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Herders-farmers clash: Charting way forward for age-long conflict

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Again, the herders-farmers crisis in the country is on the front burner. The recent disturbance of public peace in Oyo and Ondo states in the Southwest geo-political zone with reports of arson and alleged killings are indications that the present administration, like its predecessors, has not found solutions to the age-long problem yet. The reactions that have trailed the development also proved that the government still has a lot of work to do if it hopes to permanently put the problem behind Nigerians.

Nonetheless, cattle rearing is a long-standing practice in the country. The herders practiced open grazing at the outset and co-existed peacefully with farmers, as there were adequate grazing fields for herders and land for farmers. To cement that cohabitation, the Federal Government established grazing routes and reserves to protect grazing lands from crop farming and provide easier access for pastoralists to grazing land through the enactment of the Grazing Reserve Act of 1964. However, a lot of factors such as urbanisation and climate change have largely obliterated that laudable initiative hence the crisis, which has escalated to all sections of the country.

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Under the present administration, the Federal government had touted several initiatives towards curbing the problem, none of which has come to fruition following strong opposition from some sections of the country. These include a proposal to set up ranches and grazing reserves, the creation of cattle colonies and the establishment of Rural Grazing Areas (RUGA). None of these proposals got the express nod of Nigerians, leaving the government somewhat handicapped and near directionless. Meanwhile, the problem keeps festering hence the developments in Oyo and Ondo states.

At the root of the upheavals in the two states is the activities of criminals, allegedly of Fulani extraction, who hide in the forests from where they commit organised crimes like kidnapping, armed robbery and rape of hapless girls and women, leaving residents with tales of woe.

Sale Tambaya, a cattle herder in central Nigeria, grazes his cows. After his home state criminalized open grazing in November 2017, he and his family fled with their livestock to a neighboring state where grazing is allowed. Two of his sons died on the journey.


A victim of a kidnapping in Ibarapa axis of Oyo State, Olayiwola Adeleke, who recounted his ordeals to journalists, last Wednesday, said he spent six days in the kidnappers’ den, adding that the experience was bitter.

Adeleke, who is the Caretaker Chairman of Iganna Local Government Development Area (LCDA), revealed to journalists at Igangan, that he was made to sleep on the bare floor for six days and nights before a ransom of N5.5 million was paid so he could regain his freedom.

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He said he was abducted on his way to attend a meeting with Governor Seyi Makinde in Ibadan. He recalled: “It all happened on Sunday, October 25, 2020, around 4.30 pm. I was travelling to Ibadan in preparation for the monthly meeting with Governor Seyi Makinde. I decided to leave on Sunday so as to pass the night in Ibadan and avoid getting late to the meeting.

“When we got to Gboga, on the way to Awaye, all of a sudden, we heard gunshots and before we could make our way out of the vehicle, these people came out of the bush with guns and knives in their hands and commanded us to open the door and started slapping me and my driver. They beat us mercilessly, shooting guns to scare away people. They took us out of the car, walked us into the bush and that was how we were with them for six days before the ransom was paid.

“They were eight in number, very young boys and they are Fulani. They spoke Fulani language; one of them was speaking Yoruba language but not fluently as well as English but they were all Fulani. The experience I had with them was bitter.”

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He continued: “The night they took us in, they took us to a mountain and we stayed there for the night and on Monday morning they moved us again to the inner part of the bush. When we got there around 5.00 pm, they asked us to lie down.

“Obviously, they had been using the place for kidnapping activities because it was well-prepared for victims. Around 7.00 pm, I was given my phone to make calls and contact families and friends. They wanted to collect N200 million.

“Before that time, they already collected our phones, ID card and my bag where I kept some documents with some money I intended to use to pay the school fees of one of my children in Ibadan; they ransacked the bag. We lay down all through, as they didn’t allow us to sit. After making calls, they collected the phones and started beating me and my driver again.

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“They told me they know my identity and they have gotten information from my area and they have been monitoring me for about one week. But we never knew the insider that gave them information.”

In Ondo State, similar tales of bitter experiences in the hands nefarious ‘herdsmen’ abound. This forced the state Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, to issue an Executive Order on Monday, January 18, 2021, where he gave herdsmen seven days ultimatum to quit all forest reserves in the state. Amid the fuse generated by the order, which included the exchange of fireworks between the Presidency, which faulted the move, and the state government, one Sunday Adeyemo, who had on January 16 issued a seven-day ultimatum to Fulani herdsmen in Igangan, Ibarapa North local council of Oyo State to leave the area or face eviction made good his threat.

