It will shock Nigerians to know that more people have died as a result of Fulani/indigene clashes in the last half a decade than have died from terrorist activity occasioned by the Boko Haram terrorist sect. As horrific as individual Boko Haram activities are, they pale in comparison to the barbarous slaughter of over 500 men, women, and children in a single night of terror at Dogo na Hauwa village of Plateau State of 2010.
Terrorist activities occasioned by the Boko Haram terrorist group have been largely localised in Nigeria’s North-east save for some sporadic attacks in other parts of the North and the Federal Capital Territory.
However, Fulani/indigene clashes have occurred in every state of Nigeria bar none! Needless lives have been lost all over Nigeria in these clashes and this will continue in perpetuity if as a nation we do not take steps to change the conditions that give rise to these clashes.
Just as with the Romany Gypsies of Europe, it is very easy to blame this itinerant group of cattle herders, buying such an exercise would in my opinion be an exercise in futility. I share the same view as movie producer, J. Michael Straczynski, who famously said: “People spend too much time finding other people to blame, too much energy finding excuses for not being what they are capable of being, and not enough energy putting themselves on the line, growing out of the past, and getting on with their lives.” Nigeria must grow out of her past and that cannot happen until Nigerians stop pointing in blame and starting pointing to solutions.
Even before there was a nation called Nigeria, the Fulani had been passing through several nations en route markets all over West Africa. Year in and year out, they followed established grazing routes and as long as their cattle had grass and vegetation to feed on, they coexisted in peace with communities along their grazing routes. But as West Africa became increasingly urbanised, it was and is a matter of time before increase in population put pressure on local communities to use the ancient Fulani grazing routes for farmland or residential purposes.
It is the competition for the scarce commodity of land that has brought about friction between the Fulani’s and the indigenous people along these reserves. So what do we do? What is the solution? Obviously we cannot do nothing and watch as people continue to die all over Nigeria.
We must do something and I propose that Nigeria should take the following series of steps.
We should restore the ancient grazing routes of Fulani pastoralists. Both the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and the Federal Ministry of Lands should work with the apex Fulani pastoral association, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, to revive these routes and where there have been farms or houses built on these routes, alternative routes must be found.
Next, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture should give a deadline of no less than 10 years to the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association to convert from pastoral cattle rearing to the modern business of cattle ranching in which cattle are reserved, reared and bred at a central location suitable for such purposes.
Measurable timelines should be agreed with the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association for progress towards this objective and penalties for failure to progress towards these timelines must be clearly spelt out.
Next, the Federal Ministries of Finance and Defence must collaborate through their agencies to monitor and ensure proper taxation of the informal cattle rearing economy and also to ensure that the government can trace the whereabouts of individual Fulani clans. This can be done easily by identifying the cattle rearers entry point into Nigeria and stationing mobile border posts there with armed officials of the Nigerian Customs Service Department of Animal Control.
Upon entry into Nigeria, every cattle must be shot with a homing device which will enable Customs officials and the ministry of defence track each cattle as they enter Nigeria and to pin point their location anywhere within our borders. These devices are cheap and practical.
There is a huge informal economy that is not taxed by the various governments in Nigeria. Tagging these cattle as they enter Nigerian soil will not just have positive security implications, it will also affect the economy positively as the federal government will have accurate numbers of the total cattle on the hoof that enters Nigeria and how much to charge as duty on each cattle.
By tagging the cattle, Nigeria will not only increase her revenue base in a world of falling oil prices, but we will have the additional benefit of knowing in real time where each herd of cattle are within our borders and how to proactively deploy our police and military for internal security issues to prevent Fulani/Indigene clashes. Nigeria has too many intellectuals who know how to analyse problems and give angles to them. But we do not have enough minds working on solutions. We will make more progress if our public intellectualism is geared towards solving than the analysis of challenges. Nations make more progress when their leaders are more concerned with accepting responsibility than with apportioning blame.
This is the mindset to solving the Fulani/indigene and all other similar and related incidences of insecurity. We should be looking for solutions and those in authority should reward such intellectual efforts by adopting them. It should be clear to the discerning that terrorism, Fulani/indigene clashes, ethnic and religious strife and corruption are not really the problem of Nigeria. They are merely the symptoms of our problems. The main problem Nigeria has is that we have moved from a nation of about 50 million people in 1960 when we got independence from Britain, to a nation of close to 200 million people today.
While our population has quadrupled, opportunities have not quadrupled and in some cases they have reduced rather than increased. So the problem is that we have more people competing for fewer resources and when you have this scenario, civil strife is inevitable.
Factor in the dwindling revenue from oil, which is what fuelled our unprecedented population growth, and the situation is even more dire. The job of a leader in this type of situation is not to point a finger and say you are to blame and you are not to blame. No!
The job of a leader is to surround himself with people who know the root cause of problems and can come up with creative solutions to them because as Albert Einstein said: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”. If we have a roadmap for the future where cattle can be ranched in Nigeria by the Fulani and any other group that want to go into this form of business, Nigeria can become an exporter of beef thus turning a problem (Fulani/Indigene clash) into an opportunity. Some might read this and think this is far fetched, but they would be wrong.
About 10 years ago, a certain Fulani man named Abubakar Bukola Saraki introduced modern cattle ranching to Shonga in Kwara State when he, as Governor of Kwara State, invited the White Zimbabwean farmers that had lost their lands in Robert Mugabe’s land redistribution programme to Nigeria. Saraki’s government assisted the White Zimbabweans with financing, land and other necessary resources needed to resettle them in Nigeria. These farmers have successfully and profitably ranched cattle at Shonga and are contributing significantly to the economy of Kwara State and Nigeria without clashing with local farmers and other indigenes.
As a matter of fact, rather than clashes with the indigenes, they are employing the local farmers and indigenes and Shonga has become an epitome of peaceful coexistence in Nigeria. If one Fulani man in the person of Saraki can do this, then other Fulani can do it as well. There is money in cattle ranching. Make no mistake about it.
Take Argentina for example, 3 per cent of all exports out of Argentina is beef which provides an annual revenue of $5 billion to the Argentine government. Argentina provides 7.4 per cent of the world’s beef exports and this is a market that has not been exhausted. There is room for growth in the global market for beef exports and Nigeria can key in to this by harnessing the resources of the Fulani through modern cattle ranches that will provide the domestic market with inexpensive beef and improve Nigeria’s balance of trade position by exporting beef and cattle to other nations.
This will provide revenue for the government and jobs for the people. This is Ben Murray Bruce and I just want to make common sense!
• Senator Murray Bruce is the senator representing Bayelsa East in the National Assembly and is Chairman of the Silverbird Group