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Our Take: Livestock breeding plays a critical role in economic development. In Nigeria, cattle grazing has in recent times raised a lot of threats. As herdsmen attacks and the crisis between the herders and the farmers continue to increase, policies put in place to address the menace have not received the required support for implementation. These initiatives plan to import grazing grasses and Rural Grazing Area initiative which planned to establish ranches across the country to avoid herders encroachment into farmlands.
Sometime last year, January, 2018 to be precise, I wrote similar piece with a caption “HERDSMEN-
FARMERS CONFLICT IN NIGERIA: WHAT WENT WRONG?
Recently, the issue of cattle grazing in livestock production had posed a serious problem to our dear
country, Nigeria resulting to several clashes between farmers and herdsmen which claimed thousands
of lives. Other crimes such as Arm bandits, kidnapping for ransom and proliferation of small arms and
ammunition can also be connected to this problem.
From time immemorial there have been a mutual coexistence and respect between Herdsmen and
Farmers in Nigeria. It has been a routine tradition for these nomadic people to seasonally move around
from the Northern part of the country down to riverine areas. During the dry season when most of the
Northern farmers harvested their farm produce, herdsmen from far away Mali, Niger and even Chad, etc.
come and feed their cattle from the farmers’ left over. In return, farmers will have cheap and free
manure from the cattle from their farms. Prior to their advent, the nomads communicate to citizens
through their traditional rulers and the rulers then inform the citizens so as to promptly prepare and
organize their farm produce. Of course, sometimes this mutual relation comes with some minor hostility
especially, when the nomad’s tress passed farmers’ land who did not harvest their produce but usually
the matter is being settled amicably before it escalates to a large-scale communal clash.
From the last decade, this historic relation has been marred with mistrust, hatred and bloodshed among
these two sets of people who previously lived together in harmony. One may begin to wonder what
exactly went wrong. Was there any motive by some elements to destabilize the citizen for their own
selfish gain? Some citizens perceived this crisis as a genocide backed by the sitting government to
cleanse or wash away certain people maybe, due to their ethnic or religious difference. Some religious
groups with an ulterior and mischievous motive echoed a baseless allegation and claim that there exists
a systematic plan to Islamize Nigeria. Though people are free to air their view but for me, it is very
myopic and shallow to think this way, because, rather than solving the problem, in most cases, these
public pronouncements and finger-pointing are further aggravating the problem, living our diverse and
homogeneous society in disarray and tension. To achieve their ulterior motives, some self-centered
politicians and religious jingoists have resorted to using tribal sentiments and religion as a device to
divide the esteemed populace especially, the gullible youth.
For more than four years now, the government of the day has been trying to solve this recurrent problem
by bringing measures, policies, and program to effectively tackle this menace but, any attempt to
implement the program comes with heavy criticism and oppositions from critics and oppositions. For
reason known to themselves these groups of columnists resorted to criticizing any possible solution
offered by the government rather than countering the program with a better solution.
Frankly speaking, successive government through the ministry for agriculture have neglected the
herdsmen and their business, all the policies previously initiated were not geared towards assisting
herdsmen in their own business which is cattle rearing but, farmers keep enjoying all sorts of assistance
from the federal government. Even the former minister, Audu Ogbe laments that by saying, “for many
years, Nigeria failed to realise that herdsmen were also farmers. When we were busy making plans and
supporting cassava and maize farmers, we did not make any provision for herdsmen”. Some of these
assistances geared towards farmers include, the Central Bank single digit loan and interventions funds;
fertiliser subsidy; Fadama projects; cassava farming, distribution of improved seeds and importation of
foreign maize at a subsidised rate to assist the poultry farmers; not to forget rice farming which the
current government is giving much emphasis. On the other hand, the only way through which the
herders earn their livelihood is been seriously affected by natural and demographic changes.
According to the Secretary of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, “about 413 grazing reserves have been gazette
but today, out of that number, you can’t count up to 20 that are functional”. Over the years gradually,
these reserves have been dilapidated because of the lack of maintenance. Again, across Nigeria and
beyond, we used to have the grazing routes or Burtali in Hausa where the herdsmen used to transport
their cattle from one place to another without encroaching to people’s farms but, today all these routes
have been encroached and consumed by farmers living the herdsmen with no route to cross while
moving with their herds, these and many more have been the root cause of the problem and unless it is
being tackle god forbid, this problem will continue to linger.
