The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) unequivocally condemns killings by criminal herdsmen in Benue State and elsewhere. We also condemn any reprisal as this aside satisfying anger will not resolve the real problem. We condemn the Buhari APC government and security operatives for their failure and cluelessness in the face of these rising killings and attacks by murderous herdsmen.
We call for immediate action to help defend those under attack and the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators and sponsors of these killings. While the perpetrators are believed to be criminal Fulani elements the SPN does not believe that all Fulani people and herdsmen endorse or participate in these murderous attacks and killings. As it is always the case in every tribe and socio-economic groups in society, the criminal elements who carry out these nefarious activities are often a minority of the population. The SPN completely opposes any attempt to stir up hostility against Fulani people because of a criminal minority.
No doubt, the inability of the government to deal with the situation as well as other killings that have occurred around the country since the start of the New Year, especially in Rivers, Kwara and Kaduna states, sharply confirms the cluelessness of the Buhari government and its inability to protect the lives and properties of the citizen.
Bearing this in mind, we call for the setting up of democratic non-sectarian defense committees, armed if necessary, and involving genuine representatives of farmers and livestock owners/herdsmen to prevent attacks on farming communities and reprisal attacks against innocent herdsmen and livestock. We call for democratic control of the police and security forces so that they do not act as a law unto themselves. These democratic non-sectarian defense committees must also boldly discuss the issues that frequently cause conflict like land trespass, unauthorized grazing into farmlands and cattle rustling in order to pave way for collective efforts of both farmers and livestock owners to end the conflict and restore peaceful relations. If these committees are successful, they can become recognized and legitimate bodies that farmers and herdsmen can report any wrong or complaints to for intervention and settlement instead of resorting to self-help.
Certainly a law and order approach alone will not resolve the conflict unless the fundamental factors causing friction and conflict between farming communities and herdsmen are resolved. The herdsmen/farmers conflict is a struggle for limited grazing and farming lands, water resources, economic sustenance and livelihood. Environmental crises like climate change, drought, desertification and shrinking of Lake Chad and other water bodies have made access to land a life and death matter for farmers and livestock owners.
The only way to begin to tackle this problem is for the government to establish grazing routes and watering points in consultation with genuine representatives of peasant farmers and herdsmen and with adequate compensation paid to those whose land may fall within the route. Government (state and federal) should encourage cooperative farming wherein several cattle breeders are brought together with the support of government to organize mechanized and more efficient commercial farming taking advantage of modern techniques and methods. In addition, government at all levels should also set up publicly owned mechanized large/commercial farming (livestock and crops) with well-funded agricultural institute and training attached to these farms settlements as a means of creating jobs, mass scale production of food and using this policy and advanced method to give the lead and example of a modern way of cultivation and livestock breeding. It is not enough to promulgate an anti-open grazing law without providing alternative routes for grazing and facilities for ranching.
Therefore, the SPN demands that, together with establishing grazing routes, government must build public ranches and grazing reserves across the country under the control and management of committees made up of genuine representatives of the herdsmen, ministry of health and other sanitary officials and the host communities to ensure proper management and usage of these facilities.
A key factor for ranching to be successful is the availability of fodder all year round and improvement in the cattle breeds but none of this is impossible with the enormous developments in science and technology. In essence what the herdsmen/farmers conflict exposes is the primitive nature of agriculture in Nigeria despite a century of capitalist development and the urgency to modernize. Unfortunately, on the basis of capitalism, individual subsistent livestock farmers cannot take this necessary step to modernize because of the enormous cost. Except for a few rich livestock owners, a majority of the Fulani herdsmen/livestock owners are operating at largely subsistence level. The same is true for subsistence crop farmers – a majority of the farming population - eking a miserable existence on tiny parcels of land. The same of course cannot be said of the millionaire livestock owners who, reflecting the legendary shortsightedness and weakness of Nigeria’s neo-colonial capitalist class, have failed to modernize livestock farming by ranching because of their profit motive. We call on the government to compel this year layer to ranch and, if they refuse, they should be compelled to pay the cost of providing public ranches through taxation and other measures.
Therefore, the responsibility to modernize agriculture falls on the government. Without government intervention, crises over limited lands, grazing rights and access to water resources will continue to occur not only between herdsmen and farmers but also potentially between farming communities and among herdsmen themselves. Therefore, SPN will strive to help build a united movement of all Nigerian farmers and headsmen to demand that the government to mobilize the necessary resources to establish large-scale mechanized and modern state-owned livestock/dairy farms, a wide range of food and cash crop farms and allied industries across the length and breadth of the country run democratically by workers. Only this kind of step can begin to bring to an end the perennial herdsmen/ farmers conflict while also guaranteeing food sufficiency.