Nomadic cattle herders say regulations enacted by a Nigerian state this week won’t end clashes between farmers and herdsmen that have left dozens dead in the West African country.
The governor of southwestern Ekiti state, Peter Ayodele Fayose, signed a law Monday that limited cattle herders to grazing on state-designated reserves during daylight hours.It also banned herdsmen from carrying weapons.
Farmers blame herdsmen
The governor's spokesman, Lere Olayinka, said the law is a reaction to a series of clashes between farmers and nomadic herdsmen that have erupted in Nigeria’s south and middle belt.
“It’s a way of finding answers to the question of all these issue of herdsmen invading peoples’ farmlands, destroying farmlands at will and killing almost everywhere in the country,” Olayinka said. “There will be designated area where you can have you ranch, probably pay some amount of money to the state government, have your ranch, and the ranch belongs to you where you can keep your cattle.”
Herdsmen regularly move cattle from the country’s arid north to the country’s lusher south in search of grazing land.
Most of the time, they co-exist peacefully with local farmers. Recent clashes between the two groups are rooted in competition for arable land, experts say.
The causes of the individual clashes vary, but often are the result of longstanding animosity and tit-for-tat killings between the two groups.
Farmers blame herdsmen for allowing cows onto fields, where they trample or eat crops. Herdsmen say hostile villagers attack them in rural areas and steal their cattle.
Herdsmen blame hostile villagers
The nomads have shouldered most of the blame, with politicians accusing them of burning down villages and killing civilians. Herdsmen groups say they are being unfairly blamed.
The law has found little support among Ekiti’s cattle herders.
Zaiyanu Mohammade, secretary of the state branch of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, said the regulations are an effort to rid Ekiti of cattle herders.
Particularly objectionable was the law’s ban on herders carrying weapons. Many herdsmen carry knives for self-defense in the bush, he said.
“We use it for our animal and where we’re [entering] our bush and [dangerous] place, we can meet any bad animal,” Mohammade said. “We use that cutlass and go defend ourselves.”
A former national chairman of the cattle breeder’s association, Sale Bayari, said the bill would only heighten competition for land by pushing herdsmen to find other places to graze.
He said Nigeria’s federal government needs to come up with a plan to demarcate areas where herdsmen can graze.
“Without the cattle ranches and without the grazing reserves, [and] there are state governors like Ekiti that are already banning grazing, it simply means that the herdsmen will have to know how to survive,” Bayari said.
He expected the law would face a challenge in court.