An independent class approach needed to find genuine solution to the recurring decimal of violence
Brutal killings arising from farmer-herder clashes have left a trail of bodies, destruction and anxiety across communities in the North Central and North West zones of the country. On New Year Day, 73 people, including women and children, in Logo and Guma LGAs of Benue State were brutally hacked to death by suspected killer herdsmen. Similarly earlier in 2017 many Fulani people including women and children were massacred by an armed militia in Mambilla Plateau in Taraba State.
Now the conflict is moving southward with almost daily reports of killing in several parts of the country amid rising ethnic tensions. Many are now internally displaced. This is in addition to tremendous loss of human lives, destruction of farm lands and loss of cattle. Every right thinking person must condemn this atrocious violence while demanding immediate steps to apprehend and prosecute the killers on both sides.
In clear and unmistakable terms, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) condemn the killings. We urge the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the United Labour Congress (ULC) to also condemn these killings and to encourage working people to organize both the defense of their communities and take action to restore peaceful relations between the two farming communities.
We reject the attempts by Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBA), Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore and other characters who claim to speak for Fulani herdsmen to justify the Benue killings. There are many ways for herdsmen who may have been wronged in any way to seek redress other than embarking on a killing spree. We therefore demand immediate arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators and their sponsors.
At the same time, attacks by farming communities, including reprisals, in which ordinary Fulani people, herdsmen and their livestock have been targeted stands equally condemnable. While communities under attack have the right to defend themselves, with arms if necessary, by forming democratic defense committees, Socialists strongly condemn such reprisal attacks like the lynching of seven random Fulani men at a bus park in Benue State. Such methods which targets all members of an ethnic group for crimes committed by a few will only convert what is clearly a dispute between crop farming and herdsmen communities into an ethno-religious crisis. The DSM believes that elements who foment trouble or engage in violence are often a minority of any community. Therefore we condemn those who seek to promote ethnic tension by tarring all Fulani people, whether settled or pastoralist, with the same brush.
We also condemn the insensitive approach of the President Buhari/Osinbajo APC government. Incapable of confronting the development squarely with a view to stopping the violence and arresting the perpetrators on both sides, the government has adopted a despicable approach which tries to justify violence thereby giving further credence to the ethno-religious slant the crises has taken. The recent deployment of the army only came about after strident criticism of the insensitive and tone-deaf comments credited to top officials. However this is no solution. If the antecedents of the army is anything to go by, their role may further worsen the situation as they may commit all manner of human right abuses which will further inflame passion on both sides.
Ethnic and Religious Bigots on the prowl
In the meantime, ethnic bigots of all shades and hues have seized on the conflict to further fan the embers of ethnic and religious discord. Taking advantage of the fumbling, incoherence and even incompetence of the Buhari government in dealing with the conflict, elements like the leadership of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), former aviation Minister Fani Kayode – a Yoruba ethnic and religious bigot – and Ekiti State governor Ayodele Fayose have dug in. Their equals on the opposite side are equally not leaving anything to chance. From both camps, the same incendiary narrative of imaginary Hausa/Fulani domination, harking back to the conquest of Othman Dan Fodio in the 1800s, is concocted and deposited into the minds of people desperately seeking explanations for the on-going bloodletting.
For the capitalist class, every violent crisis, disasters including wars are opportunities to make profit. But especially for the neo-colonial bourgeoisie like the one in Nigeria, this crisis offers the opportunity to stoke up ethnic and religious sentiment in order for rival factions to settle scores or propel their ambitions for political power come the 2019 general elections.
Especially for Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, this crisis could not have come personally at a better time. For a Governor, like many of his counterparts, that owes civil servants several months of backlog of salaries and has little or no developmental project to point to, this crisis and how well he utilizes it could well be the only way he can earn a second term. This is the only way to comprehend his effort, despite being a member of the same ruling APC as President Buhari, to project himself as a messiah of Benue farmers against marauding herdsmen.
Similarly for the likes of opposition figures like Fani Kayode, Ayo Fayose and their cohorts, the herdsmen versus farmers’ conflict is a perfect opportunity to undermine the APC government the same way the current ruling party allegedly used the Boko Haram crisis to undermine the PDP years back. Working class activists, youth and members of the oppressed had better not for a moment believe these sort of elements on both sides. Queuing up behind their narratives will only lead the country into a conflagration and when these happens, the victims would be ordinary people who have got nowhere to go.
