HERDSMEN CRISES IN NIGERIA: HOW THE KENYAN MASAI NOMADS DEALT WITH DROUGHT (Part 1)
I have followed with dismay the reports of killings of farmers by herdsmen, as a human being I am very concerned that human lives could be so wasted to preserve livestock – animals! There have been lots of suggestions, accusations, counter-accusations, suspicions, conspiracy theories etc. My own concern is this - I believe every citizen should be given a chance to live peacefully in their own country and do their part to make it a better place and not pose dangers to the lives of others. So when I say and do things, it is in hope that it would be well with my country.
The farmers being killed might be poor smallholders but they contribute immensely to economic growth. Still on the seriousness of this problem, a friend recently told me of a Diaspora Nigerian who had decided to start investing in his home country. So he got land somewhere in the southwest, employed workers and started a farm. He engaged the services of my friend who is an agric consultant. About the time my friend was to start her consulting services on the farm, herdsmen came along with their cattle and went on rampage. The farm workers fled for their dear lives. The farm was completely destroyed. This Diaspora Nigerian lost his investments and returned abroad – he may likely never come back. The workers who have mouths to feed lost their jobs. My friend missed the opportunity to earn extra income. This issue could dissuade more Nigerians in the Diaspora from coming to invest in their fatherland – in agriculture. So there is a threat to Nigeria’s active agricultural workforce, to food security, to economic growth, to human security- the sanctity of human lives and also to the perception of our country internationally.
Cattle Colony was proposed as a solution - I checked up the Meaning of the word Colony: a group of people who create a settlement in a distant land but remain under the governmental control of their native country or a group of similar animals that live together.
Nigeria was once a British colony. If we allow cattle colony, is it not possible that innocent children are someday asked,
QUESTION: Nigeria has been a colony of ……?
Britain and Cattle
None of the above
Don’t be surprised, if the answer they give is C. Britain and Cattle. That doesn’t sound good, does it?
But the actual reason that people are crying out that they do not want Cattle Colonies is because herdsmen in Nigeria have been known to destroy people’s property (farms) and kill with impunity. So when people are scared that a decision could someday result in their death, telling them to keep quiet is tantamount to demanding that they sacrifice their lives on the altar of someone’s political success. If we have Cattle Colonies very close to human settlements i.e farm settlements, someday in future – for one reason or the other, the herdsmen could still bring out their herds to the nearby human or farm settlements and before the police arrive, lots of damage could have been done and lives could be lost.
So if people say, ‘’we are worried that herdsmen could someday kill us if they stay near us,” that is not automatically accusing the government or security operatives of complicity or complacency. Let our leaders stop seeing people’s desire to live as a political confrontation.
The association of cattle breeders also owe it to Nigerians to do a meeting of their stakeholders and say “People sharing the same identity as we, are breaking the laws of our land and killing people – we have a responsibility to expose them and make sure they are brought to justice so that we can prove beyond doubt that we have no hand in the killings. Meanwhile we would also explore lasting solutions to the challenges confronting us such as cattle rustling and the insecurity to our own lives.”
Let us be Pro-Life solution-minded rather than score political points or be politically correct. I want to pinpoint a solution that the Masai pastoralists of Kenya used. They also had and still have the challenge of drought. In 2009, I was privileged to attend a training funded by UK Department for International Development (DFID) organised by a reputable UK-based Media house. Part of the training entailed going on tour of Okirimathan – a community of Masai Nomads in Kenya faced with very intense drought – cattle dying in large numbers. Like our Fulanis or herdsmen generally, the Masais also did not also want a sedentary lifestyle. But the Masais did not encroach on people’s farmlands and kill with impunity, rather they insisted on taking over some National Game Reserves i.e Forests inhabited by wild animals for grazing their livestock. Being a tourist destination, the Kenyan government was very concerned about the preservation of the wild-life.
The leaders of Okirimathan – the Masai community I went used their brains – they incorporated tourism and made community laws preventing the herdsmen from killing the wild animals or face penalties if discovered to have killed any animal but in Nigeria herdsmen are killing humans to preserve cattle’s lives!
These Masais built tents and furnished them like any standard hotel - tent dinning room and tent bedrooms with tiled floors, beds, tables, chairs – showers, water cisterns, etc for tourists on adventure or research - the incomes generated from the tourism was used for community development projects. So the herdsmen had to train themselves on how to handle wild animals they come in contact with without killing them.
If I had not been there I would probably not believe it. I and some other African trainees with our trainers from UK slept in these different tents surrounded by thick forests and wild animals for two nights. There were also other European tourists on research – during the nights there were different sounds of wild animals such as the roars of lion. To prevent animals attempting to come near the tents, the Masais would put lights in front of each tent at night – when the generator is down, they would use lanterns – as long as the wild animals know humans are there they would not normally come near. Also some of the Masais worked as guards round the settlements. They served us all manner of fresh beef delicacies and fresh milk – because the cattle reared in the forest were very robust.
During the day, we were taken by the Masais on rides inside a jeep to the main clusters of the wild animals – I saw so many wild animals life –giraffes, antelopes, buffalos, ostriches etc - the zebras were so gloriously beautiful, but we saw quite a number of the beautiful zebras dead with the fleshy thigh area and abdomen eaten off by lions. The lions seemed to prefer eating zebras.
To ensure the wild animals know humans are approaching, the Masais taking cattle, sheep and goats on grazing in the forest usually wear the red colour of their native clothes. Because red is a sharp colour, the wild animals would see them coming from afar and run. Some of the Masais usually moved with dogs but the leaders had to warn them to stop taking dogs along because wild animals would normally want to conquer another animal so having dogs usually led to confrontations that could result in a Masai pastoralist having to battle with a wild animal. Even without dogs, I learnt there were also instances when there were confrontations between wild animals and the pastoralists. So part of the training for a young Masai especially from boyhood is teaching them how to handle confrontations with a wild animal without killing the animal.
When we returned to the nearby village, I was having a conversation with some Masais. When we initially arrived in the village before going to the forest resort, I was scared of the Masais in their native appearance but discovered they are so nice to strangers – My fellow country Fulanis, what about you?
During the conversation, I expressed how worried I was at the possibility of a lion emerging – the women and a boy burst into laughter – the boy just about 9 or 10years said there was no need to be afraid of lions. I questioned him further – by the way- they could speak English because one of the priorities of a nomadic pastoralist facing even financial challenges from drought was sending his children to school to read and write and communicate effectively and respectably with strangers. During weekends and holidays, these children along with adults or on their own take cattle, other livestock into the forest to graze. Their community is near to the forests. The boy showed me his stick, part of the training he had received was handling wild animals in the forest with sticks to protect himself and drive away the animals without killing them. So, they were able to preserve their wild animals and their tourism and still feed their livestock in the forest.
But here in Nigeria our herdsmen defend themselves with guns even to the point of launching attacks on defenceless people who protest encroachment on their farmlands to preserve their crops, their sweat!
Continues in Part 2: http://www.farmcafeng.com/business-post.php?id=169