The herdsman of the Fulani ethnic stock is brazenly audacious in his attack on farmers and non-farmers because of the subtle encouragement he gets from the leadership of Nigeria. Both the herdsman and the man that cultivates yam and cassava are farmers. But while one is encouraged to manage a land space, the other is encouraged to walk his animals from north to south. In doing this, he clashes with the farmer whose cultivated land space (farm) the herder trespasses, and destroys, with impenitent recklessness. At least, that is the narrative that we have come to know.
But this narrative is defective in logic and common sense. No one, among those who defend the fully armed herder, has been able to develop a logical narrative that condemns him to a nomadic lifestyle that is also detrimental to his personal development. Those who tell me that herders are meant to walk their cattle from Sokoto to Yenagoa, have not been able to inform society why the educated among the herder’s tribe, Fulani, will fly in an aero plane to cover same distance. So, to an extent, the insistence on open grazing of cattle by the herdsman is a narrative that perpetuates his status as uneducated and uninformed but protected species. The only care the herdsman gets is the protection he gets from the incumbent political leadership, which emboldens him to kill and main with impunity and with a guarantee of protection from the law. I guess this is why many Nigerians still ask to know how many herdsmen, who had committed murder or destroyed farmlands (property) are currently undergoing prosecution for such crimes.
Truth be told, open grazing of cattle is archaic. It is out-dated. It is dehumanizing. It is destructive of the human person and conflict-prone. The only way to stop the conflict that it breeds is to adopt the modern alternative -ranching. However, in Nigeria, nomadism it is still seen as a way of life that must not be affected by modernity. But the reality is that modernity has caught up with Nigeria and there is no reversing it. Look at this, in 1960, Nigeria’s population was about 45.1million with a landmass of 923,768 square kilometers. 60 years after, that population had tripled to more than 200million with same landmass. Implication of this is that there was plenty of uninhabited land space for cattle farmers to graze their cattle in 1060 than there is in 2021. That reality has been caught up by population. This makes it imperative that the open grazing model changes. Everything changes with time. Nomadism also has to change.
This is the reality that the incumbent leadership refused to see when it went seeking to push its policy of cattle colonies or RUGA on the country. Besides, climate change has also caused a reduction is cultivatable land. This makes nonsense of the government’s plan to force cattle colonies or RUGA on the people because even that land space called forest belongs to some families. So, the argument that cattle herders are free to roam their cattle over peoples land, cultivated and uncultivated, is an argument that encourages criminality and breeds conflict.
Contextually, this is how I see the ongoing debate over the expulsion order on Fulani herders in Southwest. Legally, no one has rights to expel any Nigerian citizen from any part of the country. Constitutionally, every Nigerian has the right to move freely and reside in any part of the country he or she likes. That’s a constitutional right. However, this right does not confer on any person, or tribe of persons, the legal rights to usurp any open space and convert same to personal use. That behaviour offends the law and is also punishable. It is, therefore, the refusal to punish such behaviours that has led to a situation where some people believe that they are legally entitled to occupy any open space, forest or not.
Nigerians have seen this behaviour grow exponentially since 2015 when the incumbent government was inaugurated. This growth creates the impression that the government is not willing to enforce the law in so far as it affects armed herdsmen who forcefully take over peoples lands and convert same to theirs. In simple analogy, when business people see prospects in any given space, they make efforts to either rent spaces or even buy land and build on them. The process of acquiring space is usually a legal process that confers rights on the new owner. So, just as the yam or cassava or vegetable farmer acquires land for his farm, the cattle farmer also, ought to be informed, that he too must acquire land to ranch his cattle.
This is a narrative that government must make conscious effort to change in the minds of herders. I should think that this falls within the jurisdictional mandate of the Nomadic Education Commission, which government funds religiously. That commission has sadly, been missing in the effort to address the constant herders/farmers clashes. I believe that the commission ought to lead the charge in educating the average herder, Fulani or not, that he is not in his rights to usurp and convert peoples lands to personal use. This is also the sort of message that ought to go out from the presidency and in the language the herdsman understands. Creating, in their minds, the impression that they are right to graze their cattle on every open farm creates room for conflict and negative profiling of the Fulani man.
Like in every ethnic group, there are elements that have devoted themselves to criminality. It is therefore not proper to stereotype any ethnic group with the criminal activities of a few. However, it is a thing of honour for members of an ethnic group and their leaders to rise in condemnation of criminal activities of members of their population. This help to narrow the argument to the few criminal elements that, also, must be punished as legally prescribed. Unfortunately, the stereotyping of the Fulani has persisted because of the seeming silence of the country’s leadership which is perceived as quick to condemn certain criminal actions involving persons of other ethnic groups but handling those allegedly associated with the Fulani herder with deep silence.
This was clearly expressed in the quit notices flying about across the country. Recently, a group of persons hiding under the umbrella of the Islamic religion issued a quit order on Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto diocese. The presidential call-to-order against the group, issued by its spokesman, Shehu Garba, was rather a subtle endorsement of the call. The authorities failed to remind the group that it lacked such powers under the Nigerian constitution neither did it work to bring those behind such affront on the constitution to book as it was in ordering the arrest of Sunday Igboho over a similar order, and condemnation of the order by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu on criminals hiding in bushes (forests) around Ondo state to quit. Many Nigerians may be led, by such actions, to believe that the Presidency endorses criminal activity of herders, or, other elements operating from the forests as kidnappers and bandits who freely kidnap, take ransom, kill, rape and main.
To change this narrative, the authorities may consider treating the killer herdsman in exactly the same way it treats every other criminal. It is about bringing justice to the criminal irrespective of his/her ethnic group. That’s the surest way to reassure Nigerians that government cares about the security and welfare of all that are resident within Nigeria’s borders.