Several years ago, climate change brought along with it drought and desertification that ravaged all the settlements and hamlets along the fringe of the Sahara. The land of the nomadic people became dust as greenery and water bodies disappeared. At that time, millions of Africans, particularly the nomadic Fulani that stretch all the way to Mauritania, started to move in search for, no pun intended, greener pastures. Sadly, drought and desertification led to the death of millions of animal heads.
The devastating effect of climate change on land is evident. There are abundant of facts to this: There is the fact that climate change resulted in the vulnerability of the natural shelter belt along the Benue-Plateau Corridor. Also a fact is that the people of Benue plateau accommodated the migration at the initial stage but started to object when the migration not only become permanent but the number went from thousands to millions.
Then due to uncontrolled grazing, the land of the people of Benue became a savannah. Also a fact is that attempts by the people and government of these states to resist the movement and over-grazing led to an increase in crisis and confusion.
In case you did not know, Benue-Plateau State is a former administrative division of Nigeria, which existed as a single state until February 3, 1976, when it was divided into two states, Benue and Plateau. The city of Jos was the capital of Benue-Plateau State.
You see, a good majority of farmers in these affected states also suffered and still suffer great losses due to change in farming seasons and drylands. The losses gave rise to migration and this led to increased conflict, which is why many of them are now in IDP camps.
An undisputable fact is that hundreds and maybe thousands of lives have been lost over the years.
Grazing activities have become a very popular debate in our nation. Citizens are concerned about what policies the government is putting in place to curb the menace that has stemmed from open grazing activities in parts of the country.
The solution to this problem lies in well-articulated stage developments.
STAGE 1: Government should consider imposing an immediate ceasefire to be brokered by a non-partisan body of three – four men/women that may not be Nigerians.
STAGE 2: Tracing the origin of the migration of herders as far back as possible to determine the original abode of herders, particularly since some of them may have come from outside the country.
STAGE 3: While 1 and 2 listed above are going on, work must commence immediately to re-establish the grazing fields along the fringes of the Sahara with a view to reinstate and resettle the herders in their original habitats.
Soon after the crisis started, I wrote a piece in this column titled “Beyond the Herdsmen/Farmers’ Crisis”. The finding and the solutions I proffered were based on my research in the last 40 years traversing the Sahara, studying the effect of drought, climate change, land degradation as a result of desertification and understanding the nomadic Fulani pattern of movement, migration and pastoral business. In this column, I wrote and I quote “In over 40 years of my exploration of the Sahara, I have seen it grow in size. What we need to remember is that it has not always been like this. History tells us that the Sahara once had a very different environment. Researchers report that the Sahara shows signs of ancient rivers and traces of plants and animals deep beneath its sands – evidence of the plain and greener past. However, crop farmers grew species of plants that left the Saharan soil exposed. They also brought livestock that ate the vegetation without replenishment, further uncovering the soil. Much like what is happening in the northern region of the country currently, the implication of grazing the greenery without replenishment makes the land vulnerable to the encroachment of the Sahara and the dust, giving rise to migration.”
The two very important businesses highlighted in my previous column are very vital for the economic and cultural development of the country. That is, the herders and animal husbandry practice, and the farmers and their lands – both, the food basket for the nation. These two contribute immensely to the national GDP and are among two of the largest employers of labour in the country.
They sustain the land, contribute to the poverty alleviation programme of the country and fostering harmony between neighbours. These two businesses must not clash but, instead, they should complement each other. However, their survival is dependent on the curtailing of the food and security crises being experienced at the moment.
As we move further into this discussion, we need to understand nomadic Fulani movement and their activities that extend all the way to Senegal, Burkina Faso, Libya, the northern part of Ghana and the Cameroons.
Therefore, when the drought, as a result of climate change and desertification occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s, most of the greenbelt and water bodies along the fringes of the Sahara got completely depleted, leaving the herders with very little grazing fields. It should be noted that long before now and for hundreds of years the herders moved in accordance to climate change. Sometimes, they leave their lands for a few years so it can regain lost nutrients before they come back to it. This process of farming is known as shifting cultivation.
There was never any conflict and the herders continued to move seasonally. It took them a few months to travel and they got rid of the aged animals along the way, after which they returned to their hamlets.
As far as I can remember, during such journeys, they never trampled on anyone’s farm and did not wish to be urbanised. Instead, they always returned home to their natural hamlets.
The biggest problem on our hands is that due to the porous borders between Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria being a buffer country with a lot of greenery (especially in the middle belt), all these countries’ herders have joined their brothers in the North to invade parts of Nigeria.
Hundreds of nomads have entered the country with their thousands of animal heads. Countries that were in war, such as Libya and Chad, migrated with their arms as the herders found them to be useful escorts. Now they have found a place in Nigeria and this is very worrying.
Coupled with the solutions that have already been proffered, it is important that we are having the right conversation and not once again politicising the situation to the detriment of human life.