The President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) called a meeting with experts in peace
and conflict resolution in respect of the killings in some part of Benue, Taraba and Nassarawa
The objective of the meeting is to get expert opinion\advice in order to intervene from an
informed perspective. In his opening remarks, the President said the NBA as an Association
with its membership and branches across the country including Benue, Taraba and Nassarawa is deeply saddened and affected by this crisis and thus commiserates with the States and offers itself to lend its support and expertise of its members to the States and the Federal Government in finding a lasting solution to the crisis.
Dr. Ibrahim Jibrin, Executive Director; Centre for democracy and Development (CDD)
believes that; Pastoralism in the form it exist today is not sustainable, and therefore, there is the need to develop a new policy perspective, so as to move away from traditional cattle rearing to finding an alternative for people that move cattle around for survival.
He noted that, giving the data from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, there are over nineteen million cattle in the country and more than half of these cattle are in the hands of pastoralist which makes it practically impossible to just ask them to stop moving cattle and put them in a ranch. He believes, the word ‘ranch’ is being used recklessly. He noted that, while the government has invested a lot in Agriculture, there is no corresponding investment in animal husbandry, and it has been argued consistently, that Nigeria has the most unproductive cattle in the world.
Dr. Jibrin proposed the use of grazing reserves which was the approach taken by both the
colonial government and the government of the first republic to address the issue. He recalled that in the 50’s and 60’s, there were a lot of policy debates on the long term implication of this issue, and as at that time, there were 417 designated grazing reserves and 113 of them were gazetted, but from the 70’s, there were no reflections and follow up on those policies.
He explained further that, the plan in the policy document include the provision of basic infrastructure in the grazing reserves, water sources to be protected, veterinary services to be provided and improvement in the cattle stock and better fodder will be gradually developed so that it becomes a transition between open grazing; where the pastoralist move around freely on one hand and restricted grazing where they are demarcated and services are provided to keep their cattle. He lamented that, a similar grazing reserve bill was reintroduced to the 7th National Assembly by Senator Zainab Kure but was unfortunately thrown out in 2016 on the ground that it will
benefit only the Fulani ethnic group.
He observes that the conflict has been growing for over ten years, and there have been
cyclical killings and reprisal killings. He identified some factors that usually influence the
perpetuation of violent acts to include:
1. The rise of cattle rustling which has become a serious problem over the past ten years.
He mentioned two elements of cattle rustling that are important to underscore this
i. Corruption in the justice system and law enforcement Agents: Harassment of victims by the police and injustice in the lower courts involving cases of cattle rustling contributed a lot in the loss of cattle by pastoralist such that their children grew up with nothing and basically go into criminality and that is how cattle rustling spread.
ii. The second element of cattle rustling is the emergence of inter-ethnic gangs, youths grew up jobless and join gangs. ‘The value you can easily get as a criminal is a cow, because you can go and sell it with no impediments, so it is as almost like a cash’.
2. The second issue Dr. Ibrahim Jibrin mentioned is the scale of destruction of crops by herders which is growing incredibly high due to the various issues cited earlier and this had led to more and more conflict between famers and herders and the result is the cyclic killings we are seeing.
3. The third issue as observed by Dr. Jibrin is the way the media is reporting the whole conflict. “There has been an escalation and distortion of the crisis by the media; the word herdsmen is now synonymous to mass murderer, whereas the killing is going on both side and that is not being reported.” He continued that: “The whole assimilation of Pastoralist as killers and mass murderers by the media is hate speech”.
He further observed that the narrative is broadening along two new axis: one is that of Jihad; an orchestrated plan to convert people to Islam and the other is to take over people ancestral land. And this narrative in the media is today part of what is fuelling the crises. He elaborated further that, people see the Fulanis’ as senseless mass murderers coming to take over their ancestral land, and the youths will want to defend their land and attack them and they attack back and the killings continue making it difficult to contain.
Prof. Godwin A. Abu, Director Institute of Food Security, Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi.
Prof. Godwin began by saying that for every production system, there is a risk factor, and for the Pastoralist production system, their critical risk factor is pasture and water. With increase in population, settlements and farms are now occupying areas where the pastoralist feed their cattle with climate change affecting the yield of pasture. He reiterated that, the basis of this violence is coming from natural resource conflict; pasture and water, which is aggravated by population growth and climate change. Prof. Abu also agreed with Dr. Jibrin earlier submission that most of the government spending in Agriculture is on crop production and there are no conscious effort to invest in animal husbandry.
In his closing remarks, the NBA President, A. B. Mahmoud OON, SAN said that the crises are a manifestation of breakdown in governance especially at the local level, “there is a failure of administration on the part of local government councils and the state government authorities on one hand and failure of the justice system to offer protection and to perform its recognized functions in terms of addressing these issues and managing them.”
He said a national framework should be developed, maximizing engagement and resultantly resolving the crisis. He said that: “NBA as a professional organisation, believes strongly in promoting the rule of law and particularly the practical enforcement of the tenets of the administration of criminal justice protocol; as this would ensure appropriate sanctions are meted out to dissidents and perpetrators to serve as a punitive and preventive measure to others of their ilk as well as to ensure peaceful co-existence across the country; and in this case, the middle belt region.”
He assured that the NBA will undertake a fact finding mission to Benue to engage with the
Governor and other key stakeholders to have a better appreciation of the issues first hand;
which would thus guide the NBA in proposing a tailor made conflict management strategy
solution. “We are willing to listen to all relevant stakeholders and extend our hand of support towards resolving the crisis amicably. Most importantly, we would like to be the voice of mediation and resolution.”