October 4, 2022

From Jude Owuamanam, Managing Editor, Northern Operations

The Director-General, Plateau Peace Building Agency, Mr.  Joseph Lengmang, has said that the state might not be in a haste to enact a law on cattle grazing in the state.

He said that this is because “the law is a double-edged sword that has the potential to save and also destroy.”

Rather, he said,  “I would argue that the establishment of ranches should come first before a prohibition of transhumant pastoralism in Plateau state.”

In his view on the anti-grazing law recently enacted by the Benue State government, Lengmang, said, “Whether the ban on open grazing will resolve the long standing issue between farming communities and herders in Benue State remains an open question. But it would be very interesting to see, at least in practical terms how the enactment and enforcement of this law is expected to end the attacks and sacking of sleepy farming communities across Benue state.”

His views are contained in a paper entitled “REVISITING THE RANCHING POLICY PROPOSAL OF THE PLATEAU STATE GOVERNMENT: SITUATING EMERGING ISSUES IN CONTEXT.”

Lenmang,  whose views may run contrary to those canvassed by a cross section of youths in the state,  said, “Recently, the  Benue State Government passed the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017 amidst jubilation by supporters of the policy (mostly indigenous people) in the one hand, and trepidation by opponents (mostly Fulani herdsmen) in the other.

My take on the law is that it is a double-edged sword that has the potential to save and also destroy. Before I explain, let me first provide a little context on how the whole trajectory of the knee jerk reaction to the problem between Fulani herdsmen and farmers has merely crystallised into an emotive ethno-religious and political discourse.

“It is very strange that our approach to a problem of this nature and magnitude is averse to the intellectual and analytical rigour deserving of such thought processes. This is not encouraging!

“I remember when the Plateau State Government wanted to key into the ranching policy proposal of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, the reaction from some of our people was torn between apprehension and mass hysteria.

“The critical opprobrium that the ranching debate generated left no one in doubt as to the deep-seated level of mutual suspicion and distrust that characterise the relationship between Fulani herdsmen and indigenous farming communities in Plateau State. Broadly speaking, it also reveals the conundrum underlying the unanswered question of who is an “indigene” as opposed to a “settler” with respect to citizen’ rights in Nigeria.

“The former and the latter are both a cause and effect of a bitter historical experience that stretched over decades of ethno-religious tension, violence and crass subterfuge.

“Few people would accept the fact that the idea to introduce the ranch system was informed by a certain economic and security imperative which was part of a broader policy of the Federal Government to diversify the economy and also arrest the near chaotic security situation it inherited from the previous administration.

“We argued at the top of our voices that agriculture is one key sector where our state has comparative advantage. We reasoned that beyond the goal of boosting the potential of this particular sector also is a need to think strategically by focusing on ways we can effectively modernise the process of livestock production as opposed to the traditional method-transhumant pastoralism or open grazing.

“On the security exigencies underlying the proposal is of course the growing tension between indigenous farmers and herdsmen.

“Attack and reprisal attacks by these two groups have not only become a persistent plight of the people but have overtime destroyed the very social fabric of our society as well as jeopardised national security like no other. This worrying trend has undoubtedly foisted a particular kind of a peace and security challenge to the Federal Government in general and to our state in particular.

“Unsurprisingly, the opinion that gained traction in the heat of the debate was an accusation that the Plateau State Government was only looking to formalise land tenure rights for an ‘alien minority.’ Some  went further to suggest that the ranching pilot scheme was nothing but a subterranean ploy by the Lalong administration to confiscate land belonging to indigenous communities only to appropriate same to pastoralists for whatever ridiculous political reasons.

“And even more interesting was the forceful ‘Jihadist expansionist’ conspiracy theory embedded in the conversation.

“It would seem that an innocent policy idea meant to, among other things, transform a growing security problem between sedentary farmers and herdsmen is misconstrued and misinterpreted.

“Very few people actually took a close look at the proposal based on its merit. Many would rather see it as part of that clandestine move to complete an unfinished Islamic conquest of lands in a region that once defied the military genius of Othman Dan Fodio, the divinely inspired Islamic reformer of the 19th Century.

“Government’s good intention was mischievously interpreted to align and feed into that dangerous narrative.

“It is neither the purpose of this disquisition to give life to the Jihadist conspiracy theory nor discredit it. For I have grown over-time learning never to believe everything that I hear but at the same time, never to take anything I hear for granted.

“My training and exposure have taught me to question social reality in a way that isolates my raw emotions from the interrogation process. Emotions have a way of beclouding our sense of judgment, narrowing our focus of attention, and distracting us from pursuing substantive goals.

“We didn’t make much headway on the debate of whether to key into the ranching policy or not. We had a number of multilevel consultative dialogues with the youth, traditional and religious leaders, representatives of both state and national assemblies, CSOs and host of others where government tried to explain in black and white the rationale and benefits of the ranching pilot scheme as a response to a certain complex socio-economic and security reality.

“While there was relative demonstration of goodwill and understanding on the parts of stakeholders that attended the meetings, in a generic sense however, it was also very obvious that either our explanation did not satisfy the usually skeptical minds of our people or they chose not to understand at the material time.

“We were busy occupied with making sense of the conspiracy theory as it aligns with our emotions and historical experiences rather than taking a hard and scientific look at the problem. It would seem that very little or no effort was put into establishing and analysing the profile of the actors involved in the conflict – this is crucial; their individual or group interests and; the need to carefully explore preferences for transformation.

“Given the nature of the problem we face and the overreaching implications it has for the kind of future we want to bequeath to our children, the underlying objective of this discourse is to draw our attention on the need to think, plan and act strategically. We should reason in a way that enables us redeem the times rather than merely acting on emotional and political impulse.

“I hope you would be kind and patient enough to follow me through this somewhat long series of discourse where I shall try to explain the complex nature of the problem between farming communities and Fulani herdsmen and also to offer insights on how the ranching system can help mitigate this growing threat to peace and security.

“I would argue that the establishment of ranches should come first before a prohibition of transhumant pastoralism in Plateau State,” he said.

 

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