Like many of us, I have been very sad about the ‘herdsman-farmers’ crises in recent weeks. Almost all articles, communiques and tv interviews have dwelt more on the problems, perpetrators and who is to blame, rather than solutions. I took a second look at the national livestock transformation plan recently launched by the federal government and wondered why this hasn’t been the subject of our debate. I saw from this plan how livestock farming can grow our economy and current jobs in Nigeria can be greatly enhanced. People, farmers and security experts should critique the flaws in this plan and advise the government on how to fix them. It’s very easy for people to say ‘government is not even doing anything or creating solution strategies’, but whenever government shares their plans, we should read it and critique based on sound judgment and desire to find peace. In this article, I will refer to the violent groups as ‘bandits’, and not Fulani herdsmen as I want to avoid stereotyping.
First, I like to define some often-mischaracterized narratives as follows:
• Herdsmen are also farmers! According to www.ad-nett.org/livestock_farming.html, Livestock farming is the rearing of animals for food and for other human uses. The word ‘Livestock’ applies primarily to cattle or dairy cows, chickens, goats, pigs, horses and sheep. Today, even animals like donkeys, mules, rabbits and insects such as bees are being raised as part of livestock farming. I will therefore call herdsmen livestock farmers in this article
• There are Fulani crop farmers who are also victims of attacks from the bandits
• Bandits are murderers, cattle rustlers and land grabbers, and may be Fulanis, non-Fulanis, Muslims or Christians
• If the Owus that migrated to Abeokuta less than 200 years ago are regarded as Abeokuta indigenes today and the Egba man whose family has lived in Lagos for about 100 years is regarded as a Lagos indigene, then I think a Fulani man whose family has lived in Plateau for about 100 years is more likely an indigene than a settler. So, while many Fulanis may be settlers or even foreigners in these places, a good number of them are ‘technically’ indigenes.
Whenever people talk about the federal government livestock plan, the discussion is centered only on ranching. But this plan talks about several other things aside ranching. So I will leave ranching for now and talk about other things. Before now, successive governments have provided a lot of subsidies to crop farmers in the area of fertilizers and loans. In fact, every time government (from OBJ to Yar’Adua to GEJ to PMB) talked about agricultural developments, you heard mostly about crop farming. It always seemed that livestock farming did not require any major intervention. But the fact is that Nigeria has been doing very poorly in livestock farming for decades and we will continue to sit on ‘time bomb’ for as long as we don’t do something very drastic about pastoral livestock farming. GEJ and PMB have both contributed a lot towards rice revolution in Nigeria, but to the best of my knowledge, we haven’t discussed any ‘positive revolution’ for livestock farming in the last two decades. This is what I think should have been the focus of government in previous years. Majority of the livestock farmers continue to operate largely as pastoralists, are not very educated, typically don’t understand land and water boundaries, can potentially be violent when they lose cows worth a lot of money to bandits (remember loss of 100 cows represent potential N10m loss if we assume a cow is N100k), etc. So it is for our own survival and economic benefit that we must do something about this group. I am not talking about the elite and educated livestock farmers here. I am talking about the typical pastoralists who provide perhaps greater amount of meat to the whole nation than the more refined livestock farmers. No matter how peaceful the typical pastoral livestock farmer is, the constant competition for land and water with the crop farmer remains a potential source of fight until we take drastic steps. Even in the southwest, the Fulani livestock farmers largely control the livestock farming industry and if they ever go on strike for one week, meat will become scarce and expensive in Lagos and environs. So this is a matter we cannot joke with economically
If the federal government can start ‘livestock farming revolution’ and devout a lot of attention and funding to it like we have done recently for rice, lots of jobs will be created, there will be massive increase in dairy production and this will reduce milk importation and forex demand, Nigeria will move up the value chain in livestock farming, current jobs in Nigeria will be enhanced, and our economy will grow significantly. But most importantly, lasting peace will be restored across the flashpoint areas and there will be end to ‘herdsmen-farmers’ crises in Nigeria.
The federal government plan says that expected milk output after the 2nd year of implementation will be over 200million liters and it will be over 700 liters by 4th year. I don’t know how they got these figures but I know that Nigerian cows are among the worst milk producers in the world. With the right policies or ‘revolution’ just as we have experienced with rice, I am sure we can quadruple our dairy production within a few years.
Finally, if ranching or colony or whatever it is called is what will create these economic revolution and peace, I think all parties should consider it. However, if ‘indigenes’ still don’t want ranching or colonies, they need to propose alternative solutions that will add some value to all parties to the crises. Collaboration is very essential because successive governments have found it very difficult to fix – remember Obasanjo declared a state of emergency and removed a sitting governor (Joshua Dariye) partly because of this violence in his first term. Anyone that thinks the solution can come from military crackdown, prosecution, evicting ‘settlers’ and stereotyping is an ostrich who has buried his/her head in the sand thinking nobody sees him/her. We must provide security to the victims and hold bandits accountable for their actions, but we must solve the problems from the roots. It’s just like trying to end boko haram without fixing education and poverty. It’s like not providing education or skills to the almajiris and expecting there will never be election violence again. We need to work together to create a lasting solution to this menace, before it destroys our country!
Debo Onifade writes from Boston