By Adamu Muhammad Hamid, PhD
Conflicts do not just happen; they are caused! Then the causative agentry may be because of either commission or omission. Crises in the form of killings and destruction of property are a major expression of insecurity in Nigeria. Those taking the toll on the country are ethnic, religious or farmer-herder clashes. Others are insurgency, armed banditry and regional secessionism. The major antidote to all these is when committed personalities are opportune to ascend to political power at the executive level. These types of personalities, in the first place, most of the time, are pushed to contest elections with the philosophy and purpose in mind the primary function of government or governance is public security and safety, and the welfare of citizens as provided by Chapter 2 Section 14 of the Nigerian Constitution.
Since independence, the country has suffered colossally from inaction and the laisser-faire attitude of persons who contest and win elections ill-prepared for governance and without any agendum apart from self-actualization and enriching self, family and friends. There are however few exceptions.
In this exception, let me begin with the example of former Plateau State Gov. Simon Lalong. Before he assumed office in 2015, the Plateau was a ring of fire. Ethno-religious crises between Muslims and Christians or more clearly between Berom or Tarok and Fulani, ravaged the state and halted its peace and progress for a very long time, at least under his predecessors, the two governors before him. In fact, some of the public policies of his immediate predecessor reeked of siding with one side of the belligerent ethnic groups. Under those individuals, the government was almost visibly supporting a faction in the crisis. However, soon after assuming power as governor of Plateau State, it was clear Lalong was prepared and had an agenda. Months before he came, the Plateau was at the behest of interethnic killings, civil strife and suspicion. With his coming, everything suddenly changed and bloodshed disappeared for the number of years he was in charge. And quite startling, the killings resurfaced just soon as he left office. Gov. Lalong will forever be remembered for the stint of peace on the Plateau. He came with the agendum of humanity to which he was committed and sincere. Late President Yar’Adua was also of the same brand and pedigree. He came up with the agendum of addressing the problems triggered by the agitations of the people of the Niger Delta on their deprivation and continued degradation of their environment by oil exploration. Before him, the agitations of the people of the Niger Delta were the major insecurity challenge in Nigeria, which was so protracted and intransigent. President Yar’Adua rolled out projects and programs to address the plight of the Niger Delta people, and since then, the country has been enjoying peace in the region.
Now let’s address the subject of this piece. Gov, Inuwa Yahaya has recently dared the farmer-herder clash monster by initiating the reclamation of encroached cattle routes and grazing, game, and forest reserves in Gombe State. In conceiving the idea, the governor cited the age-long farmer-herder crisis which has slowed the socio-economic development of the Gombe people, and by extension the entire northern Nigeria. The broader concept hinged on achieving ecological balance and addressing some of the consequences of climate change.
To achieve a comprehensive reclamation of grazing and forest reserves, the governor inaugurated a 27-man committee of technocrats. By the way, he approached the subject in the terms given to the committee, he was meticulous and wanted a thorough job. Among other things, the committee was to determine the number of locations of gazetted game, grazing and forest reserves in Gombe State, trace cattle routes that were trespassed, causing perennial and ceaseless clashes between nomadic herdsmen and farmers, and ascertain how many the gazetted game/grazing/forest reserves were officially reversed from the gazette.
The committee was also to ascertain whether the gazetted game/grazing/forest reserves have been encroached upon and the size of the encroachment. And by who? This exercise was also to determine cattle routes encroached. The committee will recommend the time within which encroachers shall vacate the occupied gazetted game/grazing/forest reserves or cattle routes, and recommend new routes.
The farmer-herder conflict has long historical dimensions in Nigeria. It was initially associated with the North Central region of Nigeria but has now traversed the whole country. For a long time now, the conflicts lead to the undifferentiating killing of citizens and the destruction of property. The country appeared to be locked in a perennial macabre belligerence between sedentary farmers and pastoralists, the nomadic herders.
Albeit mostly the conflict is an agrarian resource, its inaccurate specification or definition has turned it into one engrained in cultural, political or even one toned in ethno-religious outlooks. The narratives have abetted bellicose encroachment and reprisal antagonism between the pastoralists and farmers, causing mutual resentment and reverse-violent attacks.
Data show that in the twelve months ending September 2021 when the trouble peaked, farmer-herder skirmishes occurred 71 times, accounting for 406 deaths, 49 injuries, and 15 kidnapped persons in the country. Except for one, all the deaths were of civilians. As I was saying, the North Central region of the country has been the hotbed of the crises (in terms of incidents), while the Northwest happened to be the most ferocious in terms of victims per incident. The Northcentral logged 58% of the incidents and accounted for 61% of the victims.
In the same vein, the Southwest zone logged the second-highest number of incidents (accounting for 25%), and only 12% of the deaths. The quantities still hold even when linking all the dead, injured and kidnapped victims to the entire number of incidents. The Southeast recorded 6 per cent of the total incidents but accounted for 9 per cent of the deaths. The South-south accounted for 6% of incidents, but only 3% of the victims.
Albeit figures for the Northeast region are among the lower, in Gombe State incidents are heard of here and there. Therefore, Gov. Inuwa Yahaya’s measure is decisive and timely.
This initiative is for the moment to enhance environmental sustainability and promote biodiversity. The policy initiative requires continuous public enlightenment, mobilization and support, so in the near future, farmer-herder clashes will be put behind Nigerians. Moreover, by virtue of his present position as the chair of the Northern Governors’ Forum, the strategy should be promoted as a major agendum in the region. In addition, worthy of emulation for other governors in the North is the governor’s recent effort to raise funds for climate-friendly investments in his state.
Adamu Muhammad Hamid, PhD is a lecturer at Pen Resource University, Gombe State. He could be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org