Adeyemo, who is also known as Sunday Igboho, stormed the community on Friday, January 22, with hundreds of youths, leaving tales of wanton destruction, carnage and arson behind.

“I’m in this struggle because I don’t want Fulani herdsmen and kidnappers to continue abducting our people.  They should not be allowed to take over our land and grab our property and inheritance,” Adeyemo declared, adding that he would not retreat until Fulani herdsmen vacate the community. 

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Since that fateful Friday, the atmosphere in Oyo State has been tense while normalcy is yet to be completely restored in Ondo.

Speaking on what triggered Adeyemo’s action, President of Igangan Development Advocates, Mr. Wale Oladokun, explained that there had been mutual mistrust between residents of the community, pointing out that the gruesome murder of Dr. Fatai Aborode by suspected herdsmen in the area exacerbated the tension.

Oladokun said: “The crisis did not just start out of the blues. The key actors had prepared the ground for the escalation of this crisis. While we, the indigenous occupiers of the land of Igangan and Ibarapa were busy doing our legitimate business of farming, which is our mainstay, the Fulani herdsmen were busy preparing for war with a mission to conquer and occupy our land, having been denied RUGA by the entire nation.

“We are a community of hospitable people. Our Kabiesi accommodated the Fulani when they came to settle in our land a long time ago. We had been cohabiting peacefully albeit with patches of misunderstandings on cases relating to farm plundering by cows. But it wasn’t as bloody as it began to play out about six years ago.

“By 2018, kidnapping, carnage, arson, raping, maiming of innocent farmers and their family permeated the entire Ibarapa land with Igangan being the hotspot. This graduated to mindless carnage and slaughtering of farmers on their farms.”

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He added: “The problem assumed a bloody dimension when kidnapping was added to farm plundering by the herdsmen. This menace got to the apogee when Dr. Fatai Aborode was gruesomely murdered and the Igangan Development Advocates swung into action by first staging a peaceful protest to the governor’s office and later began series of consultations with government representatives in addition to putting up media appearances to cry out to the entire world about the bloody terror confronting our land.”

Oladokun noted that as part of the lasting solutions to the problem, the governor should provide a well-equipped hospital in the area, “because a lot of victims of these vicious herders would have been saved if good hospitals were in Igangan.”

According to him, the closest hospital to Igangan is located in Igboora, which is about 50 minutes drive from Igangan.

“The governor, in addition to what he has proposed towards combating the security challenges in our land, should borrow a leaf from Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State by issuing an executive order to Fulani herdsmen to vacate all government reserves in Oyo State. 

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“He should also be seen not to be paying lip service to his promises as he appears to be treating the insecurity issue with kid gloves. He should procure drones that will be used as effective security surveillance tools across all dark spots in the area and entire state.”

The community leader also urged Makinde to empower trusted local hunters to secure the people, saying there was credible intelligence that there would be reprisal attacks.

“So, the governor should empower trusted local hunters who know the terrain like the palm of their hands to work closely with Amotekun and another security outfit.

“He should note that the intelligence reaching us is that the Fulani are already planning a reprisal attack against our land and it could happen any moment from now,” he said.

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Speaking with The Guardian, the Sarkin Fulani of the area, Alhaji Salihu Abdukadir, called on the government to come to his rescue, saying no fewer than six of his subjects died during the attack on his residence while two others were still missing. 

Abdukadir said: “I got here in 1968. I am 78 years old. They destroyed all our properties. About six people died instantly. Two people are still missing.  We have not found their corpses. I’m in need of a person that can rescue me. Government should come to our rescue.”

Thus, even the Fulani now feel insecure in the area. However, the question many Nigerians are asking is: Can’t the herders-farmers conflict and the criminalities linked to it be solved once and for all? What are the options before the government towards addressing the problem to the satisfaction of all the parties? The Guardian spoke with eminent Nigerians who are knowledgeable about the issue on the way forward and presents their views below.

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‘Govt Should Profile All Herders
Through Miyetti Allah’
From Rotimi Agboluaje, Ibadan
  
TO a professor of Counseling and Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Prof. Oyesoji Aremu, the bearing of arms by Fulani herdsmen was behind in the increasing conflict between the herders and their host communities.

