Benue began to meet under the auspices of Peace Architecture Dialogue, PAD, and Community and Security Architecture Dialogue, CSAD, stakeholders say peace has begun to resurface in their various areas. DOOSHIMA HIR reports.

Rising from the 8th PAD meeting for 2019, in Benue state, stakeholders were
full of praises for search for the regular engagement of stakeholders in the
peace processes, saying the continuous dialogue has changed their earlier
perceptions, views and narratives of the numerous crises in the state and
further equipping them with skills on how to handle the issues arising from
them, particularly the herder/farmer crisis.

Search for Common Ground has been in Benue to implement a 24-month
programme tagged, “Transforming the Herder-Farmer Conflicts and Promoting
Freedom of Religion and Beliefs in Nigeria’s Middle Belt,” and the two
platforms CSAD and PAD, which started in January and April 2019
respectively, were part of activities to implement the programme and
achieve their mission.

While the CSAD was established to increase collaboration between farmers and herders communities to develop joint, effective sustainable local mechanism for early warning, early response, dispute management and violence prevention and mitigation at the community level, PAD was to strengthen
implementation of rule of law and accountability measures by the government of focus states and relevant federal government institutions to respond to and prevent violence at state level.

The meetings so far have discussed issues such as cattle rustling, farm
destruction or encroachment, rape, open grazing prohibition and ranches establishment law, drug and substance abuse, lack of funds for establishment of ranches by herders, clashes and attacks on communities, impersonation of herders by other tribes, the use of underage herders, rumours and fake news on farmer herder conflicts among others.

Speaking on the achievements of Search through the dialogue processes, Mr.
Nathaniel Awuapila, a member of the PAD, said “from the beginning, it was
quite commendable. Through Search, we have a very broad based and
formidable platform where stakeholders come regularly to discuss issues of
peace and security with a focus on the Herder-farmer crisis, which is the
bane of Benue state. Secondly, the fact that the PAD, from the beginning,
decided not to work alone but with other initiatives and agencies involved in
the peace process and by extension, building synergy across board, is also
very good.”

Mr. Awuapila said the platform has provided opportunities for enhanced
capacity building of members on key issues especially on the relevant laws
that need to be made reference to when discussing this topic and also
engaging the media in form of media fellows, in the belief that no matter
what is done, if the media is not carried along, there would be a gap.

He noted that the PAD, which started with the CSAD, has worked so well in
Plateau state culminating to the establishment of a peace building
agency. He commended Search saying the feat was made possible through the
useful discussion and contributions of members on the platform and
expressed confidence that the PAD will achieve the same feat in Benue.

He called on the Benue state government to demonstrate ownership and leadership of the forum saying it has worked for other states and can work for Benue. “If all the constituent members play their individual roles well,
it will also contribute towards collective success in the long run,” he

Also speaking, another member of PAD and a representative of the Hausa
community in Guma Local Government Area, Abu Audu said the PAD meetings have enabled the Hausa, Fulani and Tiv communities in Guma to work together to curb cases of cattle rustling in the community. “The forum has helped us
achieve a lot. As expected, after the meetings, we normally go back home
and call our people together for discussions to further proffer suggestions on the way forward.

“The Fulani has always complained of cattle rustling so we started CSAD
meeting with their representatives, the Marine Boat Chairman and deputy,
the chairman of butchers, representatives of Hausa, Jukun and Tiv
communities. Since then, we have been working together to ensure that
trouble makers are identified and handed over to authorities and for a long
time now, we have been living in peace,” Audu said.

Also, the Chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria, AFAN, in Guma
LGA, Mr. Igbedu A. Igbedu said Search for Common Ground has done a lot of
sensitization in Guma saying the platform has promoted friendly
interaction between the Fulani and other communities in Guma adding “now,
if there is a problem, we normally cross over very freely to solve the

He recalled that in August 2019, when a farmer was attacked and amputated,
“it was the Ardo, through Search for Common Ground, that we were
able to catch the culprit who had run away up to Taraba state. The Fulanis
brought the boy themselves and also settled the hospital bill of the woman
at the University Teaching Hospital in Makurdi. This was one of the success
stories of the platforms.”

He said as a result of their meetings, a watch group made up of Fulani,
Jukun and Tiv youths have been set up to monitor the movement of cattle
along the waterways of River Benue to check cattle rustling and curtail
movement of rustled cows through Akor in Guma and boundaries of Awe in
Nasarawa to Gbajimba, Abinse and Makurdi where the rustlers sell them at
cheaper rates.

