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The Herdsmen Ultimatum in South Western Nigeria

In the past week or so, herdsmen have been given a series of notices to vacate parts of the Nigerian South West. Chief Sunday Adeyemo from Oyo State, gave the first of these recent notices. Popularly known as Igboko, Chief Adeyemi had given herdsmen grazing indiscriminately in Iparapo North Local Government Area of Oyo State to leave the area within seven days or face forceful eviction. He claimed that the herdsmen are implicated in the incessant killings and kidnappings in the area and can no longer enjoy the welcome of the people. Within days, the Ondo State Government also gave a seven-day ultimatum to herdsmen grazing in the forests of the state to leave. Here again, the herdsmen were implicated in the killings and kidnappings in the state. The Government directed that all those legitimately carrying out businesses in the forests of the state could register and continue with their businesses.

The Governor of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde has since warned Chief Adeyemi to vacate his ultimatum since the constitution of the Federal Republic does not allow him or any person for that matter to seek to dislodge anyone who chooses to reside in Oyo or any part of the country. In a similar vein, the Federal Government came down heavily on the Ondo State Government asking Governor Rotimi Akeredolu to rescind the seven-day ultimatum since he lacks constitutional powers to ask herdsmen living in the forest reserves of the state to vacate the forests. The Federal Government was curiously silent on how the herdsmen got to these forests nor whether these herdsmen are even Nigerians.

The leader of a vulturine Fulani group in Jos, Sai’du Maikano has taken a cue from the Federal Government and called for a state of emergency in Ondo State and the prosecution of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu. The Northern Elders Forum through their spokesman, Dr. Hakeem Baba Ahmed has also asked the Fulani community in Ondo to ignore the Ondo State Government. The position of the Northern Elders Forum is that the Fulani herdsmen have the constitutional right to live where they choose provided they are within the law. This ‘constitutional right’ may explain the Fulani penchant for grazing everywhere including highways urban streets and occasionally into people’s farms.

We have gone on this path before and its sad that we are still missing the meat of the matter of nomadic pastoralism in Nigeria. It has been argued repeatedly that livestock production in Nigeria, which is a multi billion-naira industry, must reform to prosper and benefit more people beside the Fulani who control it today as a monopoly. Nomadic pastoralism in Nigeria and anywhere it is being practiced is obsolete. Insisting on it is not only taking us backwards, it is the root cause of rural instability in many parts of the country. In the era of the modern state, no one can just rise and lay claim to land in the name of free movement. The modern state has well defined boundaries and has laws governing personal property, including land.

Nomadic pastoralism continues today more as a way of life and a pretext for staking claims to large swatches of land across the country for political gain. It is impossible for nomadic pastoralists to peacefully graze across the country today. Our population has surged, both the Sahel and Northern Nigeria, which is the hub of nomadic pastoralism in the country, have increasingly dried up forcing nomads to move into the southern latitudes with aggression and impunity.The degradation of the Sahel and Northern Nigeria is incidentally as a result of irresponsible grazing activities. The situation has been exacerbated by increased cross border inflow of pastoral nomads from other West and Central African countries into Nigeria. This inflow has brought in armed Fulani herdsmen like the Udawa and continues to implicate the Fulani in rural instability in all parts of Nigeria.

Fulani nomads in all states of the country have continued to compromise state security, public order, health, morals and the rights and freedoms of others. Studies have linked their activities to trans border criminality, proliferation of small arms and light weapons and the drug trade. Three years ago, the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemilllin an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari complained bitterly about the ‘incessant and increasing menace of Fulani herdsmen’ in Yoruba land. The President did not respond to the revered Alaafin whose cry and concern is still potent as it was three years ago.

Nomadic Fulani herdsmen have always turned against their hosts whether in the Middle Belt, the East or the West. The country cannot afford to continue bleeding because of Fulani herdsmen criminality. The cost is too much. It is not just about the loss of lives, whole settlements have been destroyed in many communities, farms and farm produce have been destroyed, women have been raped and many have been kidnapped for ransom.

It is time for states as Federating units to take the bull by the horns and regulate livestock production within their borders. Doing this will not only check insecurity and criminality associated with nomadic pastoralism, it will also improve livestock production and open up the industry to others who today are shut out of it. No one would contest the right of states to regulate livestock production within their borders.

Benue State did this in 2017 following incessant Fulani herdsmen criminality, violence and blood letting in the State. The Benue law made it illegal for anyone to graze indiscriminately within the state. Livestock production within the state is on ranches and since coming into force; the state has known relative peace.

Nigeria must not allow Fulani herdsmen many of whom are not even Nigerians to foist an obsolete way of life on the country and undermine security and well being in the rural and urban areas. Ranching laws will dissuade open grazing which at the moment takes place on people’s farms, highways and even streets of major urban areas. It will also dissuade trans border pastoralism and flush out nomadic herdsmen from forests and other inaccessible locations in all parts of the country.

This will open several other possibilities in the rural economy. One of these is in the area of Non Wood Forest Products (NWFPs). Though Nigerian forests just like forests in other parts of the world have a huge potential, the Nigerian forest potential is unfortunately underdeveloped. Many Nigerian forests in local world view are still ‘evil’. Communities do not use such forests intimately unless for ‘spiritual’ purposes when they need to sanction erring members through banishment. After Fulani herdsmen and their criminal acquaintances are vacated from these forests, states can move in to formally carry out resource assessment of the forests to ascertain baseline data on NWFPs and how such resources can be developed to support rural economies.

If properly managed, such forests can be places where edible plants and plant products can be harvested for local consumption and even for export. In parts of Africa where forest management aimed at NWFPs has been developed, products from the forest include mushrooms, fruits, leaves, roots, tubers, nuts, medicinal plants, gums, honey, bee wax, bush meat, fodder, ornamentals, tannins and resins. Others include caterpillars, termites and edible insects. Also important are fibers, canes, utensils, and handicrafts construction materials. Forests also offer opportunities for eco tourism and wildlife services like game reserves.

In view of the huge economic potential of forests, allowing the Fulani herdsman access to the forest is actually underutilizing the forest. All attempts must be made to flush the herdsmen from the forests to forestall rural instability and ensure the proper management and development of our forests. The Oyo and Ondo State Governments must be bold and courageous on this matter.

Fulani herders shepherding their cattle

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