Augustine C. OhanweFriday, May 9, 2014
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igerians have sensed that we are living through a period of tremendous crisis. The fever of the politics of ‘do or die’ power struggle and ethnic nationalists demanding for the nation to be restructured are here with us. Reaction against religious bigotry is smouldering across the nation. The Bolsheviks, the authors of the October Revolution in Russia harboured religious bigotry, and in order to protect their citizens from what they perceived as pernicious influence of religion, they converted the church into museum. But in Nigeria, churches and worshipers are burnt. The sky that shelters our nation has collapsed, hell seems empty and all the devils relocated to our nation. The breeze within the nation is not a refreshing one and there exists no proffered hope for the troubled nation.

However a national conference has been inaugurated. The main aim of the on-going Conference is for the representatives of multiethnic nationalities to congregate in one hall, in order to cross-pollinate ideas that would give birth to a new compass, pointing the acceptable path for the nation. Even though participants in the Conference have the democratic license to air their thoughts, it is condemnable for any person or group of persons to deliberately advance an idea that is pregnant with explosive potentials. Taking such a position is akin to constructing with one hand and destroying with the other. It’s not what the conference is all about. Representatives at the Conference should, I suppose, cease this historical opportunity to midwife the birth of a new era.

Based on the transparent fact that Nigeria is beset with ethnic and religious dichotomy, unhealthy competition and terrorist activities which has subjected the foundation of the nation to a cracking and bleeding mood, there is no wisdom or cogent reasons for inclusion on the agenda for discussion, the item of ‘grazing reserve’ in the south for pastoral nomads from the northern part of Nigeria. The ugly lessons gathered from the intermittent clashes between cattle herders and crop farmers in Platue, Benue, Nassarawa states and similar news from Edo, Imo, Abia, Anambra, as well as from many places in Yoruba land could have discouraged proponents of the idea. It’s indeed an ill-conceived item which does not deserve a fevered debate and should not be given the oxygen of publicity any longer. My position is that the item of grazing reserve for northern herders in the southern communities will definitely add coal to the fire of the existing tension.

The importance of livestock is undeniable. It provides meat, milk, hides etc to sustain our teeming population. Apart from the food it provides, it has other traditional and social functions too. Cattle are used as a part of dowry during marriage in some part of the country, for burial rituals, for compensation of the injured parties in a community feuds. Cattle are also used as a symbol of prosperity and prestige, among other things. However, what is unsettling about nomadic herders is that for centuries, while the tides of history have swirled around, the herders have kept to their traditional nomadic ways. Animal rearing that involves trekking many kilometers to sustain the livestock should be viewed as primitive. Culture is, after all not static, but dynamic. Dynamic process here implies assimilation of new ideas and ideals brought about by science and technology as well by social and political evolution.

The idea of offering herders grazing reserves in the south of the country is not going to be a wonderful solution, because such idea has\a built-in conflict generating factor. Muslim cattle herders from the north, when offered grazing reserve in the south will definitely create a unique herders’ village that will trigger intermittent clashes with the host community. The fear held by certain individuals that the settled herders will in future impose their rigid norms which, will run at crossroad purpose with those of their host communities, should not be taken lightly. There is therefore a logical reason to nip the hidden consequences in the bud.

Second, overgrazing in a particular reserve will have negative impact upon plant biodiversity. Another question begging for an answer is: What will happen when the grazing zone is exhausted? The herders will be forced to migrate to the nearest cross border in order to sustain their herd. Such movements into new grazing land and watering point will lead into crop-growing area. The consequence is predictable – herder farmer conflict over natural resources and this incursion could result in casualties and fatalities. History has confirmed this.

I am not going to expatiate on the grandiose designs held by many as the main political underpinning behind the grazing reserve agenda. I have rather chosen to limit myself to the negative impacts revolving around conflicts and destruction of biodiversity which the implementation of grazing reserve will generate, as well as calling on our scientists to bring out their tools and fix the problem of confronting the cattle herders.

Facts on ground and suggestions

Environmental conditions have provided limited opportunities for cattle herders in the northern part of the country. This has in turn compelled the pastorals to mobile livestock rearing. I am of the view that the limitation should be viewed as a huge challenge requiring our scientists to help the pastoral nomads overcome the environmental huddles imposed by Mother Nature, instead of proposing migration down south to acquire grazing reserve. By advancing such proposal, our scientists seem to be handling the situation with lethargic touch of levity instead of being the Moses that can lead the nomadic herders’ outdated system to a modern method. How the pastoral nomads are in tune with time should be an important item on the scientists’ agenda

Our pastoral nomads should be taught to switch over to the new changes which time has brought to our door steps. In a nuclear age, it degrades, watching cattle herders trekking many kilometers, whipping and controlling their cattle along the high way. Apart from wrecking farm havoc and fomenting community clashes in many places, herders on the motor way have caused many accidents or slowed down the velocity of moving vehicles thereby creating traffic gridlocks. Feasting our eyes on the huge cattle excreta along the road does not constitute a fun.

Sedantarization of nomads is a panacea that can remedy the negative impact of pastoral nomadic life. Sendantarization is a process of fixing formally nomadic population into a non mobile community. But it will be chimerical to suppose that the suggested change leading to a fixed abode will come without difficulty. The tendency to resist new idea is as old as history. The nomads will sacrifice a lot to resist change. Based on historical experience, those with a disposition to challenge established views or obsolete traditions have to stand against the resistance of force of conservatism and stagnation. And there seems to be nothing as difficulty as changing a system. This is so because it prides itself on the fact that is old - nomadic way is no exception. Switching from one system to another could be painful and sometimes costly. Fixed settlement of nomadic herders will bring about increased demand for fodder for livestock keepers to sustain their herd in a settled environment, and this requires state governments of the nomadic herders’ assistance to settle in their respective states in the north. Such assistance can come in form of generous grants, incentives or free interest loans to settled pastoral nomads. Bore holes closer to the nomads' barns plus a large storage facilitates for cattle's food could be offered to them among other things.

Nomadic herders can also be helped to purchase land in their state of origin and diversify by integrating livestock with cropping activities. They can as well collect animal excreta from their settled environment and use them as manure in their small farm holdings. Accomplishment of this, (sedentary and mixed farming) will equally introduce them to the idea of feeding crop residues from their small farm to their animals, but still depending largely on their pastoral profession. Furthermore, excess crop residues can also be sold to their colleagues or stored for future use. Also useful if not necessary is to assign visiting veterinary doctors to the settled nomads’ barns to monitor the health condition of their livestock.

One big merit of sedentary way of herders is that their children will cease to define pastoral nomadism as the exclusive profession of their family lineage. Children who used to accompany their fathers in herding their cattle, will, under the settled environment, go to school or learn other trades. Humans are endowed with different skills; children of herder are no exception. They should be allowed to choose whether to become carpenters, tailors, journalists, herders or lawyers.