• Monday, June 24, 2024
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Just why is Buhari fixated on grazing reserves?


It started with the so-called nomadic education programme. Initiated by the Federal Government under Professor Jubril Aminu as Minister of Education, it was supposed to meet the educational needs of nomadic Fulani children as they traversed the entire Nigerian landscape with their herds of cattle. It was a politically-motivated venture with no long term road map for its sustainability. But it suited everybody, especially the leaders who felt they had been sufficiently presented as caring for the nomadic herdsmen. Ultimately, what is left of the venture is the National Commission for Nomadic Education, one of the numerous agencies of government that swell the wage bill.

When I was in primary school in the ’70s, we were taught that as the most populous African country, Nigeria had 55 million people. Today, we still remain the most populous country but with a much higher margin. At 170 million citizens or more going by today’s estimate, our population has nearly tripled while Nigeria’s land mass of 923,768 square kilometres remains the same. At the time and with such population figure, clashes between itinerant herdsmen and farmers were almost unheard of. It would not take a rocket scientist to figure out why today the unfettered access herdsmen had to land is no longer tenable.

In response to the declining amount of land available for cultivation, farmers have adopted various measures to increase yields while arable land continues to diminish. Dry season farming, increased application of fertiliser, use of improved seedlings and even the adoption of genetically modified crops are some of strategies farmers and, by extension, countries have adopted to adapt to emerging challenges.

The adaptation is not limited to crop production. In animal husbandry, especially cattle rearing, science has gifted mankind the ability to reap a variety of products and maximise yields from animals. In other climes, this new method of rearing cattle, called ranching, has enabled cattle farmers to apply modern technologies and inputs not only to increase their yields but also add value to their products. Makers of dairy products still largely depend on imported inputs for the brands we so rate highly. Our cattle farmers are unable to take advantage of this huge market because their leaders have abandoned pragmatism for mundane considerations.

Pragmatism dictates that where land, especially rich grazing lands, are shrinking and becoming contentious, the farmers would have taken advantage of modern methods that come with multiple benefits. There are still large swathes of land in the north suitable for ranches. Why is the option of visiting sorrow, tears, blood and death on other farmers more attractive for cattle owners?

The average young man who was hitherto armed with sticks and daggers just for personal protection is not the main protagonist in what has now become a national crisis threatening the main fabric of the country. He always acted according to instructions from his masters. When they required him to carry only sticks and daggers, he dutifully obeyed. Now that he is armed with AK 47 assault rifles, it was not his call neither did he have the connection to procure such lethal weapons. With the clashes between herdsmen and farmers becoming a recurring decimal, it required statesmen to evaluate the situation and take decisions with an eye on the big picture.

The Bill for an Act for the Establishment of the National Grazing Reserve (Establishment and Development) Commission was first introduced in 2008 but never gained currency and remained in abeyance. When it eventually did, some senators could not tell when and how it came to the front burners. The reality is that it has somehow scaled the second reading and is now primed for the crucial third reading.

What promoters of the bill have not bordered to tell Nigerians what informed the bill and how it would address the ongoing crisis and massacres of defenceless farmers by Fulani herdsmen. If it was designed to address the deadly confrontations, the couching and letters of the bills are dubious. No court of law shall carry out execution of its judgment or attachment of court process issued against the Commission in any action or suit without obtaining the prior consent of the Attorney General of the Federation, the bill states on making it clear that lands owned by the local people can be appropriated unilaterally by the Commission.

If the conflict arose from struggle over arable land which keeps shrinking, where will the local farmers go to continue with their lives when they would have been forcefully stripped of their farmlands? An insight into what is to come was given by two separate groups in Kaduna.

On June 25, the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU), the umbrella body of the estimated five million natives of the southern part of Kaduna State, warned that its current generation and the next will resist the creation of Cattle Grazing Reserves on its land. It’s national president, Solomon Musa, said that creating the reserves in Southern Kaduna would amount to rewarding herdsmen with the lands of the over 4, 000 natives of the enclave believed to have been killed by herdsmen since 2011. Three days later, federal lawmakers of southern Kaduna extraction rejected the bill, insisting that the creation of grazing reserves will only serve to worsen the mutual suspicion between the communities and herdsmen.

There is absolutely logic in the course of action taken by the government in proceeding with the grazing reserve bill. It is difficult for Abuja to plead neutrality on the conflict with the content and letters of the bill as well as the apparent surreptitious and opaque manner the scheme is being executed. As SOKAPU stated, “our people survive on tilling our lands, and the herdsmen on their herds. How will it feel to take herds and give to farmers, if the farmers were the ones maiming the herdsmen?”