It is important that the Tinubu administration takes a position, one way or another, about the movement of cattle within urban areas, village farmlands and state capitals. We lived with this anomaly for the eight years of Buhari, wherein herders had free access to, and the right to use, people’s farmlands, school lawns and public parks as they pleased. They also had unlawful open access to banned AK47 military assault rifles. Anyone else found to have such an instrument of mass destruction was promptly arrested as a danger to the Nigerian state. As I write, a pastor is on trial for holding such an object in public – and this is not even the question or “owning” of not owning it.
Our people say that a young man whose negative reputation for mischief in the village square is traceable to the protection he enjoys from his powerful uncle must remember that uncles don’t last forever. At no time in our national history did herders conduct themselves with so much impunity and reckless disregard for the rights of others as they did under the Buhari government. As people plying their trade, they have a right to feed their cattle, survive and carry on like everyone else. But not at the expense of other stakeholders – perhaps sometimes even in defiance of the laws of the land.
Buhari is gone. Also gone from political visibility are many who were the most vociferous in their call for Cattle Grazing Routes in a modern state. A modern state, wherein developments, state creation and many other factors have reconfigured everything cannot speak of cattle routes in its original sense. But they weren’t listening at all.
Does anyone even consider the fate of young men, say in the next five to ten years, whose only skill is the ability to follow cattle from one place to another for the purpose of grazing. They are still about town, though. Here in Abuja and elsewhere. Their eclipse may be in sight, but there is no conversation about that by core Northern stakeholders who should be the most worried about this. Banditry, unemployment and unemployability of a substantial percentage of the youth population, are the combined demons ravaging the North today. The human raw material for the social and economic rebirth of the North now exists in the dislocation and mismanaged human capital resources of the zone.
We still see cattle all over town in Abuja and elsewhere. It is as if nothing has changed, or will change. And the question to ask here is this: When will it become part of popular elite consciousness that what is not sustainable cannot contribute positively to national development – particularly the development of skilled human capital that can be part of a 21st Century world?
Six months ago, the former governor of Kano State, Ganduje, mounted a national discourse on livestock reforms. This move was consistent with his long-standing insistence that the truly lasting solution to herder/farmer conflicts in Nigeria is to be found in livestock reforms. His government put up a very well-conceived, and also well-executed, National Conference on Livestock Reforms. The conference came up with clearly defined solutions and very practical, implementable and realistic steps towards addressing the problems.
There was nothing new about that, coming from Ganduje. He was the first to open up in good faith on the matter. That was nearly six years ago, when he called on The North as a whole to rethink its approach to animal husbandry and its use of its scarce human capital in that regard. For him to take up this same matter as a major national event much later shows his concern and commitment to doing what is right for his people, using a combination of the best global practices and common sense.
Besides the Dollar controversies and other matters surrounding the man, it is a matter of record that Ganduje took some commendable steps in the execution of ranching and related projects while in office. But it did not seem like his fellow Northern Governors paid any attention at all to what he was doing. With their vast lands, not one went to see, and emulate, Ganduje’s bold initiatives. His template for the region’s much-needed economic progress with regards to cattle farming, and the resultant social harmony and sound community relations missing in their domains were not noticed.
The conference under reference here, which held six months ago, built on his earlier call for sanity in livestock management in Nigeria. Back then, he told Nigerians that his state had enough room and water resources to carter for the needs of all herders in Nigeria. He repeated the same call three years after his initial call. In the later call, he also detailed the availability of ideal natural resources for animal husbandry. He then went further to give good reasons why it is in the long-term economic and political interests of the North to take advantage of his offer.
We all saw video clips of Ganduje’s private and public pronouncement on this matter. The social media was awash with them for weeks. It was also well reported in the regular press. But it would seem that those who should have considered his suggestions, in order to make informed decisions, going forward, did not pay much attention. That is perhaps why the very concerns that governor Ganduje spent so much time, energy and resources screaming about are still here with us.
That conference of six months ago raised issues that were, and still are, germane to any honest conversation about sustainable national development and community relations. It has always been the case here that anecdotes, hearsay, unfounded claims and presumptive attitudes are the basis for even policy decisions. Silo conversations, historical stereotypes, and economic-conflict-induced stigmatizations do not allow for clear thinking when and where it matters.
That conference offered so many positive takeaways. Of special significance in that regard is that the steady, and frightening, inflow of herders from other West African countries into Nigeria is progressively displacing even our traditional herders. In fact, cattle movement should be put on the plate for ECOWAS, so that it can do something useful, in addition to prancing about awkwardly regarding the event in Niger republic. When we also consider that many of the presumed herders are actually gun smugglers, hardened kidnappers and bandits, it becomes imperative that new thinking is called for around here.
Furthermore, the southwards movement of cattle from the north can only delay the need to do something about creating the right type of environment up north for meaningful animal husbandry. The threat to national security needs no elaboration whatsoever here. That is why Northern governors should probably meet on this matter. Under Buhari, they protested the sacking of herders from a government forest reserves in a South Western state, which the latter occupied in defiance of the law. Chief Olu Falae, a respected elder statesman, lost his farm and also nearly his life to herders and sundry stragglers in the Buhari years.
A point that must also be made here is that Fulani herders are not criminals, per se. But we are unintentionally allowing the impression that herders, and especially Fulani herders, are by definition not law abiding. This is not true, not fair, and seriously open to question. That is why those who choose to noisily defend some of the objectionable actions of some herders, ostensibly under the impressions that they are protecting Fulani interests, should also note that they are thereby involved in the unintended stigmatization of Fulani herders – especially Nigerian Fulani herders.
We “enjoy” widespread insecurity in the country today, irrespective of our economic or political status, religious affiliation, or ethnic origins. This is not the time for anyone to complain, with ill-informed fervor, in defence of either herders or farmers. It is mostly the north and northerners that are being wiped out by bandits, herders and insurgents. This singular fact is probably the most compelling reason for us to stop fooling ourselves, across all geopolitical divides. It does not make sense that herders should come from all over West Africa, cheerfully wreck whatever they meet in the north, as they match southwards, and still be defended as merely involved in the business of responsible economic activities.
Are Homes, communities, livelihoods not been systematically decimated all over the North today? Are the marauding bands asking any questions about ethnic origins and religious loyalty? Is the entire North, and especially the Village Heads who have had their livestock rustled, doing well today?
See why we need very honest conversation, unbiased media commentary/reportage and sound policies that would aid our collective survival? Taking sides on this matter won’t get us anywhere. That is because we, all of us, are in the line of fire. If we keep saying that herders must be well armed, so that they can defend themselves against armed attacks by cattle rustlers, what do we say about farmers who must protect themselves and their farms from rampaging cattle and armed rearers? See why it is a no-win situation if we all dig in where we are today?
We have national cohesion, genuine nationhood, sustainable leadership values and responsible/patriotic citizenship on the line as I write. So, let us think back to Governor Ganduje’s last National Conference on Livestock Reforms. It brought out much that could be used for concrete action and lasting solutions. Farmers and herders must co-exist, as they have co-existed for decades around here. It is time to pull together and work towards better and more sustainable use of our human capital and natural resources. We get better meat and milk yields from ranched cattle. So, going back to Gabduje’s National Conference on Livestock Reforms, there is much we ought to do that we are not doing.
Like I said at the beginning of this article: “Our people say that a young man whose negative reputation for mischief in the village square is traceable to the protection he enjoys from his powerful uncle must remember that uncles don’t last forever”.