By Dr Ugoji Egbujo
Farmers and rural dwellers are furious. But their fury is borne of their imperilment. The menace that lurks in their forests has taken lives and livelihoods. Rampant Abductions, robberies, forcible expropriation of lands, massacres. When these happen now, all fingers point at criminal herdsmen. The anger is neither sectional nor baseless. Ondo, Oyo, and Ogun are not part of Igboland.
Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi are not part Yorubaland. Delta, Kogi, Edo are not Jukuns. The idea that there can be a malicious conspiracy of all tribes and ethnic groups against any single migrant ethnic group is sentimental nonsense.
The police have failed to protect lives and property. The politicians have dithered. At the center of this confusion is an antiquated practice of roaming the country with cattle on foot. The land is now poisoned. Human density has thickened, cattle bump into crops and humans repeatedly. The friction between herders and farmers has reached a fever pitch.
The presence of cattle has brought guns into the forest. Cattle rustlers buy assault rifles to loot whole herds. Herders arm themselves to the teeth to fend off and to deter. The intercourse between farmers whose peace and crops are now endangered and cattle herders are often mediated by guns. Villages and farmers are now raising armed militias to fill in for absent police.
That’s the nutshell. The president? Perhaps he is quietly experimenting with ‘siddon look’.
In the midst of herders and farmers are rogues exploiting the feud, kidnapping and raping innocent people. In between the frictions and confusion are massacres, wanton blood-letting, demonic reprisals. The problem that had existed for decades has festered. Everyone knows that the culture of trekking thousands of kilometers in the forests by a man to earn a miserable living and fatten the pockets of his master is slavery in 2021. But not everyone wants to call a spade a spade.
What did I leave out? One man riot squads like Igboho have erupted, erstwhile political mercenaries roaming around as messiahs issuing eviction orders to Fulani herdsmen. Interlopers and Militias like the IPOB finding moral justification for their existence. State governments caught between mouthing constitutional platitudes and incurring the wrath of their people or embracing naked demagoguery. Ondo asked herders to register or leave. Miyetti Allah decried ethnic profiling and eviction orders. Garba Shehu brought in the presidency to sit in the controversy like an indignant third party.
The eviction orders can instigate a precipitous dismemberment of the country. But Uromi village women trooping out in large numbers to protest the menace that lurks in their farms and demanding evictions cannot be quietened with sermons about national unity. Those sermons cannot protect them and their livelihoods.
Ganduje has been bold. He was loud and clear. Cattle should be ranched. The problem should be tackled from the roots. If every northern governor adopted such a commonsensical position, the president might find the courage to do the right thing. President Buhari promised law and order and to boost agriculture. He has allowed this crisis to take lives, disseminate violence, birth militias and degrade agricultural output. He might blame it on his political enemies.
El Rufai has been speaking too. A man who has, sometimes, shown the capacity to rise above demagoguery. A man who often has exhibited a knack for pursuing enduring solutions. He spoke the truth: Evictions orders are recipe for disaster. But he spoke an incomplete, superficial truth. The eviction orders issued by mobs and incensed individuals , though condemnable are intuitive reactions to abject failure in leadership by governments.
El Rufai should speak to the root of the problem. A man who seeks higher national office must be bold and realistic. How does El rufai want the problem solved? Ethnic profiling is abhorrent. But it is the inhuman practice of cross-country grazing that has left us with many ugly consequences. After Ganduje spoke, one had expected any other northern leader coming into the matter to bring reason and depth. Aren’t Hausa and Fulani farmers victims of the same burgeoning criminality?
There is a nice argument that those laying the sieges could be aliens or even locals masquerading as herdsmen. We can entertain theories. What we can’t afford is a diffuse metastasis of this crisis which can strangulate our fragile economy and light up an ethnic conflagration that might consume the country.
Let’s even concede that the strife has been infiltrated by political mischief-makers. The cries of agony from Uromi, Ondo, Isikwuato and Katsina are, however, enough to necessitate a change in the arrangement to deny both clowns and criminals the opportunity to sneak in, kill, maim and set us against ourselves.
If a practice hands the people more problems than they can carry, that practice should be outlawed. Laws are instruments used to foster order and unity and improve societal well-being. When the activities of okada men became a nuisance, many cities banned commercial motorcyclists. If commercial motorcycling gives a town more broken bones than its hospitals and surgeons can cope with, should the town go broke borrowing surgeons? The trade should be outlawed even at the risk of job losses.
Benue has enacted a prohibition against open grazing. Other states who choose can enact and enforce similar rules. Rather than ceding authority to mobs and Igbohos, governors and state legislatures in the angry states should outlaw the practice and provide a safe and humane opportunity for resident herders to practice their trade.
The federal government had muted the idea of Ruga settlements. Kano and some other Staes have begun building settlements. Northern political leadership owes the country a responsibility: to bring modernity and fix an ancient culture. A visionary Fulani president owes his kin the promotion of this evolution.
There is only one solution. Ranching. But it won’t be simple. Thousands upon thousands of youths know only wild dehumanizing cattle herding. They have no education and no other future. If they are displaced overnight by modern methods and made economic refugees by such a cultural change, there will be an upheaval. That is why Ganduje’s option seems well thought. Limit open grazing to the northern states while setting up RUGA settlements. That will keep the herders occupied, give them time to adjust to the times and new techniques.
Poor yielding, gruelling, strife prone cross-country grazing in a business that is now dominated by genetic engineering and hydroponics is pitiable folly.
Let elected representatives lead so that charlatans can hold their peace. The president must stand and stamp his foot on the ground.