To stem the internecine violent clashes between herdsmen and farmers, some states have prohibited open grazing by livestock. With little variations that take care of the peculiarities of the states, the law prohibits movement of livestock and open grazing by them. It requires livestock owners to ranch them, criminalising open grazing and movement of livestock by foot. The law effectively stops age-long nomadism, particularly among the Fulani whose activities in recent times have led to violent clashes with farmers in many states of the federation.
No doubt, there is ample justification for the law. Violent clashes between herdsmen and farmers have led to the loss of thousands of lives and property worth billions of naira. But there is resistance from herdsmen who complain that there is not enough time for them to comply with the law. According to their umbrella body, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, they need more time to comprehend the law and abide by its provisions. Besides, they contend that the law violates their fundamental right to freedom of movement within the country and that it is in conflict with international protocols that established grazing routes across the African continent. It is to their credit that after an initial threat to violence they decided to submit their grievances to the law court.
This is commendable and we urge them to pursue their legal challenge of the law to a logical conclusion. But beyond that, they should also understand that times have changed. In the history of humanity, the stage of development at which man wandered for a livelihood belongs to the stone age. Let us stop insulting ourselves with romanticising the ‘nomadic culture’ by beginning to reap the fullest benefits of our natural endowments through aggressive modernisation of our modes of agricultural production. Brazil and the United States (Alabama) which are some of the world’s largest cattle producers do not have the menace and insult of ‘nomads’.
Meanwhile, we are not unmindful of the immediate and short term inconveniences the law would cause to nomads who now need to transit from their traditional mode of cattle rearing to a modern husbandry. Already, there are reports of migration of herders and their herds from Benue State to the neighbouring Nasarawa State and others that are yet to prohibit open grazing. The implication should be obvious as in no time the problems sort to be solved in Benue would be transported to Nasarawa, which may necessitate it also promulgating a similar law.
However, we need a holistic approach to the challenges associated with nomadism. That ranching is an enduring solution is not in doubt. But there is need for a more coordinated transition from nomadism to ranching. This is where the intervention by the federal government becomes appropriate. Although Agriculture is on the concurrent list, the federal government needs to provide a guideline that sets the standards on the implementation of the desired transition.
We therefore call on President Muhammadu Buhari to provide the platform for a wholesale discussion on the future of animal husbandry in relations to the transition from nomadism to ranching. We urge a package of incentives, including soft loans, liberal access to land, training and provision of inputs to herders and others in order to facilitate the transition and ameliorate the challenges associated with it. The federal government should dedicate funds to advance the herders as long-term, low-interest loans while states that embark on such progressive agricultural policies should be generously grant-aided.
If done properly, we can then employ and re-train the herdsmen in modern settled cattle farming. The animals will be healthier; the handlers will earn decent incomes, have decent accommodation, own property and have schools for their kids. Ancillary industries will also emerge and employment opportunities will blossom.