As the federal government and other stakeholders in national security matters find way to stopping the recurring farmers-Fulani-herdsmen menace, recent developments indicate the attacks are very far from coming to a permanent halt.
By OLUSEGUN ADEOSUN
Tears flowed uncontrollably on Thursday, January 11th, when thousands of people at the IBB Square, Makurdi, capital of Benue State, sighted truckload of corpses of about 73 victims of the New Year attacks arriving for the mass burial. The emotion-laden moment will remain haunting the minds of the people in the agrarian agrarian The victims-old and young in Guma and Logo Local Government Areas of the State were attacked and gruesomely killed by suspected armed Fulani herdsmen on Monday, January 1st and Tuesday, the 2nd. The entire state was thrown in into mourning, while they were still grappling with the harsh consequences of the biting fuel scarcity. One of the survivors, Akatenger Azinga said that he was in his house sleeping with his wife when the attackers came and knocked at the door and his wife went to the door, only for her to be captured and slaughtered by the attackers. ” I heard my wife screamed because they came in the dead of the night and when I went to rescue my wife, I discovered that they had slaughtered her and next thing they started chasing me but I escaped narrowly to a nearby bush”, he said. There was similar attack in some villages in Taraba which left over 30 persons dead and some still missing. These attacks have been condemned by the presidency, the governors and institutions from different quarters of country. During the mass burial programme, Professor James Ayatse, paramount ruler of Tiv nation, lamented that Tiv people who are residing in Nasarawa and Taraba states are being murdered by the herdsmen on a daily basis since the Benue killings started. “There is ethnic cleansing agenda going on in Benue. We must put an end to these killings. This is the 47th time that Fulani would attack the Benue people and killed them mercilessly.”, the royal father said. Despite the efforts of the security agencies and the Army at tackling the situation, Governor Samuel Ortom, reported a fresh attack by suspected armed herdsmen on innocent people in the same Logo and Guma LGA, on January 18th, seven days after the mass burial of the victims of New Year attack, claiming four lives.
Meanwhile, in defense of action of the herdsmen, Garus Gololo,leader of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders in Benue State, reportedly said the attack New Year in the State was a reprisal for the alleged theft of cows, adding that the herdsmen were only defending themselves from thieves. In an interview with the BBC Pidgin, Gololo said over 1000 cows were stolen at Nengere, a community in the State, when the herdsmen were moving out Benue to Taraba. He said the crisis broke out while the herdsmen were trying to protect and defend themselves and their properties. However, a Fulani socio-cultural association, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, distanced itself from the attacks. Yusuf Ardo, national publicity secretary of the association said the group upholds peace and love. “We are peace-loving people, we believe in love for one and other . Any Fulani pastoralist that does not believe in peace is not part of us”, he said. The group appealed to security agencies to arrest the perpetrators of the crime. Many Nigerians however, have condemned federal government’s response to the incessant herdsmen attack in the country and this has brought about a lame response of security agencies whenever they receive any distress call regarding Herdsmen attacks. For instance, many of the victims believe that if the security agencies had come on time, the number of New Year attack victims would not have been that much. According to Pastor Titus Makovini, a victim in the Taraba attack who witnessed how the killers slaughtered some worshippers in the community church , security personnel refused to protect them based on their refusal to reinforce the area. This has forced residents of affected communities to desert their ancestral homes for fear of further attacks and some of them have relocated to the Internally Displaced Persons IDPs camps in Janlingo, the State capital. Perhaps this is why Senator George Akume, former governor of Benue said stressed noted that the federal government has failed in its responsibility of protecting lives of the citizenry. The federal government’s alleged indifference was further brought to the fore when Ortom said he had written to the President Muhammadu Buhari, vice president Yemi Osinbajo and the Inspector-general of Police Ibrahim Idris about the planned attacks by herdsmen, but they allegedly ignored it. The vice president has however, denied receiving any letter from Ortom, warning him of such plan or threats by herdsmen. Osinbajo described it as “terrible falsehood”.
