Dr. Aliyu Ramalan, a veterinary doctor, worked with the World Bank-assisted project of the old Lafia Agricultural Development Project (LADP) in the 1970s and 1980s, which led to the creation of four additional grazing reserves in the country. He was permanent secretary and commissioner of Agriculture in the old Plateau State between 1994 and 1997 and later between 1996 and 1997, in present day Nassarawa State. He spoke to Daily Trust on Sunday on the implications of anti-open grazing laws being enacted by some states in Nigeria.
In a bid to curbing the clashes between herdsmen and farmers, some states have passed the anti open grazing law. What is your take on that?
It is premature to ban open grazing in any state in Nigeria today. At the end, it may not bring the desired result. The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria gives everybody the right to live where he/she likes and do business. The clashes between farmers and herdsmen cannot be solved by restricting the herdsmen. Nigeria has about 923,000 square kilometers of land, which belongs to farmers and herdsmen. It is the same land that is made available for building houses, hospitals, airports, universities and schools.
These herdsmen are stakeholders and you cannot deny them their basic constitutional rights. They are entitled to the same land the farmers have access to. Basically, there is no reason to deny them the use of the land unless you provide them with a better alternative. And you cannot provide this alternative today in Nigeria. It will span over years before you arrive at the point where you can ban open grazing in Nigeria.
In any case, just as you need food, you also require animal protein to survive, so you must carry herdsmen and farmers along. If you reach that point, the herdsmen themselves will look for ways of restricting their movement, but as it is now, it is not feasible.
But they are proposing ranches.
When you talk about ranches, there are some technical inputs that must be in place. In the first place, who are you providing ranches for? There are three different categories of herdsmen that compete for grazing lands in Nigeria. First, we have Fulani herdsmen who settle in particular areas. They don’t move from one place to another. This group is called the non-nomadic Fulani. They need land to graze their animals. Secondly, we have what we call the semi-nomadic Fulani who stay for some months in a particular area, and as soon as the atmosphere becomes less conducive for the survival of their animals, they move; and as soon as situation changes, they come back to the same area. So how do you expect these herdsmen to do ranching? Thirdly, we have what we call the nomadic Fulani. Annually, they start from North Africa, then come down to Nigeria. As soon as there’s rain in their area, they move back. How can this group of cattle herders do ranching? They don’t stay. All the three categories I just mentioned compete for the same land for grazing. How can you confine these people? Yes, we can ask the settled Fulani to operate ranches, but you have to look for land and take care of their animals. What about the second and third categories?
As it is now, no state government has made adequate provision to grow exotic grasses for proper ranching. You have to think of the carrying capacity of the land. And this is necessary. You have to look at the technical feasibility of what you are saying. Is it technically feasible?
These clashes between farmers and herdsmen were predicted long ago, and successive governments tried to take care of it through the establishment of grazing reserves and cattle routes nationwide, but this has not been given the desired attention. If you look at the activities of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and some state governments, you will find out that these grazing reserves are nearly in every state in the North.
The concept of grazing reserves started immediately after the Jihad of Usman Danfodio, and that is before colonial rule. Even at that time, traditional rulers realised that there was the possibility of clashes between farmers and herdsmen and started creating what we call hurumi for herdsmen, and they were restricted to particular areas.
When the colonial masters came in, they advised the Government of Northern Nigeria, through the World Bank, to create specific areas for herdsmen. The ultimate aim of creating grazing reserves was to hasten the process of settling the nomadic Fulani. The concept was to create lands for their exclusive use. You will attempt to provide water, schools and hospitals in those areas. Eventually, other technical aids would be introduced, and grasses would be grown to improve the production of their animals, which would in turn produce more meat and milk. This is why the concept of grazing reserve was passed into law in northern Nigeria.
In Adamawa State, for example, they have 176,000 hectares of grazing reserves in all the local government areas. And this is just 4.7 per cent of the total available land in that state. Also, in Benue State, there are proposed grazing reserves in 10 local government areas, but because of the laxity of successive governments, they were not gazetted. In Adamawa, which has over 70 grazing reserves, only about 10 were not gazetted.
When were the proposed grazing reserves demarcated?
It was long ago. We have 4,000 hectares in Naka, 5,000 in Uku, 6,000 in Todonga, 4,000 in Oju and other areas.
Now, if these grazing reserves have been developed and one or two of them are functioning, the government can assess their success or otherwise. If the government at various levels is serious, it should develop functional grazing reserves. However, it is not a onetime exercise.
The clashes are not as a result of Fulani people grazing their animals, it is about access to common facilities like water, road, watering point, routes to get to those watering points.
Again, the population of livestock is increasing, human population is also increasing, but the land area remains the same. In fact, we are losing some areas in Nigeria by ceding areas to Cameroon. You will find out that this competition is natural.
The international cattle route traces its root from the northeastern Nigeria to North-Central, and it comes to Adamawa State through Yola, and the route passes through the neighbouring eastern state to Yelwan Shendam- Kurwgir-Namu, Plateau State, through Jinta – Azara – Awe – Keana. It exits in Burumburum border with Benue State and extends to Enugu and Nsukka axis. Another one also exits in Sabo Gida, through Gboko, Katisna-Ala, to Ogoja in Cross River State. There is another international cattle route that entered Nigeria through the northwestern state from Sokoto, down to Koton Karfe, to Abuja and passes through Keffi and Gadabuke to Benue State. The livestock market in Lafia is one of the terminal points of those cattle routes I mentioned earlier.
The only way out is for the Federal Government to step in because since the Benue State Government commenced the implementation of the anti-open grazing law, livestock owners and herders decided to move towards Cross River State. And clashes have started there. When Taraba State starts implementing the law, you will get all these kinds of movement. The Federal Government must come in and open up these cattle routes that have been blocked. Herdsmen should have free access to grazing reserves. For example, the Abuja airport is occupying part of the grazing reserve. The Gombe airport is also occupying one of the grazing reserves, hence there are interferences from herdsmen on aircraft mobility. These are just few examples.
Recently, I saw on a television programme that cattle strayed into a classroom in Edo State because it was probably originally a cattle route. The school was built along a cattle route.
Is there any law that established these cattle routes?
Yes. There’s a law establishing the cattle routes. Various governments in northern Nigeria were paying money to members of staff to clear the routes annually so that there would be no infringement. They marked them, but they were blocked.
What is the way out?
The way out is really for the Federal Government to come in and insist on opening these cattle routes; that is number one. Secondly, the Federal Government must, through the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, design a deliberate policy to increase productivity.
At any point, if a herdsman leaves Burkina Faso, he knows exactly the route to follow to Cross River State in Nigeria. These routes should be clearly demarcated by law and nobody should farm or build on them. Government must realise that if you could move freely without infringement in the 1950s when Nigeria’s population was just about 40 million, you cannot do that now that we are almost 180 million with 92,000.000 square hectares. There must be deliberate measures to avert crisis.
The anti-open grazing law will not solve this problem; it will further complicate the situation. If you drive the herders away from Benue, they will go to other places, and the clashes will continue.