The Root Cause
Workers and ordinary folks must insist that these kind of elements do not speak for working people and ordinary Nigerians whether from the North, South, East or West. We must resist attempts to turn this conflict into an ethnic and religious war. Only an independent class approach that aims to bring together farmers and pastoralist communities to discuss and democratically fashion out a solution, alongside with a programme to modernize agriculture linked with a socialist plan of the economy and society can bring an end to the crisis.
Farmers and pastoralists are both important from the point of view of food production and food security. Despite the history of the Fulani war of conquest of the 1800s, evidence exist that both farmers and nomadic cattle breeders have managed to live together in peace and that in some ways their coexistence was even mutually beneficial. The activities of cattle helped to sustain the biodiversity of the soil while their droppings (cow dungs) were used by farming communities as fertilizers.
Where conflict existed, traditional mechanism of conflict resolution exercised by tribal heads of both communities had always been sufficient to prevent violence by ensuring that those wronged are compensated for their losses. But conflicts were not even common because there was little competition for land compared to now. Land existed in excess of the demand such that communities often had huge areas reserved as communal lands either for religious activities or for hunting and pasture.
But decades of capitalist chaos and lack of planned development meant that society has failed to prepare for explosion in human and cattle population, urbanization as well the impact of climate change. This, together with the abandonment of agriculture during the oil boom in the 1970s, are the background to the increase in tension between farmers and pastoralists.
Whilst urbanization and population was increasing, the chaos of the profit driven capitalist system meant there was no systematic plan for the rational use of land in order to ensure that society’s need for expansion of road infrastructure, housing, pipe and gas lines and others was done with due cognizance for the needs of farmers and pastoralists. The housing sector in particular has been taken over by private property developers. This has seen unregulated development and land grab. Same way that formerly arable lands have been bought off by big estate developers with adverse effects for crop farmers, many grazing routes have succumbed to expanding settlements with adverse effects for herdsmen.
Moreso as the property boom and the unregulated activities of property developers intensify, farmers are being forced from lands they had farmed for decades to new areas including forested lands that were formerly unfarmed because of their distance or other cultural considerations and which hunters and pastoralists had hitherto used freely for their respective economic activities without hindrance. These developments together with the impact of drought and desertification are the drivers for the tension and ongoing conflict.
The role of capitalism
Therefore, the herdsmen and farmers conflict is clearly a struggle for survival and economic sustenance by farmers and pastoralists. It is payment for decades of lack of plan for rational use of natural resource. Furthermore, it also reflects the limitation placed on capitalist development in a neo-colonial country like Nigeria by imperialism.
It is not an accident that 57 years after independence, agriculture just like other key sectors of the economy has remained largely underdeveloped. In both crop farming and cattle breeding, agriculture retains all its feudal and pre-capitalist features with antiquated tools and practices predominating. The ancient method of cattle rearing is therefore to animal husbandry what bush fallow, crop rotation, the hoe and cutlass are to mechanised crop farming. Both are antiquated farming practices which ought to have been replaced by modern methods which would allow for better utilization of farmlands and livestock, development of agricultural value chain, more revenue for society and improvement in the conditions of farmers and pastoralists.
In particular, the continuation of cattle herding despite all of the advantages of ranching shows the short-sighted and backward character of the neo-colonial capitalist elite some of whom possess large herds of cattle. Interestingly, some of these big time billionaire livestock owners are not even Fulani. Some are from other ethnic groups like Yoruba and many among them are serving Senators, governors and big-time politicians. They only hire Fulani herdsmen to help rear the cattle for them. Their primary consideration for sustaining this ancient practice is not culture, rather it is profit.
As the Nigerian Working Group on Peace Building and Governance bluntly puts it, “Cattle rearing is historically an efficient way to produce livestock at relatively low prices through the use of non-commercial feeding stock” (Memo of the Nigerian Working Group on Peace Building and Governance, 8 January 2018). Ranching for this billionaire livestock owners would mean a huge capital outlay and longer tenure to recoup their expenses compared to paying the herdsmen a pittance and free fodder for their cattle even if it is someone’s farm produce. So they prefer to sustain the ancient method and would do everything including setting up armed militias to create anarchy and resist modernization.
