By Jonathan Nda-Isaiah
The No Alternative to Buhari-Osinbajo 2019 (NATBO 2019) has said open grazing, which is as old as Nigeria, has been generating a lot of hues and cries of late.
Until recently, they noted that herdsmen had been crisscrossing the country with their cattle unmolested and without molesting anyone.
In a statement by the National Co-ordinator of the group, Vincent G Uba,said there has hitherto not been news of herders carrying lethal weapons except for their clubs and sticks to control their flocks.
According to him, this has been the practice for several decades running.
He said “Not too long ago, we began to hear about herdsmen carrying sophisticated arms, getting involved in killings, kidnappings, and other criminal activities. We started to see gory photos and videos on social media and saddening news on the airwaves, of the gruesome murder of persons, allegedly carried out by Fulani herdsmen.
“There is, however, no concrete evidence as to whether these crimes were committed by the Fulani herdsmen or not.
“Granted that there could be some bad eggs or criminals within the herders who perpetrate these crimes, it is pertinent to note that criminal tendencies equally obtain in other professions or occupations.
“It would, therefore, be unfair to label the entire herdsmen as criminals. This is in no way an attempt to condone criminality.
The coordinator further stated that crimes should be condemned and perpetrators punished, no matter who is involved.
He said Nigerians should not subscribe to any undesirable elements invading and destroying crops in farmlands, much less any acts of rape against women and killing of farmers whose only “crime” is trying to protect their farms.
Some groups of persons, he noted that for cheap political gains, allege that open grazing is now a way of “Fulanisation” of Nigeria and that these herders are agents of “Fulanisation” of the country. Is this not phony?
According to him, “one wonders why the entire country had not been “Fulanised” before now. For over ten decades, Nigeria had not been “Fulanised” and no one had alleged that open grazing is a “Fulanisation” strategy.
“In another vein, some people paint the religious picture of herdsmen and open grazing, suggesting that nomadic herding is an exclusive preserve of Muslims and so mischievously declare that open grazing is an “Islamisation” ploy. How ludicrous! Again one wonders why the entire country had not been “Islamised” before now.
“It is amazing that some people deceive themselves and so deceive unenlightened people into thinking that nomadic herding is only associated with Islam when we know that Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc are all descendants of nomadic herders? Yes all of us who claim we are descendants of or lineage of or identify with Abraham, David, Jacob, Amos, etc in the Bible are invariably descendants of nomadic herders.
“Other people paint an ethnic picture over open grazing and herding, thereby fanning the embers of ethnic war. These persons erroneously suggest that northerners (Hausa-Fulani) are the only herdsmen in the country, while the southerners (Yoruba, Igbos, etc) are not.
“This is as deceptive as it is erroneous. The truth is that some northerners as well as some southerners engage in nomadic herding, with the northerners being in the majority.
“What is surprising and worrisome is that some Christian leaders mount the rostrum to make foul comments against herdsmen, preaching separatism and division, when they should be preaching tolerance, oneness and love amongst the different ethnic and religious groups.
Explaining further he said “ It is quite unfortunate that these Christian leaders jettison the main Christian belief and teachings, which are hinged on the virtues of love, tolerance and oneness and do the opposite.
“Hiding under the cover of “Islamisation” to condemn open grazing is not only most insincere, but also not Christlike. Why would some Christian leaders of thought be afraid of being “Islamised” by people who cross over to their territory when they should be happy and take advantage of the fact that these herders are in their territory and then aim conversely to “Christianise” them?
“To the Southern Governors and others who have banned open grazing, we urge you to thread softly. Banning a system that is as old as Nigeria itself is bound to produce rebound effects.
“This will definitely breed more crises and insecurity than is desired to be avoided. Legislating against open grazing without first providing alternative means of herding is likely to fuel more crises and heat up the polity.
“The much talked about ranching is no doubt the way to go, with due consideration taken that the vast number of these people who engage in nomadic herding are illiterates. Educating them (nomadic herders) on the need for a new approach to their way of doing business is key.
“Education, education, education is what will eventually solve the problem of open grazing. No educated person will be willing to engage in open grazing as a form of profitable business.
“Again when the herders acquire some basic education, then they will be able to grapple with the knitty-gritty of ranching that requires the application of modern and scientific methods.
“The Federal Government once wanted to promote the RUGA system, which some insincere religious and ethnic separatist bigots viewed with suspicion and began to criticize and it was roundly rejected. RUGA, though imperfect, would have gone a long way to solve the problems of insecurity associated with herders/ farmers clashes.
The constitutionality of the actions of the Southern Governors in enacting laws banning open grazing remains to be determined by the courts of the land. Their action seems to contradict the constitution of the land, thus believed to be tantamount to preventing some people from lawfully engaging in any business of their choice in any part of the country.
Uba said Nigerians are Nigerians irrespective of tribe, religion and ethnicity and so should be allowed to do business anywhere they choose.
According to him, if land can be mapped out to build Mechanic Villages for mechanics, or Computer Villages for computer businesses , or electronic markets for those who deal on electronics or timber/wood markets for wood workers , why not consider mapping out lands for herdsmen in the interim?
Thereafter, he said emphasis would be placed on reorientation of herders and education of the youths, especially of northern extraction in the long term.
“If the required funding for ranches cannot easily be mobilized then a second look should be taken at RUGA system, which envisages that education facilities, hospitals, Mosques, Churches and other necessary infrastructures should be provided to enhance the education of the illiterate herders.
“Southern Governors and leaders should show understanding and be patient with the herders and emulate the Kaduna State Governor who has already commenced building a ranch, which is to be followed by many more. He had sought to provide an alternative before banning open grazing.
“We should take it easy. We, as Nigerians, will get there. That is, we will get to the time when we will be like Europe, United States of America and other developed countries that successfully practice ranching, if we embrace love, tolerance and oneness amongst ourselves,” he added.