A bill to create grazing reserves and livestock routes across the country is under consideration in the Senate. Proponents of the bill argue that once passed, it will reduce the incessant clashes between nomadic pastoralists and farmers in different parts of the country. The bill provides for a National Grazing Reserves Commission and those promoting it have reminded Nigerians that the idea of grazing reserves and corridors is not new in the country. Up to a point, they are correct. Following the Othman Danfodio Jihad of 1804, the Fulani who had foisted themselves on parts of Northern Nigeria in the name of Islam, created grazing reserves for their bororo kith and kin across the areas they had influence on. Though the British who privileged the Fulani over and above other ethnic nationalities in Northern Nigeria ‘formalized’ these reserves, it was five years after independence that the Northern Regional Government enacted the Grazing Reserve Law. By 1976, the Federal Government assisted by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) had established hundreds of reserves for use by nomadic pastoral families. Given the skewed nature of this concept, it never succeeded explaining the incessant clashes between the intended beneficiaries of the concept and farmers across the country from Southern Kaduna to Oyo state. The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) have however not given up on their dream to have grazing reserves and their continued lobby of government and politicians is certainly responsible for the current initiative to resuscitate this concept.
Many people argue that creating grazing reserves across the country is a positive development because it will boost livestock development, reduce the pastoral burden, check incessant migration of nomads and improve the strained relationship between famers and nomads. While these reasons maybe laudable, they are entirely besides the issues that are material to the nomadic challenge in Nigeria. Two of these issues stand out. One is the rapid desertification of the Sahara that has continued to encroach virtually unchecked on part of the country while the other is the international character of the Fulani who are at the centre of nomadic pastoralism in Nigeria. Increased desertification is a driving force behind the push of nomads into other parts of Nigeria in search of pasture. This push is exacerbated by nomads from other West African countries that flood the Nigerian area in search of pasture especially in the dry season. The Fulani who are at the centre of the nomadic challenge in Nigeria are incidentally spread throughout West Africa. More than half of them are however in Nigeria where their population has continued to grow due to immigration from neighbouring West African countries suffering from the incessant sahelian drought.
The nomadic challenge cannot be tackled successfully by creating grazing reserves. What the country needs more than anything else is to effectively check desert encroachment and discourage the nomadic push into and across the country especially in areas inhabited by farmers whose attachment to the land is fore grounded by a different set of values from those of nomads. Given the international character of Fulanis, it is quite clear that many of them who have continued to push into different parts of the country are not even Nigerian citizens. Creating grazing lands in the country for the benefit of non Nigerians at the expense of Nigerian farmers is not only irresponsible, it is unpatriotic. Nomadic pastoralism might have been a good model of keeping livestock in the past but not so today. The conflicts it has continued to generate across the country alone should make us rethink this way of life. Nomadic pastoralism also has implications for national and regional security. The manner in which nomads crisscross national boundaries penetrating deep into countries like Nigeria is capable of undermining national security at many levels. Arms and ammunitions can be moved in and around countries without detection. The sophisticated weapons deployed by Fulani militias against unsuspecting farmers in places like Plateau, Nasarawa, Taraba and Benue states should send us thinking about the grave dangers of allowing nomads free movement into and across the country. Nomadic pastoralism also poses a health challenge. Zoonotic diseases from animals to humans are driven by the nomadic lifestyle. This is so because the lifestyle complicates structured livestock health care, making it very difficult to enforce minimum healthcare requirements for livestock and control the incessant outbreak of diseases.
Grazing reserves and dedicated livestock routs are also meaningless unless we are able to ascertain the population of livestock supposed to benefit from the reserves. At the moment, there is no certainty about the livestock population we are dealing with in the country. Indiscriminate immigration of nomads into the country has made this difficult. It is therefore difficult to establish the carrying capacities of these reserves and routes complicating the extent to which they can be managed sustainably. Increased population build up amongst farming communities is also putting pressure on available farmlands. This will make it very difficult for farmers to accept grazing reserves that will shrink available farmlands.
Nomadic pastoralism is not sustainable- not any more. The future for livestock farming in Nigeria must be on the farm and ranches specially developed to accommodate those with animals. People with animals must reside, feed and keep their animals on farms. Fortunately for us, institutions like the National Animal Production Institute (NAPRI) in Zaria have developed and tested varieties of pasture that can be produced in commercial quantities to support such farms. Contrary to proponents of the grazing reserves bill, it is ranches and farms that can grow livestock production in the country and not grazing reserves.
States who are at the receiving end of the bill must be in the forefront of rejecting this bill. If passed, it will not only destabilize them, it will also pitch their unsuspecting farmers against better armed nomads who are bent on imposing an archaic way of life on the country at all cost. Nomads in places like Plateau, Nasarawa, Taraba and Benue states are also gradually staking political claims to land leading to frictions and bloodletting. The grazing reserves bill is also against the spirit of true federalism. If Nigerian states like Sokoto, Kebbi, Kano, Bornu and Katsina for whatever reasons, would want to allow nomads from other countries to graze their states, it will be too much for them to expect that such nomads and Nigerian nomads must also have free grazing access in other Nigerian states. Other states in the spirit of true federalism must begin to regulate livestock farming in favour of farms and ranches. If states like Plateau, Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa had such legislation, the amount of bloodshed and the intensity of conflict between nomads and farmers reported in them would have been significantly reduced. Many of the herds grazing indiscriminately across the country belong to the Fulbe siire (Toronkawa) who are rich patrons in the cities. The Fulbe ladde (Fulanin bororo) who tend these herds are merely hired hands. The Toronkawa can afford ranches and farms upon which to keep their cows. They can also grow the appropriate pasture for these herds and must be compelled by legislation to do this. Even though, the bororo prefer traditional Fulani education(pulaaku), if they settle on ranches and farms with their herds, it will be easy to integrate their children into the normal school system saving the country tons of money which is literally wasted today in the guise of providing nomadic education. Government at the Federal and State levels must muster sufficient courage to let Nigerians who want to keep livestock know that the way forward in tackling the nomadic challenge is in ranches and farms not grazing rights across the country.
The lobby of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) and other Fulani groups is nothing more than cheap blackmail. The Association is living in the past and must wake up to the realities of our time. It is no longer possible to foist a Fulani interest on other parts of the country and invite Funalis from all over West Africa to benefit from the foisting. The arguments of Fulani apologists to the effect that nature has consigned the Fulani and his cattle to the bush where he has no option than to fight to the ‘last drop of his blood’ to graze uncultivated forests and grass lands on the continent is unacceptable. The Fulani ambition to one day get his herd to drink from the Orange river in Southern Africa is obscene and is repeated only because of arrant arrogance and extreme disregard for people including national and other boundaries. Fulani cattle have no ‘universal rights’ to grazing resources in the country. Staking claims to such imaginary rights is an ambition that courts chaos which we must avoid by all means.
Dr. Zacharys Anger Gundu writes from Zaria, Kaduna State, Nigeria