Herdsmen/Farmers Conflict: Significance and Way Out

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The pastoralist herdsmen/farmers conflict across the country should fundamentally be seen as the inability of the capitalist ruling class to take society forward on the basis of capitalism.

The particular clannish and nepotistic character of the current APC Federal Government tends to create the perspective that the insecurity across the country is due mainly to the weaknesses of Buhari and his political party, the APC. From this standpoint, the answers, on the surface, seems to be “Buhari must go” or “APC must go”.

But we must situate the issues within the broader perspective of class relations. Otherwise, the struggles of ordinary people would be reduced to “struggling to be enslaved”. It would be like abandoning one executioner only to be captured in the womb of another. In other words, the perspective that limits the problem to either the personality of the President and/or his political party is a perspective of commitment to regime change. What is required is much more, that is a clear commitment to system change.

The reactions of the labour movement should be towards uniting the masses of all ethnic groups against their common political enemy, rather than deepening divisions along ethnic and religious lines. Similarly, the reaction of the labour movement should adequately link opposition to genocidal killings to advocacy for system change. In other words, the labour movement should make itself relevant to the day-to-day practical issues of existence whilst also identifying what should be done, in the long run, to herald an enduring solution.

Effects of Climate Change

First, it is important to understand that the pastoralists and farmers’ conflicts are partly products of the effects of climate change. For example, Lake Chad, which was once one of Africa’s largest water bodies, is fast disappearing due to climate change and overuse of its water resources. The Lake’s water level and size are estimated by experts to have shrunk to only 5% of what it was in the 1960s. Its surface area is estimated to have decreased from a peak of 25,000 square kilometres to only about 1,350 square kilometres.

The drying up of Lake Chad is having severe negative impacts on the means of livelihood of populations that depend on it. Farmers and cattle herders are having to move southward in search of greener pastures.  This movement results in competition for land resources leading at least in part to the many violent clashes that we are witnessing across the country.

Others have moved to the Southern States engaging in menial jobs in the informal sector to make a living. The impoverishing effects of climate change on Lake Chad should be seen as one of the root causes of pastoralist/farmers clashes and the festering Boko Haram phenomenon.

Armed Murderous “Herdsmen”

However, the unfolding realities today tends to show that what is happening might not just simply be a question of economic clashes and killings between pastoralist herdsmen and farmers. It would appear that arbitrary killings take place by armed persons who do not have cattle to herd.

In the prevailing circumstances therefore, the labour movement, particularly the central labour organizations should insist that the Federal Government has a responsibility to protect lives and bring the armed monstrous herdsmen committing heinous murderous acts to justice. In this context, the issue should not be posed as Fulani versus other ethnic groups but the issue of dealing with armed and murderous “herdsmen” who commit the criminal offence of taking lives. In other words, the emphasis should be on bringing to justice whoever kills unlawfully, regardless of the person’s ethnic background.

The central labour organisations, trade unions and pro-labour organizations of the broad left should take these important issues into consideration in formulating their response to the development and spread of killings taking place at the present time (by both civilians and police/military) in order to prevent falling into a state of competitive ethnic cleansing and revengeful killings in the various geographical regions.

Establishment of Ranches as Solution to Farmers/Herdsmen Clashes

As far as clashes that may occur between herders and farmers are concerned, the labour movement should support establishment of ranches.  In their submissions to the President Jonathan’s CONFAB, both the NLC and TUC suggested the establishment of ranching as a solution to pastoralist grazing.

Ranching could enable the young herders to have time for education and participate more productively in the society. The herders are working people who depend, not on wages for remuneration but on donation of cows over a period of time.

In certain cases, the young herders beg for alms from passers-by whilst they pass through communities or along the road as they herd cattle. It should therefore be appreciated that herders are actually not the owners of the cattle they herd. Some big business owners who are not limited to Fulanis actually own the cattle.

Labour should therefore advocate for abolition of open grazing. Rather, ranches should be developed by governments and the cattle owners should be taxed appropriately for using ranching facilities. Labour should indeed advocate the organization or unionization of the young herders with a view to addressing their grievances against oppressive employers, the cattle owners. We also need to advocate for the support of poor farmers and for far more government action against inequality.

by Femi ABORISADE

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