Fresh thinking – The Nation

It is exciting news: farmers’ and herders’ lobbies just decided to pool resources, to end farmers-herders clashes that have shed too much blood. It is a refreshing way to subject the crisis to reason, and plot a mutually beneficial way out of it; than the old sabre-rattling of mutual recrimination and name-calling. That has done nothing but spill blood and hew limbs.

On July 12, the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) and the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), according to a NAN report, rose from a meeting that set up a 14-man committee to address the clashes; and suggest ways to ensure safe and sustainable business for both trade guilds.

“What we are doing here today is sensitisation and advocacy; we can reach our goals without killing our people,” Alhaji Kabir Ibrahim, AFAN national president said. “In our midst today, we are happy to jointly issue the resolutions we have reached with the Miyetti Allah on the insecurity that threatens our business. We have agreed to work together to expose the criminals among us, to ensure peace and prosperity in Nigeria.”

Bala Ngelzarma, MACBAN national secretary, was no less forthright: “We represent MACBAN, we are a peaceful association. We have been working together with AFAN to bring peace to this country. We don’t control the entire Fulani in Nigeria. We only represent our registered members who are legitimate, peace-loving pastoralists doing their legitimate business of cattle rearing.”

Well said, from both sides. But even then, something is common from both camps: the insecurity that has plagued both businesses and the probable existence of rogue elements hiding behind criminal herdsmen killing and farmers’ retaliation — or vice-versa — to cause mayhem.

That is still where the duty of the state lies, without compromise to AFAN-MACBAN entente. The state must fish out these criminal elements and uproot them from their diabolical cover to spill blood. On their parts, both AFAN and MACBAN should spread the message across their members, and take in as many members as possible to buy into the new spirit.

Also, a formal register of members would not be out of place for both guilds. That way, and with their data base, they can work hand-in-hand with the security agencies to separate genuine members from criminals; and even help to weed off criminals among their members, using their trades to perpetuate hideous killings.

Still, one premise is imperative. If farmers and herders are trade groups pursuing lawful and legitimate business, each must be guaranteed the safety, security and sustainability of its trade.

That means the farmer must be assured of the security of his farms and the safety of his crops. If, however, there are breaches, which could be occasional, there must be established just and peaceful ways to pay compensation for lost crops, by herders guilty of ruinous grazing; as punishment for the herders involved.

In the same token, the herder must be guaranteed the pasture for his herd. Since the crisis has resulted from disputed grazing routes, from open grazing — and that problem has evolved from the very antiquity — the state ought to plot a balance between grazing routes and farm lands, in such a way that both guilds can successfully and profitably engage in their trades.

Fortunately, however, that would at best be in the short and middle run, given that the idea of modern ranching is gradually seeping down, even among the leaders of the itinerant herdsmen, some of whom had previously claimed nomadic grazing was their culture; and therefore were not ready to change. Even if that were so, farms should be strictly off-limit for grazing; and the employer of any herder who violates any farm should be treated as an economic saboteur, that must pay a stiff and dire sanction.

But since prevention is always better than cure and clear thinking also far better than jumbled emotions, the government should use the AFAN-MACBAN to promote positive advocacy and arrive at a laudable consensus to sell the ranching idea. If the message is rigorously projected and promoted from its business and economic front, and the different value chains could be exposed from how the anticipated jobs could lift not a few from the poverty trap, it just might be a new dawn for the cattle-farming business in Nigeria.

But aside from the herder-farmer stakeholders and the government, the media also has a critical role to play. So far, the media has been a great disappointment in the whole affair. Instead of approaching the issue from a critical point of view, media reports have most times issued from set ethnic, religious and regional views, with accompanying biases, if not outright bigotry. That, needless to say, has only fuelled the crisis, rather than quenching it.

The media, therefore, must take this AFAN-MACBAN entente as golden opportunity to change tack and approach the issue with much more reason than emotion. With the triad of the trade guilds, the government and the media working on the problem, with this new spirit of cooperation instead of confrontation, mass killings, from herders-farmers clashes, should be a thing of the past.

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