President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday blamed the non-implementation of two ECOWAS protocols on free movement of persons, goods and services for the lingering herders and farmers conflicts in West Africa.
Buhari said this while declaring open the ECOWAS Ministerial Meeting on Conflicts between Herders and Farmers in the region organised in partnership with the countries’ ministries of Agriculture and Interior in Abuja.
Represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the president stated that the protocols were necessary in the discussions to proffer lasting solution to incessant killings in the region as a result of the conflict.
“Two ECOWAS Protocols are critical to the conversation that we are going to have here today.
“The 1979 Protocols of free movement of persons, goods, capital and services and the protocol relating to transhumance in 1998.
“Regrettably, what we have been confronted with over the years is the failure to fully follow and enforce the terms of these protocol and in some cases the failure to activate sections of the protocols.
“So that where for example transhumance certificates are to be used and endorsed by medical or immigration officials this is not the case; this has to change.
“We can no longer continue to tolerate the undocumented movement of persons that simply contribute to the escalation of our security challenges.
“We must be able to track the movement; we must ensure that the protocols are complied with and relevant sections are activated,’’ he said.
The President said the vision of integration of the ECOWAS founding fathers must not be allowed to be derailed by a failure to comply with the safeguards and conditions that they in their wisdom and foresight embedded in the protocols.
He said that was why Nigeria had taken the lead in organising the conference bringing together senior government officials with oversight for agriculture and internal security in the region and beyond to proffer solutions to the lingering problem threatening national security and regional security as well.
Buhari noted that the economic implications were quite worrisome considering that no fewer than 70 per cent of the ECOWAS made a living by agriculture.
According to him, many of the countries in the region are already struggling with food security and the violence if unchecked will lead to catastrophe.
The President stated that the grazing of cattle along long distances and the whole transhumance experiences needed to be reviewed in favour of ranching.
He said ranching was a more productive way of breeding cattle rather than work long distances, adding that the region must explore all the options and look for new and creative solutions to resolve the problem.
He said the solution should be holistic from law enforcement to climate change and reforms in current methods and practices of crop and animal production.
“We simply must move with the times and modernise our thinking and approach to the issues that face us,’’ he stated.
Buhari said that the federal government and states were collaborating to work out an acceptable plan to quell the conflicts by proper management of land resources.
“We just concluded the work plan jointly put together by the States and Federal governments on the sustainable resolution of herders/farmers’ conflicts and we are now at the point of implementing that plan,’’ he said.
Gov.Umaru Al-Makura of Nasarawa State, told correspondents that he was grateful to the Ministry of Interior and other sister ministries backing the conference as well as the regional governments for participating.
“There could not have been a better time for this conference having been bedeviled throughout the sub region with the crisis of farmers/herdsmen.
“There is the need for cooperation/collaboration and synergy amongst all the states and countries within the sub-region to find lasting solutions to this problem.
“We have been with the farmers/herdsmen crisis from time immemorial and as things are changing daily, urbanisation, population explosion, limited land for farming and difficulties in getting grazing to take place effectively due to climate change.
“There is need for time-to-time for collaboration between the constituting states to come together to find lasting solution,’’ he said.
The governor assured that governors, especially those whose areas were being affected by the crisis, would ensure the implementation of decisions of the conference to curb the conflict.