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Farmers-Herdsmen Conflicts: Reprisal will provoke security dilemma- Prof. Oshita

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Babatunde Abiodun

A peace and conflict resolution expert and Director General of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Prof Oshita Oshita has warned that retaliatory and reprisal measures by aggrieved people and communities in the ongoing farmers/ herders violent conflicts in some parts of the country is not the best option or solution but could further worsen the already alarming situation.

He said there is an urgent need to stop bloodletting and to forestall any action that could compound what he described as the genocidal scenario confronting the nation.

By seeking retaliatory measure through arms bearing in self-defence has been canvassed by a section of the country, he said, “we are provoking security dilemma. This looks like the road to Somalia. We need to take a definite step to stop the bloodletting.”

In his contribution at a roundtable meeting between peacebuilding experts and media partners to discuss and find solution to recent farmer and herdsmen attacks in Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba and Plateau states organized by the Search For Common Ground, held in Abuja on Friday, Prof. Oshita said that Nigeria had at different times being on the precipice and always have a way of bouncing back, but if care is not taken, we may not be all that lucky, hence the need to find lasting solution.

He, therefore, suggested three things to be done as a nation. He said there is the need to reconfigure the security architecture of the country, there is the need by different ethnic nationalities to have a true perception of one another, and the need for us as a nation to have the image of whom we are and where we are heading.

“This is a very destabilizing phenomenon and we must all rise up to do all things to stem the situation,” he said.

He as well called for sincerity in the way issues of farmer-herder conflict is being reported, saying perceptions are being built into it with people’s narratives taking political, religious and ethnic dimensions. This, he said, is anti-national cohesion.

The Director-General charged the civil society organizations to be up and doing with sincerity of purpose because to him, the civil society space is becoming slippery and unpredictable arguing that some organizations are becoming bias and not speaking the mind of the common man.

“By being sincere I mean we should use empirical information, we should use information that is in public domain of success stories of how this kind of conflict has been managed in the world. We need to be authentic because if you are discussing a serious problem without being authentic, it means you are not telling us what could help us to come out of that problem. We should be ready to implement recommendations towards sustainable solution.

“We need to inaugurate sincere platform for dialogue based on the fact that we are one people, one country and because we want to have a sustainable economy that will drive this country in this 21st century and beyond,” he said.

Giving an overview of project and objectives of the media roundtable, the Project Lead, Forum on Farmer-Herder Relations in Nigeria (FFARN), Mrs. Bukola Ademola-Adelehin said the roundtable aimed at bringing together peace and security scholars, practitioners, policymakers and media experts to reflect on current dynamics of farmer-herder conflict in Nigeria.

The roundtable is supported by the United States Agency for international Development (USAID) through the Conflict Mitigation and Management project (Building Bridges between Farmers and Herders) implemented by Search for Common Ground, she said, will enable FFARN the opportunity to present the recommendations of its recent policy briefs titled ‘Responses to Conflicts between Farmers and Herders in the Middle Belt Region of Nigeria’ and ‘The Implications of Open-Grazing Prohibition Laws on relations between Farmers and Herders in the Middle Belt Region of Nigeria’ for increased awareness of options for peaceful resolution of the conflict.

The two policy documents were presented for discussion by Mr. Sani Suleman, Senior Programme Manager, Middle Belt Programs said violent confrontations between farmers and herders is an old phenomenon and have become a defining feature of inter-group relations among communities in the Middle Belt region.

He said “environmental degradation, social manipulation of ethno-religious biases and technological advances has altered relationships that were historically interdependent and mutually beneficial. Conflict between farmers and herders exist on a large scale; both within Nigeria and the greater Lake Chad Basin and Sudan-Sahel region, however, states within Nigeria’s Middle Belt have witnessed a stark relationship change and an increase in casualties as consequences of this fractured relationship”.

He advanced reasons for conflicts to include; population growth, urbanization, climate change and unresolved old conflict, cattle rustling and theft. He said 6,500 deaths were recorded between 2010 and 2015 with 62,000 persons displaced while about $13.7 billion has been lost by the Nigerian government.

Findings, he said, revealed certain responses by national and state actors as means of finding a solution to this perennial problem. These, include; creation of Grazing Reserve in Northern Nigeria in 1965 with 415 reserves and grazing routes; establishment of the National Commission for Nomadic Education to educationally equip the nomads; deployments of security agencies in response to several outbreak of violence; the establishment of the Great Green Wall Initiative in response to economic, political and security challenges posed by climate change and the failed National Grazing Reserved Bill initiated by the National Assembly in2016.

Suleman read the positions of Search for Common Ground as part of recommendations to address gaps in response to reduce the conflict. Part of the recommendations include; charge on the Federal Government to review existing structure of cattle routes and reserves; that Federal Government should review the current program on nomadic education with a view to strengthening the structure of service delivery; that Federal Government should utilize alternative response to conflict resolution beyond deployment of security agencies, using dialogue and mediation as de-escalation techniques; to address proliferation of small arms and light weapons, using mechanism that is community centred; that Federal Government should partner with civil security and other non-state actors to leverage on ICT as enabler of cattle monitoring and that Federal Government should support and strengthening community policing.

On the Implications of Open Grazing Prohibition Laws in the Benue State and the Middle Belt as a whole, Search for Common Ground said while the law was a response to the conflict between farmers and herders in Benue State, “the appropriateness and feasibility of the law to manage the conflict is yet to be determined.

“While the Federal Government lacks the capacity to legislate over the use of land at the state level, it is however important for it to consider performing oversight function in this process, to ensure that the rights of all citizens are respected as enshrined in the constitution.

“While legislation can be a useful tool to address drivers of conflict, it should not be used as a panacea. The situation in Benue State presents a unique opportunity for state governments to be conflict sensitive in the development and implementation of legislation that addresses the farmer-herder conflict in Nigeria”.

The body urged the Nigerian government with the support of her international partners to look to support a holistic approach that puts citizens at the centre of their security.

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