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Atsar Terver
Public Commentator
Port Harcourt
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The Fulani must accept that nomadic Pastoralism is out of fashion. It is an obsolete way of life which MUST give way for peace and peaceful co existence and Nigeria as a country must ensure that the nomads wake up to this reality. It is imperative that all persons who have livestock should be encouraged to grow them on ranches. The ranch method has proved more effective and efficient in raising cattle that yield healthier beef and dairy products with improved (quality and quantity). If Fulani herdsmen are unable to adapt to modern lifestyle, they must also not insist as a matter of right on Grazing Reserves across the country, but rather they should seek to engage with their hosts wherever they migrate to, on the platter of peace and equality. We do not believe that Benueland and indeed any other lands in the country should be seized by government & given over to Fulani to settle & rear cows.

 

Benue Under Siege

There have been persistent unprovoked attacks by suspected Fulani Herdsmen on several communities in Benue State, an act which has been going on Since 2009, and becoming more frequent and deadly in the last few months; leading to the sacking of several entire communities, brutal killing, psychological torture, molestation and displacement of thousands of Benue indigenes from their ancestral homelands, making them refugees in their own country. Even the ancestral home of the paramount ruler, the Tor Tiv who is the chairman of the Benue State Traditional Council, has not been spared in the attacks. These attacks appear to be a coordinated plan to overrun the Middle Belt and other parts of Nigeria.

 

In the last two years, not less than 1000 persons have been killed in four Local Government Areas in the State including Agatu, Gwer-West, Makurdi, and Guma Local government Areas. In the process, over ten thousand people including women and children have been displaced while their homes and farmlands desecrated and occupied by the Fulani warriors, properties worth millions of Naira have also been destroyed. A serious humanitarian crisis has been created with these peasant farmers deprived of their shelter and means of sustenance, several women made widows and their children orphans.

These attacks come with increasing frequency and sophistication in the kind of weapons used by the marauders. We have reasons to believe that The Fulani incursions into Tivland, Agatu and other parts of the Middle Belt are supported by a standing militia which is at the beck and call of Fulani leaders. Arms and ammunitions are moved discreetly through the bush with cattle across international and other boundaries for this militia. This accounts for their mode of attack and escape being seemingly mysterious as they come and go without resistance or arrest from security agencies.

Some statistics would suffice to highlight the extent of destruction and damage so far perpetrated by the mercenaries.

1. On Sunday May 26, 2013, the Fulani attacked and burned 109 homes at Gbayange and Atsenyer killing 40 people including old women and children. They also destroyed 12 grinding mills, 700 bags of soya beans, 1500 beds and beddings, 531 motorcycles.

2. Again on Friday July 4, the Fulani attacked Akaahena, Iorhon, Tse Gwa, Tse Idugh and Tse Bako killing 30 people and destroyed 88 homes, 8 grinding mills, 56 motor cycles and over 400 bags of soya beans.

3. On Sunday, July 6 the Fulani attacked Akuloko and destroyed 89 homes killing 18 people. Also destroyed were over 300 bags of soya beans, over 300 sheep and goats, 8 grinding mills, over 60 bags of millet, 3000 yams and 15 motor cycles.

4.On July 10, the following villages were attacked: Gbamkwe, Yav Akighir, Ikyomon, Tse Anshu and Tse Azem where 50 homes were burned, 200 bags of millet burned but no life was killed. The inhabitants fled before the attack.

5.On September 2, the Fulani also attacked Ahentse, Fave, Kwaghngu, Agema, Tse Ordue, Tse Atoka, Tyowua, Tse Iorpenda, Orjuku Akua and Tse Kyungun and destroyed 100 homes, killing 25 people. They also destroyed 500 bags of soya beans, 300 bags of millet, 18 grinding mills and over made away with over 100 sheep and goats.

6. On October 2, the Fulani attacked Tse Gberja and Tse Pila which are very big settlements and destroyed 88 homes and killed 13 people. They also destroyed 600 bags of millet, 40 motor cycles, 22 grinding mills and also made away with over 80 sheep and goats.

7. On October 15, the Fulani destroyed Tse Hemba Abo, Shilim, Tse Tyohee, Mchivga, Tse Abagi, Iorndiir Bako, Abari Orkeghen and Tse Ikurgen villages. Among things that were destroyed include 10 grinding mills, over 500 bags of beniseed, over 300 bags of soyabeans and over 200 bags of millet.

8.On November 21, the Fulani wrecked havoc on the following villages: Tse Tingir, Iorfa, Tse Adega, Tomanyiin, Tse Kwagh, Tse Abeda, Sambe Begha and Alaban. They killed 10 people and destroyed over 400 bags of beniseed, 11 grinding mills, and over 1000 bags of rice.

9.On December 23, the Fulani attacked Igbe village, which is a large settlement killing 4 people and destroying over 3000 tubers and seed yams, over 100,000 bags of rice, over 300 bags of soya beans and over 1500 bags of beniseed.

10.On December 24, the destruction was more massive. The following villages fell to the invading Fulani: Akade, Kondom, Upev, Tom Atar, Angbaaye, Shishi, Shirsha, Taakper, Ashwa, Tsedoo Gyegu, Mbabegha Primary school at Akade, Damkor, Agebe, Mfaze, Ayu, Igbadoo, Gbande Atuwe, Shiaondo, Abende and Mgbajime. They killed 22 people. They also destroyed over 1000 bags of beniseed, over 2000 bags of millet and over 300,000 yams.         