According to him, the influx of herdsmen into the country through its porous borders was also fuelling the problem.

He said: “The evolution of conflict between Bororo Fulani pastoralists and local farmers is as a result of the upscaling of the business of pastoralism. This has caused continued conflict on account of land and water resources for grazing. In the past, both parties lived together and even, occasionally intermarried in many communities of Oke Ogun area of Oyo State. 

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“However and in recent times, the traditional pastoralism has given way to neo-pastoralism, which involves the carrying of weapons like dagger, arms and ammunition. This has sent some dangerous signals to farmers and communities. And as expected, this has fueled the tension and conflict in the area.

“It should also be stressed that the effects of porous and numerous borders have compounded the crisis between the herders and local farmers in the area. The porousness of the borders has given unhindered access to many of these pastoralist Fulani, many of who migrated from Sahel countries.” 

Dissecting some of the policies the Federal Government had introduced towards finding a lasting solution to the problem, Aremu said: “The policy on Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) was actually conceived with a view to putting a permanent solution to incessant conflicts between the herders and local farmers. RUGA has not been effected mainly because it is contentious and controversial. Other than this, other solutions like the prohibition of open grazing have also not addressed the festering conflict. This, therefore, calls for some proactive measures like continuous engagements of stakeholders. It is also imperative to profile the herders by requesting them to register with their association, Miyetti Allah. Through this, the Miyetti Allah would take responsibilities for the actions and inactions of the herders. This could engender peace and peaceful coexistence in the state as in the years past.”

Aremu also urged the federal and state governments to use both conventional and non-conventional security agencies to halt the crises. 

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“The government of Oyo State has been addressing the conflict but would have to do more by constantly engaging stakeholders including the traditional rulers and other non-state actors. Obviously, there are more challenges with respect to the herders/farmers clashes than we used to witness. The government should also make use of both the conventional and non-conventional security agencies to halt the festering clashes in the state. And on this, the security agencies need to work together,” he said. 

Asked the holistic solution to the problem, the security scholar: “In as much as a legitimate business is allowed, the government should endeavour to put in place necessary machinery for this. Open grazing is no longer fashionable in the 21st century. In its stead, Fulani herders through their association can be made to acquire land for grazing as we have in Europe and America. This will discourage nomadic and criminal activities. It will also make their activities to be brought under the government’s control.”

‘Best Solution Is For Cattle Business
To Be Considered Private’

Prof. Olawale Albert is the immediate past Director, Institute of Peace and Strategic Studies (IPSS), University of Ibadan and international security analyst.  He participated in the 2014 national conference. In this interview with ROTIMI AGBOLUAJE, he says that insecurity will disappear when the leaders of the country are ready to restore peace. 

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How did herder-farmers’ clash start in Oyo State? 
I AM unable to tell you when precisely it started. I first intervened in the conflict along with some colleagues from the University of Ibadan in September 2000. The crises then, as still evident, were along the same Oke-Ogun corridor where the problems are still occurring today.

My first intervention was funded by USAID/Office of Transition Initiatives (USAID/OTI), which was sponsored by the U.S. government to support the 1999 political transition in Nigeria. In carrying out the project, we enlisted the support of Sarkin Sasa, Alhaji Yatsin Katsina and his son popularly known as “Chiroma”. Alhaji Kabiru Tanko, who was then Secretary to Hausa Communities in Yorubaland, accompanied us. Haz Iwendi, who was the Area Commander for Oyo at the time, supported us. We worked with all the security agencies in all the local government areas. It was a comprehensive intervention; it was well funded.

It all started with the Oke-Ogun people accusing the foreign herdsmen around them (known then as Bororo) as different from the ‘Fulani Ile’ (indigenous Fulani) of destroying farms, raping their women, engaging in armed robbery and hijacking ‘precious stones’ from their owners. People were killed on both sides. At a stage, the farmers enlisted the support of the association of hunters and OPC in the area. 

It soon got to a crisis stage to the extent that the herdsmen started to flee the area in their large numbers. It took us a great deal to stop the mass emigration.

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As we were working with the conflict parties in Oke-Ogun, Gen. Buhari led a team of some northern Nigerian leaders to Ibadan on October 30, 2000, to discuss the crisis with the Oyo State government. Those in his company included the former governor of Lagos State, Gen. Buba Marwa, Alhaji Aliko Muhammed, Alhaji Abdulrazak and Alhaji Hassan. They accused the Yoruba people of killing the herdsmen and then Governor Lam Adesina who felt the position has one-sidedly engaged the team in a hot argument, which was shown on television screens across the country.

