Sustainable peace is not divorced from justice, which involves the elimination of unacceptable political, economic and cultural forms of discrimination. It behoves on the Federal Government, the National Assembly, Benue State Government and the House of Assembly in the State, traditional and religious, as well as civil society organisations (CSOs) to create peace-building structures which would proactively respond to early-warning signs of conflict.
The recent killing of Benue terror kingpin, Terwase Akwaza (Gana) by the Army while on his way to Makurdi for an amnesty deal with the state government has once again put Benue on the terror spotlight. Benue is a metaphor for what happens in most nations within Sub-Saharan Africa like Nigeria, where the activities of terrorists and violent conflict between herders and farmers have led to the loss of lives and property. Environmental degradation and migration have equally led to conflicts over land and grazing fields across the country (World Watch Research, 2015). A deadly spiral of violence between indigenous farmers and semi-nomadic pastoralists of Fulani extraction has gripped the nation in the last six years, fuelling a cycle of tit-for-tat violence (Unah, 2018).
The Benue valley, mostly agrarian, is the melting pot for herders from the African sub-region, who often migrate into the state to access food and water for their cattle. Since the mainstay of Benue is proceeds from agricultural products, often, there is a faceoff between these farmers and the herders who release their animals into people’s farms. In most cases, local communities in the state resort to courts cases or taking the law into their hands by killing these straying livestock. This creates a sense of indignation among the pastoralists who embark on a revenge mission to exterminate communities accused of eating their cattle. Last year, the United Nations lamented these escalating crises.
Sadly, the long standing relationship which has existed between farmers and cattle owners is being lost. Since most Benue indigenes are Christians and the herders are predominantly Muslims, some commentators have fingered ethnicity and religion as factors escalating the conflict. It is alleged that terrorists have targeted Christians and their places of worship, killing over 37,000 people within a decade. Over 2.4 million people are now internally displaced persons (IDPs) in their fatherland. Fulanis are said to have killed over 3,500 people in Nigeria (Fadugba-Pinheiro, 2020). On April 24, 2018, two Catholic priests, Reverend Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha and 17 parishioners were murdered in cold blood at St. Ignatius Catholic Church, Ukpor-Mbalom Parish, Gwer East Local Government Area of Benue State.
The Catholic Bishops of Nigeria (CBCN) have decried instances of killing as a result of clashes between herdsmen and host communities (CBCN, 2019). The unabated killings resulted in a bill which was passed by the Benue State House of Assembly to proscribe open grazing. Following the implementation of a controversial state law in November 2017, which banned open grazing and required livestock to be kept in ranches, violence intensified between farmers and pastoral herders. The State House of Assembly had rejected the proposed 10-year National Livestock Transformation Plan that was aimed at building 94 ranches in 10 pilot states by the Federal Government as a way of ending the conflict in Benue (Unah, 2018). The policy was a plan by the government at the centre to create cattle ranches for pastoralists to breed their cattle without allowing them to roam about in search of pasture for their cattle.
Due to the crucial place of peace in the overall development of Benue State and Nigeria in general, it is expected that employing the rich components of conflict management, such as engaging in capacity building through strategic identification of the means and ends of conflict for a sustainable peace and development in the region, would help.
However, citizens of the state and some Nigerians condemned the policy as selective, stressing that it did not take into cognisance the opinion of locals. Stakeholders in the state felt that ranching would not immediately address the bad blood between both parties and thought that government should have engaged both herders and farmers by visiting their communities to hear from them (Unah, 2018). On its part, the Federal Government seemed to have frowned at the action of the Benue State government.
In the midst of this, the Federal Government made the move to introduce the National Water Resources Bill. In defiance of the Land Act Use of 1978, which places ownership of land and water in the hand of state governments, the controversial bill attempts to transfer ownership of water bodies to the Federal Government. It also expects citizens to seek permission from the government at the centre before they can drill boreholes for private and commercial purposes.
Although the bill did not secure a concurrent passage by both Houses in the Eighth Assembly, the Ninth Assembly ensured that it passed through second reading in the House of Representatives. It has been referred to a House Committee. Many Nigerians have criticised the motion. In particular, Vanguard newspaper reported that on September 1, the Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State threatened to sue the Federal Government if the National Assembly does not rescind the passage into law of the water bill, which was thrown out in 2018 by the Assembly.
Meanwhile, the herder-farmer strife in the Benue Valley has led to unending conflicts in various communities between farm owners and cattle breeders, leading to loss of lives and property. Due to the crucial place of peace in the overall development of Benue State and Nigeria in general, it is expected that employing the rich components of conflict management, such as engaging in capacity building through strategic identification of the means and ends of conflict for a sustainable peace and development in the region, would help.
Sustainable peace is not divorced from justice, which involves the elimination of unacceptable political, economic and cultural forms of discrimination. It behoves on the Federal Government, the National Assembly, Benue State Government and the House of Assembly in the State, traditional and religious, as well as civil society organisations (CSOs) to create peace-building structures which would proactively respond to early-warning signs of conflict. Youth empowerment in addition to establishing peace clubs and training of local peace-builders in the affected local government areas (LGAs) of Katsina-Ala, Ukum and Logo remains crucial. With these in place, the remnants of Gana would not end up like their ilk, Boko Haram insurgents.
Justine John Dyikuk is a Lecturer in Mass Communication, University of Jos, editor of Caritas newspaper and Convener of the Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.