The Search for Common Ground, a non-governmental organisation recently brought together experts and major stakeholders to chart a path for arresting the now common trend of farmers-herders' conflicts in parts of the country. The one-day forum was held under the auspices of the Abdulsalami Abubakar Institute for Peace and Sustainable Development Studies at Maizube farms near Minna, the Niger state capital. Dipo Laleye writes
Apart from the crisis in the Niger Delta region and in the North-eastern part of the country which Nigeria has had to grapple with, the farmers - herders' conflicts in some parts of the country have become a thorn in the flesh of both the local and states governments where the feuds have become prevalent, and federal government which has had to come in to restore peace.
From available records, not less than 2,500 persons were killed in 2016 alone during the crisis. The records also showed that a whopping 62,000 people have been displaced and placed in the Internally Displaced Peoples Camps set up by the states and federal government.
Benue state, one of the states where these crises had reached its peak, is believed to have the highest number of IDPs and IDP camps. Other states in this category are Plateau, Nasarawa and Kaduna.
Former Head of state and Chair of the governing council of the Abdulsalami Abubakar Institute for Peace and Sustainable Development Studies, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who also has been a global apostle of peace since he left office unveiled a staggering figure of the amount the farmers-herders clashes had caused the states, individuals and the federal government, a colossal $13.7 billion if when conservatively converted to local currency would be in trillions of Naira.
Executive Facilitator CORAFID Benue state, Dr. Nathaniel Msen Awuapila, who was one of the participants at the forum, corroborated this when he submitted that Benue state lost over N95 billion between 2015 and 2016 as a result of farmers-herders clash.
The staggering amount is more than the annual budgets of the affected states and the loss may have been partly responsible for the inability of these states to pay workers' salaries and pensions of retirees and also meet other obligations to the people who elected them into office.
The origin of these conflicts dates back to more than two decades in most instances and is primarily centred on the struggle for the control of arable land and water by both the farmers and herders. Increase in population of the affected states also escalated the conflicts because the demand for land for farming purposes and grazing land for animals also increased.
As the crises festered over the years, ethnicity, religion and politics crept in; making the situation to become worrisome and uncontrollable.
General Abubakar, also tracing the history of the farmers - herders' clashes, said these categories of people "have had beneficial and cordial relationships with minimal conflicts in the past and had mechanism of resolving them without resorting to destructive acts of violence against one another
"Currently there is a breakdown of communal trust, conflict resolution mechanism and these conflicts have become deadly with the loss of lives livelihoods and properties", he added.
The project analyst, Mrs. Bukola Ademola-Adelehin, on her part submitted that farmers-herders' conflicts in Nigeria have different dimensions including religious and ethnic colorations as well as the livelihood that directly pitched farmers and herders against each other in stiff competition for land, water, and other resources critical to sustaining their livelihood.
She opined that "addressing this protracted and often violent conflict required a new way of doing things and building synergy between peacebuilding practitioners and researchers working on issues to focus on strengthening the quality of the evidence collected through practice and increase the dissemination of practitioner knowledge towards policy institutions".
Perhaps what has aggravated the conflicts in the affected states and other parts of the country where such crisis occur is the almost total absence of early warning and early response to the crisis.
Security operatives, according to the discussants, often waited until the perpetrators of the crime had disappeared and the media made to report that "unidentified and unknown gunmen had ravaged a particular community before arriving at the scene."
Sadly enough one of the participants said such situations often become veritable ground for some security operatives to make millions of naira by shortchanging the people, especially Fulani herdsmen who have to sell off their cattle to meet the demands of the operatives.
The use of combatant languages and words by the leadership especially when they address the feuding communities often aggravated the crisis.
At the forum it was said that the deployment of the military to the crisis area by the federal government was often counterproductive because like other security operatives the soldiers deployed often take side with the feuding communities.
"Government should not be one sided in this type of thing" a participant said. The case in point, according to the participants, was the title of the law, "anti-grazing law" which came into effect on November 1 in Benue state.
The title of the law, according to the participants, creates the impression that it is targeted at only herdsmen a development that could make them more stubborn and set to damn the consequences when the law comes into effect.
Picking more holes in the government policy, the participants expressed believe that enough of sensitisation and education of the various groups that would be affected by the law were not carried out.
With just a few days to the takeoff of the law, the Benue state government had not provided alternative for the herdsmen who would be caught by the anti-grazing law.
Prof. Adagba advised the Benue state government "to mellow down the way they are talking, it is not the right way to talk and expect to get peace". He opined that the law may work in the rainy season, but asked, "What happens in the dry season?"
At the moment the herdsmen are believed to be planning a mass exodus from the state. The forum was also very disturbed by the resurgence of conflict in Plateau state after two years of peaceful coexistence by farmers- herdsmen and the various ethnic nationalities in the state.
More disturbing, according to the participants, was the fact that the conflict had moved from the traditional areas to Basa, known to be very peaceful even when most parts of the state boiled in the past.
One of the participants, Sani Sulaiman, attributed the resurgence of conflict on the Plateau to the withdrawal of many security operatives from the state to the North-east. He also blamed it on the withdrawal of non-governmental organisations from the state to the same north-east.
Sulaiman was however not sure if the clamour for the enactment of "anti-grazing law" by the youths in the state as done in Benue state would be a permanent solution to conflicts in the state.
One of the solutions recommended as a panacea for achieving peace in these crises-torn areas was for General Abubakar to convene a national conference on the matter where major stakeholders will be in attendance and some international organisations would be present to share their experience on how to achieve peace in the troubled areas.
Though General Abubakar did not say if he will convene the conference as requested, he however lauded the initiative of the Search for Common Ground for organising the forum, saying such programmes "will further reduce farmer- herders' conflicts through a holistic interrogation of issues critical to resolving these conflicts in Nigeria in particular and Africa as a whole.
"Furthermore, it will enhance and boost the relationships that have existed between these two interdependent groups, that is the farmers and herders as well as reduce the consequent impacts of these conflicts on affected communities".
Related to this was the call for effective training of media practitioners on conflict reporting. The forum also wants government to check the proliferation of small arms and the mopping up of those already in circulation.
The participants also asked the governments at all levels to be fair to all and desist from taking sides during conflicts and decision making.