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The last six years must have been the toughest one for anyone who is of the Fulani ethnic stock in Nigeria. Governor Samuel Ortom has, in words and actions, made being a Fulani a burden on account of the distasteful anti-Fulani sentiments he has been fueling since he became Governor of his state arising from the age-long herder/farmer clashes.

To any casual observer, it would appear as if this crisis started in 2015 when Ortom became the chief executive of his state because of the way he has mismanaged the crisis with the manner he usually appeal to the base instincts of his people. Long before Ortom became governor, Benue has been a major hotbed of conflict between farmers and herders on one hand and other intra-ethnic squabbles between the Tiv and Jukun.

His two predecessors, George Akume and Gabriel Suswam, faced the same challenges, without stoking ethnic sentiments. But not Governor Ortom, who, unfortunately, is using the farmer/herder clashes to obfuscate the Benue people on his mediocre performance in the past six years.

Without doubt, the heightened and repeated clashes between herdsmen and farmers and the attendant human carnage should compel any governor to look for a solution to keep his state safe. Whether Governor Ortom is going about finding solution to a problem that can be solved with even-handedness to all parties, remains a nagging issue. The State House of Assembly passed a politically motivated and an apartheid era type of law that bans open grazing. A cursory look at the law clearly shows that it was targeted at a particular ethnic group with the governor determined to implement it to the letter. Ordinarily, there should be no problem with a law that seeks to stop an archaic, destructive and crisis-prone system of rearing cattle if Governor Ortom had not fouled and poisoned the waters himself with the way he created wedge between the people, thereby endangering peaceful co-existence in the state. It is needless stating that Ortom’s politics of identity and ethnic profiling of the Fulani herdsmen has become his own achilles’ heel.

What ordinarily should be dealt with as a pure criminal and law enforcement matter was made to metastasize into ethnic conflagration among the people who are already victims of Ortom’s poor governance.
Sadly, Governor Ortom has pushed his anti-Fulani rhetoric with the anti-open grazing law to a genocidal point. It has reached a stage where all men and women of goodwill in Nigeria should now beg him to roll it back. The governor appears to be dangerously leading the country on the road to Kigali.

Notwithstanding his personal frustration with the security situation of his state, it is very unbecoming of a serving governor to constantly embark on a voyage of hate campaign against a particular ethnic group. There is probably no political figure in Nigeria who, in the last six years, has heightened and sustained a country-wide anti-Fulani sentiments as much as the Benue State Governor. 

In his recent interview on Sunrise Daily, a programme on Channels TV, Governor Ortom betrayed his oath of office when he threw decency and decorum expected of an occupant of his high office to the wind with the way he poured invectives on the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria just because the President has a ‘misfortune’ of being a Fulani man. I fail to understand how a governor feels using uncouth and gutter language to describe the person and office of the President will bring solution to any problem.

On the subsisting crisis around cattle rearing in Nigeria, we must be honest to admit that open grazing is not the reason for the constant irritation between farmers and herders. The real problem is nomadic herding and the destruction of farmlands. Before politicians like Governor Ortom polluted the waters with toxic tribalism, we had time-tested community-based conflict resolution mechanisms between farmers and herders for compensation that worked well for all parties.

For political survival, Ortom has mined the conflicts in Benue very well as the only elixir since he became Governor. In six years, the governor has used herders/farmers crisis as a tool for political and tribal mobilisation. Seeking refuge under primordial ethnic sentiments has become an easy way to mask his incompetence and failure to lead any meaningful development initiative. Benue, in the hand of a visionary leader, should be one of the most prosperous states in Nigeria as the food basket of the country. Everything we know about peaceful co-habitation changed since Ortom became governor with his deliberate and provocative stand against Fulani herdsmen. The joke on social media is that once it is getting towards end of the month when workers’ salary will be due for payment, Ortom will raise the noise level of his imaginary Fulanisation agenda.

Fighting against President Buhari’s ‘Fulanisation agenda’ is enough Kool-Aid to make the impoverished civil servants in Benue State happy every end of the month. Interestingly, Governor Ortom has challenged the Presidency to a debate on his alleged Fulanisation of Nigeria. While we hope the Presidency will accept this challenge, Nigerians should also ask the governor when he will challenge himself to a debate on his monumental failure in governance.

It is quite intriguing that in 2021, governors are so much bogged down with the politics of cattle rearing and ignored its vast economic potentials. They are satisfied with just playing to the gallery when they should roll up their sleeves to harnessing the huge revenue and jobs creating opportunities in animal husbandry. When Ortom and Southern Governors say they don’t have land for grazing reserves, we should ask them what they are doing with the thousands of kilometres of uncultivated land within their states. I think the less emotive we are on this sensitive issue, the quicker for us to find an enduring and sustainable solution to this problem of herdsmen/farmers’ conflict.

Brazil, the country with the biggest cattle in the world and largest exporter of beef with a beef industry worth more than $150b, has over 162 million hectares of grazing reserves. The very notion that grazing reserves/routes is an outdated system that cannot be part of the solutions to our peculiar crisis is a complete misinformation being peddled by Governor Ortom and those who thrive in conflict. Brazil also exports grazing grass to other parts of the world. Ortom should get down to work and stop being a crying baby.

There is no country in the world where all cattle are ranched. It is not possible because ranching is a very expensive business. Using gubernatorial fiat to tell all Fulani herdsmen to transit from what they know to a new system of ranching is asking for the impossible. Ranching will automatically shoot up the cost of meat, which is a major source of cheap protein for the average family. It is also practically impossible to move thousands of Fulani herdsmen from their cultural nomadic system into ranching all at once except what we seek is total extermination of all herdsmen.

In reality, any practical solution to this problem in short, medium and long term, one way or the other, will still incorporate grazing reserves. Canada, which is more advanced and much more developed than Nigeria, has grazing reserves.

A Cattle Farm Practices Survey conducted by the United Kingdom’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and published in September 2019, says 87% of farmers in the UK, use a mix of housed and grazing system for their cattle. The survey also put the percentage of cattle farmers that rented land from other farmers to graze their cattle at 34%. Apart from farmers who own and rent their grazing lands to others, there are also common grazing lands for cattle in the UK.

The falsehood Governor Ortom is promoting about grazing reserves should be rejected by all Nigerians who, genuinely, seek for solution to the herders/farmers’ conflict.

Ajayi writes from Lagos.

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