This did not stop our own intervention. We went around Oyo and Ogbomoso buying bread to feed those we had stopped from fleeing the area. We worked with them for over three weeks and brokered a peace agreement between the conflict parties at the end of a four-day peace meeting held in Iseyin involving all relevant stakeholders. Joint (Fulani/Yoruba) peace committees were set up in all the local government areas. This arrangement collapsed about six months after when the local councils could no longer pay the transport allowances. Those having conflicts with the herdsmen resorted to self-help strategies to deal with their problems.

I came back to the Oke Ogun crisis in 2005 when I was serving as a Research Associate of the Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford. But this second intervention was largely academic. I saw deterioration in the relationship but it was beyond my capacity and not part of my terms of reference. I was more interested in what peace processes worked and what failed and the extent to which factors of environmental scarcity and governance deficits were accentuating the conflict. In the process of the OTI and Oxford interventions, I produced three reports. These are: (i) Albert, I.O. “Contexts of Peace and Conflict in Indigene/Settler Relations in Rural Nigeria: An Oke-Ogun Case Study in Oyo State”, Research Report to the Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity (CRISE), University of Oxford, July 2005; (ii) Albert, I.O. (2010), “Ethnicity and herdsmen-farmers’ conflicts in Oke-Ogun, Oyo State, in I.O. Albert and Olaniyi Nurudeen Olarinde (eds.), Trends and tensions in managing conflicts, Abuja: Society for Peace Studies and Practice pp.95-115; (iii) Albert, I.O. (2011), “Climate change and conflict management in Nigeria”, in Wahab Olasupo Egbewole, Muhtar Adeiza Etudaiye, and Olugbenga Ajani Olatunji (eds.), Law and Climate change in Nigeria, Ilorin: Faculty of Law, University of Ilorin pp. 176-193).

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RUGA and other solutions provided by the government were rejected.  What are the holistic solutions to this problem? 
RUGA was rejected for several reasons. First and foremost, some felt it was a back door strategy of the Federal Government towards fulfilling its dream of creating “Cattle colonies” in different parts of Nigeria as “Ruga” was interpreted to be Fulani or Hausa word for “cow settlements”. Some Nigerians felt it was a strategy of taking the Fulani jihad of 1804 to southern Nigeria and the Middle Belt. Some people told the story of how Hausa took over Ilorin and some parts of the Middle Belt and became the overlords. Some cited the constitutional provision that vests lands in state governors and wondered how it was the business of the Federal Government to procure land for herdsmen. Some wondered the number of more people that would be killed if the “killer herdsmen” were allowed to have formal structures at their backyards. In other words, RUGA was opposed because not many people trust the Federal Government.

I was a federal delegate to the 2014 National Conference. I served in the Committee on Immigration and Related Matters. For weeks we discussed the herdsmen crisis and how to solve the problems. We wrote a comprehensive report that is stronger than RUGA. Why is the government interested in RUGA and not that beautiful report? The government created rooms for suspicion and that is why the herdsmen crisis would take a long time to be resolved. The best solution is for cattle business to be considered private and those involved in it to start ranching their animals. They cannot force themselves on the other Nigerians. The present government makes other Nigerians be suspicious of the herders. 

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What is the way out of the incessant clashes?
The government knows what to do but lacks the will to do the right thing. Nigeria is not the only country in the world or Africa having cattle. The herdsmen do what they do because of the body language of our leaders. 

What is the government supposed to do that it has not done over the years?
So far, the government has been politicising and not solving the problem. It is treated as an APC/PDP problem. It is Benue/Fulani problem. It is North/South problem. Even when criminally-minded herdsmen come to kill in our communities, our leaders defend them. The problem will go when our leaders are ready to restore peace to Nigeria. Let them start by going through the report of the 2014 national conference on the matter. It is comprehensive. The Emir of Yauri led the committee that wrote the report on immigration matters and the eminent persons in my team included Atedo Peterside and Supo Shasore and several eminent persons across Nigeria.

A government that rejects the submission of such eminent Nigerians is expected to have a superior solution. We are yet to see this. Let the government stop defending the herdsmen and being indifferent to the suffering of those killed in their communities by these people. People resort to self-help when the government is not there for them. I wonder if the herdsmen themselves are happy with how the government handles their problems. They raised this issue in my presence at two national meetings. The problem is that they lack altruistic representation, not even at the National Assembly. Politicians use them and dump them.