It is worrisome that the supposed quest for grazing land by the Fulani should warrant the violent invasions and destruction. If indeed, it is grazing land the Fulanis need, it would make more sense for their union (the Cattle Breeders Association or 'Miyetti Allah' ) to approach their hosts and the authorities peacefully as they have always hitherto been doing for decades. We suspect that the strategy is to escalate violence between farmers and pastoralists in different parts of the country and force everyone into accepting grazing reserves as a solution to the incessant clashes.

It is noteworthy that the Fulani have been grazing their cattle in Benue State for decades without conflict, coming and going with the seasons as it favored the warfare of their cattle, however the recent resort to forceful occupation and killing of their supposed hosts calls to question the real motive of the invaders. We have cause to believe that the invaders cut across Nigerian boundaries and may very well be a compendium of herdsmen from Niger Republic, Sudan, Chad Mali, Guinea, Senegal, and Ghana. These attacks are coming at the time similar conflicts have escalated in  Plateau, Southern Kaduna, Taraba, Kogi, Imo, Yobe, Nasarawa, Rivers, Bauchi, Cross-Rivers states and several other places across the country.

And this takes one to the issue of the proposed Grazing Reserve Bill being considered in the National Assembly. The Bill is supposedly intended to halt the incessant clashes between the nomads and farmers, enhance food security (beef requirements), provide cheaper fodder for livestock and increase beef production as well as improved administration and monitoring of cattle farming and improved living standards of pastoralists.

While these arguments may appeal to a casual analyst, we believe strongly that it will not halt but escalate further conflict in the troubled region. This is because, despite availability of patches of uncultivated land in the countryside where the Fulani have been attacking local farmers, they do not take their cattle to these places for grazing. Instead, they invade farms and feed on the blooming tendrils of the crops being grown by hapless subsistence farmers. This shows that, there must be something the cattle probably find more palatable about our farmers' crops than the pastures that may be found in the ordinary grass. In which case, how can we be sure that after establishing the reserves, the Fulani Nomads may not jolly well abandon them (the reserves) and proceed to take their cattle through our farmers' fields again, grazing away and trampling the crops underfoot and killing anybody (as an icing on the cake) who might dare to challenge them in the process?

It is my conviction that the Grazing reserves will in reality escalate the strife between farmers and pastoralists because traditionally Benue people are not cattle rearers and grazing reserves would not benefit the greater number of Benue citizens directly, if at all. It will rather deprive them of farmland and benefit a great numbers of immigrant nomads whom we have cause to believe are from other countries in Western, Eastern and Northern Africa. The resentment from robbing Peter to pay Paul will lead to more conflict and violence.

From the economic perspective, it is counterproductive to provide cheaper fodder for pastoralists at the expense of farmers because food insecurity would be the opportunity cost of sacrificing farm lands for grazing reserves. The middle-ground is for people with cattle to keep them on ranches than moving them around in search of pasture and water.

Furthermore improved administration of livestock farming, disease management and monitoring will be more effective if cattle/livestock are kept on ranches. The standard of living of the Fulani can only be improved if they settle in one place, their cows are in ranches and their children are in school. It is settled life that has improved the socio political status of the Fulani in townships.

It is worth considering that over 80% of Benue people live off the land as farmers. As their population grows steadily, the size of arable land is also shrinking affecting productivity and access to education, employment, business and political opportunities. Thus Benue can hardly contain her own population and this is reflected in incessant conflicts over resources. All these factors have made the demand for grazing reserves by the Fulani quite unreasonable.

Therefore People with cattle should be required to graze them on ranches. A government policy that undermines the claim of locals to their ancestral lands is unfair. The idea of grazing reserves only amounts to taking over lands from other citizens of the country and handing them over to the Fulani in all of West Africa. Establishing grazing reserves for pastoralists is discriminatory and runs contrary to moral justice as it will take care of ONE ethnic group at the expense of more than 250 other ethnic groups.

Grazing reserves will compromise national security as both the reserves and stock routes will create a conducive environment for ‘others’ including foreigners to infiltrate and dominate the landscape. The grazing reserves as provided for in the draft bill will create a lawless society because law enforcement agents cannot even enter the reserves as per the draft law.

The Fulani must accept that nomadic Pastoralism is out of fashion. It is an obsolete way of life which MUST give way for peace and peaceful co existence and Nigeria as a country must ensure that the nomads wake up to this reality. It is imperative that all persons who have livestock should be encouraged to grow them on ranches. The ranch method has proved more effective and efficient in raising cattle that yield healthier beef and dairy products with improved (quality and quantity). If Fulani herdsmen are unable to adapt to modern lifestyle, they must also not insist as a matter of right on Grazing Reserves across the country, but rather they should seek to engage with their hosts wherever they migrate to, on the platter of peace and equality. We do not believe that Benueland and indeed any other lands in the country should be seized by government & given over to Fulani to settle & rear cows.

I call on the Federal Government to immediately activate security measures that will halt the persistent killings of Benue citizens, as it is her duty to protect the lives and property of all Nigerians.

 

 


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