Herdsmen challenge: Grow grass in Chad and Mali


The murderous herdsmen are once again on the rampage; about a score of innocent Nigerian lives have been lost in the latest attacks. (Our hearts go out to the victim families in Benue State). This challenge has become insufferable; it is time we found an enduring solution to it. The unsettling incidences of foreign-looking herdsmen attacks on Nigerians on their legitimate lands are fast approaching emergency proportions, with the Federal Government seeming unnervingly clueless on how to curb the menace, even as the menace wreaks havoc on the citizenry. One finds the Federal Government’s lackluster disposition to solving the herdsmen challenge absolutely condemnable.

This is all the more so because security, apart from being a principal responsibility of government, the incumbent Federal Government had made security of lives and property one of the cardinal points of its electioneering campaign. The other reason why l find the Federal Government’s disposition objectionable, is that an effective check on the herdsmen menace is not as farfetched as the Federal Government would have us believe, unless there is more to the challenge than our security agencies are telling the world.

The Jury has long turned in its considered verdict on the main cause for these attacks: grass for grazing. This is the reason Benue State, the nation’s food basket, has remained the leading victim of the herdsmen attacks. On the heels of that verdict, all manner of proposals have been put forward in the uncoordinated efforts to find sufficient grass for the cattle within our borders; including the less-than-imaginative idea of importing grass, proposed by no less a personage than a senior cabinet minister of a government that is supposedly promoting export for made-in-Nigeria goods(!) It would appear, however, that the generality of opinions seem to weigh in favour of ranching.

But I am not persuaded that ranching is feasible, much-less prove sustainable in our circumstances, where population explosion, the quest for accelerated national industrialism, massive erosions and seasonal flooding are exerting unprecedented pressure on land. I should commend the voluminous proceedings of the series of Roundtable Discussions on the incessant conflicts at our Northwest and Northeast borders, under the auspices of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), to anyone desirous of a deeper understanding of the herdsmen challenge.

Now, it is also a concluded fact that most of these herdsmen are from the Republics of Chad and Mali. Both countries are each larger than Nigeria in landmass, but much smaller in population. Chad is approximately 1.28 million square kilometers; while Mali is approximately 1.24 million square kilometers. Chad has a population of about 13 million; while Mali’s population stands just below 19 million (2017 global figures). On the other hand, Nigeria has a landmass of less than 1million square kilometers, with a population that has variously been put between 160 million and 180 million. Logically speaking, therefore, a sustainable solution to the herdsmen challenge should be sought within the borders whence the problem comes. The need to optimally employ hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of idle lands, in addition to the humanitarian consideration to save the 21st century man from the pre-middle-ages’ trauma of trekking hundreds of miles to eke out a living, makes this option compelling. (One does not need to be a psychologist to know that the herdsmen’s demonstrated barbarism correlates directly with the traumatic nature of their work).

Of course, the naysayers would impulsively yell, “Not at all feasible; Chad and Mali are virtual deserts!” But I would retort that, “So also was Dubai of the United Arab Emirates, a little over a generation ago!” Today, the city of Dubai fields some of the best golf courses on the planet; thanks to the good old maxim, “where there is a will, there is always a way.” It has since become a growing culture for Nigerian politicians to hold their exclusive meetings in Dubai. And Nigerians now generally look to the former desert as a preferred tourist destination; therefore, the federal government should be able to borrow a leaf or two from the UAE’s leaders on how to turn an arid region into a kingdom of virtual lush-lawns.

It then stands to reason that if the West African regional collective leadership has the will, it could make grass grow in abundance in both Chad and Mali. This is what environmental and economic logic enjoins on both the regional leadership and the African Development Bank (AfDB), so to do. Grow grass on these expansive spare lands, and ranch the surplus cattle therein. It is expected that Nigeria, both in her capacity as the sub-regional economic power and a victim of the rampaging herdsmen, should lead this giant investment initiative. Incidentally, this initiative is in sync with Nigeria’s much advertised ambition to be enlisted among the 20 most industrialized countries in 2020 – a country aspiring to such an elitist club can ill-afford to have poorly-clad herdsmen and gaunt cattle roaming her capital cities! Also, it is expected that Nigeria would aggressively lobby the United Nations, the European Union and other related international bodies to support the proposed initiative, if only for the latter’s potential positive impact on African immigration. I cannot help thinking of the initiative as a would-be investment bankers’ delight.

Furthermore, since spare lands are in abundance in both Chad and Mali, meat-processing plants should be factored into the development proposal for the export of beef products to Europe and North America. Of course, this proposal would by no means be a walk in the park; a lot of hard work is inherent in it. But as another popular maxim goes, “Great things don’t come easy.” Unfortunately, the culture of hard work is not yet our forte in these parts. We are more of wealth consumers than we are creators of wealth. Were the reverse the case, Africa would today rank among the 10 leading economies in the world. Africa has all the components of wealth creation in abundance. She has the spare lands; the natural resources; the populations (intelligent, young and vibrant); location (strategically located in global market – center of the world); favourable climatic conditions, etc. Too good to be true; but it is true.

One could well conclude that Nigeria’s current herdsmen challenge inadvertently presents Africa with opportunities to grow her per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP); therefore, let Africa grow grass aplenty in her expansive deserts, and finally nip the herdsmen challenge in the bud. The rest of the world is watching Africa, wondering when the last sleeping giant would wake up. It’s hoped that the embarrassment of both the present fuel shortages and the herdsmen-security-breaches in Nigeria would rouse the federal government to live up to its critical obligations to the citizenry in 2018. So, I dare to wish us all a “Happy New Year.”
Nkemdiche is consulting engineer, wrote from Abuja.

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