The solution to the seemingly unending communal strife that has pitched cattle rearers against owners of farmlands, especially in the northern states, requires a comprehensive review of policies, programmes and actions of stakeholders.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha thinks that the answer is a systematic solution involving traditional rulers, religious and community leaders to confront that particular conflict, saying the situation was complex but government is putting apparatus in place to deal with it,
Mustapha, in an interview with CREDIBLE News in Abuja, said jaundiced views and political pronouncements had muddled up issues and compounded efforts at tackling the problem.
He decried the insinuation that government was lethargic in dealing with the conflict, and described such allegation as unfair, saying the Federal Government is resolute in dealing with the challenge.
He said the crises would have been long resolved or contained if it was not politicized, even as he insisted that farmers and herders had traditional methods of resolving their disagreements and conflicts in the past.
“If the herdsman allows his animals go into a farmers plot and there is destruction, the local community will sit down; there will be an assessment of the level of destruction, then the herdsman will be asked to pay.
“If unfortunately the farmer kills an animal that belongs to a Fulani man or herdsman, then the community will sit and establish the justification for that action and if there is no justification, you will be asked to pay. So, we have a communal way of resolving a conflict,” the Mustapha recalled.
He said the conflicts were prolonged because stakeholders were unable to sit down and look at the reality confronting the nation against the reality of living together to do legitimate business without infringing on each others rights.
Mustapha fingered population growth, urbanization and climate change as factors responsible for the current situation which led to closure of existing cattle routes and elimination of cattle ranches and grazing reserves established long time ago.
His words: “There is a major contention going on now, and partly economic with the growth in our population, with the growth in urbanization. We have taken some of those grazing reserves and turn them into residential areas. We have a belt across those cattle routes because there is a traditional pattern of movement that was established over the years.
“You see, we do so many things in this country not minding the consequences that will confront us in the future. We have built across those cattle routes with urbanization. We have taken the grazing reserves and apportioned them among elite farmers. We have fenced over the places, and these animals will have to feed and would have to get to a source of water. And this is a seasonal movement thats why they are called normads.
“When I hear people talk about ranches and reserves, this has been in existence. In Adamawa, where I come from, there are several reserves established by law dating back to the days of Northern Nigerian with defined cattle routes; this Abuja is a cattle route defined and gazetted in laws of Northern Nigeria and similarly in several parts of this country,” Mustapha explained.
Proffering solutions to the crises, the SGF believed that establishment of cattle ranches is a workable option in order to get pastoralists to settle at clustered locations where their needs would be attended to in line with the peculiarities of their vocation; but such approach required a collaboration between the government and the people affected.
“There is a crisis. Government and the people must sit to proffer solutions to the crisis and I think that is the attempt that the Minister of Agriculture has been making. When he spoke about colonies, he was almost lynched because people didn’t understand the concept.
“And colonies basically talk about a certain number of ranches clustered in the same place. It is a language that is used in Brazil and several other countries, but because of the politicization of the matter, it is taken out of context and blown out of proportion,” the SGF lamented.
Mustapha ruled out the application of military force in tackling cattle rustling in the North West where virtually all the cattle have been stolen and kept inside the forests.
“They have all been rustled from the Fulani men and they are inside the forests like bandits. So, the Fulani man is left without a cattle and he is being hunted.
“The conflict in the North West is deep and it will require the collective efforts of the government and the people to be able to deal with it. That is why I was saying that if we are not careful, it will surface as an insurgency because it is deep and it will be worse than the Boko Haram. It deals with the livelihood of the people,” he cautioned.
Mustapha disclosed that the Federal Government was prepared to assist states that have given out land for ranches towards establishing them in order to transit normads to such ranches as practised in developed countries.