Alhaji Saleh Bayeri is the National Secretary-General and Board of Trustees member of the Gan Allah Fulani Development Association of Nigeria (GAFDAN). In this interview with YUSUFU AMINU IDEGU in Jos, Bayeri bared his mind on why herders and farmers always clash.
Most states in Southern parts of Nigeria are having problems with Fulani herdsmen. Attacks by armed herdsmen have persisted in Benue State. What do you think is responsible for this?
The reason for the problem is obvious. Fulani in this country are facing the toughest challenge of their lives, a kind of challenge that makes you to choose between life and death. They are facing serious economic depression. The Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria appeared to have been pushed to the wall and have no option but to fight back. Historically, the herdsmen and their business have been neglected over the years by the people and government of Nigeria. It is, therefore, natural that for people that feel oppressed to want to fight back or resist oppression.
As far back as I can remember, from 1970 till date, there has been no single government policy geared towards assisting herdsmen in any way. Naturally, the government should know that the Fulani that keep multiplying in human population and in their animal should know that they need a space to occupy. The Fulani are not being allowed any space in Nigeria, and government does not seem to care. So, they have to fight back. There was the issue of grazing reserve, about 413 grazing reserves gazette. Of that number, you can’t count up to 20 that are functional in this country. But farmers enjoyed and keep enjoying all sorts of assistance from the Federal Government through the same Ministry for Agriculture. Government doesn’t really care when it comes to the issue of herders. The Fulani, you know, are traditionally cattle herders; they don’t have any other business. Cattle rearing is their traditional business inherited from generations to generations. This problem of herdsmen that we are seeing today has been developing but no one seemed to care. This problem has been brewing gradually, but here we are today.
The population of cows in this country has been put at 20 million; the Fulani population too has grown over that number, yet government never found any reason to provide for their security and welfare. The government itself has said the cattle contributes 17% to the nation’s GDP, yet, nothing has been done to encourage the herders, what we rather see is a trend where states governments are enacting laws to prevent Fulani from grazing on grasses provided free by nature.
Apart from that, there is the prevailing problem of scarce resources like water and land as a result of global warming. In our own case here in Nigeria, because of the challenge of desertification and reduction in annual rainfall, these have made the northern parts of the country not conducive for grazing of cattle because the North has gone arid. So, the only part of the country the herders can graze their animals is the savanna grass land in the North central and the tropical rain forest in the South. So there is pressure on land and water in this zone already and certainly you expect a clash over natural resources between farmers and herders like we are witnessing in Benue, Taraba, Southern Kaduna, Nasarawa and parts of Kogi State. And when farmers and herders are clashing over resources, there should be amicable solution where the interests of both parties are protected. But when you create law that tends to further subject one group to gross human right abuse, there will surely be resistance.