2018 was ushered in with bloody memories for Nigerians. News of the killing of over 20 persons in Rivers state on New Year’s Eve was still fresh in the minds of Nigerians when reports of a clash between Fulani herdsmen and farmers in Benue state, filtered into the media space on the second of January.
By the time the dust had settled, 73 persons from Tom-Atar and Umenge alongside Akor villages in Guma were left dead from the attack. The food basket of the nation was left with a wailing governor with no appetite for water, her people drenched in tears that offered no answers to their plight. Benue state was thrown into mourning and the federal government remained calm.The Inspector General of Police called the attack a communal clash but it was the Fulani herdsmen now called Herdsmen, and as usual, the farmers and unsuspecting villagers were the victims of that attack. Butchered and soaked in their blood. Last week, another attack happened between Lagos and Benin-Ore road and an unknown number of people were butchered as well, forcing travelers to halt their movement.
The herdsmen attack reminded Nigerians that Boko Haram was no longer the most deadly group killing Nigerians even though the military continuously claim the terrorist group has been defeated. Herdsmen have become the new game changer. The unhealthy part was that they enjoyed the luxury of free movement while carrying out the nefarious activity of razing down villages and farmlands under the pretext of grazing their cattle. No other region in Nigeria has had to endure the unhealthy activities of the herdsmen like states in the middle belt, and most especially the farmers who are always engaged in a tussle for farming/grazing space. For the victims of the January attack in Benue, a state-sponsored funeral was held amidst tears, anger and the call by all and sundry for an end to the attacks.
In truth, the threat of violent herdsmen is not new; according to reports, in 2016, pastoral conflicts accounted for more deaths in Nigeria than Boko Haram. Similarly, according to statistics provided by the Institute for Economics and Peace, 1,299 people were killed in 2014, a record which was up from 63 in 2013 and Benue state more often than not seems to be the hardest hit in recent times. Barely five days to the end of the administration of Governor Gabriel Suswam in May 2015, over 100 farmers and their family members were reportedly wiped out in villages and refugee camps located in Ukura, Per, Gafa, and Tse- Gusa local governments area of the state.
The heartbreaking fact in all these bloodlettings under the guise of open grazing is that Nigeria is nowhere to be found among the world’s largest beef producers. Available information shows that the United States is the leading world beef producer (20%), followed by Brazil (15.4%), European Union (13%), China (11.4%) and India (7%). Out of the 53 largest beef producers ranked in the world, only two African countries are included namely South Africa at 13th position producing 1.44% of world beef and Gabon at the 53rd position with negligible percent. The question now is, if Nigeria in all her troubles is not anywhere in the list of the largest producers of beef in the world, why then has it been impossible for the government at the center to curtail the excesses of these herdsmen?
What is worrisome in all these is the seeming silence of the federal government on the matter, a situation that has angered Nigerians and made many accuse the government of the day of being in bed with the attackers, an accusation the federal government is yet to fully convince Nigerians as being otherwise by her actions. It is pertinent to note that the continuous attacks by Fulani herdsmen in various parts of Nigeria have raised questions on the peaceful coexistence of Nigeria as an entity. The recent proposal of cattle colonies by the minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh as a means of ending the herders/farmers clash has been received with mixed reactions. Even with the news that 16 states comprising – Adamawa, Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara, Kebbi, Nasarawa, Plateau, Bauchi, Gombe, Borno, Jigawa, Yobe, Niger, Kogi and Kwara states, had agreed to donate 5,000 hectares of land each for the establishment of the said cattle colony, a lot of questions still remains to be answered on how the project is meant to function.
A Cattle colony is like a shopping complex where cattle and meat trade are carried out. Only one cattle colony exists in the world, and that is found in the neighborhood of Bin Qasim Town in Karachi of Pakistan. The colony has nothing to do with rearing/grazing cattle and other livestock. As a result, it is out of place for the minister to be talking of establishing facilities to take care of the herdsmen and their cattle in a cattle colony. Herdsmen taking care of their cattle can only be done on a ranch. Any herdsman or cattle in a cattle colony is there for trading and slaughtering of the cattle and not for grazing. Just to buttress the disjointed nature of this proposal, no other country in Africa, Asia, Europe, Americas or Australia has a cattle colony – outside of the cattle colony in the neighborhood of Bin Qasim Town in Karachi of Pakistan.- Thus, talking about cattle colonies in Nigeria, as Ogbeh has suggested, is a contradiction.
In all the countries of the world with the greater beef production rate, ranching is the accepted method of cattle farming. Reports have shown that in Africa, Gabon has most of its cattle in ranches. Countries like New Zealand, whose livestock population is more than the human population, have their livestock in ranches. The argument that the Fulani’s traditional nomadic lifestyle has to continue cannot survive the test of time in the 21st Century as humanity passes into the postmodernization digital economy.
The insinuation that the cattle colonies proposal is intended to be used to Islamize Nigeria is gaining traction. Consequently, some governors in the Middle Belt and Southern Nigeria have rejected the idea. It is important for Nigerians to make a way with this notion as it is one which aims to divide us more along ethnic, political and religious lines more than we already are There are no gains using an idea which is already dead on arrival to enslave the people into thinking about the worst.
There has to be a deliberate attempt to get the herdsmen to adopt ranching in this modern era. There are few indigenous cultures around the world that are still stuck in the primitive wandering lifestyle. The Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania that rear livestock in semi-nomadic fashion is even being educated on the need for ranching. The case of the Fulani herdsmen of Nigeria, should not be different. Establishment of ranches by governments at all levels in partnership with private individuals and corporate organizations should be explored. Similarly, government at the center needs to rise up to the occasion and address the issue at hand before it becomes a daring case of National security more than it already is. Farmers should be free to cultivate their farmlands, harvest their crops and make a living off it without fear of attacks by herdsmen or their cattle. After all, Nigeria belongs to all of us.