THE incessant loss of life and property to clashes between herdsmen and farmers is generating grave concern in the country. The efforts of the federal and state governments to contain the conflicts have been largely inadequate. There is, however, a fresh effort to appraise the financial cost of the clashes.
The Abdulsalami Abubakar Institute for Peace and Sustainable Development, a research think-tank established by a former military Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, in collaboration with a group known as Search for Common Ground, has put Nigeria’s annual financial loss to the clashes at about $13.7 billion (N479bn). The former Head of State, who disclosed this figure at a stakeholders’ forum for farmers and herdsmen at Maizube farm in Bosso council area of Niger State, said the financial loss only covers the clashes in Benue, Kaduna, Nasarawa and Plateau States. The Institute also said that 2,500 people were killed in the clashes nationwide, with about 62,000 people displaced in the affected states. As a way forward, the Institute called for increased knowledge sharing and peace-building among the herdsmen and farmers.
While we commend the Abdulsalami Abubakar Institute and the Search for Common Ground for their efforts to quantify the financial cost of the conflicts in the states covered by its research, we believe the human casualties are much higher than the 2,500 it reported. According to the Global Terrorism Index which ranks marauding herdsmen in Nigeria as the “4th deadliest terrorist group in the world” after Boko Haram, ISIS and Al-Shabab, the death toll in the herdsmen/farmers conflicts stands at nearly 5,000 in the last three years alone. This report comes closer to the horror visited on the country by the deadly clashes. Worse still, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), in its recent report, said the clashes between the two groups in Southern Kaduna alone claimed no fewer than 204 lives between October 2016 and January 2017. Four districts in Kafanchan local council recorded 194 deaths. In Nimbo, Enugu State and Agatu in Benue State, the death toll was put at 1,229 and 1,450 respectively.
Nevertheless, the $13.7bn annual loss reflects the grave danger the clashes pose to the Nigerian economy, and the need to protect farmers and farm investments throughout the country. The huge human, infrastructural and economic losses to these clashes and the massive displacement of thousands of Nigerians call for more intervention measures to arrest the ugly situation.
The recent statement by the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, that there is no end in sight to the bloody clashes should be seen as a wake-up call to the Federal Government to do much more than it is doing currently to solve this problem. Many Nigerians believe that government has been docile and failed to tackle the problem head- on.
We appreciate the effort of the Benue State government which enacted the Anti-Open Grazing Law which came into effect on November 1. But, we are worried that the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN), the umbrella body of the herdsmen, is threatening to disregard the law on the ground that it did not provide for ranches for its members. It claimed that the law failed to differentiate between herdsmen and cattle dealers, and argued that the new law amounted to asking its members to leave the state immediately.
Government must protect farming communities in the country against marauding herdsmen. Six months ago, the Federal Government announced the formation and training of a 3,000-man force known as Agro-Rangers, to protect farmers and farm investments throughout the country. The outfit, which comprises a special unit in the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) ought to have been deployed for the assignment after undergoing training in the Nigerian Army. Their assignment, which is to protect farms and ranches from kidnappers, herdsmen, cattle rustlers and other criminal elements, has become more urgent now.
Other appropriate responses should be given to the enormous security challenges which the herdsmen and rustlers pose to farming communities without any further delay. Strong measures are particularly needed in the rural areas and other places which have been attacked by herdsmen in the past. Government should be seen to be winning this battle against murderous herdsmen and rustlers, not the other way round. Besides, our country cannot attain food security and self-sufficiency in an atmosphere where farmers are afraid to go to their farms because of herdsmen and kidnappers.
It is good to rear cattle in ranches as is done in the developed world. The herdsmen who refuse to do this but would rather launch murderous attacks on farming communities should no longer be allowed to take the law into their own hands. Nigeria cannot afford the huge financial loss to the farmers/herdsmen clashes. Those who are responsible for such clashes should be apprehended, prosecuted and made to pay the appropriate penalty for the offence.