By Prof. Agbinya Johnson
Open grazing by herdsmen has been a historical exercise in West Africa and indeed the African continent for as long as Nigeria existed and before its existence. Open grazing which has been the norm is no more sustainable and certainly not in 2018 and not in an enlightened country rubbing shoulders with the rest of the civilised world.
There were sporadic killings in the eighties and nineties but none at the scale of what is happening in Benue state. What has changed?
Stealing of cattle at the scale being promoted by Meyati Allah is a change. If cattle rustling to this scale is true, it is interwoven with the level of corruption in the country and desire for wealth acquisition without working hard to achieve it. Suppose it is not true that so much cattle are being lost by herdsmen, the interwoven change is in the scale of population growth, rapid decline of farm lands and renewed interest in agriculture which makes protection of crops paramount. These changes that are new to a country so dependent on cultural land ownership and sharing of resources and some cases not asking but expecting there would be no reactions.
Focusing only on herdsmen could be myopic. There are ‘hiredmen’ as well which often identify themselves or are identified by the public as herdsmen. The state is awash with weapons. These changes must be curtailed sooner than later before people take more laws into their hands.
Herdsmen are not always Muslims. Politicians in our midst, Christians and ordinary business people now own a lot of cattle and they graze as if they belong to Fulani cattle herders. This change has sneaked on all of us quietly. Unfortunately, these new cattle owners have reach to weapons and funds to buy weapons. They also have reach to recruit and arm retaliatory armed groups. These changes are apparently not observable by most people.
Mr President and Mr Governor of Benue State and indeed other governors of the land need to realise that the herdsmen seen rearing cattle are simply pawns and in most cases not owners. These pawns are sandwiched between the tussle by land owners and cattle owners.
We have lost too many lives. Degenerating into the semantics of what is ‘ranching’ and ‘grazing colonies’ is a futile exercise which can only delay the expected solution to the problem and result to more killings.
Whatever the understandings of grazing colonies and ranching are by both Mr President and Mr Governor, further delays in trying to score political goals are costly to human lives and property not only in Benue State but also other states. Every day this problem is not solved, it festers and could degenerate to a full-blown conflict country wide. It is a growing tinder box that needs just a wild fire to be ignited.
Obviously both President Buhari and Governor Ortom are interested in solving the problem. I do not accept for one moment that either of them is playing political game scoring exercise. Resolve your semantics of what grazing colonies and ranching are quickly. To most of us, both of you need to tell the public in simple terms what your understanding of these semantics are and receive advice.
As the first steps are being taken by the President by ordering the IGP to relocate to Benue state, we expect more from both sides. Benue state governor has the backing of the national constitution to restore law and order to Benue state. It is his primary duty and he should be seen to be do it well. He however does not have the command of the armed forces in Benue state and we expect the President to go beyond sending the IGP to the state and deploy the army where necessary. We are tired of these killings and frustrated by the losses and insecurity in the state.
The leader of Meyati Allah should realise the scale of the problem nationally. He is responsible for controlling herders in his association. It has been documented that many of the herdsmen are not Nigerians and therefore cannot identify themselves with any state of the country. Such herders have no place grazing cattle in Nigeria without obeying the laws of the country. Nigeria cannot and will not shoulder the responsibility of providing cattle feed for the rest of the West African and Central African regions. He therefore has responsibility to curtail the excesses of herdsmen. Meyati Allah also need to understand that Nigeria families engaged in subsistence farming consider their crops as holy grail from which they derive sustenance. Destroying crops and killing will always result to reactions.
Enough blood has been shed. An eye for an eye cannot result to peace.
Prof Johnson I Agbinya wrote in from Australia.