A whole lot goes on unchecked in our country that has made many people to take the laws of the land with levity. Our challenges are hydra headed and as we cut off one head, another springs up. It must indeed be said that many other countries cannot survive what this great country has gone through. While the issues have told and dented the fabric of Nigeria, the strong nation is still standing. She may be limping badly but there is still a lot of good that still comes out of her.
If Nigeria were to be an individual, there would be many scars on her body. Scars of challenges surmounted in the past, and fresh wounds of pains inflicted on her by others, herself and her own offsprings. On her face however, you would still see a huge grin, despite the pains she goes through on a daily basis.
There have always been the challenges of different tribes and ethnic groups not wanting to associate with one another due to the issue of mistrust, the feeling of dominance by some ethnic groups over the other, the wrong notion that some societies within the larger society are terrible people. We may choose to live in denial but many Nigerians are more of their ethnic citizens than nationals of the most populated country in Africa.
Over the years, there have been pockets of sectarian clashes that have left lots of loss of lives and properties in their wake. Since 2009, we have been grappling with Boko Haram, a rag tag group that has grown in leaps and bounds to become one of the most feared terrorist organizations in the world. We have had different militant groups spring up in the creeks of the Niger Delta. All these have emerged as a result of the inability to tackle these groups the right way, address their grievances and nip their nefarious activities in the bud.
Very recently, the Fulani herdsmen situation reared its ugly head again. It is nothing new in our history to find rampaging Fulanis overrun settlements, and destroy lives and properties. We however rested a bit from their incessant inhuman actions for a while before the challenge reared its ugly head again.
A brief background into the Fulani invasion issue in Nigeria indicates that it goes well beyond this generation. It in fact dates back to many centuries before many of us who are presently here were born. In the olden days when Kingdoms fought wars to grab land from one another, it was said that the Fulanis engaged other kingdoms in battle and installed their Emirs after displacing the original king of the land. This went on majorly in the northern part of the country now known as Nigeria.
They made inroads down south and took over Ilorin, a town under the old Oyo Empire due to the compromise of the Afonja dynasty. Were it not for the eye opener that the Ilorin situation turned out to be, they would have taken over other Yoruba towns like Osogbo, Oyo, Ibadan, Owo and Ede to mention a few. The Yoruba warriors rose and successfully defended their territories against the Fulani jihadists.
In recent times however, different tribes and ethnic nationalities learnt to start living together again despite the regular mutual distrust and occasional skirmishes arising from the normal challenges expected of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society.
Fulanis were also welcome to live in different parts of the country and of course, they came with their cattle rustling, as it has always been their major profession. That has however set the tone for one of the more recent challenges we face today in Nigeria, and which is increasingly becoming a huge threat to national security and the oneness of the country.
Over the years, farmers in host communities have complained of large scale destruction of their farmlands by the nomadic cattle rustlers, most of whom are Fulanis. It is said that the castle rustlers graze their animals on farmlands and leave a lot of destruction of crops in their wake. This definitely has a damaging effect on the personal economy of these farmers. In support of these rustlers, it was gathered that some form of compensation sometimes gets paid to farmers whose crop plants are destroyed by the animals.
That however is something not so pleasing in itself. Which farmer has tilled the land to not see his crops grow to maturity? Compensation is acceptable when something is not willingly done but when it is done willingly and without recourse to the damage it causes to the party whose efforts are rendered futile, it sends a wrong vibe to the offended party.
When farmers are compensated, there should be no repeat of the incident but the same issue rears its ugly head unfortunately. That has made farmers take the law into their hands resulting in them poisoning the grasses these animals graze on or outrightly attacking the cattle herdsmen and their animals. Of course, The Fulanis being what they are mostly mobilize themselves and launch a counter attack on the farmers destroying their crops, as well as killing fellow human beings.
In this herdsmen/farmer clashes in different parts of the country, we are sitting on a keg of gun powder and if it explodes, many would be caught. It will shake the foundation of the country which is experiencing fragile peace to its very fabric.
Solutions are being sought to this problem. Along with establishment of ranches, there is also the suggested establishment of a National Grazing Reserve Commission. The bill is currently in the Nigerian parliament where it has scaled second reading but there are lots of opposition to the bill by other Nigerians who feel it is self-serving and portends grave danger for the peace and unity of Nigeria.
Cattle herdsmen have however kicked against the establishment of ranches, claiming they have already established ranches privately. They are holding out for the establishment of grazing routes in different parts of the country. That definitely is not the right step because that seems to be seeking to tell peasants and land owners to let go of their own land to please cattle rustlers. If the government is the user of the mapped out grazing routes, it is a different case but asking for grazing routes from land owners for your own private business is very selfish in all its ramification. If government accedes to that request, it is like robbing Peter to pay Paul, or like a father asking one of his sons to let go of his own inheritance for the other to use.
Some people believe government should come in by helping these rustlers create their ranches up north where cattle rearing is dominant. They base this on the fact that Fulanis have domineering tendencies and will in no time start claiming equal rights as their host communities. This is not to be seen as a false alarm as we have seen this happen in Plateau state in the past few years where it has ended in avoidable loss of lives and properties.
A section of the grazing bill is analysed as granting compulsory acquisition power to the Commission once it appears to it that an area of land is good enough for grazing. This means the land is seized from peasants and other farmers all over the country for the use of the herdsmen for whose benefits grazing reserves are to be created. This will definitely not go down well and will generate violent resistance all over the country. Which Nigerian will watch and permit his land to be seized for the use of another Nigerian’s business? Cattle rearing is no public enterprise, it is to be called what it is, a private business.
If poultry farmers have to purchase areas of land to practise their trade, nothing stops herdsmen from doing the same. After all, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Other farmers should bot work on their own with little or no input from the government while cattle rustlers get extra support from the government. The signal that is sending is very dangerous. Problem however is that arising from conflicts that have been experienced over the years and the propensity of the Fulani herdsmen to end up as hostile ‘visitors’, how many people will actually send land to them?
Government should maintain law and order, equity and fairness, and treat all Nigerians as one, not put one group over the other. If the grazing bill is passed, it is legitimizing the occupation of other people’s lands with the connivance of the government. It is therefore not right to do because it is common knowledge that Nigerian laws are not fully adhered to.
As of now, grazing has not been legitimized but there are various attacks on original settlers by cattle rustlers. What then happens when the grazing bill is passed into law? We will definitely see a regular destruction of lives and properties as has been seen in the middle belt states, recently Enugu state, and even in our own backyard in the Yewa areas of our dear Ogun state where these herdsmen recently dealt with the natives.
Government should also probe how these seemingly harmless and shabbily dressed herdsmen get the sophisticated weapons they use when they attack other people. Right from my days as a kid, the herdsmen I knew only carried sticks (which we called sanda) and small side bags which we heard contained small things like pocket knife, catapults and the like. How then have these same set of people graduated to the ones who go about with AK47s and other sophisticated weapons?
Unconfirmed information has it that they mostly are armed by the original owners of the animals who are influential members of the society. Government should look into this and do punish those who are found to be errant.
This herdsmen/farmers situation has to be settled on time before we lay the foundation for another round of avoidable violence and attendant loss of lives and properties. There are enough security challenges to cope with already than to add this problematic one to it. There are already conspiracy theories that the attack by herdsmen on other tribes/groups is a sinister form of ethnic cleansing and genocide. While I do not agree with that controversial assertion, it is expected that government will swing into action and return normalcy as well as peaceful coexistence between cattle herdsmen and their host communities.
Ebunlomo, a social commentator, can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org