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Malamis controversial pastoralism commission

Published by The Nation on Sat, 20 Feb 2021


UnderTowOn the issue of herdsmen and what is to be done with them, many public commentators have talked themselves to ruin, while others have said just about the right things to smear themselves with a healthy coating of public approval. Even those who have operated outside the law have been celebrated as heroes, who have taken the bull by the horns; and anyone who has dared to oppose the outlaws has not been spared public opprobriumgovernor and peasant alike. Examples are not hard to come by. Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State and Sheikh Mahmoud Gumi, Islamic cleric and now bandit whisperer, can tell. No one needed to be put wise that except necessary, it was generally safe to skirt the polarising issues of herdsmen and banditry, which have divided sentiments among even top Nigerians, than air any controversial opinions. Not Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, who never shies away from controversy, perhaps even glorying in it.Speaking at a lecture through the agency of a media aide on Tuesday, the senior advocate joined the ongoing battle of ideas on what should become of herdsmen and their business. Ideas that have preceded his include the expulsion of all herdsmen from the southwest, dialogue and amnesty, the Rural and Grazing Act (RUGA), speculatively the Water Resources Bill, banning of open grazing, ranching, and even boycotting of herdsmen and the products of their cattle. Everyone seems to have something to say about them and so it was understandable that despite the imminent danger and risk, Mr Malami was afflicted by a compulsion to throw in his legal sentiment. Many who have heard his opinion are convinced he did not think the matter through as well as he could and should have. A minority believes he knows the right thing, but has a special interest job to perform.He suggested: It is not out of place for me to say that simply addressing farmer-herder crisis from purely theoretical perspectives often devoid of reality and without synchronization with the needs and aspirations of the involved stakeholders is not only counter-productive but inimical to the emergence and sustenance of a peaceful and prosperous Nigeria. It is against this backdrop that I proffer the following recommendations for the consideration of the symposium: The setting up of regulated grazing reserves to replace the Burtali or Hurumi pastoral system Intensive enlightenment to livestock breeders on the need for sedentary farming and transhumance agriculture as complementary economic process to nomadic farming. Provision of water holes in remote grazing locations, subsidized veterinary care and mobile ambulatory services for surgeries and other medical interventions for livestock. Provision of infrastructuresocial amenities, educational facilities and cattle markets at central locations to accelerate nomadic settlements It is perhaps time to consider setting up of a commission for pastoralism regulated by law. This might provide recipes for resolving protracted farmer-herder conflicts. The commission may even engage in or facilitate in-depth analytical studies with a view to providing lasting solutions for the benefit of people and the country. Revamping of the activities of the Nomadic Education Commission with a view to complementing the efforts of government in resolving the farmer-herder clashes.Until he began to talk about a pastoralism commission, it was easy to think that he was speaking altruistically. It is clear, however, that what he meant was that the government should take up the responsibility of setting them up. The Attorney-General may be idealising something that will not work, given the perennial failures of several federal governments since independence more than 60 years ago to administer resources for the greater good. That will not work, so Mr Malami needs to get his head out of the clouds.The leniency and support the herders, whether criminal or honest, enjoy from the presidency make it appear as though these are excellent times to join their ranks. There are those among them who go about their business in all honesty, grazing their cattle nomadically and causing only environmental damage, but there are the infamous bandits and criminals among them who have diffused their trade with the criminal industry of kidnapping and murder. When a crime becomes organised and profitable enough for its perpetrators to procure enough arms to fight a national army, it has morphed into an industry. Sheikh Gumi, the governments self-appointed eyes and ears among the bandits, can testify to the strength of bandits arsenal.Although livestock has been identified as being responsible for a third of all agricultural GDP, there are reports that show that as at 2018, livestock was responsible for 18 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than transport. It does not get better, for livestock production is also responsible for conflicts, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, overgrazing and even deforestation. In a word, livestock has been putting in a spirited but unnoticed shift in global warming, and this is simply because the activities of herders have gone largely unregulated for decades and would have remained that way had things not come to a head in the