Growing up on the Plateau, in the 80s, the yearly tradition was to see Herdsmen arrive on the rocky plains just before the rains, setting up their huts. They would daily graze their cattle in non-farming areas down the plains. As the rains dried up the Fulanis would demolish those dwellings and move on. There absolutely was no crisis. Principally for 2 reasons: the Fulani dwelled on the rocks, while their cattle grazed on weedy spaces between the mountains, far from the plains being used as farmlands.
Desertification has brought in new challenges, amongst which is the elimination of suitable grazing areas for the cattle. This, in turn, has led to the herdsmen now grazing their cattle on farmlands and sometimes actual farms, leading to the chaos that is now being witnessed in the Benue basin. I concede the situation might not be as simplistic as painted above, but undoubtedly, this is the basis of all Nigeria is going through today with Herdsmen.
Enter Benue. This is a state where every inch of land not built upon is converted to some agricultural use, gardening or keeping livestock. The rural areas are inhabited 100% by full time farmers. No hyperbole intended, practically every inch of land in these area are farmlands. Even among natives and indigenes, communal clashes have ensued over farmlands. The question of the Fulanis therefore going through routes in Benue or grazing on certain lands will appear to be a non-starter. Do you displace the inhabitants to create spaces for cattle? Do you pay compensation to the rural populace for cattle to pass? Again these questions are neither here nor there, since the presence of government, especially the Federal Government, is virtually absent in these rural communities.
In practical terms therefore, the tradition of herdsmen building transit camps for settlement and grazing for a season, then moving onwards, cannot find a place in Benue, as it was in the Plateau. How does the Benue person who is economically tied to, and survives on his land, as his only source of livelihood, hand same over to herdsmen for the welfare of their cattle?
For the Fulani man, the idea of their nomadic settlements, grazing and onward movement is a fact the Benue people must live with. Therefore, the acquisition of territories for settlement and grazing is now being enforced even if with consequent bloodshed.
Today parts of Guma, Logo, and Kwande LGAs of Benue State are inhabited by the Fulanis and every year, there is a further push for more land. These are the barefaced facts that Nigerians must be made aware of.
How do you solve this problem?
The Federal and State Governments are not on the same page with regard to a solution. While the Benue state government has promulgated the Benue State Anti-Open Grazing Law 2017, the Federal Government appears displeased with it. The law in a nutshell bans grazing in all its forms in Benue and has stated therein penalties for such. It also has enforcement mechanisms therein. No doubt the state government has the interest of its people at heart. At the last count, there has been an average of 41 herdsmen’s clashes, yes 41, between 2013 and 2017. Thousands of lives have been lost. Internally Displaced Person’s (IDP) camps are now littered across the state especially in Guma, Makurdi and Logo LGAs.
There are neither remedial nor assistance measures from the Federal Government in mitigating the situation. For an economically disadvantaged state like Benue, battling with salaries and infrastructure, IDPs and unemployed indigenes uprooted from their farmlands is the last problem a responsible government would want on its hands.
This is why the promulgation of the anti-grazing law is perfectly understood and in order. Take grazing out of Benue, all the associated deaths, IDPs camps, properties lost and the economic effect of all of the chaos would have been avoided.
The FG on the other hand, is advocating for grazing routes and colonies. One of the arguments is that grazing routes have been in existence for centuries. The question however is, what is the position of the law with regard to land in Benue?
All lands in Nigeria today are administered and regulated by the Land Use Act of 1978. Under this law, all urban lands in Benue are held for the good of the people under the trusteeship of the Governor. While the rural lands are under the LG administrators.
The effect of this therefore, is that the FG has no say with regard to land in Benue. It is the government of Benue that will even provide the FG with land for any project in Benue. Under our jurisprudence, the FG cannot compel the Benue state government to open up the state lands for cattle routes or cattle colonies. It is a legal impossibility.
The Benue state anti-grazing law is therefore in order, proper and just.
If, and assuming the FG and Herdsmen require an inch of the land in Benue, they will have to apply to the Benue State Government for such lands and if the government is convinced that it is for the overriding community good as stated in the Land Use Act, the decision will be that of the State Government. This is why the seeming arm-twisting by the FG for grazing routes and or cattle colonies in the state is off the rails.
Whatever the situation, what makes sense now is this: removal of all cattle and herdsmen in any form from Benue. Let some semblance of peace and non-bloodletting be the order of the day. It is only in this state of affairs that any conversation or talk of cattle colonies or grazing routes will make sense.
Any action outside that for now would amount to dancing on the graves of the departed.
As a member of the constitutional conference, I opined that the Fulanis are not ordinarily nomadic but rather compelled by circumstances of grazing to so be. Two years after the confab, the Fulanis have remained essentially nomadic and the consequences is what we now face. Time to tame the menace referred to as grazing, cattle colonies, ranches or grazing routes, in whatever form.
Rommy Mom Esq
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