The Southern Governors Forum’s recent position on open grazing has stirred up the hornets’ nest. The decision, which appears to be a holistic approach after years of herder/farmer clashes, banditry and kidnapping in their domains, is receiving both commendation and condemnation.
In a bipartisan resolution after a meeting held at Asaba, the forum explained the rationale for the ban on open grazing, saying, “development and population growth has put pressure on available land and increased the prospects of conflict between migrating herders and local populations in the South. Given this scenario, it becomes imperative to enforce the ban on open grazing in the South, including cattle movement to the South by foot.”
Leading an army of benighted antagonists, the country’s chief law officer, Attorney General Abubakar Malami, came up with a weird logic, likening open grazing to selling spare parts – a trade dominated by a certain ethnic stock.
Even in the context of the law, the southern states have rights to give guidelines or regulate how a particular trade should be plied, just the way core northern states regulated how and where liquor should be sold in their states. If Kano was right to ban the sale of drugs in open market in order to check drug abuse and secure the mental/physical health of its people, why should we criticize the southern governors for taking an approach towards ending farmer/herder conflict, kidnapping and banditry? As long as the governors did not call for eviction of herders, there is nothing bad with their decision. It’s a fact that not all herders are criminals, just as not all drug dealers are criminals.
The northerners are the biggest victims of open grazing in Nigeria. Yet, we are the biggest proponents of the practice. If you ask our people the economic benefits of open grazing to their lives or its contribution to the IGR, you can’t get a reasonable answer. In fact cattle tax (jangali), was abolished over 40 years ago in the north.
Now let’s talk about the demerits of this practice. How many lives lost to the farmer/herder crisis in Nigeria, especially in the North? Proponents of nomadism will blame farmers or government for encroaching cattle routes (burtali) as the cause of the crisis. Let’s assume this is true and ask how many farmlands did the government take over from hapless farmers for developments such as roads, irrigation, schools, etc? Who did the farmers kill or kidnap in retaliation?
Bandits masquerading as herders have killed thousands of people in Zamfara, Sokoto, Kaduna, Katsina and Niger States. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced, villages torched and farmlands taken over. In some parts of the north today, travelling by road is as dangerous to our people as crossing croc-infested waters to a herd of wildebeests. As we are today, even our schools and sanctuaries are not spared by the killer herdsmen as students or worshippers are shepherded into bush like rustled cattle. Today in the north, schools located on the outskirts of the towns are either closing or taking lessons with trepidation. Many families have lost their loved ones to banditry. The bandits rape women, orphan children and pauperize families through ransom payments. Yet, we say yes to having killers masquerading as herdsmen in our midst!
Many otherwise legitimate herders have transmuted to killer herdsmen because of the government’s negligence and refusal to take a harsh stance on the matter. Banditry and kidnapping will remain with us as long as we did not call a spade a spade, or treat bandits with kid’s gloves. This is how the issue of Almajiri became intractable in the North. When you criticize Almajiri practice of street begging or birth control, people will attack you for opposing an “Islamic” practice. Had Nigeria devised a way of reforming primitive pastoralism, perhaps we would not be fighting banditry today.
I’ll have no problem with open grazing if Nigeria has capacity to police our forests and farmlands. Nigeria is a country whose police-to-citizen ratio is 1 to 400. If we cannot effectively police our cities, towns and villages, it will be difficult to check criminality in the forests. You can’t encourage a practice that will be difficult to regulate.
If northern leaders do not care about securing our lives, we should not antagonize the southern governors for taking measures to protect their people.