Nnimmo Bassey, an environmental activist, is the Executive Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF). He spoke with SEYI TAIWO-OGUNTUASE on the uncontrolled killings by the Fulani herdsmen in some parts of the country, and its foreseeable implication to food security, among other issues. Excerpts: (Farmers Cattle Colonies)
The ongoing killings of farmers by Fulani herdsmen appear intractable. What in your view would be the lasting solution and do you see the proposed cattle colonies perform the much-expected succour?
I do not think that having cattle colonies will bring an end to the conflicts between farmers and herdsmen in Nigeria.
This is because colony requires land and the clashes between herdsmen and farmers are not about land.
So, if you take thousands of hectares of land in any community it means the land and access to the land is changed and it means that farmers who were farming on the land would have to leave and I believe the idea of colonies is because the government genuinely wants to resolve the conflict between herders and farmers.
We have to look at the options, many people have said we need to have ranches like it is been done in other countries of the world.
Ranches can be established in many parts of the country and since this is a business it must be treated as such.
The owner of the ranch can do it in a way that can combine both the current nomadic nature of these herders as well as actually staying in one place and take care of the cattle.
The movement of animals has to be more strategic. You cannot move animals into somebody else’s farm; if the area that is predominantly producing cattle have some sufficient grazing grounds. For example, if Lake Chad is charged and the volume of water there is needed for irrigation to restore the farming lands it will reduce the needs for nomads to travel far to look for grazing grounds and prevents farmers and herders conflict.
We also have to ensure that our environment is regenerated and should all be committed to planting trees and keep our environment green and everybody has a responsibility in this to stop deforestation.
One other thing I will like to say is that cattle rearing is not particular to any ethnic group, it is generally assumed that if you are a herder you must be a Fulani but there are herders who are not Fulani and we cannot conclude the issue as an ethnic problem or nationality because nothing stops our farmers across the country from taking care of cattle because there are some cattle that are peculiar to a certain parts of the country.
Equally in fishing, fishermen are not only the ones in rivers or Cross rivers State, fishermen are all over the country, Argungu Fishing Festival which is one of the biggest festivals in Nigeria is not in the Atlantic Ocean is somewhere else so, all these we have to look at, what is to be done? Everyone has a duty; every part of this nation has a part to play to that and even the government so we can avoid conflict.
So, what solutions would you proffer because a lot of people have said the assailants are not Nigerians?
Well, there could be truth in some of these assertions that some of these pastoralists are not from Nigeria.
The borders of our country were set by the colonial masters and their families leave across the borders and people move naturally across the borders.
The borders are imaginary lines which we were forced to police and protect. So, what need to do is a question that the Government need to address, it is not enough to give an explanation that the herders are not from here, how did they get in here, can’t there be a system of accessing people coming in and verifying goods coming in and if they are permitted to come in how long are they staying?
There must be a record of who and who is in a particular territory at any point in time. We have freedom of movement in ECOWAS, but there must be a way of verifying who is moving from one place to the other, these are the things the government needs to do.
If you tell me that they are not Nigerians whose duty is it to make sure that they don’t come in?
It is the duty of the citizens of the duty of the government, that’s why we have Government that’s why we have immigration officers, that is why we have enforcement agencies and for people to move around freely with legal weapons that are not also the duty of the citizens to stop people from carrying ammunition.
There are many reasons why people can carry arms like that, sometimes you go on the highways you find people wearing T-shirt ,jeans trousers and some are wearing sandals carrying riffles they will even stop you telling you they are special anti-robbery squad now we have people who can dress casually carry automatic weapon and say they are security officers, people can also think that the cattle herders maybe special government forces because they are not wearing uniforms people are not carrying arms only in uniforms people are carrying arms in mufti.
So, we need to check how many licenses or how much of permission is granted to people to move about in the public with riffles and automatic weapons without wearing recognizable or security arm force uniform it is really scary.
I personally get worried whenever I come in contact with these people. The people carrying weapons around without wearing uniforms are a problem which needs to be urgently addressed. It encourages people to also pretend they are government officials so people can penetrate communities, move around and commit havoc under that guise.
So these are some of the things the government needs to check. Apart from that, I think the ministry of agriculture has been making a lot of statements about how they would like to stop this conflict.
What is the implication of this to food security perhaps in one, two or three because the negative side may not be noticeable immediately?
That’s true! I think the violence that we have seen in terms of the herders and farmers conflicts will eventually lead to some changes in the way we approach the provision of animal protein and that could either be positive or negative but what we want is to be positive so that our cattle can produce more meat and also produce more milk.
Violence, especially in the South East, has also affected farmers being able to grow their crops. You talk about the Boko Haram conflict in the North; the herders burning people’s farms and attacking communities across the country and farmers in different parts of the country that also affect the provision of food because farmers don’t feel safe to go to their farms.
Farmers are going to look for other ways of living. Maybe they all move to the cities looking for what services they can provide to the city dwellers?
So, this is going to cause migration to the cities, affect food production in the country and possibly lead to the country to be more dependent on other countries for food supply.
Some people have jokingly or seriously said Nigerians should boycott meat, that no one should eat meat for the meantime, do you also share in that and is that possible?
It is difficult; some people will definitely change their dietary pattern. There are many people who don’t eat meat at all and animal products some eat only fish, some eat only poultry and some don’t eat red meat.
So, the current crisis can make people move away from it and if everybody can make that shift eventually is healthier. But there are lots of people who love meat and cannot do without it, they will continue to eat meat. So, the pastoralist will always have a market to sell their product.