Open grazing, which is as old as Nigeria, has been generating a lot of hues and cries of late. Until recently, herdsmen had been criss-crossing the country with their cattle unmolested and without molesting anyone.
There has hitherto not been news of herders carrying lethal weapons except for their clubs and sticks to control their flocks. This has been the practice for several decades.
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Not too long ago, we began to hear about herdsmen carrying sophisticated arms, getting involved in killings, kidnapping and other criminal activities.
However, sometimes these reports were exaggerated to give the herdsman a bad name.
It would, therefore, be unfair to label the entire herdsmen as criminals. This is in no way an attempt to condone criminality.
Crimes should be condemned and perpetrators punished no matter who is involved. We should not condone to any undesirable elements invading and destroying crops in farmlands, much less any acts of rape against women and killing of farmers whose only “crime” is trying to protect their farms.
Some groups of persons, for cheap political gains, allege that open grazing is now a way of “Fulanisation” of Nigeria and that these herders are agents of “Fulanisation” of the country. Is this not funny?
Similarly, some people paint a religious picture of herdsmen and open grazing, suggesting that nomadic herding is an exclusive preserve of Muslims and so mischievously declare that open grazing is an “Islamisation” ploy. How ludicrous!
This is as deceptive as it is erroneous. The truth is that Nigerians from all parts of the country engage in nomadic herding.
To the Southern governors and others who have banned open grazing, we urge you to tread softly. Banning a system that is as old as Nigeria itself is bound to produce rebound effects.
This will definitely breed more crises and insecurity than is desired to be avoided. Legislating against open grazing without first providing alternative means of herding is likely to fuel more crises and heat up the polity.
The much talked about ranching is no doubt the way to go, with due consideration taken that the vast number of these people who engage in nomadic herding are illiterate. Educating them on the need for a new approach to their way of doing business is key.
Education, education, education is what will eventually solve the problem of open grazing. No educated person will be willing to engage in open grazing as a form of profitable business.
Again, when the herders acquire some basic education, then they will be able to grapple with the nitty-gritty of ranching that requires the application of modern and scientific methods.
The federal government once wanted to promote the RUGA system, which some insincere religious and ethnic separatist bigots viewed with suspicion and began to criticize and it was roundly rejected. RUGA, though imperfect, would have gone a long way to solve the problems of insecurity associated with herders/ farmers clashes.
The constitutionality of the actions of the Southern governors in enacting laws banning open grazing remains to be determined by the courts of the land. Their action seems to contradict the constitution of the land, thus believed to be tantamount to preventing some people from lawfully engaging in any business of their choice in any part of the country.
Nigerians are Nigerians irrespective of tribe, religion and ethnicity and so should be allowed to do business anywhere they choose.
Southern governors and leaders should show understanding and be patient with the herders and emulate the Kaduna State governor who has already commenced building a ranch, which is to be followed by many more. He had sought to provide an alternative before banning open grazing.
We should take it easy. We, as Nigerians, will get there. That is, we will get to the time when we will be like Europe, United States of America and other developed countries that successfully practice ranching, if we embrace love, tolerance and oneness amongst ourselves.
Vincent G. Uba sent this piece from Abuja