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Challenges and opportunities of pastoralism in Nigeria

The quest for free-range herding of livestock and the intense climate change, not only in Nigeria, but the world over, and the debilitating emerging security…

The quest for free-range herding of livestock and the intense climate change, not only in Nigeria, but the world over, and the debilitating emerging security challenges are putting to question the future of the centuries-old livestock production system for the over 40 million pastoral communities in Nigeria. In the Northern parts of the country and the whole of the Sahel region in general is climate change – ever-increasing desertification and decrease in annual rainfall – which are forcing pastoralists to move in large numbers to the Southern parts of Nigeria, Central Africa, as well to the coastal areas of West Africa, in search of water and pasture, pitching them against farmers whose crops they trample on.

The escalation of conflicts and violence, including activities by rebel groups, ethnic militias and large-scale rustling, severely constrains the freedom of movement and livelihoods of pastoralists. Moreover, marginalised pastoral communities face immense challenges due to limited access to essential services like education and healthcare. The forces of globalisation and modernisation in livestock production exacerbate these pressures, compelling many pastoralists to abandon their traditional way of life for sedentary lifestyles for which they are ill-prepared.

As at the last count by the headquarters of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) in the past decade, over 50,000 pastoralists perished, millions of cattle were stolen and countless others displaced due to ethnic conflicts, rampant rustling, banditry, droughts and the spread of diseases.

Despite numerous efforts since the colonial era to resettle pastoralists in grazing reserves, policy changes and neglect have thwarted progress. Although there are 144 gazetted grazing reserves covering six million hectares in Nigeria, inadequate infrastructure has led to their abandonment, encroachment for farming and transformation into settlements, exacerbating the challenges faced by pastoralists. Without significant investments in education, healthcare and rural security, the future of nomadism remains uncertain amid escalating security challenges, underscoring the urgent need to address the needs of the marginalised communities which play a pivotal role in Nigeria’s agricultural production.

To change the Bohemian lifestyles and impact positively on their future, the National Commission for Nomadic Education (NCNE), created about 30 years ago, is now well-placed to continue its statutory task having distinguished itself in the discharge of its mandate to this underprivileged group. The commission is vested with the responsibility to provide unfettered access to functional education to hard-to-reach nomadic pastoralists, fishing folks and migrant farmers in Nigeria.

These communities of nomads account for 5.5 million out-of-school children, with an 18 per cent literacy rate in the country. The commission has never been deterred, and as of the last count, it was able to produce over 1.5 million graduates. Some are now professors, generals, scientists, doctors, architects, engineers, etc; all due to a series of research in collaboration with Nomadic Education University-based centres with well-trained teachers and a flexible curriculum developed from research findings on sociology, psychology, occupational roles, migratory patterns and, above all, the learning styles of the nomads.

Beyond pedagogy, the commission has strengthened vocational education and training, cooperative formation and deepened deployment of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). It also conducts studies of its graduates, as well as ensure gender parity in the enrolment of children. To date, there are 870,506 male and 694,478 females in nomadic schools across the country. This was achieved with the meagre resources available to the commission, but because of the commitment, resourcefulness of those in charge, the work of the commission is being acknowledged the world over as the ideal for nomadic communities, particularly in Africa.

Now that the federal government has earmarked N50bn for the Pulaku initiative under the office of the vice president, it’s imperative that a substantial chunk of the amount be invested in expanding access and quality education and infrastructure for the children of the nomads that stakeholders acknowledge.

Many challenges being faced in these communities have to do with lack of functional education and other life skills to survive in this modern IT-driven world.

The Pulaku initiative must be seen as a real panacea in addressing the real issues of disenfranchisement of the marginalised communities in Nigeria and not be used as a publicity stunt to divert attention to the real needs of vulnerable communities.

To this end, a substantial amount of the N50bn should go to nomadic education to deepen access to education infrastructure, skills acquisition and improved livestock production.

Since the objectives of nomadic education in Nigeria are to be achieved through exposing the nomadic children to formal education; inculcating the spirit of humanity and making them realise themselves as members of the Nigerian society, and, to enable them take part in the development of their immediate environment and the country, everything must be done by all and sundry to achieve these golden objectives.

It is not an understatement to say that given the number of years nomadic education has come on board, authorities must give better funding and strategies in making sure that in the next 15 years every nomadic child has access to quality education and life skills to dissuade them from joining gangs and other unwanted groups.

The Pulaku initiative, though a noble course, is not carrying some of the stakeholders along, and might end up like the Ruga initiative of the last administration which was full of hype but nothing on the ground.

Efforts such as the NCNE have shown promise in providing education and opportunities for nomadic children, contributing to their integration into mainstream society. The Pulaku initiative, with its focus on education and infrastructure, presents a crucial opportunity to address the root causes of disenfranchisement among the marginalised communities.

However, the success of such an initiative depends on genuine commitment and collaboration from government authorities, stakeholders and the wider community. By prioritising education, healthcare and security for pastoralists, Nigeria can ensure the sustainable livelihoods of over 40 million people and preserve its rich heritage of nomadic culture.

It is imperative that the Pulaku initiative is not just a token gesture but a substantive effort towards addressing the pressing needs of these vulnerable communities. Only through concerted action can Nigeria create a future where nomads and herders thrive in a rapidly changing world.


Toro is a director with MACBAN headquarters, Abuja.


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