Upon Nigeria`s return to democracy, the 1999 Constitution came into force. The constitution, Nigeria`s supreme law, apart from attempting to lay down the groundwork upon which the country`s tortured democracy will be built, guaranteed in Chapter IV that the rights of Nigerians will be protected within the framework of the rule of law and the excesses of the highhanded and power-drunk politicians who check themselves into office by any means possible, checked.
Whether the Constitution has done a fair enough job is something left for ordinary Nigerians, especially those who teeter on the breadlines to decide. As the fragile situation of the country has continued to deteriorate, a conspicuous flashpoint has been the competition between herdsmen and farmers over land, which has wider implications for constitutional rights, economic interests and the unity of the country.
A multi-ethnic country yet to fully put its struggles for cohesion behind was always going to be up against it. With farmlands that must be cultivated to feed the children tangling with cattle that must be properly herded to keep similar economic interests going, the country is seemingly about to be trampled like grass as when two elephants fight.
Across the country, fractious questions about grazing rights have riven the country, opening up old wounds in the process. Now, threats have been issued and legislations have proceeded from some states banning open grazing. Herdsmen have been advised to procure land and settle their cows.
On its own part, the federal government has mulled over securing grazing ranches all over the country but the conversation has been caught up in the storm of suspicion that beclouds every public conversation in Nigeria.
But what is at stake? What is at stake is land, the most hotly contested of all properties. For non-Fulani Nigerians who count too few cattle farmers amongst them, an ulterior motive trails the hooves of cattle. For many of them, cattle farming is only a disguise. Behind it is a full-fledged attempt to dominate others in the country, to become a domineering force over the entire country.
On their own part, the predominantly Fulani cattle farmers have argued that they have a right to move themselves and their cattle across the length of the country in search of greener pastures.
Even after the hostilities of the Nigerian Civil War, crops and cattle used to live together all over the country. This was up until criminals infiltrated the ranks of cattle farmers and began to lay waste to communities, even after their cattle had been hosted and properly fed. Nigeria`s north has borne the brunt of the activities of these criminals most forcefully.
Countless communities in Benue, Plateau, Taraba and Kogi States have known the wrath of those who hide their instruments of death in the hides of cattle. In the southeast, many communities have also been scarred by these messengers of death.
Conversations about grazing and grazing rights are poised to continue as long as suspicion fogs every conversation between the different regions of the country. The country will do well to iron out the differences in views and reach a widely acceptable solution because as it seems, the storm is not about to abate soon.
Kene Obiezu lives in Abuja.