Agriculture is new frontier, beware of the herdsmen

Fulani-HerdsmenI recently read a social media post where a lady who visited KFC in Nigeria, ordered fries with her chicken, but was told to substitute her fries for jollof rice because they were out of potatoes which they currently imported. Due to the plunging market prices for oil and the resulting lack of U.S Dollars in circulation, Nigerians are becoming ever more painfully aware of just how much we import that could be produced locally.

Consequently, the Nigerian government has renewed its focus on growing other industries including agriculture and mining.

Already, a number of Nigerian youth have started building their agricultural empires, farming fruits, vegetables and livestock for local consumption and exportation. Companies such as Natural Nutrient has been successful in marketing Moringa, and Reel Fruits has also achieved major success in producing packaged dry fruit snacks, all sourced from local farm produce.

But before you get too excited about joining the new generation of Nigerian “Agro-preneurs” in their farming adventures, you must be aware of an age-old practice that has now morphed into a major security threat to the agriculture industry in Nigeria … “the armed herdsmen.”

On February 23, 2016, four farming communities within Agatu Local Government Area of Benue State known for their yams, cassava, and bean farms, were attacked by herdsmen who burned down the villages and slaughtered a large number of people. A month prior to that on January 24, 2016, farmers and residents of more than five villages in Girei Local Government Area of Adamawa State were victims of herdsmen attack which claimed over 60 lives.

Who are these herdsmen?

Nomadic herdsmen in Nigeria popularly known as Fulani herdsmen have for many years operated a cattle grazing migration system. When the season in the arid north switches to dry, herdsmen and their cattle move to the southern part of Nigeria in search of green pastures. Similarly, when the rainy season starts in the south, they commence the return journey back to the north.

This practice was tolerable until Nigeria’s population started to boom. A nation of 60 million people in the 50’s has burgeoned to one of over 170 million today. In order to feed the multitude of people, more farms have sprung up across the countryside, which also happens to be along the grazing path of the herdsmen. Without major concern for the sweat and toil of the farmers, the migrating herdsmen happily lead their cattle to graze on these farms. Farmers began retaliating against these herdsmen and the herdsmen began arming themselves to fight back and protect their cattle.

In recent times, there have been frequent clashes between farmers and herdsmen across the country. In January 2016, the Oyo State police command attempted to broker a peace meeting between farmers and Fulani herdsmen. During the meeting, “the farmers accused herdsmen of grazing on their crops without restriction, raping their women, threatening farmers, and using dangerous weapons to rob innocent road commuters. The herdsmen also accused the farmers of killing their animals by poisoning the water which their cattle drink.”

The Fulani herdsmen insist that those groups perpetrating violent acts are non-resident herdsmen. So, if the Nigeria Police and the herdsmen all insist the individuals perpetrating these crimes are not the Fulani who have been peacefully grazing their cattle from time past, then who are these people?

Introducing the nomadic criminals

It turns out that these “nomadic criminals” represent a new generation of herdsmen who are not concerned about cattle grazing. These nomadic criminals go to towns and villages under the guise of being herdsmen, destroying farms, looting villages and slaughtering anyone they come in contact with. They are armed with all sorts of weapons ranging from bows and arrows to sophisticated rifles. “The extreme violence of these marauders cannot be underestimated.”

They attacked and slaughtered a group of palm wine tappers they encountered in Delta State, they recently kidnapped a prominent Yoruba statesman for ransom in Ondo State, and have gone as far as razing villages if the farmers and residents protest their actions.

Nomadic criminal attacks persist because of low presence of law enforcement personnel along their paths. Residents of Agatu stated that while the attacks on the various villages were going on, there were no security personnel available. This was the same case in the Adamawa attacks which started at 3 a.m. and lasted till about 10am with security personnel arriving well after the herdsmen had left. We have long concluded that the Nigeria Police lack the manpower, funds and mobile resources to respond to security incidences within major cities, let alone in rural towns and villages. Nomadic criminals keep perpetrating their vicious acts because they get away with it. No one is ever caught or persecuted.

What can be done?

Aside from the Nigeria Police, there is another security agency that really should be the primary driver in ending the nomadic criminal activity and that is the DSS. The DSS was established to carry out intelligence and investigation functions to protect the domestic landscape of Nigeria from threats. They have nationwide jurisdiction and are better placed to check cross-state border criminal activities. They should have the necessary software analytical and geospatial (mapping) tools that can be used to properly gather information about national migration patterns of herdsmen and the various faction characteristics.

Domestic intelligence

There is a genuine lack of understanding of who these nomadic criminals are and that is where the DSS should step up and collect domestic intelligence for proper cultural awareness.

For instance, these nomadic criminals are being categorized as Fulani herdsmen and this is wrong. Some of these individuals are actually from other parts of Africa. The Fulani cut across other parts of the continent and the non-Nigerian Fulani need to be identified and categorized accordingly. Their operating characteristics and typical migration paths need to be fully known, tracked and documented.

Most Nigerians who operate bank accounts have been biometrically enrolled into the BVN database system. But nomadic herdsmen who are constantly on the move, with no stable physical address or bank accounts are somehow still operating as unknown entities. Portable biometric enrollment devices can be used to get the Nigerian herdsmen documented “in the system.”

There is another faction of nomadic herdsmen that operate sophisticated weapons and arrive in villages on motorcycles. These motorcycle herdsmen are the ones that have carried out several attacks around Adamawa State and operate similar to Boko Haram where they attack villages, looting and maiming at will. This group is also being lumped into the single Fulani herdsmen moniker which shouldn’t be the case.

If the DSS can work on gathering the needed information directly from the ground and from the various local entities, their analysts can piece this information together and provide sensible intelligence about the different herdsmen factions, migration patterns, routes, nomadic criminal hotspots, farming activities and so on.

This information can then be shared with the country’s decision-makers who will then be in a better position to make sensible decisions and implement solid plans. For instance, cultural intelligence may reveal that the herdsmen are tired of grazing and will welcome ranch settlements. Or it may reveal that they are unwilling to remain static, thus carving out designated migration routes would work best.

The information gleaned can also be shared with the various security agencies which can then deploy their operatives to strategic locations based on past patterns and real-time updates of herdsmen movement.

What is being done about them?

There are several arguments on how to end the herdsmen and nomadic criminal menace. Some groups have proposed that the government carve out specific grazing paths that the herdsmen should follow thereby preventing them from accessing and destroying farmlands and villages.

Opponents of this idea say migration grazing cannot continue in the 21st century, the cattle need to be tended to in a static area. Other groups agree that the government should designate some land as grazing reserves which should be given to the herdsmen to settle in and tend to their cattle. Opponents of this idea say that land cannot be freely given to anyone and that since the herdsmen are selling their cattle for a profit, they should operate for-profit ranches and pay accordingly.

Farmers and herdsmen truly can benefit from one another; the farmers can use cow dung for fertilizer while the herdsmen can use chaff and other farming by-products as cow feed. Despite all these ideas the crisis still persists. The bottom line is that there has been a lot of talk and but now, there needs to be more action.

Twitter: @bulwark_intel

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