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Farmers and Killers Herdsmen in Nigeria

By Isaac Asabor

There is an African proverb that says “God created every child with the ability to cry but when a spoilt child cries he is bound to forget to stop crying and close his or her mouth”. This aphorism, no doubt, holds true in the case of killer herdsmen that have for decades been troubling farmers across the country. Recall that militants sprang up in the south-south zone of the country but like the child that knows how to close his or her mouth after crying, they have all closed their mouths while the contextually spoilt killer herdsmen have refused to close their mouths.

A closely related African proverb also says “A deaf ear is followed by death and an ear that listens is followed by blessings.” The foregoing proverb is commonly used in times of conflict such as this when herdsmen are not allowing farmers to farm as they ought to.  It is expediently been used in this context to admonish killer herdsmen that their deportment against the land holding rights of their host communities, particularly as regard their farms, being their sources of livelihoods is dangerous. This is as Nigerians in the southern part of the country value humbleness as a tool to good living and peaceful co-existence between tribes and communities. Where their collective peaceful demeanor contradicts the foregoing view, be rest assured that they have been pushed to the wall as an African proverb says “A goat can turn around and bite when it is chased to a cul-de-sac”.

There is no denying the fact that since the herdsmen started invading the farmlands of other Nigerians, particularly that of the southerners, and those in the middle belt that they have never comported themselves as strangers and tenants. Rather, they have remained belligerent as if they have holding rights to the lands they are wont to trespass with sheer impunity. Who knows, if they had from the onset behaved like tenants that some compassionate farmers would have given them land to rear their cattle.  Never, they comport themselves as if the lands in the southern and central parts of the country are collectively “No Man’s Land” in a manner that is reminiscence of the biblical Ahab who forcefully took Naboth’s vineyard, and went ahead to terminate his life.    In view of the irascible threat they have constituted themselves to, particularly to the entire farmers in the Southern part of the country, and others in the middle belt, killer herdsmen can be said to be ignorant of an African proverb that says   “The chief is a fist; whether closed or open, the nearest get the most.” Interpretatively put, killer herdsmen would have been allow to be grazing their Cattles in grassy expanse of lands if they have all the while been comporting themselves as tenants or strangers in the land that belong to their host communities. Never!  They always behave as if the land belongs to them, and they have for the umpteenth times made such insinuations.

Given the horrendous attacks that have been attributed to the herdsmen overtime, and which no doubt left blood flow on their trail after mauling over a hundred of people, one cannot but say that they have become law unto themselves, particularly as they have been freely unleashing pockets of attacks on villages and communities in different parts of the country.  Unfortunately, reaction from government is usually devoid of empathy, and has for the umpteenth times attributed the killings, even without any verifiable investigations, to desperate politicians. In the same reprehensible vein, the media team domiciled in the presidency thinks it is a competition with the previous administration and therefore, still doing better. Contradictorily, the leadership of the Miyetti Allah often admits responsibility for some of the attacks.

Without any iota of exaggeration, it is very obvious that killer herdsmen do not have any scintilla of respect for human lives.

Considering the fact that land is highly valued in the Southern and middle parts of the country, it is unarguably difficult, if not impossible for herders to exercise their “rights” on land as they always claim that land belongs to God. For instance, in most communities in Nigeria, land is fundamentally managed by families and communities, even though the government has enacted laws to try to weaken the grip of tradition on land-related issues owners of land have not being cowered by such official intimidation

For many, land is sacred and no single person, in most customs, can sell, transfer or use lands without violating societal norms in the process. This spiritual dimension to land in Nigeria sometimes even warrants that certain rituals be involved in land transfer or acquisition. So, ceding land to any person other than a community kinsman, especially in rural communities, requires a careful, long, and relatively sacred process.

The Land Use Act of 1978 that regulates land acquisition, ownership and transfer in Nigeria has not truly replaced these customs because, like most government policies,  it failed to reach rural communities in any meaningful way. Sadly, federal law in Nigeria is mostly seen as a collection of “elitist” texts that have little influence on the status-quo on the ground.

At this juncture, it is germane to say that since killer herdsmen are vehemently seeing the landed property of others as that of everyone, it is apt to cite an African proverb that says “A fly that has no one to advice it, follows the corpse into the grave”. Another version of the same proverb says, “A fly that has no one to advice it, always gets drowned in a keg of palm-wine.” A similar proverb in the Bible in the book of Proverb chapter 29 verse 1 says that “A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed without remedy.”  In fact, “It is pointless for a child to begin to grow big teeth when there would be no big lips large enough to cover the teeth.” It would be germane to ask killer herdsmen that are literarily developing big teeth whether they have lips large enough to cover the teeth whenever the chips are down.

An African proverb also says “If a blind man says let’s throw stones, be assured that he has stepped on one.” In my view, before killer herdsmen became overtly belligerent and continuing posing as threat to the entire farmers in the middle belt and southern parts of the country, it is suspicious to say that they have a backer behind them. The foregoing view can be buttressed with the fact that there have been allegations from all corners that the federal government is treating herdsmen and bandits with kids-glove compared to the way Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and Mr. Sunday Igboho are been treated with iron fist.

I must confess that I deliberately chose the proverbial format in expressing my views on the issue of killer herdsmen as the issue has been addressed from almost all imaginable perspectives. But alas, the herdsmen have remained adamant to the detriment of our national peace and food security.

At this juncture, it is expedient to say that key decision makers of the killer herdsmen, particularly topnotch herders that are affiliated to Miyetti Allah, should realise that “The tortoise decided to be moving about with its roof (its shell) for it not to be destroyed by the enemies. In the same spirit, it would have been better if killer herdsmen, who I believe are Nigerians, begin to think of how to protect our country from crisis that would both be detrimental to human lives and food production. But ironically, rather than protecting the country from crisis, they are by each passing day causing trouble across the country. On this note, I am using this piece to urge killer herdsmen to be of good conduct, particularly in the farmlands of other Nigerians.

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