Abuja — Concerned about the growing wave of violent clashes between farmers and herdsmen in several states of the federation, the governors of Taraba State, Mr. Darius Ishaku; Benue, Mr. Samuel Ortom; Nasarawa, Mr. Tanko Al-Makura; Kaduna, Mr. Nasir el-Rufai; Niger, Mr. Abubakar Sani Bello; and Adamawa, Mr. Jibrilla Bindow, Monday met with the Ministers of Interior and Agriculture and Rural Development, Lt.-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (rtd.) and Mr. Audu Ogheh, to fashion out measures to stop the clashes.
Also in attendance were the Inspector General of Police (IG), Mr. Ibrahim Idris, Director General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Mr. Lawal Daura, and Commandant General of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Mr. Abdullahi Muhammadu.
Since the beginning of the year, scores have been killed in several states and property worth millions have been lost to bloody attacks often blamed on armed herdsmen and militia groups.
The gruesome deaths followed a trend in the last couple of years involving clashes between farmers and herdsmen in several states of the federation.
But even as the meeting between the five governors and officials of the federal government was in session, news broke on yet another three persons that were reportedly killed and no fewer than six others injured in another overnight attack on Maisamari town in Sardauna Local Government Area of Taraba State by a suspected militia group.
Dambazau, in his welcome remarks before entering into a closed-door session with the governors, his counterpart in the agriculture ministry, and the security chiefs, condemned the recent killings in Benue and other parts of the country, saying the situation portends a grave danger with the 2019 general election around the corner.
He established a nexus between communal and electoral violence, stating that with the elections fast approaching, all the necessary steps must be taken to ensure that the bloody clashes are curtailed.
"Knowing that the general election is fast approaching and considering the history of political and election violence in Nigeria, all necessary steps must be taken to ensure that the recent crimes and violent conflicts are curtailed with the utmost dispatch," he said.
While commiserating with the governors of the affected states, he warned that the threat to peace and security anywhere across the country would not be tolerated.
He said the meeting was convened to deliberate on how to ensure lasting peace and tranquility in the country.
He also conveyed the appreciation of the federal government for the governors' commitment to addressing the security challenges in their states.
"I wish to express the appreciation of the federal government for your (governors') individual commitment and cooperation with the security agencies in addressing the menace of rural crimes, particularly kidnapping, rustling and the most recent violent clashes between herdsmen and farmers.
"Threats to peace and public safety in any form at any location will not be tolerated. It is the responsibility of governments at all levels to provide, unconditionally, sustainable peace and public safety within their territorial boundaries.
"Against this background, the meeting is convened to primarily bring us together to share our experiences on the aforementioned security challenges.
"The meeting will then agree on the necessary measures to be taken and apportion responsibilities.
"The immediate repercussions of this menace include hunger due to the acute shortage of food, diseases, criminal activities and deepening animosity between ethnic and religious groups.
"The current situation is very dangerous for the Northern part of the country in particular and the country in general," the interior minister said.
Also speaking, Ogbeh conceded that the federal government had not done enough to cater for the needs of the herdsmen.
In recent years, herdsmen have been migrating to the Middle Belt and Southern Nigeria due to the effects of climate change and the attendant desert encroachment on grazing lands in the North.
But in the process, sedentary farmers have complained that they are losing their crops to uncontrolled livestock grazing, often resulting in cattle rustling and violent altercations between them and the herders.
According to Ogheh, "The farmer and herdsmen must not have their lives threatened by circumstances surrounding their professions. We do not want the farmer to lose his crops, nor would we want anyone to lose their cattle.
"Over the years, we have not done much to look seriously into the issue of livestock development in the country. People ask the question why should the government get involved? Why shouldn't the herdsmen manage their own livestock?
"I am sad to tell you that in the last 50 years, until recently, we may have done enough for the rice farmer, the cassava farmer, the maize farmer, the cocoa farmer, but we haven't done much for herdsmen and that inability and omission on our part is resulting in the crises we are witnessing today.
"In Europe, every cow that is farmed gets a subsidy of six euros per day; we have done next to nothing for the cattle rearers here and as a result, their operations have become a threat to the existence of our farmers and that is what this meeting will seek to resolve."
He said the federal government was planning cattle colonies where adequate water and pastures would be made available to herders in the country.
"We are planning a programme called cattle colonies, not ranches, but colonies where at least 5, 000 hectares of land would be made available, adequate water and pastures would be made available.
"We also want to stop cattle rearers from roaming about; the culture of cattle roaming will be stopped.
"The cattle will be provided with water and adequate security by the rangers, there will be adequate pasture milk collection, and even security against rustlers to enable them to lead a normal life.
"This has been done elsewhere in India, Ethiopia and even Brazil," Ogbeh explained.
The agriculture minister went further to express reservations against the open grazing culture, noting that the culture should be reformed as it had become harmful to the people.
"Many will argue that open grazing is part of our culture, but once a culture is becoming a threat to people, leading to deaths, it must be dropped," Ogbeh said.
He maintained that cattle ranching and not the traditional system of migration by herdsmen would provide a final solution to the needless bloodletting.
The minister also said artificial insemination and the provision of special grass for cattle will lead to improved yields.
After the meeting, which lasted for about seven hours, the Benue State Governor, Mr. Ortom, told reporters who had been waiting for the meeting's outcome that there was no need to politicise the matter of the herdsmen killings and Nigerians should be discouraged from hate speech.
He said part of the modalities put in place was the deployment of more security personnel to the affected and troubled spots, more logistics and helicopters to conduct surveillance.
Ortom said all herdsmen and their livestock were welcome in Benue but the animals must be ranched.
"All herdsmen and cattle breeders are allowed in Benue but you must ranch them. If we see any animal roaming about, we will know they are rustlers," he said.
His Taraba State counterpart, Mr. Ishaku, concurred stating that ranching was possible, as it had successfully been done in other countries.
He further added that Nigerians must be enlightened on the need and importance of peaceful co-existence.
Another Three Killed in Taraba
But just as Ishaku was attending the meeting in Abuja, the police in his state confirmed the death of three persons, while no fewer than six others sustained injuries in another overnight attack on Maisamari town in Sardauna Local Government Area of the state by a suspected militia group.
Monday's attack occurred a few days after some 24 persons were killed in attacks on three Taraba communities. The earlier attacks occurred in a separate local government, Lau.
The police spokesperson in the state, Mr. David Misal, who confirmed the latest incident to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Jalingo, said the incident took place during a cultural event called Nding-Chin.
The cultural event was said to have been held in the area for the first time.
Misal, who said the area was now calm, disclosed that the command had deployed additional police officers to beef up security.
Also speaking on the incident, the acting chairman of Sardauna Local Government Council, Mr. Godwin Sol, said that the state government had previously banned all cultural meetings and festivals because of the security situation in the area.
He said he was surprised to learn that a group, which mobilised its kinsmen from surrounding villages, had held a dance event in Maisamari against the council's order.
He said security operatives were later mobilised to disperse the gathering, adding that due to the size of the crowd, a time frame within which to complete the exercise and disperse them was given.
Sol said at the expiration of the time frame, instead of leaving the town as agreed, the group relocated to the house of one Yaya Ahmadun to continue with the dance which continued into the night.
"It was while this was on going that some unknown gunmen attacked the place and killed three persons and injured six others," he said.
The council boss said the host of the event in Maisamari, as well as leaders of the cultural group, were arrested.
It was also learnt that the injured were taken to the Gembu General Hospital for treatment.