07/11/2016 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Radical Islamist Fulani militants continue to raze and displace Christian farming villages from the far north of Nigeria through the “Middle Belt” and into the southeast since 2001. Until recently, the problem has gone on unabated.
Instead of addressing the issue with established, effective, and authoritative policy, the Nigerian government is instead attempting to paste a divisive and pacifying band-aid on the blood-drenched crisis.
In 2015, the Global Terrorism Index accredited 81 percent of deaths in Nigeria’s “Middle-Belt” central region to Fulani militants. The crisis has only gotten worse in 2016 with massive attacks on Benue State, murdering at least 500 Christians.
Nigeria’s government, led by Muhammadu Buhari, a member of the Fulani elite from Katsina State in the North, plans to create grazing areas for the Fulani militants in all of Nigeria’s states. For communities that have personally suffered at the hands of the Fulani militants, resident Christians clamor to oppose such a measure with great concern and disappointment.
The proposition would buy up large swaths of farmland from native communities in each Nigerian state to re-purpose the real estate for a corridor through which nomadic Fulani cattle herders could traverse. The motion being debated before the Federal House of Representatives is just one of a handful of different potential solutions being discussed in hopes of curbing the rampant violence plaguing Nigeria.
Christians Protesting Controversial Grazing Bill
In late June, the Plateau Youth G17 Peace and Progressive Forum advocacy group took to the streets of Jos, Plateau State, in protest against what they termed “land grabbing under the guise of grazing reserve.”
The group’s spokesman told International Christian Concern (ICC) that the grazing reserve idea is akin to giving land to a group who is already taking it by force.
“Our communities have been ravaged by the Fulani militants already, and about thirty villages already forcefully occupied by them, and we are still being told to give land so that we are not killed?” he told ICC.
Christians continue to protest the measure because they feel it rewards the perpetrators of mass murder.
The National Executive of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) raised concerns about the Grazing Reserve on June 15.
“The criminal menace of these [militants] is now affecting almost all the states of the federation,” the body said. “The Church calls on the Federal Government and the National Assembly to suspend consideration of this bill in its entirety.”
Nigerian Christians fear that the radical Islamist Fulani expansion into southern Nigeria represents progress towards Islamizing the entire country.
Nuts and Bolts of the Grazing Reserve
The Plateau Youth spokesman told ICC that sections 17 and 18 of the proposed Grazing Reserve Bill would give a government commission the power to take over land it deems appropriate for grazing purposes in any state of Nigeria. Owners of this “appropriate land” would be compensated for their immediate losses.
E.Y. Orker-Jev represents Buruku Federal Constituency, an area of Benue State that has seen the brunt of Fulani fury since the February massacre.
He says Christians oppose what they interpret to be a massive land grab.
“[The bill says that] government should buy land from the natives and give compensation. People are interpreting that as taking it by force. Compensation has not yet been determined,” he said.
Furthermore, there are questions arising as to who the real beneficiaries of the grazing reserves would be.
“Who are they, in the first place?” the spokesman said. “There are security indications that many of those people are not Nigerians! So you want to take our land and give it to foreigners? Why [not] take government funds to fund cattle rearing which is private business?” he added.
Fulanis are a nomadic tribe of 18 million who follow the seasonal rains across the Sahel from Senegal to Sudan. Traditionally, their transient lifestyle pushes up against modern notions of citizenship and exclusive nationality.
Nigerian officials say that the Grazing Reserve Bill is one of three motions the legislature continues to discuss that seek to deal with the Fulani crisis.
Rep. Orker-Jev says the House of Representatives is debating a measure that would establish private cattle ranching instead of a grazing reserve.
“The ranching option appears to be more popular among various sections of Nigeria,” Orker-Jev told ICC. “Cattle ranching is a business. It’s not something that should happen at the expense of other peoples’ way of life,” he added.
A cattle ranching bill would establish private lands with fenced-off perimeters so that not only would cattle herding be controlled inside private property, but the native communities which cede the land to form the ranches could make rental profit from its usage.
Instead, a grazing reserve policy will only serve to legitimize the displacement and forceful occupation of Christian farmlands.
These communities have suffered relentless massacres by Fulani radical militants. However, the Nigerian government is now working to decriminalize their incursion across Nigeria.
Representative Istifanus Gyang (Barkin Ladi/Riyom Federal Constituency, Plateau State) explained that “to insist on creating any grazing reserve in this constituency or anywhere near it will rather than solving the problem, create new ones and further exacerbate the situation it is intended to remedy.”
Gyang hopes that the legislature will instead adopt policies that will best serve Nigeria’s national interest against those who threaten its security.