There had been tension in the State since the passage of the Anti-open Grazing Bill into law last November. The law is meant to encourage ranching and check the menace of herders and their cattle, which often destroy farmlands in Benue and this has led to bloody clashes and attacks in the past, resulting in deaths hundreds of people in the State. The nationwide spread of the herdsmen to other regions other than the north in recent times is as a result of unfavourable weather patterns which have resulted in acute water scarcity and droughts in a few northern states, tsetse fly infestations, dry pastures/grass and leaching. However, since the enactment of the law, the cattle breeders association, known as Miyetti Allah, has vowed to resist the law and were accused of threatening to carry out attacks against citizens in the State. In recent years, nomadic Fulani herdsmen have caused unspeakable destruction to lives and property. Plateau, Benue, Kaduna, and Taraba are the hardest hit. In these places, herdsmen have maimed, raped, slaughtered people, and devastated farmlands. Recently, they invaded Riyom,Plateau State, leaving a trail of anguish and deaths. In 2016, they massacred over 500 people in Agatu communities in Benue, before confiscating their farmlands. Farming communities in Enugu, Ekiti, Delta, Bayelsa,Abia Osun, Oyo, Ondo and Anambra States have been subjected to ceaseless attacks by herdsmen. Olu Falae, a former minister of Finance, was abducted in his Akure farm, while they slaughtered 40 people in Ukpabi-Nimbo in Enugu State in April 2016. In Delta State, women have staged nude protest against the imperious activities of the herders of their farmlands that have deprived them of farming. On the pretext of grazing cattle, they infiltrate farming communities and conquer such places through violence. An account said Fulani nomads killed about 800 people in Southern Kaduna villages between November 2016 and July 2017. The director of Operations, State Security Service, Godwin Eteng, told a House of Representatives hearing that herdsmen import AK 47 rifles into the country, and stockpile them in Nasarawa, Benue and Plateau states. The 2015 Global Terrorism Index, compiled by a global think-tank, the Institute for Economics and Peace, puts the issue bluntly. It described Fulani herdsmen as the fourth most deadly terrorist organization in the world. In 2014, they killed 1,229 Nigerians. 847 of those casualties were in five North-Central states.
Aside these criminal acts, the Fulani herdsmen- farmer crisis, is also having huge negative impact on the economy of the country. First the cattle industry is underperforming. It contributed 1.58 per cent of Nigeria’s GDP as at Q3 2017, as against crop production that contributed 22.19 per cent. Maybe if farmers knew some of the their produce could be traded with the herdsmen for acceptable payment, there would be the incentive to provide quality feeds to the herders’ cattle, improving the meat and milk yields. However, because of violence, and not commerce is the means of exchange, the farmers are more incentivized to even poison crops they know the cattle will feed on, destroying value for both the farmers and the herders alike. According to a 2014 analysis, the Nigerian cattle market generates only US$ 6.8 billion of a potential US$20 billion per year due to the local strife and the inability of the government to fully recognize the industry. In an economy in need of diversification, ramping up national agricultural production will necessarily require a resolution to this conflict. A Second level of this is the fact the violence decimates communities that would have been potential markets for the herders. Many communities in the affected regions have emptied out, creating a refugee situation that has increased the strain on government coffers. Perhaps an even bigger threat is t o the Nigeria’s food security. 25 per cent of Nigeria’s population been pegged by the Food and Agricultural Organisation,FAO, as severely insecure in their September 2017 report. Cattle is a source of beef and the security threatens the ability to get then to their markets in the south. Most of the communities in the Middle-Belt where the attacks have taken place are in the much vaunted ‘food basked’ of the country. The Middle-Belt has traditionally been one of the Nigeria ‘s most agriculturally productive regions. Crops such as yam, cassava, rice , soy beans and guinea corn, among others which are grown in the rich soils hold the key to Nigeria’s quest for self-sustainability in food production. Therefore, it is not an understatement to note that the current pastoral conflict raging across key Middle-Belt states probably has more economic implications to the country than the conflict in the North-eastern Nigeria, as many have not planted or harvested for as a much as seven years since 2011 due to the ongoing violence. For instance, few days after the Benue New Year attack, a former chief of Naval Staff, Vice- Admiral Samuel Afolayan (retired), claimed on Wednesday, January 17th, that herdsmen burnt burnt 20 hectare of orange plantation,20 hectares of cassava farmland five hectares of palm plantation in his farm in Ibbo-Ile, Ekiti Local Government Area of Kwara State. Afolayan who put the loss at over N200 million said the herdsmen had been destroying his plantations fro over 10 years now ” The destruction and burning of my farmland has become an annual routine. This will be the first time of letting people know what has been happening in the last 10 years. It is the cow-rearers that have been damaging my thing.”, he lamented.
