Assuming, it was a question of grazing only, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo who read between the lines suggested a civilised approach to nomadic grazing long ago: a functional rail line between the North and South that could facilitate the transportation of beef through air-conditioned compartments to the markets in the South. The Guardian even suggested in one of its editorials, a dual economy, that is, the south selling hay to the herders in the north while purchasing beef from them. It will interest you to know that the then Midwest region had attempted a self-sufficiency approach by establishing ranches to feed its own people. They include Igarra and Ubiaja. The latter had a dairy. The last stocks at Igarra were slaughtered for pepper soup by the Igbinedion Administration while the Ubiaja ranche was sold to the late Admiral Aikhomu for a pittance and ownership has since changed.
My fear is the influx of the ‘herders’ into all parts of Edoland: from Ovia North East, Orhionmwon, Ikopa-Okha, Ibillo, Igarra, Ekpoma, Irrua, Ugbegun, Igueben Agenegbode. Most alarming is large concentration of the ‘herders’ in a large swath e of land lying athwart Ewohimi and Uromi in Edo central (Esanland). The ‘herders’ script in Nigeria is land grab and control of the locals.
The quest for land acquisition is beyond doubt a well-thought out occupation script acted successfully in Darfur by the Sudanese government. Under the pretext of drought, Arabs from the north of Sudan and Chad moved into Darfur known for its lush vegetation and settled. Before long, the Arab government in Khartoum first and foremost armed the Janjaweed bands to undermine the local people. Subsequently, it re-engineered the administrative units of the areas and imposed the hegemony of the migrants over the indigenous groups such as Fur, Masalit and Daju. The consequence was the formation of two armed groups for self-determination, namely, Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) (for details, see the UN Report on Darfur). This is already being perfected in Southern Kaduna where Governor Nasir el-Rufai has just created new emirates to impose Fulani jurisdiction over the indigenous people of Southern Kaduna and render them second class citizens in their ancestral lands.
Indeed, the continuous influx of the terrorist herders into Edoland indicates that the state government under your leadership may have ceded our land to them for occupation, thereby fostering an existential crisis for Edo people. I am not unaware of a statement from your office to the effect that Edo State Government “has not ceded any land, in any part of the state, for ranching project to anyone” and recognises animal husbandry as a form of business by private individuals, and that “the state government does not, as a matter of policy, directly engage in businesses” but act to provide enabling environment to attract private investors. I am also not unaware of the ban on night grazing by your government. In relation to the actions of Governors Ortom and Fayose, these are all kid gloves approaches. Human lives matter.
The reality on the ground belies your government’s position. It is that a large chunk of Edoland is being occupied by ‘herdsmen’ steadily and illegally. The lie of things in relation to the subject demands more than statements. It requires practical action.
So far, we have recorded uncountable casualty from their murderous activities. In the last three years, the following killings, by no means exhaustive, were recorded. In 2016, a 64-year old farmer was killed in Okada town in Ovia North East; a medical doctor identified as Ehidiamen Oakimena was killed by herdsmen along Okada-Benin road in Edo State, a teenager was killed in Ibore, Irrua; Two women, Mrs. Martina Emoyon and Mrs. Ariu were raped and killed in Ewu in 2017; also, in 2017, a pregnant woman was raped and killed in Ukpenu, Ekpoma. In the current year, a student of Ambrose Alli, Collins Ojierakhi, was killed in Ugboha; Mr. Pius Eromosele, a pastor was killed in Odighi Community in Ovia North East; the right hand of Arowolo Jerome, a farmer in Igodi quarters of Ojah in Akoko Edo Local Government Area of Edo State amputated by the herdsmen; A bus driver with Gloryland group of school was butchered along Auchi road, Igarra. The domino effect in terms of halting farming activities is immeasurable. Our people now stand the risk of famine.
I have in the above offered insight into the threat the ‘herdsmen’ pose to our collective existence. I am inclined to suggest some solutions. The first solution is based on assumptions. If the present conflict is truly farmer-herder and driven by climate change as some have argued the Edo government should sponsor an executive bill to prohibit open grazing in Edoland as is done in all civilised countries. The states from which the herdsmen are coming have been the recipient of cash to push back desertification, and fortunately for them, the Chinese have evolved biotechnique for growing vegetation in the desert, they should buy into it and not export the consequence of their negligence to other states. Some Edo indigenes have cows that are also grazing in the open, they should be summoned and ask to put them into ranches and encouraged to make the state self-sufficient without relying on cows from the north. Also, there are already existing cattle markets in Aduwawa and Ivbiaro-Warake road at the bank of River Orle on the Auchi Side; they should be re-organised to be exclusively managed by Edo State indigenes. Northern cattle traders can bring in their cows, sell and go—no settlement and no occupation. Nigeria is not a frontier state but a country of Indigenous people.
The second solution flows from my conviction that the elements masquerading as ‘herdsmen’ are terrorists and are part of a heinous agenda of the current minders of the Nigerian state to occupy the rest of the country and subjugate them. The level of killings and its morbid nature which the terrorist herdsmen have perpetrated in the Middle Belt and our own casualty in their barbarism support my position. Our solution is a no, no, to the Federal Government herders project, namely, Cattle Colony, Ranches and Livestock Transformation Plan. Edo is listed among others state where the pilot project would be experimented and over which the Federal Government has voted N179 billion naira. While other states have said no vehemently, Edo state under your watch is still prevaricating. In practical terms, the state government must mobilise all available legal instruments to remove the terrorists presently occupying parts of the state. The open grazing law will deny them the cover for their sinister project.
Let me warn that if proactive steps are not taken now, we might soon find ourselves in ‘dishonourable graves.’ It requires practical action and the time to act is now.
Akhaine is associate professor and acting head, Department of Political Science, Lagos State University.