‘Can you hear it, Esther? Listen carefully! You just might hear the sound of the Government’s incompetence in the wailings of this family’ Those were the words blurted out by a consultant doctor to me on one of my visits to a hospital in Benue state. Apparently, the bread-winner of that family has been stabbed and left for dead in his farm by a Fulani herdsman. He was pronounced dead on his arrival to the hospital and his family could not keep it together. Such happenings have become a norm in our beloved country. It is so rampant that it graces the headlines of newspapers in the nation every other week. What is the government doing to curb this dare-devil? What is the government willing to do to stop this menace? What should the government do to ensure safety once again in Nigeria? These are pertinent questions that should be thoroughly addressed if serenity is ever hoped to be restored to the Giant of Africa.
In 2014, according to the Global Terrorism index report, Fulani militants killed more than 1,200 people and then headed the list of the most fanatical terrorist groups in the region, according to the BBC. This figure grew exponentially over the years peaking in 2018. Many theories about this crisis has been put forward by different people. Some argue that the Fulani herdsmen are not from Nigeria but from other parts of Africa and the Middle-East, others truly believe that these killings are reprisal attacks meant to avenge the killing of a prominent Fulani man, while another group propagates the theory that the Boko-Haram Sect is behind the crisis. Whatever the case may be, the only thing that truly matters is the fact that this crisis has to stop before it gets to the point where food scarcity will rear its ugly head.
The Federal Government of Nigeria prides itself on the fact that the “Grazing Reserves Bill” has passed second reading in the House of Assembly. However, this particular bill has several loopholes that needs to be sealed. To expedite the legislative process, the bill should be stood down and replaced by a “Grazing Reserves Leasing and Prohibition of Animal Droving Bill” incorporating all the foregoing. What this entails is that a sizeable portion of arable lands should be leased by every state of the Federation to these herdsmen as a grazing reserve. In addition, these herdsmen should only be permitted to move their herds of cattle to the reserves in another state by transportation on road, railway or water only. This simple strategy will stop the destruction of farmers’ crops and property as well as lead to a boom in the transportation industry. However, this is but a short-term solution to this crisis.
Furthermore, to ensure this bill is executed properly, law enforcement agents and vigilantes should be placed at strategic locations to arrest any offender caught venturing into non-reserved lands and moving his cattle in droves for more than twenty kilometers stretch of open land. Also, effective border surveillance should be put in place at the Nigerian border to reduce its porosity. This will lead to the blockade of any herdsmen looking to migrate into Nigeria. We can no longer accommodate non-Nigerian herdsmen.
In a bid to provide a more lasting solution to this problems, efforts should be made on the part of the government to give a five years window period for ranching to be adopted as a modernized system of animal husbandry in the country. This should be complemented by promoting afforestation in the North to revitalize arable lands destroyed by climate change and human insults. After the proposed five years, all leased grazing lands will be returned back to the government making nomadism an illegal practice in the country and all offenders put behind bars.
To propagate all the aforementioned strategies, proper sensitization of these herdsmen to nip ignorance at its bud should be carried out across all states. Informal centers of education should be set up and attendance made compulsory for these herdsmen. At these centers, they will be taught the value of human lives and properties, how modernization of Nigeria’s animal husbandry system can boost both their lives and the economy and above all, the comprehensive punishment methodologies to be melted out to offenders. This will go a long way in re-enforcing the country’s distaste for crisis.
Not to be taken lightly, is the need for everyone to be aware that the fight against this terror should not be left in the hands of the Government alone. We all need to raise our weapon against this daredevil on the battle field of survival. If the call for support in this battle is ignored, we might end up finding ourselves in the shoes of that family crying terribly at the hospital. God forbid this happens!