Nomadic pastoralism is a system of livestock management in which a herder moves about with his herd or flock from one location to another in search of pasture to graze upon. The animals and the herders have to embark to sojourns of several kilometres to graze especially during periods of scarcity of green pasture. This system has been and remains part of the cultural practices or heritage of some tribes across the globe. This system is practised in countries such as Nigeria, India ,Kenya, Iran e.t.c.
While growing up the sight of herdsmen and their herd of grazing cattle was a source of excitement (due to their size and horns)as they went about their activities peacefully as the herders or herdsmen paid rapt attention to their herd ensuring that they didn't graze on farmer's crops or disrupt people's activities.
All this has changed in recent times as unscrupulous elements amongst the herdsmen have adopted a life of crime and thus made the mention of herdsmen to be synonymous with notoriety and dread. Due to this the media and most people have labelled the entire herdsmen who are mostly of Fulani extraction as criminals and bandits due to the nefarious activities of some her members. I however, prefer to classify them into 3 groups:
1. The law abiding ones who roam peacefully with their cattle and avoid farms as well as damaging crops that are planted.
2. The law breakers who allow their herd to graze indiscriminately destroying farmlands in the process.
3. The criminals who use the cover or guise of herding cattle to engage in kidnapping and other vices
The second group seem to be emboldened by the status of the owners of the cattle they are herding as the herders in this group are usually employed to take the animals about to graze. These owners often times turn out to be members of the 'host' community or influencial members of the society.
This brings to memory the case of a man who called in when the issue of cattle destroying farmlands was the topic of discussion on a live radio programme in my state of residence. He bitterly narrated how the crops in his farm had been destroyed by cattle and all his efforts to get justice including taking the issue to the head of the community who eventually turned out to be one of the cattle owners alongside other prominent members of the same community.
The criminals among the herdsmen who belong to my third classification engage in kidnapping while using their cattle as cover have been reported to wield AK-47 rifles and other dangerous weaponry. This development is baffling an worrisome at the same time for some obvious reasons.
According to a Forbes article in 2017, an AK-47 can cost anywhere between $600 (in Afghanistan) to $2,800 ( on the darkweb). This fact then begs the question,where would a nomadic pastoralist accumulate such amount from to be able to afford to purchase an AK-47 as well as the rounds of ammunition? , unless of course he is getting some sort of "help" from persons or individuals who have the resources to facilitate or make such purchases.
The tales from victims of these criminals amongst the herdsmen paints a picture that is different of what we used to know the herdsmen for of being largely individuals who chose the simple nomadic livestyle with no attraction for the sophistication of advanced technological systems. The stores portray these criminals in the midst of the herdsmen as a sophisticated bunch who appear to have received weapons training of some sorts and who are proficient in the use of modern security systems and communication gadgets. Some reports have even indicated that some of them have adopted receiving payments in cryptocurrencies in order to reduce the risk of being apprehended via tracking of ransom payments.
These criminal elements are constantly evolving tactics to sustain their kidnapping activities and evade capture by security operatives. In a recent operation against this group, the security operatives made an astonishing discovery. The kidnappers had found a way to affix cattle hooves to the soles of their footwear. The essence of this contraption was to mask their movement as well as those of the kidnapped victims such that any tracker trying to give pursuit would be thrown of their trail if he encounters imprints of cattle hooves instead of footprints.
Another dimension to the herdsmen debacle are criminals who are not herdsmen but decide to adorn themselves with the toga of herdsmen to perpetrate the evil of kidnapping for ransom. Several of such persons have been apprehended and paraded by law enforcement agents to the surprise and disdain of members of the public who had previously attributed their crimes to herdsmen.
Irrespective of whether or not crimes are being perpetrated by individuals within or without the community of herdsmen in the names of herds men, the practice of pastoral nomadism needs to gradually be dropped in favour of ranching. Ranching is a win-win for everyone as cases of farmer-herders conflict would be a thing of the past. The output from cattle rearing will also be improved as the animals no longer experience the stress of trekking long distances in search of grazing pasture thus also increasing the income of the cattle owners from their sales.
Sadly some of the antagonists to the idea of ranching who are fighting the suggestions from the shadows are wealthy individuals who are cattle owners but do not want to invest in the infrastructure required to engage in ranching. These people assume albeit wrongly that the practice of nomdic pastoralism is cheaper than ranching while not considering the numerous economic benefits (from value chain addition to meat and milk products) that they can derive from rearing their cattle in ranches.