Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Menace of Cattle Herders in Nigeria

By Leonard Karshima Shilgba

There has been a rash of proposals to resolve the menace of cattle herders’ invasion of Nigerian farmlands, who are killing unarmed Nigerians (children, women and men) and burning down or destroying houses and property, where understandably, no feeds or grasses exist for their cattle. All of these are happening on the victims’ ancestral lands, which the Nigerian constitution recognizes, even as according to Section 25(1) of the Constitution, a Nigerian by birth is so recognized only if either of his parents or grandparents “belongs or belonged to a community indigenous to Nigeria.”
In all the proposals available to me, I see none that provides for the farmers, who need even more parcels of land for their crop-farming activities than the cattle herders do. Whether they are proposals for “grazing reserves across Nigeria” or “Ranching”, for which the Federal Government seems prepared to invest public money for private business (I am yet to be provided evidence that the cattle herders are  herding government animals), I see no provision of a compensatory nature for Nigerian farmers and people, who have fallen victim to the recurring impunities of cattle herders that seem to be ever strengthened by some conviction of protection from certain quarters.
I wish to remind here that whatever proposals that the federal government may eventually adopt should be in agreement with the Constitution, otherwise they will fuel more crises and provoke anarchy in the land. Even the weak, when they face injustice, or perceive injustice that threatens their existence, will fight back in a deadly manner; for, after all, they believe they only have all to lose if they do nothing. But fighting back, they may have some to save.
 Let me cite a germane section of Nigeria’s Constitution: Section 42 (1) [Right to freedom from discrimination]:
A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person-
(a)    be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject; or
(b)   be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions.
A close examination of the above Section shows that the constitution frowns at both discriminatory restrictions (and imposed disabilities) and discriminatory privileges or advantages. In view of this, I frame three questions for public determination:
1.       If the federal government chooses as a solution, to expend public money and expropriate lands from the natives across Nigeria, and hand over those to cattle herders for grazing, would that not amount to discriminatory restriction (of the natives, who will lose ownership of their ancestral lands) and discriminatory offer of privilege and advantage (to the cattle herders), who would then, like the Biblical Levites, live in government-protected “cities of refuge” across Nigeria? 

2.       What would be the compensation of government to the perennial victims and farmers, whose farmlands would be taken away? If, at all, there would be compensation, who determines the type and amount? If the natives are to determine the amount, what happens if they, like the Biblical Naboth, say to the Federal Government, “The LORD forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee.”? Would the Federal Government, like wicked King Ahab and his wicked queen Jezebel, destroy the natives and take away the lands by force, pleading the Land Use Act, that does not prevail over Section 42, and whose spirit does not endorse discrimination? And would there not be costly consequences? On the other hand, if the natives ask for economic rates, can the Federal Government pay, and from which public funds? For instance, in Benue State, it would be very hard for the people to surrender an inch for “eternal” cattle grazing; my people, like many others in Nigeria, value their land above almost everything, except children. And if, assuming it is possible, my people are willing to sell their farmlands (their economic means of livelihood), and we ask for nothing less than six trillion naira, can the Federal Government pay? And if it can pay, under what lending terms will the Federal Government handover the lands to the cattle herders. What guarantee is there that another government will not reverse this injustice in the future, and thus create a bigger conflagration?

3.       If cattle ranching is the Federal Government’s solution, will it spend Nigeria’s money for the private business of ranching? If so, is the Federal Government prepared to give similar amounts to farmers, fishermen, and other farmers engaged in animal husbandry? If the Federal Government is not prepared to extend similar favors, then why not, even if the argument is that cattle herders will only be advanced loans to set up ranches?

Let us face facts, please.  Nigerian farmers and natives have been losing lives and property at the hands of belligerent cattle herders, to whom, so lamely and flippantly, government officials refer as “foreigners”; and in discussing solutions, I hear nothing about local defense mechanisms for the natives and adequate re-building and re-habilitation of the shattered welfare of the victims. I only hear of proposals that cater for the cattle herders, who are bold enough to say why they have the license to take lives: “The natives stole our cattle.” And the Federal Government doesn’t go after those confessed murderers! What country do we profess to have? Such egregious official approvals of silence and inaction are among events in my lifetime that make me agree with Chinua Achebe that “There was a country.”
I wasn’t born then when Achebe and his Igbo brethren started going through the harrowing experiences that changed his views about Nigeria. But having read his priceless parting gift to humanity and similar accounts, I see that we are repeating the same mistakes today that could destroy faith in Nigeria by many a Nigerian optimist.  Yes, Wole Soyinka affirms that Chinua Achebe sought to “dichotomize Nigeria” with his book, There was a Country. I disagree. Achebe only reported about Nigeria as an active observer. The reporter should not be blamed. If society doesn’t like what it reads about itself, it only has presented to it an opportunity for truthful change. Unfortunately, I see that in my day, more than forty years after the unfortunate civil war, Nigeria is now officially dichotomized!
Have you seen the report titled, Ebonyi State becomes the first to ban cattle rearing in Igbo land”? Do you blame them? My governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom of Benue State, recently cried out, “I didn’t become Governor to preside over dead bodies…Our people are being pushed too far by herdsmen! The old and young have been slaughtered, children separated from their parents and many people chased out of their homes to sleep in the bush without food to eat.  This is genocide…”  When I hear my governor cry out like this, and see my people slaughtered almost weekly by cattle herders, would you not expect me to ask, “Do we have a country”? To make matters more infuriating, the federal troops sent to the areas of siege, besides not containing the marauding cattle herders, have become a burden to both state and local governments, who must feed them, provide fuel for their vehicles, etc., even though they are producing no expected results. In the South-South region, there are reports that, the youth, out of frustration at the belligerent cattle herders, have threatened to “kidnap” them if they would not leave their land.
I love what President Buhari is doing to fight off Boko Haram, a fight in which both hunters and vigilante groups have got involved, resulting in the latest recue of one of the abducted Chibok girls. But he has not yet started succeeding with the fight against the invasion of our lands by those “foreign” cattle herders. Should we be intolerant of our Nigerian Boko Haramers, but indulgent of the “foreign” cattle herders? Will Buhari government’s armies actively stop our native hunters and vigilantes in warding off those “foreign” cattle herders in defense of our homelands? Now that we are pushed to the wall in Benue, Enugu, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Plateau, in fact, across the breath and length of Nigeria, it will send a suspicious message to the international community if Buhari’s soldiers and security agencies stop our hunters and vigilante groups from warding cattle herder-invaders off our farmlands, towns and villages, while they can’t stop cattle herders from killing the natives on their ancestral lands. Cattle herders should not be allowed to carry guns while we are not allowed to carry even our bows and arrows in the open. We must not continue to lose precious lives because we must eat beef in Nigeria.
Any people reserves the natural right of self-defense, much more now that agricultural activities are being disrupted by those “foreign” cattle herders, and the Federal Government wants to create jobs through investment in agriculture and other sectors. To deny us, the victims, that, is to advertise official endorsement of genocide. Is there meaningful agriculture without guaranteed safety on the farmlands, which are now being occupied by armed cattle herders? Is government not pushing the natives to take self-help measures to protect their farmers in the field? The Benue Movement Against Fulani Occupation (MAFO) are now at the ECOWAS Court in search of justice and protection, which they don’t believe President Buhari can offer them. This is not good publicity for our president. I suspect more of this will come up if the president does not offer leadership in the war against cattle herders’ aggression. A stitch in time saves nine.

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