It is also a fact that lot of the produce from the north that goes to the densely populated south such as pepper, tomatoes and grains pass through the troubled Middle-Belt region. As more and more communities abandon farming and take up arms, the impact on supply of these foods and meat to the south will reflect even more on the price and food inflation will continue to rise.
The minister of Statef or Agriculture and Rural Development , Heineken Lokpobiri, stated in 2016 that Nigeria spends about N6.6 trillion a year on food importation, an amount which dwarfed the 2016 national budget of N6.06 trillion . With the current efforts to improve the country’s food production and reduce the import bill, perhaps the most important measure is being overlooked , which is getting the Middle-Belt farmers back to work.
Also, with the Federal Government and its security agencies watching idly as the herdsmen rampage through the land, state governments have been left with no other choice than to enact laws to eradicate open grazing. Ekiti was the first state to enact the law. In fact, Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti recently met with the local hunters in the state calling for support alertness and protection of the states against any intruding herdsmen. Benue also enacted the law last year, no doubt this was one of the reasons for New Year attack, other states are also working towards that but the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, is opposed to this new legal regime in the affected states. “Anti-grazing laws are nothing but populist agenda designed by visionless and desperate politicians to destroy our means of livelihood”, railed, Saleh Alhassan, Miyetti’s secretary. He said the laws are “oppressive and negative and are fundamentally against our culture as Fulani pastoralists”, he said. Alhassan argued that the species the species of cows they have as subsistence livestock farmers are not suitable for ranching in the country. He said they can only be confined to ranching if their livestock were replaced with breeds suitable for ranching. Alhassan blamed the National Nomadic Commission for its failure to live up to its mandate of catering for the needs of pastoralists in the country.
However, in response to the large scale condemnation and uproar that trailed recent attacks on the people of Benue, the Federal government, on Tuesday, January 8th, issued a directive, banning open grazing in the entire country, particularly, to stem the growing anger sparked by killings in Benue and other states. The government also constituted a 9-man committee on the herdsmen-farmer clashes. In addition to this ban, the federal government also came up with plan to establish cattle colonies across the country, a move some Nigerians fear is an attempt by the government to forcibly collect lands from citizens and hand them over to herdsmen. Aside from the usurpation tendency, chief Alex Ogbonna, president, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Enugu State said he the Ndigbos are rejecting the proposed grazing colonies not only because it ” is against the Bible which is the supreme law but another form of internal colonization of the eastern region by the Fulani North. Rather than toying with this bizarre idea, the Federal Government should initiate urgent processes towards the restructuring of Nigeria along the lines of true fiscal federalism”, he said. However, the Ogbeh, the minister of Agriculture and Rural Development said the cattle colony is not using herdsmen to colonize any state, ” it is going to be done in partnership with state governments that will like to volunteer land fro it. The Federal Government will fund the project and those wishing to benefit from it will pay some fees. While ranching is more of an individual venture for the herdsmen and those wishing to invest in the livestock sector cattle colonies is a larger project where up to 40 ranchers can share same facility that will be provided by the government at a reduced rate. Already 16 states have volunteered land,” he said. So far, most of the states offering to volunteer are from the North, and the climate over there is no longer as favourable for the cattle as it used to be compared to what is obtainable in the South.