He expressed happiness that the NGO started the platforms for them saying
the continuous dialogue between the various groups has engendered peaceful
living among them. “We have seen that God will not come down from heaven to
resolve these matters for us. It is only when you sit with your brother that you can resolve them.”

According to him, “our forefathers have been living with the Fulanis and we still know those ones till date. We are not
having problems with those ones, it is the foreigners that we have issues
with. These ones that are coming now, we don’t know them and they do not
know us and they have their mission which is to displace the farmers and
herders who are living within this axis”.

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Igbedu also said they have been discussing with the herders on the need to accept the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law and
approach state government through the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural
Resources, to obtain a ranching permit to ranch their cattle. He also commended Search for using the platform to sensitize members on the
National Livestock Transformation Programme, NLTP, saying most of the
stakeholders got to know about the policy through the PAD platform.

He therefore appealed to farmers and herders to take advantage of the
policy as implemented under the Benue open grazing prohibition law to go
into animal husbandry as an alternative means of livelihood.

The Chairperson of Ja’amatu Nasir Islam, Women Wing, Benue State Chapter, Hauwa Isah said the PAD meeting has helped by demystifying all the misinformation and misinterpretation that came with the farmer/herder crisis.

Through continuous sensitization and dialogue on these platforms, the
farmers and the herders now know why they need one another. If we knew all that we know now, the farmer-herder crisis and other problems we have now in the state would have been avoided.

According to her, the Fulanis are not the only ones that rear animals in
the state hence government should carry out enough sensitization on the
Anti-Open Grazing law to enable people know what it is all about. “However,
the platforms have carried a lot of people along with sensitization on the
law and constant dialogue on several issues causing crisis in the communities. Today our communities are better and peaceful.”

Hauwa informed that stakeholders contributed to engendering peaceful
election in Benue in 2019. She stated that Benue is a peace loving state and advocated that Christian and Muslim leaders in the state should also form similar platforms to tackle issues that have to do with religion.

She also called on the state government to come forward and lead the
forum to ensure sustainability. “Search has come to help us and we cannot
go to sleep. So, beyond Search, we should ensure continuity so that together we can detect early warning signs of crisis and be able to push it back.”

A Legal Practitioner and member of the PAD Steering Committee, Joseph
Gbagyor, who also added a voice to the success stories, said Search for
Common Ground has done excellently well in sensitizing some critical stakeholders in Benue particularly on the implementation of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law.

He said people are now aware of the provisions of the law and who plays what role. According to him, the NLTP and the Benue law can play a role of reciprocity to each other saying the law and the policy are both talking about ranching and fostering peace and harmonious living among all groups living in the state.

He said a deeper awareness on the law and the NLTP would go a long way in
encouraging people to embrace it. “It is ignorance that is killing us. Many people are not even aware of the objectives or economic benefits of this law and the policy but search has partnered with lawyers and security agencies
to create awareness and we encourage the Benue stakeholders to continue
where Search has taken it.

Gbagyor who noted that Search has started in the right direction called for
a deeper stakeholders’ involvement saying all departments of livestock and
natural resources in all the local governments in the state and Association of Local Government Chairmen, ALGON, should all be carried along to domesticate what is being done and ensure sustainability.

In her contribution, the Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism
in the state, Mrs. Ngunan Addingi, commended Search for Common Ground for building capacity of stakeholders for peace in the state. Addingi, who spoke through the Director of Research and Documentation at the Ministry, Mr. Ben Ebe, promised effective collaboration with the NGO in achieving their mission in the state.

Speaking to the Next Edition in Makurdi, the State Coordinator for Search, Mr. Joshua Chorbe explained that Intra and Inter dialogue processes were used to engage groups, and through trainings for all the stakeholders both at the local government and state level and expressed joy that the strategies have helped in reducing most of the incidences at the communities through collaboration and effective reports on early warning with swift response by appropriate authorities.

He stated that their expectations were that farmer and herder communities expand ownership over a sustained, scaled peace and community security architecture and early warning system that will include law enforcement, government, civil society actors, traditional and religious leaders for prevention of violence and address the cause, drivers and consequences of
famer-herder conflicts.

He said Search wants farmer and herder communities’ engagement and more
collaborations and synergy between stakeholders with LG and State
government sustaining the platforms in the state.