Sunday, July 3, 2016 9:07 pm
By Ernest Omoarelojie
From Jos through Agatu to Nimbo in Enugu state, Fulani herdsmen succeeded in leaving tales of sorrow, tears and blood. For their conduct, the nation became a new definition for the Horbesian state where life has become brutish and short. Even as the echoes of their murderous loony in these erstwhile peaceful settlements are still resounding, reports are rife that they are still keeping faith with the killing spree as they add more communities to their hit list.
Emotions are running haywire as many people, survivors and sympathizers alike, are up in arm singing reprisal songs. In response to the deafening uproar, the federal government came up with the grazing policy, an apparent cosmetic approach wrapped around ethnocentric sentiments. The truth remains that on the long run, chances are high that it may end up creating more worrisome problems than anyone seems to appreciate at the moment.
The reason is simple. The federal government insists on going along with the acquisition of grazing lands in receptive states where herdsmen are expected to roam and feed their stocks without trouble. It anticipates no challenge on the short or long run as land owners will be compensated adequately. On papers, the policy is faultless. The only clog, if one looks closely at it, is that those who seem fixated on implementing the grazing policy appears unperturbed by the seething rage presently boiling among aborigines of the lands who are convinced beyond every doubt that the policy is designed to foster Fulani’s land-grabbing and Islamization quest, now given mileage with the emergence of their son as president.
They feel more disgruntled by the seeming lack of interest on the part of decision makers to consider the issue from business perspective. For them, the policy contains certain ethnocentric ambivalence that gives the impression that the federal government is trying to implement a policy designed to undermine host communities in favour of the Fulani herdsmen.
Those who fear that the grazing policy is designed to deprive host communities of their lands are in legions. Their fear is made worse by the refusal of decision makers to consider the issue from a business angle which imposes a duty on the herdsmen and or their overlords to acquire ranches or grazing fields in their home states or towns. Alternatively, they can acquire same in communities outside their own under conditions that do not seems to impugn on the rights of their hosts. This way, the federal government will not be seen as applying subtle force on state governments to produce grazing lands.
The fears entertained by host communities, including victims of Fulani herdsmen ferocious and murderous brutality are not altogether unfounded. That is, if one considers the herdsmen’s antecedents. According to very credible sources, they are itinerary migrants mainly from Niger, Mali and other Magreb countries who brought their cattle southwards to graze in lush green vegetations. They became temporary guests of mainly agrarian communities, sometime staying for between one and three years before heading back to their home bases. Intermittently, the return their host communities only to go back home again. With time, they began to hire local hands to assist them in taking the cattle to rich grazing areas in the hinterlands. In so doing, they extended their stay period to between five and ten years.
However, peaceful co-existence reigned. But sooner than later, relationship between them and their host communities began to witness some strains as population of host communities began to increase leading to more demands for farmlands. The option before the hosts was unmistakable-the herdsmen must take their herds to other areas in order to create more farmsteads for the aborigines.
In addition to the demand-induced rise in tension, resulting from an equally rising population, the mutual co-existence understanding between the forebears of both the host communities and their guests fell into the wrong hands of their more volatile younger generations who concluded that they have more rights to the lands. On the one hand, the natives felt that the herdsmen had become unwanted guests who surreptitiously took over their land without a thought for their agrarian life of their hosts while the herdsmen were, on the other hand, convinced that having stayed in the host communities for so long, they are part-owners who should be respected and left alone with what belonged to them. It was a combustible mix, a recipe for an inevitable but avoidable catastrophe that has since extended beyond initial boundaries.
The ensuing tension was further aggravated when the herdsmen not only unilaterally threw their temporary resident status to the winds they also began to make deeper southward forays using their first host communities as staging posts. Since then, they became harbingers of death, rape and unmitigated destruction.
Even then, it does not require a rocket scientist to conclude that there is an urgent need for a holistic plan to sort out ensuing crises. The real problem is that the federal government does not appear to be looking in that direction with its grazing policy which, at best, is a time bomb, waiting to explode. Buhari, the thinking goes, is a Fulani who seems to be implementing his kinsmen’s agenda.
A time may come when a president from another part of the country who does not share today’s sentiments with regards to the grazing may emerge. He may decide to revoke the policy, a move that could trigger an outpour of emotions, enough to put the nation in harm’s way. This can be avoided right now by reconsidering the grazing policy.