By Jaye Gaskia
THE choice of the title for this piece is deliberate, and it is the outcome of relentless and agitated, even if cautious, reflection over the issue and phenomenon of what has transitioned from a perennial anomaly to an endemic crisis of increasingly existential dimension for the country.
The window of opportunity for resolving this crisis in a manner that augurs well for the nation and the peoples, and that mitigates the present and clear danger of a potential descent into the anomie of fratricidal conflict, is fast closing; and thence the urgency of now, occasioned by the immediacy of the existential threat.
The historical context for this crisis needs to be restated in order for us to be able to correctly situate the root causes of the present degenerating crisis, as well as the triggers for their perennial recurrence.
Quite a number of academic and politically analytical works have been written on this subject of herders-farmers crisis, its history and origins, its dynamics and dimensions, with a number of them adopting the political economy analytical approach.
I am thus not going to, in this piece; go into any elaborate recounting of this historical context. Rather, a brief overview will suffice for our purpose, which is to try to trigger a conversation around potential rational solutions to the crisis.
A combination of factors is responsible for getting us to where we are right now, at the edge of the precipice. At the very heart and basis of this crisis is the inherent conflict, though potential in nature, between two modes of agricultural systems – between sedentary farmers and pastoralists; that is between settled crop farmers and nomadic cattle farmers.
To be sure this inherent conflictual character is only a potential, it takes poor and inadequate management or the complete absence of management to activate the potential and engender a conflagration.
The damming of several rivers across the north of the country for irrigation purposes to improve agricultural productivity led to significant changes in farming practices, including the transition from seasonal to year-round farming. There was also the reduction in the volume and flow of water further downstream in the dammed rivers.
This combined with growth in the numbers and size of settlements and in population has also put further pressure on the land and on availability of foliage to sustain nomadic cattle rearing and breeding.
Emergent and evolving criminality in rural banditry, including cattle rustling has further compounded the crisis and significantly impacted on the frequency, dimension and dynamics of the crisis.
We can add to this the impact of climate change which has further led to intensified competition for water resources and for healthy foliage to feed the herds. The combined effect of climate change on the availability of water and foliage, is directly responsible for the movement further and further south of the nomad and the herd, as well as for the tendency to stay longer and transition from temporary seasonal settlements to more or less permanent, makeshift year-round settlements further and further south of the Niger and Benue rivers.
However, the most significant contributory factor to the deepening of the crisis is the human factor, the mismanagement of the crisis, the failure of ruling class leadership, the crass failure of governance, and on the back of the greed and congenital incompetence of this ruling class.
As part of measures to mitigate this crisis, in the era of national development planning, provisions were made for grazing areas and grazing routes across the country. This was envisaged as transitional mechanism with the ultimate destination being ranching. For this purpose, several pilot ranches were established, and the number was expected to increase from one development plan period to another.
However, in the 1990s, the military regime of General IBB abruptly and unilaterally terminated the national development planning approach under the prompting of the Bretton Woods institutions. But even before this termination of national development planning, the greedy, light-fingered and treasury-looting ruling class had begun a slow process of stealing and converting to private ownership of demarcated grazing areas and ranches. While also approving housing and land development permits for themselves encompassing the grazing routes and gracing areas.
This process of expropriation of the commonwealth by individual and highly-connected members of the ruling class went into overdrive with the termination of the national development planning process.
Addressing the Deepening Crisis
To be sure, there is a need for a public reckoning from this thieving ruling class. This demand for and enforcement of accountability for the decades of insidious and sometimes deliberate mismanagement of the situation, outright looting of the commonwealth and sabotage of the public good, has to be at the heart of any process of addressing this crisis.
Choices have consequences, and the choices made over the last several decades by successive generations of the ruling class has imposed this consequence of an existential threat on all of us, and there should be a reckoning for this in the interest of accountability and social justice.
From where we are at now, an adequate and thorough tackling of this crisis with a view to resolving it in a manner that builds peace, reinforces inter-communal confidence and trust, and augurs well for nation-building and holistic human centred national development will require working from, and being guided by, the following sets of precepts and principles.
(i) Address criminality: In the context of this raging crisis, crimes are being committed and acts of criminality are being perpetrated. Destruction of property including livelihood sources is a crime, and so is the attacking, maiming, and killing of persons, or sacking of communities and razing down of their properties. These are criminal acts and they should be treated as such.
Criminals should be identified, tracked, arrested and prosecuted. Crimes should be investigated and prosecuted. And measures must be put in place to enhance the safety and security of persons, communities, their properties and their livelihoods – on both sides. The members of the various communities should be deliberately involved in the determination and implementation of measures to ensure their safety and security, and inter-communal and inter-agency coordination structures, systems and mechanisms will need to be put in place – for confidence and trust-building, to enhance shared appreciation and defence of common security and safety, and to enhance harmonious co-existence.
(ii) Eschew ethnicisation: There is an urgent need to eschew ethnicisation of the crisis, to label, tag and stereotype entire ethnic groups as criminals. Strategic communication and proper messaging is important here.
How we communicate the crisis will either help to enhance efforts aimed at resolving the crisis or aid the process of deepening distrust and contribute to blocking the emergence or evolution of any acceptable resolution of the crisis. Ethnic groups are not criminals, even though their maybe and there often are criminals and outlaws among every ethnic group. The same is true of religion and faith. No religion should be criminalised, at least not in this instance of the crisis between herders and farmers.