Experts have cited other causes of this crisis as a result of demographic changes, cattle rustling, rural
banditry, youth unemployment and desperate politicians that want to create crisis so they can sustain
themselves in power. For instance, the population of the country in 1980s was not more than 60 million,
but today our population has tremendously metamorphosed to almost 200 million and the land
remained the same so we can see the amount of pressure and tension on the land.
Like I said earlier, federal government has so far offered different initiatives aiming to resolving the
incessant killings of innocent lives of Nigerians. These policies include, the establishment of cattle
ranches and cattle colonies which was rebuffed by many groups. Few years back, the Federal
Government planned to import grazing grasses particularly from Argentina and Brazil where a full-blown
ranching is being practice, and making them available to cattle herders with a view to stopping the
movement of cattle from one place to another; stressed that the move would also put an end to the
growing spate of killings by herdsmen. Again, many people criticised and rubbished the idea, claiming
that upon all the available natural grasses in Nigeria why will the federal government import grasses all
the way from Argentina and Brazil?
Another plan was to establish cattle colonies; following the pronouncement of this new policy by the
then Minister for Agriculture, there have been agitations that there was an ulterior motive and a grand
plot by the government to forcefully collect communal land nationwide and hand over to the marauding
herdsmen. On this issue about 16 states have already agreed to provide some hectares of land for the
purpose. This gesture has also come along with a lot of criticism from the citizenry and states, claiming
that the government is favouring the herdsmen in the expense of the farmers; instead of seizing
farmers’ land for ranches let the herdsmen buy land and make their own ranches or the government
should allow public to create private ranches so that the herdsmen could rent and feed their cattle.
What is currently trending is the program called RUGA settlement aim at camping nomads from
roaming about. “Ruga Settlement” seeks to settle migrant pastoral families. It simply means rural
settlement in which animal farmers, not just cattle herders, would be settled in an organised place with
provision of necessary and adequate basic amenities. Such amenities include schools, hospitals, road
networks, veterinary clinics, markets and manufacturing entities that would process and add value to
meats and animal products. This will of course curtail the unwanted clash between farmers and
herdsmen; it will curb open grazing of animals that continue to pose security threats to farmers and
herders. As usual Even the program is also being welcome with heavy criticisms from all angles. some
people see it as discrimination among the citizenry. Why only herders will be treated this way? What will
be the compensation for farmers? Some state government especially, from the southern and central
parts of the country have already stated that they have no single land to be given out for Ruga initiative;
while lots of Northern state have shown their interest to the program.
If we truly want to find a lasting solution to the myriad of crisis bevelling us, then we need to accept
these laudable initiatives, or proffer better solutions to them rather than castigating every effort.
Furthermore, all these controversies shouldn’t have arisen, because from onset the federal government
mentioned that the program is its own hence, it is not mandatory or compulsory on any state. Any
government that feels not comfortable with the program so be it. Let us move on and stop all these
Again, with the vast and abundant land the north has, I think there is no need to cause more tension by
calling other part of the country especially those that have no interest in the program to partake. The
northern states alone have the potentials to accommodate the Ruga settlement plan I am therefore,
calling the federal government to move in with the program with a view to curtailing the excessive fights
among the two parties, thereby killing of innocent lives. I believe with this program on ground, other
crimes such as bandits, kidnapping for ransoms and proliferation of small arms and ammunition will be
reduced to the barest minimum. The program will change the life style of nomads in Nigeria, it will take
them away from our streets and from wandering in the bushes. After all many nations from the North
and Southern America and Canada, Africa and Middle East etc are all rearing animals but, you will
never find animals roaming on the street instead, they camped/ fenced them in an excluded zone called
RANCH hence, Nigeria should not be in isolation.
We should know that, there are no easy fixes to the myriad problems confronting us as a country. We
should always try and appreciate government’s efforts and proffer better alternatives if we have, rather
than blindly condemning every effort, measure or initiative.
May we have a peaceful Nigeria where all and sundry can live together in peace, and harmony.
Recommendation(s): Instead of criticizing the government’s efforts to address the threat posed by cattle grazing, we should recommend better solutions or support the policies and initiatives already in place to address the problem.
About the Author: Sanusi Moyi is an anti-money laundering expert. He writes from Abuja.
Keywords: Herders, Cattle grazing, RUGA, Farmer, herdsmen