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‘Hunters Should Be Empowered
To Flush Out Killer Herdsmen’
From Ralph Omololu Agbana, Lokoja 

“IT goes beyond farmers/herders conflict. It is more of criminal activities by bandits from our experience in the northern part of Yoruba, the area that starts from Jebba to Lokoja. We glorify them when we say communal conflict. It is not communal. We don’t know them. We are not related in any form. They are strangers. Our duty is to make sure that northern Yoruba is safe from being used as a buffer zone to attack the South West Yoruba.”

These were the submissions of a coordinator of Top Hunters in Kogi, Kwara and Ekiti states who spoke with The Guardian on the condition of anonymity.

The coordinator revealed that clashes between farmers and herders in Kwara and Kogi areas generally were man-made, noting that both parties hitherto bore no animosity towards one another as they went about their businesses without provocation.
 
He noted that the distortion of the peace and understanding that existed between the two parties from time immemorial arose when older Fulani pastoralists started allowing their young ones to rear their cows.

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“These young Fulanis out of exuberance failed to coordinate the cows and allowed them to feed on farmers’ crops. And when reports are made to their parents, they would mischievously deny the allegation,” he said.

According to him, not all Fulani herders are armed. He put the herders into three categories, describing ‘Category A’ as purely cattle herders who mainly make use of sticks. “This category is not harmful and goes about their businesses without looking for trouble,” he explained, adding: “The ‘Category B’ is known as the Bukolo herders. They use a sword and axe. These are the dangerous specie of herders who go about looking for farmers’ trouble and would attack farmers unprovoked.

“They are bloodthirsty. Instead of sticks, they carry axe. This is what distinguishes them from other Fulani herders. The horns of their cows are longer and their cows are bigger in size. The Bukolo are not the type that would attack you and you will survive. They make sure they cut the body of their victims into pieces. 

“The ‘Category C’ set of Fulani herders became more pronounced with the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s government in Libya. They are armed to the teeth. They cannot match us in a fight but because they carry AK 47 rifles, they have an advantage. If you fire with a dane gun, you will have to reload. But with AK 47 rifle, you can shoot at 40 people at a go. This is what gives them superior power. However, in the absence of AK 47 rifles we make use of unorthodox methods our forefathers taught us to confront them. This is an area where we have superior firepower.”

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The source added: “The second factor that led to the emergence of this ‘Category C’ was the outbreak of the Boko Haram insurgency. They are the set that does not have cows. They are bandits basically to kidnap. They mask their faces, rob banks and collect ransom for the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), a breakaway faction of Boko Haram. By extension, they are the armed wing of Fulani herders. If you have an issue with a Fulani herder they would go and contract this armed wing to attack you. This is what happened in Ogga, Yagba West Local Government of Kogi State when Ariyo Aina, a farmer was killed on his farm. The armed group will not spare unarmed Fulani herders if they fail to cooperate with them and they also rustle their cows.”

The source further explained that the mode of operation of this armed and dangerous group was to hit their victims outside their place of residence.

He recalled an incident of kidnapping in Aiyedayo and Aiyegunle Gbedde in Ijumu local council of Kogi State in early 2020 when some of the bandits who had coordinated a criminal act were traced from Imela to a cave in Jege and having got a hint that they were being trailed, escaped first to Mopa, accessed Yagba West through Ogga to Omi to Igbaruku; or from Ife-Olukotun to Mopa to Oke Agi to Ejuku to Irele. 

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“That is their mode of operation. Eventually, the hunter's caucus was able to track and apprehend them in Obbo-Ile in Ekiti local council of Kwara State.

“Those who live in Kwara would operate in Kogi and vice versa. They make themselves to appear like good people in their communities to the extent of performing Corporate Social Responsibilities to deceive their neighbours. But they will go and commit murders and all forms of atrocities elsewhere and return home. They don’t recognise local or international boundaries. The police are doing their best but their hands are tied to the law because they have to release the arrested culprits on bail. Unfortunately, there are local boys who act as spies to Fulani herders thereby making our case complicated. 

“The best thing is for community development associations to continue to empower their community hunters for community policing, like Egbe community in Kogi State is doing now. Kudos to Egbe and other Okun communities that have decided to take the plunge.”

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