As the dust of the 8-day Fulani siege on Bassa LGA settles, the outrage, anger and bitterness is starting to dissipate. Most social commentators and citizens are starting to revert back to their day-to-day activities. Some to the daily APC – PDP political bickering on social media. Others to their “near-religious” following of the English Premier League and La Liga etc.
However, the “clear and present” danger of the next attack remains –and very potently so too. It is only a matter of time before a cow ventures into a farm somewhere, triggering another orgy of killings and counter killings. I say this with a lot of certainty (and regret), because desertification (the effect of climate change) is pushing herdsmen from their traditional enclaves in the core Northern States of Sokoto, Kebbi, Jigawa, Gombe, Bauchi, Adamawa etc southwards into the Middle-Belt and Southern regions, in search of lush green Savannah.
This climate change driven effect is what is largely responsible for the genocidal attacks by herdsmen, who feel the need to wipe-out small Middle-Belt communities in a bid to acquire new pastures for grazing their cattle.
The pertinent question to ask after the 8-day killing orgy is, is there anything Government can do to resolve this raging problem? The answer is a resounding YES.
Like Benue and Taraba states Plateau must implement the anti-open grazing bill. The bill will ensure that herdsmen (have designated ranches within their settlements) where they can herd their cattle, while farmers hold on to their farms. It will guarantee that farmer’s interests (i.e., their farmlands) are protected and herdsmen’s interests (i.e., their cattle in designated ranches) are equally protected. If a cow ventures into a farm, then that is a clear case of trespassing which should be dealt with. In the same vein, if a farmer goes and kills or rustles cattle in a ranch, again it is a clear civil disturbance case which should be dealt with accordingly. This clear delineation of farmlands and grazing ranch will eliminate confrontation; prevent the perpetuation of Fulani genocide/pogrom, under the guise of cow rustling or theft. It will curb what many construe as an expansionist agenda and guarantee lasting peace.
In fairness to Governor Simon Lalong, he had in 2016 proposed the “ranching” idea as a solution to the raging grazing reserves debate of 2016, but we unanimously rejected it. However, as I recall, we rejected it because it was purported that Government would spearhead the land acquisition on behalf of herdsmen and that amenities like schools, hospitals etc will be made available within the ranches (with nothing for farmers). The wording of the proposal even suggested that the land would be appropriated indiscriminately –suggesting that farmer’s lands would be confiscated at the discretion of Government. Which is simply unjust and unacceptable.
In hindsight however, there was wisdom in Governor Lalong’s proposition for delineating areas into farmlands and ranches. However, the flaw in the proposal was the fact that the ranches were not to be sited within existing Fulani settlements but indiscriminately in new areas in all 17 LGA’s –giving the impression of a “land-grab” by FG. Also the fact that brand new amenities like schools, hospitals etc would be built within the said ranches gave the impression of favouritism to herdsmen, given that farming communities have never gotten such attention from FG. And of course many viewed it as though, the Governor was simply kowtowing the line to please President Buhari, which did not help matters.
However, following the bloodbath of last week, my opinion is that the first step to ending these genocidal attacks is to pass the anti-open grazing law. And as I posited above, it will clearly spell-out to both parties (farmers and herdsmen), where their sphere of control starts and ends. It will allow farmers to have total control of their farms (backed by the ambit of the law), same to herdsmen. As such, when something happens, it will be clear who has trespassed (or not) and the arm of the law can visit such accordingly.
That said, in passing the law the ranches must be set up within existing Fulani settlements. Farming lands must not be appropriated from farmers for the new ranching policy, because cattle herding, like subsistence farming is private business and not a government matter. Setting up ranches within existing Fulani settlements will allow these communities to thrive, gain efficiency and become a nucleus for economic growth
To pass this law, you (the reader) and I will need to put pressure on the state house of assembly and PLSG to act accordingly. We need to individually reach out to our House of Assembly representatives and lobby them to sponsor the bill for quick consideration and approval.
by Dr. Chinan Mclean
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