Southwest.Previous attempts at regulating grazing did not meet with as much success as they should have. There was the Grazing Reserve Law of 1975, The National Environmental (Watershed, Mountainous, Hilly and Catchment Areas) Regulations of 2009. Some states have also worked hard to regulate grazing by simply outlawing nomadic or open grazing. Benue State, in 2017, passed the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law (2017), which restricted the free movement of cattle in the state and sought to vest the control of ranches for breeding cattle in the Department of Livestock, which is under the Benue State Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Ekiti, Taraba and now Ondo State also have legislations in place to regulate herders activities. Livestock farming cannot, therefore, be banned outright, hence the calls for regulation of grazing. The government is not averse to the idea.This circumspect opening was, however, exploited to excess by Mr Malami, who clearly believes that the departments of livestock in the various states and federal governments cannot do the job. He was expected to have been aware that one of the major political weaknesses of the Nigerian government is duplication of offices. As things stand, many offices and institutions in the federal structure are surplus to requirement and would have fared better if they had been merged with other structures. The cost of governance is already too high, and this is why politics has become a get-rich-quick green pasture for all sorts of people. With the establishment of the senior advocates favoured pastoralism commission, expenses would be incurred. What then is the use of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development'In Edo State, after media reports initially announced that the state government planned to create reserves for the herdsmen, the governor went on a security tour round the state and in a short while, Secretary to Edo State Government, Osarodion Ogie, debunked those reports, noting instead that the government would not cede any land for grazing, as it was a private economic activity, a private business. The federal government does not own the cattle, and it remains suspect if the herdsmen even pay taxes. They carry weapons that they are not licensed to own and some of them revel in crime and criminality as a second stream of income. Mr Malami does not, however, appear to appreciate these nuances on justice, fairness and equal distribution of resources. His position is that the federal government should spoonfeed the herders by creating a special commission for them backed by law, naturally to the redundancy of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.He was not altogether wrong though. Mutual tolerance between host communities and herdsmen remains a viable option, but only after criminal herdsmen and bandits have been brought to book. The wheat must be separated from the tares, while the tares are strictly regulated for continued coexistence with host communities. Mr Malami needs to appreciate the place of justice as he plots the expenditure from federal resources. He must ask himself how fair it is for national funds to be spent at the drop of a hat, especially for causes of dubious benefit to the federation. What is so special about livestock grazing or pastoralism that the federal government should spend so much nurturing the trade, as Mr Malami has suggested above, especially in an era of huge loans and the unending refrain of the shortage of funds for infrastructure in the country' Can the government even be trusted to develop a sustainable blueprint or legal framework for regulating herders activities'The federal government, despite its often inscrutable stance on herdsmen, will most likely regard the Attorney Generals idea with as much attention as it accorded Sheikh Gumi and Governor Bala Mohammedvery littlethough there are suspicions in certain quarters that he speaks, cabalistic style, as the mouthpiece of the presidency. But the country simply lacks the funds to bend to his prejudiced and incongruous suggestions. Although, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, was quick to hop on the amnesty suggestion for bandits, he will remain quiet for now. He has other fish to fry, especially as youths in his state want to impale his political career on a pike of frustration and disappointment. They feel he has not represented them well, and he is unsure how many people probably agree with them and scorn his person and politics.The tension surrounding pastoralism runs beyond the economy and has ramifications in ethnicity and politics. For all its impetuous policy-making and open grazing benevolence, the presidency may still be shamed to disavow Mr Malamis elegant and idealistic plans. So far, governors have been shuttling all over the country and making a show of taking control of the threat to internal peace that herdsmen tensions have triggered. However, there is no indication that the federal government could summon the depth necessary to address the issue with the decisiveness and equity needed, what with Mr Malamis, among others idealising. But who knows, the presidency may yet welcome the innovative suggestions on grazing and insecurity by the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), if it can find common purpose and attention to heed their advice.
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