A high-powered delegation of the Benue State Government is heading for Ebete and Adeka, the two Agatu communities devastated by herdsmen violence on Wednesday, February 20th, 2019. 17 persons have been killed in the latest offensive, according to sources close to the Och’Agatu although Flourish FM, the Federal Government owned radio station in Makurdi is reporting 12 while Major-General Adeyemi Yekini, the Commander of ‘Operation Whirl Stroke’, the rapid response force overlooking Agatu area is talking of about unconfirmed 16 in a statement yesterday. The specific details of the violence are still lost in speculations but Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State had hinted last week of the likely return of herdsmen to the area.
Although Gov Ortom has been criticized for politicizing the herdsmen crisis in the state, he has nevertheless established himself as a masterful authority on its dynamics and has since become known by the sobriquet of “the defender of the Benue Valley”. In this case, events on the ground would appear to be confirming Ortom’s hint of a resurgence of herdsmen violence in Benue in general and Agatu in particular. Apart from General Yekini’s statement, a humanitarian field worker and a top NGO Executive have hinted to Intervention between last night and early today to watch out for outbreak of herdsmen – farmer violence in Iye in Guma LGA and Turan in Kwande LGA. There could be other such spots.
The Benue State government delegation being led by Engineer Benson Abounu, the Deputy-Governor, is to assess the damage from the attack and report accordingly. Political and elected leaders from the area as well as the Secretary to the Benue State Government are part of the delegation scheduled to be on ground by 9 am on Thursday, February 21st, 2019.
Even as Nigeria awaits fuller information on the latest round of violence, it is already understood that the water and the grass in the two communities are the issues in conflict. The middle of the dry season in Ebete and Adeka is like the middle of the wet season in other places, making the two communities so attractive to herders who are reported to have said over and over again how cows find the grass in the area additionally irresistible.
In other words, grazing is the problem. Cows eat whatever they come across, from raw yams to shrubs. The movement of large heads of cattle over land compacts the land in such a way that farmers cannot farm it anymore for a long time. Unlike before, modernization has made anything such as cattle routes impossible and conflicts between farmers and herders are, consequently, more rampant, involving much larger number of farmers.
But two factors have made things worse. Herders have developed a more violent response to farmers’ complaints and the conflict management system has become more permissive of lawlessness. With the advantage of AK-47 relative to most natives and a reported quick disposition to use the gun, especially against farmers who go to complain against transgression on his farm unaccompanied, all the conditions for conflict are present between herders and farmers in most villages across Benue State, for instance.
Even then, the matter still lies elsewhere: how grazing crisis is perceived. That perception is, broadly, the linking of herdsmen violence to an Islamisation campaign and Fulani Expansionism. As perception move human beings to action even more than reality since reality itself is what it is perceived to be, herder-farmer crisis in places such as Benue State might yet be the most complicated dimension of the national question in contemporary Nigeria. While the constitution guarantees freedom of movement on the basis of citizenship, the same constitution privileges indigeneity as the definition of citizenship. Thus it says no one can be appointed into the ministerial slot for each state unless s/he is an indigene. The Nigerian State has been pretending that this contradiction is not there instead of the option of confronting it by amending the constitution to either unqualified citizenship or indigeneity, not both. Without doing that, Nigeria is exactly where people such as the late scholar, Dr. Bala Usman warned the contradiction would take it to: the current herder-farmer crisis.
Neither the incumbent nor the opposition is thinking of revisiting such positions canvassed many years before now. While the incumbent regime does not appear to have any better ideas than ‘cattle colonies’ which is open to all manner of interpretations, the opposition is canvassing ethnic federalism, (restructuring) which has proved more problematic in several African countries. None is talking of the logistical, security and nutritional absurdity of moving large heads of cattle across the land in the 21st century. Talk of a country thoroughly caught between the devil and the deep blue sea!