No doubt the number of states governors that have shown interest in volunteering land for the proposed project as mentioned by the minister is encouraging but there are strong indications that this may not work. Beside the likely rejection by the people in the South-east, some state governors in the Middle-Belt are also not ready to provide lands. Ortom specifically announced that Benue which does not have adequate land for farmers, does not have space to give herdsmen, and it will not be surprising to hear similar response from his Nasarawa and Taraba counterparts. Moreover, the Oodua Nationalist Coalition, ONAC, recently stressed in a statement that no inch of Yoruba territory must be ceded for cattle colony. The group accused President Buhari of promoting ethnic supremacy through his indifference to” Fulani genocide and savage manslaughter. It is the first time in Nigerian history that the Federal Government will boldly and without shame support armed insurgents and murderers”, the statement read. Should the grazing colony fail, then, perhaps re-occurrence of the herdsmen attack is inevitable, because the Fulani-herdsmen are bent on feeding their highly cherished and valued cattle, believing and they have highly influential Nigerians as their grand patrons. One of their patrons are Muhammadu Sanusi II, Emir of Kano and former governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, sultan of Sokoto, Emir of Katsina, Emir of Zazzau and the Lamido of Adamawa. Days after the Benue attack the herdsmen allegedly attacked and killed a pregnant woman in Ekiti, recently the herdsmen were also reported to have invaded and set ablaze the farm of the elder statesmen Olu Falae,in Ondo, State. “We will continue to experience these attacks until our so-called government and local groups take firm and concrete steps”, said, Wale Olabamijo, a public commentator.
Meanwhile, Nigerians in some quarters have recommended possible solutions to permanently tackle the incessant attacks. Some have advocated for the creation of State police. One of them is Francis Emmanuel. He said, “This matter is beyond creating colonies, I think the best thing is to create the State policemen we have been advocating for. If the State Police was on ground, they would have responded more swiftly and prevent such a terrible incidence”, he said. He added that local vigilantes too should be encouraged and empowered. Some have also re-emphasized the need to restructure the country. They say with the restructuring each region will pay more attention to its infrastructural development especially, security. Some lawmakers in the National Assembly emphasized the need to convey a stakeholders’ public hearing with the view to collating views of farmers, herdsmen, security experts and the general public. With this, they believe realistic solutions will come to the fore. At the end of a crucial meeting with heads internal security agencies over the farmer-herdsmen crises and other security issues, the minister of Interior, Lt-Gen Abdulrahman Dambazau (retd), noted that proliferation of small arms and drug trafficking and abuse play major role in triggering the crimes. He noted that without firearms and drugs, those perpetrating the violence would not have the courage to do so with such magnitude recorded in the crisis states. The minister said there is need to take urgent steps towards ensuring that the situation is dealt with accordingly.
Professor Oyesoji Aremu, a security expert and researcher at the Institute of Peace and Strategic Studies, University of Ibadan, U.I., who described the herdsmen as terrorist group, the best thing is to first prevent terrorism from coming, “and when it eventually comes on board, we have to rally with it. That is what is happening in the north-eastern part of the country, the issue of Boko Haram, no matter how we try, we are going to have pockets of terrorism here and there, ditto for issue of Fulani herdsmen, no matter what we do, we can only reduce the mayhem, we will be having it once in a blue moon, I tell you the truth.”, he said.
However, with these submissions and the stance of some socio-cultural groups in different region across the country, it is now clear, that, regardless of the efforts of the government at tackling the menace, Fulani-herdsmen may continue to attack villages and their farmlands, but it may be infrequent just like the Boko Haram sporadic attacks in the north-east. Consequently, government will have to spend more on security funds at the expense of many infrastructural projects calling for attention.