(iii) Farming and cattle breeding are agricultural livelihood systems: It is important to recognise, and place at the centre of solution seeking the fact that both sedentary farming and cattle breeding are livelihood systems, and as such, the approach should be one that ensures that policy measures and programs, including institutional, legislative, regulatory, and public investment measures are crafted and implemented in a manner as to support the improvement and transformation of these livelihood systems towards ensuring not only increased prosperity and improved incomes for their practitioners, but also harmonious coexistence and mutually beneficial interdependence between both livelihoods.
(iv) Transitioning from pastoralism to sedentary cattle breeding [Ranching]: Part of the solution must be an acceptance of the fact that in order to improve scale, increase scope, enhance security and safety, and enable higher productivity and yield and income, the approach to cattle breeding will need to be modernised, just as the approach to farming is also being modernised.
Central to this will be the transition from nomadism to settled sedentary cattle breeding in enclosures and ranches. But this transition will neither happen overnight, nor will it occur automatically. It will have to be planned, managed and deliberately enabled.
The first step will have to be the demarcation of large enclosures as communal grazing areas. These designated grazing enclosures will be tended, appropriate foliage will be grown and nurtured, facilities including water, and healthcare delivery services – for both humans and animals will need to be provided to service these grazing enclosures.
There will need to be a registration and identification process and mechanism for both humans and the herds of cattle. This registration of humans will enable access with one’s flock to the grazing enclosures and the facilities provided. The registration and documentation of the herds will enable planning, and also ensure security and safety, enabling the tracking and tracing of the herds, which can come in handy in resolving situations of theft or missing herds.
(v) Supporting the transition to ranching: It is true that cattle breeding as a livelihood system is a business, but so is crop farming, aquaculture, snail breeding, etc. And just as there are business support mechanisms in place – both public and private – for farming, enabling the transformation and modernisation of farming, so should there be for cattle breeding as well.
There are several public-driven and state-provisioned business development support instruments and programs that have been developed and put in place for farming, similar appropriately designed and effectively targeted public policy measures and instruments should also be put in place for animal husbandry in general, and cattle breeding in particular.
Additionally, public policy should as incentivise and direct the private sector to create and implement business development support instruments and infrastructure for cattle breeding, as it is with crop and other types of farming. These support measures must be such that they can facilitate access to affordable funding, as well as access to agricultural inputs and facilities that support improved and enhanced and modernised cattle breeding practices.
Furthermore, these measures will have to be such that they incentivise and facilitate the transition to ranching and support poorer and the less enabled and endowed herders to cooperativise their holdings and practice cooperative ranching approaches.
(vi) Coordinated and timed transition: This transition and the enabling sleuth of policy measures and mechanisms will have to be coordinated and synergised to ensure success. Thus, coordination mechanisms and structures for implementing the policy measures will require to be established.
There must be deliberate public investment initiatives to drive this process as well as incentivised private investment initiatives. The Bank of Agriculture, Bank of Industry and the Development Bank, will need to be restructured to ensure that departments and technical teams are established to manage the disbursement of these special purpose investment vehicles to support the modernisation of cattle breeding and the transition to ranching. But this transition must be planned, and as such it must be timed and measurable. An initial five-year transition period can be considered, subject to a further additional five-year period to complete the transition.
(vii) Transition plan evaluation: Robust transition tracking, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms will be required to be put in place. The decision to extend the transition period for a further five-year period, or to terminate the transition, will be based on the result of the comprehensive transition plan evaluation process.
Running through the entire solution seeking approach to tackle and address the crisis must be a gender equity and social inclusion paradigm. This will ensure that women and young girls involved, and that no social group is excluded regardless of its status.
Furthermore, sleuth of policy measures and instruments must be such that they are integrative in nature, enabling the integration of all the various subsectors of agriculture to one another, on the one hand; while also enhancing the integration of all of agriculture with industry, and other sectors of the economy, on the other hand.
To conclude, this avoidable deepening crisis is, as noted earlier, a direct result and consequence of failure of leadership, compounded by their gluttonous greed. To be sure it was the mismanagement of the process of agricultural modernisation and transformation that created the basis for the emergence, evolution and consolidation of the crisis; just as it is the ongoing mismanagement of the situation by the ruling class today that is responsible for the hardening of positions, the ethnicisation of the crisis, and the preparation of the groundswell for a potentially devastating ethnic conflagration, and the consequent undermining and sabotage of the national integrative development process, with its attendant debilitating consequence on the prospect for nation-building.
The framework proposed here as the basis for addressing and resolving the crisis in the interest of nation-building, and class solidarity of the oppressed, is one that requires a different political regime, based on a different alignment of class forces, to implement consistently and faithfully; or at the very least, a significant political pressure, on the cusp of a tremendous momentum generated by significant popular political mobilisation, and one that is based on and driven by different politics – revolutionary politics – propelled by different alignment of class forces in society.
The ruling class on its own, and its multifarious ethnic (irredentist) factions, is incapable of adequately resolving this crisis. On the contrary, history has shown that it can only compound the crisis, and further endanger the lives of the impoverished masses and working peoples.
This is why the conscious, deliberate, organised and mobilised intervention of the popular masses and their radical formations has become imperative, before the window of opportunity closes on our collective face.
Comrade Gaskia is a member of the national leaderships of Alliance For Surviving COVID-19 And Beyond (ASCAB), and Socialist Labour (SL). He is also Director of Praxis Center.