With the end of the ongoing war with Boko Haram still nowhere in sight, the least the world expects of Nigerian leaders is to maintain a united front with a view to ensuring that the developmental objectives of the economy remains on track. Recent developments, especially as it affects food security in this embattled West African nation, may tend towards a man-made famine situation, if everything possible is not done to halt that tendency.
For about the third year now, a new face of terror has swept through the length and breadth of Nigeria; especially the middle-belt area, consisting of Benue and Plateau states, and the Eastern, Western and South-South states of Cross River, Akwa-Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and Edo states.
Known variously as the ‘’Janjaweed’’ militia, ‘’the sons of Futa Jalon’’, and ‘’Fulani herdsmen’’ by most Nigerians, these herdsmen who drive their cattle all the way from the Savannah north to the middle-belt and southern states where lush green grass for cattle can be found, are a new brand of cattle breeders who are armed with AK 47 rifles, and who go about pillaging, raping, killing and destroying whole villages and farms under the pretext that farmers resist their access to grass (feed) for their cattle.
There were stirrings of what was about to come during the electioneering period of 2014-2015, before the Presidential election which ushered in the government of General Muhammadu Buhari. Initially, skirmishes between farmers and cattle herdsmen were limited to the Benue/Plateau area where the Fulani settlers had been on the necks of the indigenous people, intent on taking over their land, resulting in deaths and destruction of properties, and at times, whole villages. All this while, grazing in most of the southern states were restricted to the highways beyond villages, and there were no reasons whatsoever for clashes. The problem, for most southerners got closer home just before the advent of the Buhari administration; clashes ensued; people were slaughtered as they tried to resist the armed Fulani herdsmen.
With the advent of the Buhari government, the problem degenerated into something worse; the Obi of Ubulu-Ukwu in Aniocha-North local government area was abducted and killed by some Fulani herdsmen who had invaded in the guise of finding food for their cattle. In the Western Yoruba area, Fulani militant herdsmen invaded the farm of former Secretary of the Federal Government, Chief Olu Falae, killed some of his farmhands, and abducted him. It took the intervention of agents of the Federal government before he was released.
From Enugu state in the east, to the farthest flung villages in the west, nowhere is sacrosanct to the Fulani herdsmen; they stampede their cattle from place to place; trampling and pillaging as they move through schools, villages, and what have you, and any resistance was silenced with shots from ready rifles and machetes. Along the roads to Abuja from both the East and the West, the said Fulani herdsmen wreak havoc; using their cattle to block the highway, and then killing and pillaging passengers of vehicles who were forced to stop.
This reporter had a personal experience of what is going on all over the country; which our leaders have preferred to ignore by playing the ostrich. I travelled to my village in Delta State for the funeral obsequies of a prominent son of the village in January, and took some time to visit my undeveloped land. In place of the economic and plantain trees we had spent some funds planting over time, what I saw was plain wasteland. In addition, I observed that the whole area had been subjected to rampant burning; the whole swath of land, as far as the eye could see, was similarly burnt. I was later meant to understand that those herdsmen deliberately set fire to whole lands; farmsteads in which farmers left standing, dry okra, maize, yam and other plants that were meant to be seed for the next planting season; for purposes of ensuring that grass/weed would grow in their stead unhindered on such land, for their cattle, and that trapped and burnt animals like rabbits, antelopes etc. would become ready source of meat for them.
As I shook my head in unbelief at the carnage on my land which stared me in the face, and started the long walk to the remnant of the once tarred road which connected my town to the next town, I felt a prompting to take one last look at the land, and that was the exact time these all-white herd of cattle came into view, ghost-like as they entered into and marched through my land. I beat a hasty retreat for fear of becoming part of the murderous Janjaweed militants’ statistics.
By the time I got back to the village and narrated what I encountered, I was heralded with tales of rapes, shootings and slaughter which had gone on all over the place. It was unbelievable that such atrocities could be allowed to go on in any country in the 21st Century. In most towns and villages I learnt, no one goes to farm alone anymore; women were routinely raped when alone and even in pairs without male company, and men were simply shot for no reason whatsoever. It is simply shameful. It was while I was ruminating on the implications of all I had seen and heard that I saw the following video on the menace Fulani herdsmen and their cattle have become in Edo State.
It was while thinking about the implications on food security for the economy, of the actions of the Fulani herdsmen that it dawned on me that we are most likely, as a nation, heading towards a period of prolonged famine. The situation was made worse by the fact that firstly, our own Federal Government, to all intents and purposes, seems to be ranking the interest of those armed herdsmen, most of whom are non-Nigerians above the interest of bona fide Nigerians. Secondly, and in retrospect, it would seem that the armed cattlemen are merely acting out a script. How come, one must ask, hasn’t the government devised a way to disarm those cattle bandits who are armed with assault rifles illegally?
Secondly, as anyone who is interested in what is currently happening in Nigeria would know, the problem of the Fulani herdsmen has led to the writing of the National Grazing Reserve Council Bill. From a post authored by one Dr. Austin Monye, the would-be Law seeks to create a council to be chaired by a chairman to be appointed by the President. The council shall have the power to appropriate any land anywhere within Nigeria and pay whatever compensation it deems fit; not the value of the land.
The appropriated land shall be assigned to herdsmen who shall use same for grazing purposes. If the former owner of the appropriated land wishes to challenge the appropriation; if he feels that the council wrongly appropriated his land, then he could go to court to challenge the said appropriation. Before he goes to court, the appropriated must first of all notify the Federal Attorney General who must consent to the action before the appropriated can sue. If the Attorney General refuses to give his consent, the appropriated has lost his land forever. When passed, the law shall apply to every parcel of land in Nigeria, making it superior to the Land Use Act.
Moreover, in order to be entitled to any form of compensation, one must have and present proof of ownership such as survey plan, Deed of Ownership, Deed of Conveyance, etc.
According to Dr. Monye, ”that Bill is a deliberate attempt to take our lands and hand them over to to Fulani cattlemen since only the Fulanis rear cattle in Nigeria. That law, when passed, shall fulfil the directive of Uthman Dan Fodio and other northern leaders to take over other parts of Nigeria.”
He concluded: ”That law will destroy Nigeria. All over the world, ranches are established and used to rear cattle. The farmers buy land and put their cattle there. There is no country where the land of citizens are compulsorily acquired for the purposes of cattle grazing, and given free of any charge to the rich cattle owners. This is evil, and designed to favour the Fulanis where the President comes from. We must resist the passage of that bill into law to save Nigeria, and to protect our future generations. We must defend our land and protect our children.”