It was predictable that the last had not been heard on the contentious issue of the causes and solutions to the phenomenon of herdsmen violence in Nigeria. The country is now hearing from a collective voice in the north. Although the members of the intelligentsia involved cannot be restricted to a northern identity, given the cosmopolitan character of the engagement of each of them, northern intelligentsia still provides an adequate conceptual category for them.
Writing under “Nigerian Working Group on Peace Building and Governance”, the team of nine players viz Professor Ibrahim Gambari; General Martin Luther Agwai (Rtd); Professor Jibrin Ibrahim; Professor Attahiru Jega; Dr. Chris Kwaja; Ambassador Fatima Balla; Dr. Nguyan Fesse; Mrs. Aisha Muhammed – Oyebode and Mallam Y. Z. Ya’u is putting nine pathways out of the crisis on the table in the memorandum which must be sitting on President Buhari’s table to that effect by now.
Why the group has waited till this moment is a question that is bound to come up but that may not overwhelm the substance of the 4449 words intervention titled “Pastoralist-Farmers Conflicts and the Search for Peaceful Resolution”.
The Working Group’s point of departure is the jettisoning of what it calls piecemeal or sectoral approach to livestock development in favour of a new policy framework that it says must be both comprehensive and mutually beneficial to pastoralists and farmers. “Any policy that does not take into consideration the welfare of both sides will most likely fail or meet resistance by either side”, it argues, calling for the constitution of an inter-ministerial committee to hammer such framework into being but based on a “consultative process that listens to the concerns of all stakeholders … so that the outcome would have national ownership”. It is, therefore, calling on the Federal Government to take the initiative for negotiating a consensual policy framework that addresses the crisis while stressing the impossibility of abruptly ending the current pastoralist practice just as it recognises how unsustainable it is on the long run.
Locating the crisis in demographic and modernist pressures on land and water resources, the impact of desertification in the north and the associated energy crisis and how these constrict the space for transhumance, especially in relation to southward movement; the weak rural presence of the Nigerian State; the displacement of agriculture by oil in the 1970s, the group notes the urgency for Nigeria to find pathways out of the crisis.
Based on its belief that Nigeria and indeed Africa have to privilege the transformation of pastoralism into settled forms of animal husbandry, it recommends grazing reserves as a pathway to achieving that even as it sees a problem on that path in “the politicisation of legal regimes and the blockages to the enactment of or implementation of laws that can redress the key challenges posed”. Referring to states such as Ekiti, Benue, Taraba and Edo where one variant or another of anti-open grazing laws have been enacted, the group poses the question: Could such laws be effective in prohibiting pastoralism, which is practiced by millions of Nigerians?
It sees a contradiction between such laws and the constitutional guarantee for free movement of people. It specifically recalled the killing of the 2016 bill ‘‘A Bill for an Act to establish Grazing Reserve in each of the states of the Federation Nigeria to improve agriculture yield from livestock farming and curb incessant conflicts between cattle farmers and crop farmers in Nigeria’’. While foreseeing how such laws might be tested in the courts, it, however, throws its weight behind pursuing grazing reserves options in specific locations in the Northeast and Northwest.
Cued in to the idea that multiple approaches are needed to resolve the stalemate, it also suggests a programme of accelerated modernisation of pastoralism as well as efforts towards adopting best practices in pastoralist-farmer relations as have been seen in Chad, Ethiopia and Niger.
Outside the option of grazing strategy, it drew attention to options of encouraging the military to get involved in ranching, a decision it is said to have already taken. It sees the Sambisa Grazing Reserve (4800 ha) as “an ideal and symbolic place to take-off by establishing a ranch run by the military”, believing such could improve the security situation in the zone and encourage cooperation between pastoralists and the military.
It is calling for the development of a media code to be used in sensitizing the media on the relevant international standards on reporting issues of conflict and banditry. It has equally called for restoration of cattle routes and significant investment to also restore traditional conflict resolution mechanisms, hinging it on advocacy and administrative guidance because, in its own words, a massive corruption has accompanied the increased presence of the police and courts in matters affecting farmers and herders.
What it calls the construction of positive narratives did not escape its attention as a way of undercutting “popular narratives in the form of hate speech” which it claims to have exacerbated the crisis. Arguing that narratives on rural banditry in the media and in popular discourse had become part of the drivers for expanding conflicts in the country, it explains how this happens through the representation of nomadic Fulani cattle herders/mainly Muslims as protagonists and sedentary farming communities of several other ethnic extractions/mainly Christians as victims, resulting in negative stereotyping between “the one” and “the other”. It, therefore, seeks support for creative writers in Nollywood, Kannywood, radio and television to create new narratives showing how the interaction between the two groups could be peaceful and mutually beneficial rather than the extremely bitter and negative nature of the atmosphere between farming and pastoral communities that it says is currently the case. It sees a big role for the National Orientation Agency, (NOA) in this.
The group additionally makes the case for intensive capacity building to promote climate smart approaches to animal husbandry including the prevention of overgrazing, promoting integration of grazing and manure provision for farms and coordinated movement between ecological zones in the dry and wet seasons. It took note of the inherent balance in pastoralism as far as climate change is concerned.
Another major pathway is the harmonization of relevant laws and policies that governs grazing reserves, specifically the revival of the 1965 Grazing Reserve Law based on section 315 of the 1999 constitution in the 19 northern states and which it says could be complemented with a national review and protection of traditional stock routes.
Lastly, it sees progress in the use of technologies such as the digital tracking system for cattle that the Katsina State Government launched recently and which it explains to involve inserting microchips in the animals skin and tracking them with mobile phones. “The use of such technologies could help address the problem of cattle rustling and violence that have become so rampant”, it argues.
What is new, where are the ‘silences’, who will buy which part of the package and who will not, who makes the recommendations to happen are some of the questions that are bound to greet this submission. Thrown into an atmosphere of multiple cleavages, virtual ideological void, extreme elite fragmentation, 30 years of unmitigated ravages of neoliberalism in Nigeria, a major crisis of technical know-how, it is not clear how much of deeply reasoned reception this submission would get.
Most people responding would very likely wonder why grazing reserves is given such prominence when the Miyetti Allah has rejected it on the ground that it is not suitable in the Nigerian context. Is it possible this happened because the memo was already done with before the press conference at which Miyetti Allah made its position known? A second likely observation must be the question of how much of the perception of non-nomads was taken into consideration in framing the problem. Some people would argue that as reality is specific to every actors, doing so would have enriched the analysis of the problem from the point of view of why they see irrationality in pastoralism. Closely related to that is why narratives of expansionism and Islamisation predominate in the development of the crisis. Is this the politics or atavistic hatred of nomads or another irrationality or a certain reality in need of sharper analysis?
Lastly, some analysts of the presentation might wonder why there is no contextual reference to Bala Usman and Okwudiba Nnoli’s warning to Nigeria at the 1977 Constituent Assembly that this sort of conflict is what they were preparing the country for in the way they were defining citizenship. In other words, indigeneity and the right of free movement are now clashing and both are enshrined in the same constitution.
But even the harshest critics of this Memorandum will hardly disagree with the synopsis about how disarticulated modernisation and the declining stateness of the state are at the roots of the crisis, exacerbated by a governing elite that has no preparation for conflict management.