Between the Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian Visions of Nigeria’s Development

The herders-farmers conflict in Nigeria remains a thorny issue. The death, destruction and displacement arising from the conflict have been incremental, and have extended beyond the Middle-Belt region into various Nigerian communities. Besides, killing by herdsmen has assumed a sectarian nature, a fact confirmed in a 15 June 2020 report titled, “Nigeria: An Unfolding Genocide?” by the U.K. Parliament All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, wherein it was noted that “this violence has manifested along religious lines, as the herders are predominantly ethnic Fulani Muslims and the farmers are predominantly Christians.” That assertion mirror concerns variously expressed domestically by some well-placed Nigerians. Only public policy indifference and inaction can elicit the frightening title of that report. It need not be. 

While the drivers of the herders-farmers conflict are increasingly complex, for many Nigerians, the single underlying tripwire is the unbridled desire by the herdsmen for unfettered access to and ownership of land. Contextually, the herdsmen-farmers conflict is reminiscent of a past American era relative to land ownership and land rights. There was a long-running argument between two founding fathers of America: Thomas Jefferson (3rd U.S. President) and Alexander Hamilton (1st U.S. Treasury Secretary). Jefferson’s ideal republic was of small landowners, while Hamilton wanted America to be an industrial behemoth, using his “Report on Manufactures” delivered to the U.S. Congress in December 1791 to lay out his vision.

Those Nigerians who support the view that the herdsmen should retain their existing herding practises would appear to belong to the Jeffersonian school; while others who advocate the development of the entire value chain of the political economy of cattle rearing would utterly belong to the Hamiltonian school. Given contemporary technological and organisational advances in the breeding, processing, distribution and sale of cattle and its ancillary products, it is befuddling that some political leaders would continue to insist on current herding practices. Argue as they may, that the Nigeria National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) represents an effort to place cattle rearing on a modern commercial path; that was never the first option by the federal government. The country arrived at the plan after treading paths that ran from the restoration of colonial and post-colonial migratory routes for cattle to grazing areas to cattle colonies, and now rural grazing areas within the NLTP. Moreover, the failure of Nigeria to adopt global best practices in cattle rearing is the reason that the country is not among the top twelve countries with high cattle inventory. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Nigeria is ranked 14th on the global cattle inventory, well behind 5th ranked Ethiopia; 7th ranked Sudan and 11th ranked Tanzania. 

Astoundingly, creative solutions to reducing the herders-farmers conflict have been on offer since 2018. One was the invitation by Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano for all the herdsmen to relocate to Kano state and engage in all facets of the cattle value chain there. In a federal system that operates a well-functioning economy, this eminently sensible approach offered by Kano state is a prime example of how sub-national units compete for private investment, whether in the agricultural, industrial, or commercial sectors. Private sector agents respond to enabling environments and incentives offered by policymakers. Some political elites, surprisingly, pushed against Ganduje’s offer.

The second policy option was articulated in a 2018 paper titled, “Pastoralist-Farmers Conflicts and the Search for Peaceful Resolution,” prepared by the nine esteemed experts, convened under the auspices of the Nigerian Working Group on Peacebuilding and Governance. One of the authors of that plan, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari is the current Chief of Staff to the President, who has served the United Nations in various peacebuilding and peacekeeping capacities. That group’s report advocated “need for the permanent settlement of the pastoralists…with commercial ranches established in the sparsely populated zones in the North East (Sambisa Game Reserve in Borno State) and Northwest (Gidan Jaja Grazing Reserve in Zamfara State).” The adoption of any or both of these approaches would have had broad salutary effects: reduced the killings and displacement of fellow citizens, overcome the continuing tensions between farmers and herdsmen, avoid the damage to property rights, and eliminate the economic disruptions suffered by the communities where herders-farmers conflicts persist.

Sadly, the insidious, persistent and multiplying signs of the herders’ problem were laid bare by a number of recent incidents. First, the President of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore Socio-cultural Association claimed that they owned Nigeria, and as such could settle anywhere and that they were at an advanced stage in forming their own security outfit in every state in federal Nigeria. His remarks elicited strong adverse reactions from many Nigerians, including the Christian Association of Nigeria and various political groups, prompting a denial by the president of the association. Second, the Minister of Interior Rauf Aregbesola shocked Nigerians by saying that “there is no known law that prevents cross border movements.” As if an afterthought, he added his ministry was working with several stakeholders in border communities and countries to checkmate people that are of a threat to the country on either side of the border, especially herders who freely come into the country to unleash terror on the citizens. 

Minister Aregbesola’s assertion was in response to Gov. Ganduje’s 6th June, 2020 appeal to the Federal Government to put an end to the movement of herdsmen from other African countries into the country. Gov. Ganduje said his call had become imperative since foreign herdsmen “come into the country with guns and other weapons, which flame the clash between herders and farmers…[and] that movement is what brings to us all sort of clashes between herders and other communities, apart from farmers.” Third, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue made two noteworthy points in his interview published by The Guardian on 13 June 2020. First, was that while he had no problem with the herdsmen husbanding their livestock in Benue, “their agenda is beyond rearing of cattle, it is about taking over and they have not hidden that.” Second, he asked “why should they be carrying arms? And when you hear government officials at the federal level defending these people, saying they are protecting their cattle, it is laughable. Are cattle more valuable than human life?”

The intractable herders-farmers conflict is largely the result of a combination of policy dissonance and initial insufficient policy initiatives. Effective public policymaking usually draws on evidence-based analysis and global best practices. It is high time that Nigeria seeks to overcome the herders-farmers conflict by embracing and enacting public policies that draw on the global best practices. To do otherwise is to be in denial about the ineffectiveness of the approaches currently in practice.

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