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Herders/Farmers’ Crisis: Stakeholders chart path to lasting peace, sustainable growth

By Adamu Abuh, Abuja
19 February 2023   |   4:00 am
Since the return to democratic rule in 1999, Nigeria has experienced the highest number of farmer-herder fatalities and economic losses beyond comprehension.

Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar (left); Kano State Governor, Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje; his deputy, Dr. Nasiru Gawuna and Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, during the National Conference on Livestock Reforms and Mitigation of Associated Conflicts in Abuja. PHOTO: LUCY LADIDI ATEKO

Since the return to democratic rule in 1999, Nigeria has experienced the highest number of farmer-herder fatalities and economic losses beyond comprehension.

This ugly trend has been largely on the upward swing between pastoralists and farming communities, particularly within the last decade. It has not only impacted negatively on food security, but also constituted a threat to the corporate existence of the country.

The inability by security agencies to curtail the incidences of the farmers-herders clashes, coupled with the notorious activities of bandits and terrorists led to the establishment of Amotekun, the Eastern Security Network (ESN), Ebubeagu, and the agitations for state police in the Northwestern, Middle belt, and Southern states worse hit by the conflict.

The resurgence of secessionists groups like the Indigenous People of Biafra and Oduduwa Republics is remotely linked to the recurring challenges of killings and destruction of properties of hapless Nigerians in the southern part of the country.

Indeed, the spread of farmers-herders clashes to the southern part of the country compelled the governors of the 17 southern states to issue a joint resolution in May 2021 to ban open grazing in their territories.

Initially enacted in 2016 in the four Middle belt states — Ekiti, Edo, Benue, and Taraba — the anti-grazing laws were seen as outlawing nomadism and this represents a threat to the lifestyle of some pastoralists.

The move by the federal government to implement the 2019 National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP), which aims to improve security and reduce farmers-herders conflict by settling herders into ranches also met the brick wall as it was held with suspicion by both the local farmers and pastoralists alike.

The idea of ranching widely supported by states in the north central and southern Nigeria was widely opposed by many semi-nomadic pastoralists, as it requires dramatic changes in their conservative lifestyles.

The Benue State’s open grazing prohibition and ranches establishment law particularly stipulates that pastoralists who are mainly non-indigenes must go through the rigorous process of authorisation from landowners.

This explains the resolve by no fewer than 500 personalities drawn from various fields of human endeavour that met in Abuja to found a lasting solution to the problems associated with the farmers-herders clashes in the country.

Initiated by the Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, the conferees who deliberated on the issue themed: “Sustainable Livestock Reforms and Mitigating Associated Conflicts,” sought to provide solution to the age-long conflict between herders and farmers and to propose the ways forward for the economic development of the sector.

The conferees, including the Sultan of Sokoto, Dr. Muhammadu Saad Abubakar; the Emir of Kano, Dr Aminu Ado Bayero; the Managing Director of The Guardian Newspapers, Mr. Martins Oloja; the Vice President of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), Dr. Mansur Muhtar; scholars, professionals, captains of industry and practitioners in the field of agricultural development, value chain specialists and researchers in diverse fields of animal production, examined the critical issues surrounding the conflicts associated with farmers – herders relations, as well as the need for reforms in the livestock sector.

At the end of the two-day conference, the stakeholders in a communiqué signed by the former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, resolved among others the urgent need to establish the Ministry of Livestock Resources.

Arguing that the call was in tandem with practices in many other West African countries, they noted that in the alternative, Federal and State Governments should expand the scope of existing Departments of Livestock Production to address the broader needs of the industry.

They also stressed the need for the creation of additional research institutions for beef, dairy and pasture production as a strategy for expanding funding and enacting policies and programmes for the development of the sector at all levels of government.

Calling on media organisations to create awareness at all levels that will promote inclusive communities, strengthen harmonious relations to encourage government and private sector investments for cohesive societies and improved productivity, they maintained that profiling and reportage that malign socio-economic and ethnic groups need to be avoided.

They called on the United Nations (UN) Agencies, Bilateral institutions, regional organisations (AU and ECOWAS), national and international CSOs and other support organisations to increase the level of funding and support to the government of Nigeria in mitigating the impact of climate change, addressing technology gaps, poverty and skills gap, and improving people’s livelihoods.

