact of climate change in Nigeria.
The ICG’s recommendations are important because they find support in the options being considered within the ECOWAS system for the resolution of Farmers-Herders’ clashes in the sub-region.
Empirical studies conducted at that level have pushed forward the following recommendations:
• the articulation of a clear policy guideline on the development of modern ranches, including its full value chain in member states across the region;
•the articulation and implementation of a public enlightenment, re-orientation and de-radicalization programs for affected communities and trauma victims as part of the post-conflict peace building;
• the inclusion of pastoral and agro-economic program in the curriculum of West Africa training institutions specializing in livestock production;
• the need for ECOWAS member states to activate the use of transhumance certificate which is very critical for the peaceful co-existence in west Africa;
• the need for ECOWAS member states to establish a National Transhumance Commission in their various countries which should collaborates with the stake-holders in demarcating and regulating the establishments of ranches and grazing reserves where applicable;
• the need for ECOWAS member states to intensify measures to combating desertification and strengthen green walls in order to reduce large-scale movement of pastoralist to areas of farming communities.
Effective and purposeful implementation of the above recommendations at the national level will substantially resolve the lingering Farmers-Herders’ clashes in Nigeria.