Meanwhile for the herdsmen, putting an end to the ancient method and establishment of ranches is the only way to end their suffering, liberate them socially, make formal education and healthcare accessible to them and their children and fully integrate them into society. This is why any solution to put an end to this conflict has to be based on full discussion, understanding and agreement of mass of the people from both the farming and pastoralist communities.
The poor herdsmen need to understand how he stands to benefit from modernization. The equally poor farmer needs to be certain that the solutions being proposed would not in turn deny him of his rights and interests later. Moreso, on the basis of the ethnic and religious tension in society, any solution that does not emerge from the people themselves will be viewed with suspicion. This is the reason why Federal government proposal to establish cattle colony is facing widespread condemnation at the moment because many are suspicious that this is another means to allow the Fulani to colonize lands and territories of other ethnic groups.
A socialist solution
As an immediate step, Socialists call for actions to halt the violence through arrest and prosecution, in fair trials, of perpetrators of killings on both sides. We support the formation of democratically run defense committees on both sides and armed if necessary to protect both farming and pastoralist communities from attacks. Where possible, farming and pastoralist communities should work towards forming joint-defense committees with the mandate to protect both communities and also serve as a democratic conflict resolution mechanism to restore or maintain peaceful relations between both communities.
We also demand actions to combat desertification and other impacts of climate change. The entire Northern Sahel require concerted effort to regenerate drying lakes and restore grasslands and forests. Unfortunately, monies voted for this by both the Nigerian government and donor agencies are being looted.
While we agree with the proposal to establish grazing reserves within an agreed period of time, our stand on modernization of agriculture is not negotiable. This therefore means that whatever grazing routes/reserves are established subject to agreement with farming communities must be temporary measures to prepare for the takeoff of a new period when ranching would replace herding as the predominant method of animal husbandry.
Without ranching, any steps taken to resolve the crisis will only bring temporary relief. Government has to step in to establish public ranches for use by cattle breeders in exchange for a fee. Also dairy farms and other associated industries must be established in order to take livestock farming to a whole new level which can bring in more public revenue and better conditions for herdsmen. This must be combined with cheap credits and other support for poor cattle breeders. The same step must be taken by establishing big farming estates to drive crop production alongside with a program to support poor farmers with cheap credit, tractors, fertilizers and other modern equipment.
The herdsmen, many of whom are uneducated and strangers to modern animal husbandry techniques, must not lose their livelihood as a result of modernization. All of them must be trained in the new techniques and roles found for them in the ranches. Former poor pastoralists must therefore become educated, well-paid workers in ranches with good pay and working conditions.
Whilst the old method of herding was based on the super-exploitation of the herdsman and his confinement to a live of drudgery under the sun and rain, the new method of ranching must lead to the social liberation of the herdsmen and his cultivation as a modern man with all the best things of life accessible to him and his family. This is the only way ranching can make meaning to the Fulani pastoralists and this is the only it can earn their support. This is not something impossible. At least a precedent has been set before now. Recall that as part of the ways to end hostility in the Niger Delta, the former militants were disarmed and sent to training courses in universities within and outside Nigeria to learn metallurgy and other courses in order to give them skills that can make them employable in the oil and gas industry.
But none of these measures can be truly implemented or sustained so far capitalism exist. Under the pressure of the world market, it is not possible to really industrialize Nigeria and modernize agriculture. However even if these are done, the incursion of pastoralists from other African countries who are equally under pressure of climactic changes will continue to threaten whatever progress is being made in a single country. No matter the measures taken to tighten border controls, they will continue to come just as border controls have not stopped human migration from Africa and troubled spots to Europe.
Therefore the permanent solution to end farmers and pastoralist conflict require the coming to power both in Nigeria and Africa of workers and poor people’s governments based on mass movements and armed with socialist programmes of collective ownership of agriculture and other key sectors of the economy under working people’s control and management. Such a government in Nigeria would set an example to follow in other African countries, thereby laying the basis for cooperation among African working people to find ways to curb seasonal migrations of cattle through public investment and modernization of agriculture linked with socialist plan of the economy across the continent.
By H.T Soweto. This article was first published on the Democratic Socialist Movement of Nigeria website.