Violence by Fulani herdsmen has become so commonplace in the past three months that it barely elicits a response when it makes it to the front pages of the news.
Perhaps we can somewhat claim that part of the problem is that peculiar strain of indifference which makes many Nigerians indifferent to issues which happen outside of their own states. To be sure, the problem of herdsmen, land and grazing rights has long been a cause of continual friction in many parts of Nigeria.
Sadly, the government’s response has been predictably lackluster and in that Nigerian manner, government’s response seems doomed to remain reactionary.
The easiest way to understand the herdsmen problem is to take a quote from Niccolo Machiavelli, “as the physicians say it happens in hectic fever, that in the beginning of the malady it is easy to cure but difficult to detect, but in the course of time, not having been either detected or treated in the beginning, it becomes easy to detect but difficult to cure”.
The government’s most recent solution to violence caused by herdsmen has been two pronged; first a mandate by President Muhammadu Buhari to the Agriculture minister, Chief Audu Ogbeh to establish 50,000 hectares of land across Nigeria as grazing area and a bill to that effect.
The bill to establish a National Grazing reserve has passed the second reading in Nigeria’s National Assembly. Curiously, it is the third attempt to pass the bill into law (Two failed attempts in 2008 and 2011 were sponsored by Zainab Kure).
There are more than a few disturbing aspects of the bill but by far the most disturbing concerns how the bill will affect the land use act.
The Commission may take over the ownership, control and management of any existing Grazing Reserve and stock routes from any State Government on such terms and conditions as may be agreed between the Commission and the State concerned.
It goes on to state;
Before any land is constituted as National Grazing Reserve and Stock routes, under the provisions of section 17 (1) (a) of this Act, due notice shall be given to the State Governor, where such land is situate, by the Commission on behalf of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, of the intention of the Commission to constitute such land as National Grazing Reserve and stock routes and after the acquisition, same shall be published in the official Gazette of the Federal Government and…”
In solving a land dispute between herdsmen who have no land and the farmers who are the legitimate owners of the land, the National Grazing reserves bill attempts to legalize land grabbing. It is equally worrying that the bill seeks to protect the herdsmen instead of the farmers who are legitimate owners of the land.
We must ask ourselves why the herdsmen aren’t encouraged to open ranches instead of depending on the Federal government to gift them parcels of land for their cattle to graze at no cost.
Again, the Nigerian government’s penchant for quick fixes has created a bill which has all the familiar signs of worsening the problem. If the bill seems to have good intentions, then we must remind ourselves that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.