Continued from last week
BESIDES the immediate order of the President of the Republic to the Inspector-General of Police and other security agencies including the military to fish out the culprits and deal decisively with them, there is a sense in which the body language government of the day supports this course of resolution. The President has not said so but as Shakespeare once said, what the great ones do the less will prattle of. There are bodies that are pressing for the Bill. And the Minister of Agriculture, who though disavows the grazing routes aspect of the Bill would not discountenance other aspects of it.
Senate to conduct public hearing for stakeholders to state their feelings and experience to arrive at lasting solution. Audu Ogbe, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development sounded an alarm of the potential of the clashes between farmers and Fulani herdsmen to lead to the disintegration of the country. But the solution he proposes would be for government to curb incessant clashes which have turned bloody in the past few months through cattle grazing reserves. He has put time lines to it; government would adopt a three-year plan to drastically reduce cattle grazing. He is convinced that ‘cattle ranches and grazing reserves are more effective solutions to the conflict.’ The project will be aided by the importation of plant seeds to produce nutritious and delicious grass to feed the cattle, once they are settled in their reserved ranches.
There are serious reservations to this Bill and its by-products from many sources. It is noteworthy that one critical source of opposition is from the House Committee on Agricultural Production and Services. It expresses unequivocal reservation on procuring and legalizing grazing routes for cattle. Even Minister Ogbe feels that much when he noted that it is the farmers and their farmland that will be at the receiving end of these grazing routes. The routes will end up in their farms and the devastation of their farms will continue, unstoppably.
Even as the debate on the Bill on Grazing continues, nine States of the federation are said to have volunteered 5000 hectares of land for growing nutritious grass upon which the cows will graze comfortably in their reserves.
The debate on the economic and cultural dimensions of the farming, grazing and ranching also makes the wave. Deputy President of Senate, Ekweremadu, has proposed to Senate to conduct a public hearing so that stakeholders can freely express their views, opinions and standpoint on the grievous activities leading to unchecked killings of ‘unarmed’ citizens of Nigeria. He believes that by conducting public hearings, a lasting solution can be found. There is a ring of optimism in this position but will the public hearing lead to the promulgation of Bills or will it lead to a referendum? Unless the latter is the case, a Bill on its own will not provide a lasting solution.
There are other positions informed by professionalism, legalism and constitutionalism. Amua-Kanike, Veterinary Surgeon, sheds professional light on the matter. He perceives the crises between herdsmen and farmers as a cultural economy issue. From the point of view of the Fulani nomadic cattle-rearers, he opines the need for them to be schooled about the commodity and mercantile value of their cattle. In other words, and from the perspective of ranching, they should recognize the economic values of their cattle and why grazing reserves would serve them ‘ better culturally and economically.’ This is an expression of a preference from economic perspectives, for cattle ranching than the provision of creating grazing routes all over the place.
One body that is unapologetically at variance with the Act of an established Bill for grazing is the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria. The body considers Grazing reserve as blatantly unconstitutional. Its passing will set a dangerous precedent. It will deprive Farmers their constitutional rights to own landed property as enshrined in Section 44 of the Constitution. They think the government is in favour of the passage of the Grazing Reserves Bill and consider such tendency as ‘an imminent national security threat’ and that the thought of the Bill must be perished, forthwith. They also take an ethno-centric/irredentist view of it and surmise that the Bill is pushed in favour of the Fulani cattle rearer to gain uninhibited access to land across the nation against the sedentary farming interest of Southern subsistent farmers. From the macro-economic standpoint, the Writers Right Association considers the Bill as ill-advised. They argue that ‘Livestocking is a trade, a private-sector driven enterprise.’ Thus, any decision to deploy the nation’s revenue and governmental/legal instrument to advance the Bill and thus enhance the private business enterprise of cattle-rearing is ‘unconstitutional, illegal, null and void.’ To buttress their position, they cite as authority the statement credited to Dr. Ismail Iro, Founder of Gamji.com, when he defined grazing reserves as ‘a piece of land that the government acquires, develops and releases to the pastoral Fulani.’
I have gone to this extent of capturing numerous views, standpoints and perspectives of many Nigerians and organizations to give a wide angle, through cross-pollination of ideas, to a very vexed, sensitive and urgent national problem. For, more than Boko Haram terrorism, which government is massively attacking and which is yet to be quelled, the death-carrying violence of the ‘terrorists masquerading as herdsmen in many parts of the country is both ominous and foreboding and many believe that it can explode into a huge national crises that may lead to balkanization of the fragile federation. While this may yet be a product of insidious imagination and alarmist, it is none-the- less urgent. The governing elite must find rapid solutions among or a combination of the various options proposed above. An ethno-national consciousness may not be an enduring and patriotic solution. But this will be tenable if government takes concrete strategic, policy-impelled action to arrest the rampage being carried out with criminal recklessness by people who would rather destroy this country under whatever guise. Since government has a constitutional, political and moral leadership responsibility to rescue this nation from disintegration and keeping the nation, not only united but strongly so, actions and reactions that are either tenuous, tentative and hazy will be totally unhealthy and unhelpful.
There are cultural dimensions to it. Farming, of the sedentary and nomadic types, is capable of being redirected toward and transmuted to a modern, scientific mode of production. And this can be done without discarding cultural expectations, mores and values, which themselves carry economic import. Professor Soyinka has just said that the nefarious and murderous activities of the ‘new terrorists’ in ‘herdsmen’s cloaks can destroy cultural tourism and harm tourists routes. In bringing out its economic blue-print, this government must factor in an enduring solution to the cultural economic dimension of the tragic ‘warfare ‘ that is raging and to which threat of self-help by people whose lands and property and psychology of threat to social stability must not be allowed to manifest—only if convincing governmental action reassures the nation and the massively predated upon among us.
All these just remind me of the piece which the late educationist and social reformist, Tai Solarin once wrote about India being a country where cattle grazed before men. He did not say where cattle live after men. Whatever option that the Indians, a huge segment of whose populace for whom cattle are both rarefied and nearly deified adopted is noteworthy. We know the people of India live and are blossoming in growing prosperity . This is crucially instructive as we find enduring solution to the herdsmen and farmers imminent ‘warfare’, with its hang-over of a cloudy tomorrow.