By Kings Ndubuisi Onwe
The nation is currently facing myriad of challenging issues threatening its very foundation, the situation so dire and horrible as has never being witnessed in the country before. From the raging problems of the Boko Haram to the recently unknown gunmen phenomenon. Not to be overlooked is the decade-long catastrophe imposed by the nomadic Fulani herders popularly known as the Fulani herdsmen.
Nomadic livestock rearing or farming involves herders moving from place to place to cater for and feed their livestock. Most of the time, it entails travelling long distances on foot in search of rich vegetation, which the animals can feast upon. This kind of livestock rearing is very popular among the Hausa-Fulani ethnic tribe of Nigeria. In other to regulate their activities and have laws, a controlling body ‹Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association› was formed to oversee their activities.
However, the activities of the Fulani cattle herders have bred a lot of communal conflicts between them and communities. Whenever they overstep boundaries, attempts to caution or ward them off has often resulted in bloody confrontations, which left bitter and gory tales to be told to any listening ears. The majority of citizens can testify to the long-running battle between farmers and herders. The clashes have allegedly claimed the lives of more than 19,000 people (and still counting) with several hundreds of thousands displaced.
In other to curb this menace of Fulani herdsmen and proffer solutions, several scholars, including Justice Adewale Thompson, tabled some remedies for ameliorating this evil. In a judgment in Suit No. AB/26/66 delivered in 1969, Hon. Justice Adewale reportedly said: «I do not accept the contention of defendants that custom exists which imposes an obligation on the owner of the farm to fence his farm while the owner of cattle allows his cattle to wander like pests and cause damage. Such a custom, if it exists, is unreasonable and I hold that it is repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience, and therefore unenforceable. It is highly unreasonable to impose the burden of fencing a farm on the farmer without the corresponding obligation on the cattle owner to fence in his cattle.
«Hence, I ban open grazing for it is inimical to peace and tranquility and the cattle owners must fence or ranch their animals for peace to reign in our communities».
In 2017, a bill on anti-open grazing was passed into law in Benue State. The law puts in check the bloody engagements between farmers and herders though some faulted the restrictions on open grazing in the state, citing a section of the constitution which talks about rights to movement, but this right to movement doesn›t give anyone the right to terminate other people›s lives. In connection with the judgment of Justice Thompson and the Land Use Act of 1978, Ondo State government placed a ban on open grazing. The Rotimi Akeredolu-led administration blamed the incessant clashes between farmers and herders on the inability of the latter to build ranches for their cattle.
In the communique of the Southern Governors with regard to the issue of ban on open grazing, they «observed that the incursion of armed herders, criminals and bandits into the Southern part of the country has presented a severe security challenge such that citizens are not able to live their normal lives, including pursuing various productive activities leading to a threat to food supply and general security. The meeting resolved that open grazing of cattle be banned across Southern Nigeria, noting that development and population growth has put pressure on available land and increased the prospect of conflicts between migrating herders and local communities in the South.
However, open grazing is a livestock management system. In other words, it is one method of feeding the cattle and other herds. But for this disturbing issue of bloody clashes, a ban on open grazing is most preferable so that peace can reign. The governors didn›t request a ban on cattle rearing or animal husbandry, they simply recommended an alternative which is a modern livestock management system.
Finally, we need peace more than ever in this country. The issue of Fulani herdsmen is a threat that runs cold shivers down the spines of living souls. Like Boko Haram, when a group or association becomes a continuous threat to the safety of lives and property in a society, such group is tagged ‹terrorists› by a sane mind in a civilized world. With the above outlines, it is imperative to curb this evil menace by banning open grazing completely! Herders of cattle and other livestock should adopt the modern system of livestock management, and one of these methods is the building of ranches. The government should aid in acquiring or providing lands for the establishment of grazing routes and the building of ranches. Failure to ensure these means that the government is nonchalant towards the issue and tolerating evil thereby encouraging loss of lives and property, as well as breakdown of law and order. Therefore, the first responsibility of a government is the protection of lives and property.
• Onwe writes from Enugu