Soon after the Nigerian government denied having a N100 billion deal with Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) to end armed banditry in the country, sister body of the local nomadic Fulani group, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore confirmed demanding the amount from the government.
Mr Saleh Alhassan, the Secretary of the MAKH who made the confirmation in a Punch newspaper report did deny seeking the amount as ransom, but for the construction of ranches. However, a ‘security meeting’ as the one led by the Minister of Interior, Mr. Abdulrahaman Danbazzau in Birnin Kebbi, the capital of Kebbi State on Friday May 3, 2019, involving only a section of the conflict community leaves much to suspect. There was no representative from those suffering from kidnapping, banditry and other acts of criminality which the government ransom, if true, technically confirms to be perpetrated by members of MACBAN.
In fact, even the Nomadic Fulani community, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore included, was not well represented at the meeting. There are about seven registered, nationally recognized Fulani Associations in Nigeria but only MACBAN which recently became popular for justifying armed herdsmen attacks on communities was dialogued with.
In the first place, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides clear punishments for all offenses – criminal and civil. This includes such crimes most frequently ascribed to nomadic herdsmen: assault, rape, trespass, theft and murder.
What the law says
The Criminal Code Act (1990) in Section 355 says “Any person who unlawfully assaults another and thereby does him harm is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for three years. Section 252 defines assault as an act by “A person who strikes, touches, or moves, or otherwise applies force of any kind to, the person of another, either directly or indirectly, without his consent, or with his consent, if the consent is obtained by fraud, or who by any bodily act or gesture attempts or threatens to apply force of any kind to the person of another without his consent, in such circumstances that the person making the attempt or threat has actually or apparently a present ability to effect his purpose.”
Also, Section 357 of the Nigerian Criminal Code Act states, “Any person who has unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or girl, without her consent, or with her consent, if the consent is obtained by force or by means of threats or intimidation of any kind, or by fear of harm, or by means of false and fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act, or, in the case of a married woman, by personating her husband, is guilty of an offence which is called rape.” The punishment for such as specified by Section 358 is “imprisonment for life, with or without caning.”
Section 41 of the 1999 Constitution generally provides that every citizen of Nigeria is "entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria". However, Section 33(2)(a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 provides amongst other things that a person is entitled to take lawful steps in defending his property.
Therefore, as stated by Section 289 of the Criminal Code Act, “It is lawful for any person who is in peaceable possession of any movable property, and for any person acting by his authority, to use such force as is reasonably necessary in order to resist the taking of such property by a trespasser, or in order to retake it from a trespasser, provided that he does not do harm to the trespasser. The minimum punishment for trespass as stated by the relevant laws, if such act does not result in malicious damage is payment of compensation as Damages, Injunction or recovery of the property if such has been taken in ownership.
In the same vein, Chapter 27 of the Criminal Code Act stipulates death penalty or at least life imprisonment for murder and seven years imprisonment for “Any person who unlawfully does grievous harm to another” in Chapter 28, Section 335. Additionally, Section 3 of the Terrorism (Prevention) (Amendment) Act, 2013 provides that Any person who intentionally- (a) murders, kidnaps or commits other attacks on the person or liberty of an internationally protected persons, (b) carries out a violent attack on the official premises, private accommodation or means of transport of an internationally protected person in a manner likely to endanger his person or liberty, or (c) threatens to commit any such attack, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to life imprisonment.
What government says
Instead of applying these and other related laws dispassionately however, the Nigerian government often pays lip-service, denies existence of the crimes, justifies the acts or as in the latest case, dialogues with and possibly pacifies the suspects. Recall that Gov. Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State had in December 2016 said he had paid some Fulnani herdsmen in faraway Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Mali and Senegal among others to stop killing citizens in Southern Kaduna. He was later quoted as saying he acquired that model from Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong.
Gov. Lalong has not made any public pronouncement to that effect but he has said in a local TV news report that he had offered appointments to Nomadic herdsmen for there to be peace in his State. He has equally been alleged to have paid compensation for “rustled cattle” amounting to millions of naira to the nomadic herders since he came into office in 2015. This is aside of the thousands of hectares of land purportedly allocated for use as grazing reserves.
Perhaps, a meeting of all parties to the conflict, to find generally acceptable and long lasting solutions could be more fruitful. Recall that the grazing reserve animal husbandry system was first introduced in the 1960s and 1970s did not come from general consensus between farmers and herders. It was merely imposed on the people and certainly did not foresee the current trends in civilization and urbanization – population growth included.
Population growth and urbanization which increases pressure on land also poses threats to the success of the ‘ranching’ policy which appears to be popular. Ranching by all standards requires a stoking density of two cows per hectare. In other words, a standard ranch should have not more than two cows in one hectare (that is, 10,000 square metres or 2 football fields).
This is not to talk of the fact that our socioeconomic dynamics are obviously inimical to a system of animal husbandry such as cattle colony. A case in point is the rearing of pigs by people whose beliefs support such within the same space shared with cattle herders whose beliefs abhor pigs and the likes. Moreover, cattle colonies and the attendant socio-cultural and political consequences of nodal urbanisation indeed have enormous historical implications.
The recently introduced ‘The National Livestock Transformation Plan’ of the Federal Government is no different from the previous models. The plan is neither clearly defined nor designed in consultation with local farmers. No wonder, non-herder populations in places like Benue have kicked against it.
Perhaps, even if the Federal Government would not have the time and resources to consult with all stakeholders in the farmer-herder conflicts in the country, a policy that provides a fair deal for all affected parties, such as livestock alimentation is more sustainable. This would be replicating the agricultural loans and other packagers enjoyed by crop farmers under the Anchor Borrower Program, Agricultural Development Program and the likes for animal farmers.
Livestock alimentation, the possible solution
Livestock alimentation practice, otherwise referred to as the feedlot animal husbandry system, involves caging animals in a well equipped paddock as against the open grazing system. It is so much an imitation of existing poultry farming practices in cows, pigs, goats, and sheep rearing. This will invariably rouse a symbiosis between crop farmers and livestock herders and spur the emergence of a new economy at the grassroots.
It will equally check trespass and other threats that open-grazing poses. Already, aside of the existing law on trespass and damage to property, an Abeokuta High Court judgment with Reference No. AB/26/66 on 17th April 1969 delivered by Hon. Justice Adewale Thompson forms precedence for determination on any matter regarding open-grazing in Nigeria.
The alimentation program, if adopted however would naturally limit free movement and ultimately reduce clashes between herders and farmers. It will also reduce controversies over land resources among others. Other benefits include that it would provide an opportunity for children of the herders to go to school and acquire modern knowledge that could even impact the business positively. It will also keep the animals from the hazards of open grazing such as diseases and pests, poaching and rustling among others, as well as improve the quality of Nigerian dairy products for exports and local consumption.
In any case, any policy or peace move that is not well researched, not all-encompassing, not widely discussed and not clearly defined or explained is bound to face resistance. The Federal government must therefore stop playing politics and start sincerely carrying out politics according to international standards.