Elder statesman and seasoned bureaucrat, Ahmed Joda, has identified the 1976 local government reforms introduced by former head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd), as the root cause of farmers/herdsmen clashes.
Farmers/herdsmen clashes which has been a recurring decimal in the country, with its attendant loss of lives and properties, is assuming a more worrisome dimension, following continued struggle for access to land and grazing area.
While farmers accuse herdsmen of destroying their farm produce, some state governments have already commenced the implementation of anti-open grazing law aimed at restricting movement of herders and their cattle.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with LEADERSHIP, Joda said the local government reform introduced by Obasanjo, which stripped district and village heads of powers to intervene and resolve misunderstanding between farmers and herdsmen was at the heart of the conflict between farmers and herdsmen.
He noted that with the reform transferring the powers of the traditional rulers to entertain such disagreements to local government councils and the Police, a foundation was laid for the clashes, which is now assuming a more worrisome dimension.
His words: “The Fulani herdsman was a natural ally of the Farmer in the past. He is herding his cattle; the farmer is farming his crop. At the end of harvest, the farmer would invite the Fulani friend to come and graze on his farm, at the time he receives fertilizer.
“Everything was alright but even when the cattle occasionally went to destroy the crops of the farmer, what the farmer needed to do was to go to his village head and the village head will call the herders. The elders will come around and say ‘okay, you have destroyed his crop, you must pay’. And they paid; no harm is done.
“In 1976 during Obasanjo’s regime, local government reforms was introduced and when they did that, the district heads and the village heads lost their powers, which was transferred to the Police and chairman of the local government”.
The elder statesman explained that the Police abused the power to arbitrate on farmers/herders clashes by resorting to extortion rather than ensuring peaceful resolution of whatever disagreement that may have arisen between farmers and herdsmen.
This, he said, is an act that ignited the crisis, as farmers started taking the laws into their hands.
Joda continued: “All the Nigerian Police is interested in is to extort money. So, when I as the herdsman destroy your crop, the Police are not interested in resolving the dispute between you and me; he is trying to get money and he wants the money immediately.
“So, he faces me because I can take a small cow and sell to give him money, but for the poor farmer, the Police do not wait for him to harvest his crop to sell. They want the money immediately. This farmer is not going to the village head, is not going to the police; he goes and gather his tribe’s men and they attack me, while my tribe men would gather around and come and retaliate, because going to the Police is useless and going to the court also is useless. All they want is money”.
Maintaining that it was this singular act that laid the basis for the current farmers/herdsmen crisis, Joda warned that if allowed to continue, the clash would be worse than Boko Haram and the Niger-Delta crisis put together.
He stated: “ Fulani herdsmen have connection all the way through out West Africa up to Guinea, Conakry and the boundary with Central Africa Republic, even up to Sudan.
“They have developed over time and have continued relationship by the movement. So, the potential danger for Nigeria and West Africa if this is not effectively contained may be worst than the insurgency.
“If we don’t find a holistic solution to these clashes, which is a struggle for grazing land, we may be preparing for bigger crisis ahead”.
Joda chided some state governments for enacting anti-open grazing laws, stressing that the laws as passed by some states and being contemplated by others in response to the farmer/herdsmen clash is another invitation to chaos.
LEADERSHIP recalls that in responding to the seemingly endless clashes between farmers and herdsmen, which has consumed so many lives and properties across different states, some governors had enacted anti-open grazing law.
The law, which has since come into effect in Ekiti and Benue States, with Taraba set to begin its implementation, criminalizes open grazing and provides for stiffer penalties to offenders.
But faulting the law, Joda said, “People are talking of ranches and grazing reserves; these are all semantics. For me, all that Fulani herdsmen require is land where to graze, but if government creates a law as it was done in Benue and Taraba States, you are inviting more problems.
“These states are saying that through the anti-open grazing law it is illegal to graze cattle in open land. In fact, the law provides that everybody must have his own land where you can graze these cattle; it prescribes how you can apply for land and for who is qualified to apply for land. It says that it is only the indigene.
“You have to read what indigene means. It certainly does not include Fulani man. If the law comes into effect, it becomes unlawful to graze. Where does the man go with his cattle?”
He continued: “Now if he owns land, say a 100 hectares, it cannot sustain his animals unless we improve the pasture. Improving pasture means clearing the land, plant seeds, allowing the seeds to grow into grass for at least one season before you can put the animals to graze.
“I don’t know whether they have money to do that, where are they going to feed their animals. To me it means when you read the whole law, the only alternative the man has is to leave the place to another place where such law does not exist”.
Joda who is the president of Pastoral Resolve (PARE), a non-governmental organization formed about 20 years ago, berated the government for not handling the farmers/herders clashes with the seriousness it deserves, even as he accused the media of complicity.
He said PARE has been actively engaged in moderating the relationship between pastoralists, farmers and other concerned communities across the country.
He however regretted that “it is becoming noticeable that pastoralism, for various reasons, is becoming unsustainable in Nigeria, as the land available for grazing is rapidly decreasing”.
Joda lamented that it is virtually impossible to move cattle to where there are pastures and water for them to drink because the cattle routes established in the early 40s, 50s and even the early 60s have all been taken over for farming or used for other purposes.
“Even the forestry reserves that used to provide grazing ground in the past few years are now farms or villages or towns or just fenced off. So the situation can only worsen unless something is done”, he enthused.
Insisting that the blame rest on all, especially governments at all levels, Joda challenged government to be “more serious about finding lasting solution to the lingering clashes between herdsmen and farmers.
“Nigeria is not an organized country. There used to be cattle routes and grazing reserves, over time it has been taken over by farmers and houses built on the routes because the routes have been taken away there is no way you can move cattle from point A to B without going through people’s farm”, he added.
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