They further stressed the need to support agricultural and pastoral organisations, cooperative societies and relevant producer associations and professional bodies for improved productivity.

Among the resolutions of the experts that included specialists in management veterinary services, economics, history, cultural studies, climate change, natural resources management, governance and conflict management, among others were the need to revisit and review sub-national, national and regional laws, legislations and policies, so, as to make applicable reforms for improving livestock production and address conflicts.

It included the need to adopt Climate Smart Agricultural (CSA) practices, including the adoption of integrated approach to managing landscapes of croplands, rangelands, forests and fisheries that address the interlinks between the quest for food security and mitigation of the challenges of climate change.

They also stressed the need to strengthen and improve the security architecture for the prevention of violent crimes including cattle rustling, raiding of villages, kidnapping of persons for ransom and trade in illicit arms and drugs.

Continuing, they noted: “There is the need to strengthen the process of litigation for more effective dispensation of justice and the handling of the various litigations related to violent crimes and other perpetrators of violent conflicts.

“There is the need to reform the security and judicial architectures to ensure the curtailing of farmers-herders conflicts, cattle rustling, illegal arms trade, importation and proliferation in the country.

“Political leaders at all levels need to refrain from politicising the issue of farmers-herders conflicts and other associated issues, while pursuing inclusive processes that will strengthen unity and cooperation in the country.”

The participants unanimously commended the Kano State Government under the leadership of Governor, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, for initiating and sponsoring the National Conference, which demonstrates his patriotism and strong commitment towards enhancing peaceful co-existence, unity and development in the country.

The participants urged Governor Ganduje to use his good office and influence to present the resolutions and proceedings of this National Conference before the National Council of State and the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF).

At the start of the conference expected to form a major input in developing a blueprint to address the issue, Ganduje threw his weight behind the establishment of ranches in the country.

Ganduje maintained that the Rural Grazing Areas (RUGA) remains the only option that would go a long way in mitigating existential problems, as pastoralists would have lands to graze without cattle encroaching on people’s farmlands.

This, he argued was because herders need fodder for their cattle and promoting alternative means of producing feedstock, which reduces the need for grazing land.

Ganduje remarked that nomadic pastoralists need to be persuaded to move their cattle into established ranches and public grazing reserves, where breeding farms and other mechanised livestock management practices would bolster productivity in the sector.

He noted: “Modernising the livestock sector is not only key to resolving the herders-farmers’ conflicts, but was envisaged that this economic investment pillar will support and strengthen the development of market-driven ranches for improved livestock production through breed improvement and pasture production.

“There is, therefore, the need for aiding information, education and strategic communication on the development of grazing reserves to mitigate the consequences of these conflicts.”

Decrying the spate of killings and destruction of homes due the conflict between herders and farmers, he observed that climate change, which resulted in desertification and soil erosion, has enraged competition over natural resources, pushing herders to venture into new areas to seek pasture for their herds.

He said weakness of state’s institutions and lack of infrastructure have made governments to be ineffective to control their territory, enforce law and provide formal avenues for peaceful resolution of disputes.

He added: “The ‘politics of transhumance’ also highlights the interplay among political elites, which can manipulate political tensions between herders and farmers to advance their agendas, expand land ownership and take control of large herds for their economic and political gains, consequently threatening livelihoods of both communities.”

Muhtar expressed support for the establishment of ranches, adding that it was unfortunate that the agriculture promotion policy (APP) 2016 -2020 as well as the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) approved in 2019 is yet to see the light of the day.

Sultan Abubakar who decried the politicisation of the farmers-herders clashes called for the revisit of the ECOWAS treaty on the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, which is abused by migrant herders from neighbouring West African countries.

Urging conferees to revert to the report on the farmers-herders clashes when former President Goodluck Jonathan was in power, he said dialogue coupled with the involvement of traditional leaders would come handy in the conflict resolution between farmers and herders across the country.

The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, represented by Senator Barau Jibrin expressed the readiness of the National Assembly to amend existing legislations aimed at addressing the recurring challenges of farmers-herders clashes.