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[Opinion] In support of ban on open grazing in Southern Nigeria

ban on open grazing

By Sunday Onyemaechi Eze

Open grazing of cattle is a grave source of conflict between farmers and the herders throughout the country. The rate at which the clashes regularly occur is very alarming and indeed unsettling. This ever- rising conflict has become a notorious national tragedy which has failed to draw the deserved urgent attention of those in authority.

Many local farmers and herders alike have lost their lives, while crops worth millions of Naira have gone down the drain as a result. Therefore, the expediency of banning cattle grazing openly in Southern Nigeria cannot be overemphasised.

It was reported by the International Crisis Group that: “The surge of attacks and counter-attacks has exacted heavy humanitarian and economic tolls, with potentially serious political and security repercussions.

The humanitarian impact is particularly grave. From September 2017 through June 2018, farmer-herder violence left at least 1,500 people dead, many more wounded and about 300,000 displaced – an estimated 176,000 in Benue, about 100,000 in Nasarawa, over 100,000 in Plateau, about 19,000 in Taraba and an unknown number in Adamawa.”

The major factor fuelling the killings, according to group, are also “climate-induced degradation of pasture and increasing violence in the country’s far north, which have forced herders south; the expansion of farms and settlements that swallow up grazing reserves and block traditional migration routes; and the damage to farmers’ crops wrought by herders’ indiscriminate grazing.”

According to Amnesty International: “The Nigerian authorities’ failure to investigate communal clashes and bring perpetrators to justice has fuelled a bloody escalation in the conflict between farmers and herders across the country, resulting in at least 3,641 deaths in the past three years and the displacement of thousands more.

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In a new report, “Harvest of Death: Three Years of Bloody Clashes Between Farmers and Herders”, Amnesty International found that 57 per cent of the 3,641 recorded deaths occurred in 2018. “Security forces were often positioned close to the attacks, which lasted hours and sometimes days, yet were slow to act.

In some cases, security forces had prior warning of an imminent raid but did nothing to stop or prevent the killings, looting and burning of homes.” The losses in both human and material resources and the dangers  posed to greater peace, unity and corporate existence of Nigeria should have been a reason for government to take drastic measures aimed at peace-building and ensuring return to normalcy.

Apart from banditry, kidnapping, Boko Haram attacks, the killings and arson carried out by unknown gun men, there is no state in Nigeria at the moment not contending with one farmers/herders crisis or the other. The conflicts have overwhelmed many state governments.

As a result, they frquently run to the Federal Government for help, but return empty-handed. The governors are the supposed chief security officers of their states but that  only exist effectively on paper.

Commisioners of police and other heads of security agencies do not take instructions from them. The rising frustration in safeguarding the lives and properties of citizens in the states is glaring and disturbing too. Citizens now see their governors as accomplices to their daily insurmountable tragedy.

There is an indication that the Federal Government is working at cross purposes with the states on finding a lasting solution to the issue of farmers/herders clashes. While all the Southern state governors rose from a meeting in Asaba recently and declared total ban on open grazing in the entire region, the Federal Government is insisting on providing grazing routes for the cattle.

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A statement from Garba Shehu – the Senior Special Adiviser to the president on media claiming that the southern governors’ proposed plan to enforce the ban on open grazing is of “questionable legality” and a show of power,” was a pointer to the Federal Government’s position. Also, with the recent directive of President Buhari to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation Abubakar Malami to dig out gazzettes on grazing routes, it is clear that government’s position is an invitation to anarchy.

While many have rightly asserted that the Land Use Act of 1978 has rendered the Grazing Reserve Law of 1965 promulgated for the Northern Nigeria ineffective or completely dead, it is yet to be understood how the Federal Government which has no legal right to matters related to land administration will force its policies down the throats of state governments.

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