BY NDI KATO
I wish to begin this paper by stating that the Nigerian border is POROUS and Nigerians are paying for this with human lives.
Speaking to a delegation from the Security Council of the United Nations On the 5th of March 2017, the theatre Commander Operation Lafiya Dole, Major General Lucky Irabor stated that the greatest challenge of Nigerian troops is the porosity of borders between the neighbouring countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroon and in Lake Chad region. (Vanguard Newspaper, 2017)
For decades, Nigerian borders have been open to developmentally static transhumance practices traversing several countries within the West African Region in search of pasture for livestock.
According to the oxford dictionary, “transhumance is the action or practice of moving livestock from one grazing ground to another in a seasonal cycle, typically to lowlands in winter and highlands in summer”.
Many countries with larger cattle population have mapped out successful and functional methods for optimum produce from their herds. Brazil for example has mapped out a formal cattle industry complete from input to distributors to exports. (Duran, 2014)
This formal and well tracked industry, mostly localized to the following states; São Paulo, Mato Grosso, Goiás, Mato Grosso do Sul, Rondônia and Minas Gerais has created about 360 000 direct jobs as well as thousands of jobs among inputs suppliers, moving almost USD 2 billion in domestic inputs. (Duran, 2014)
Brazil has the biggest commercial beef herds in the world. Why have they been largely successful? Their beef industry has been formalized by the government; one of the tools used to monitor the industry, protect environment and citizens is the public enforcement and environmental laws set in place by the government.
When an industry is well monitored and formalized, proper laws and agreements can be put into place. An example of this is the agreement by large retailers such as Walmart and McDonalds to stop buying from producers in the Brazilian Amazon that clear tropical rain forest to grow soy; this has gone a long way to preserve these forests which if left unmanned will be subject to desert encroachment due to unchecked agricultural practices.**
This is not to say that the Brazilian system is without loopholes but an effort is being made and major progress has been recorded; as earlier stated, despite not having the largest herd in the world, Brazil has the largest commercial herd in the world; one in each five pounds of commercialized cattle meat is from Brazil. The exported volume achieved 264 822 tons in 2012, and generated USD 1.220,316 million in exports. (Duran, 2014)
Nigeria on the other hand, is not ranked among 52 largest beef producing countries as ranked by beef2live.com where South Africa ranks 13th and first in Africa but Nigeria has lost more human lives to the production of mediocre beef than these countries combined. WHY?
For reasons unexplained, Nigeria has done nothing to improve its cattle rearing processes over the course of five decades, has paid little attention to deforestation, monitoring of cattle routes, the influx of transhumance and the creation of special mountain and forest forces to monitor movement of transhumance within the country.
Major fallout of this failure by the Nigerian state is
- Weakened borders
- Proliferation of illegal arms
- Free movement and integration of illegal aliens
The third point is further strengthened by a poor record keeping and national identification process; anyone can be a Nigerian overnight.
Going further, these listed factors have contributed immensely to the crisis in the Middle Belt region of Nigeria with a Nigerian Governor admitting that some of the killers come from other countries in West Africa. However, his solution to the crisis did not involve strengthened borders, policing of cattle routes nor creating a mountaineer force, he paid the killers instead.
At the end of the day, local communities have paid heavily for this continuous oversight. These communities spanning several states with the Middle Belt being the worst hit have been subject to murder and destruction spanning decades with no concrete attempt at a solution in sight.
Children in this region are one of the worst hit with respect to victims of Nigeria’s refusal to upgrade obsolete nomadic practices.
Children and War
According to UNICEF’s Facts and Figures for Children and Emergencies in 2014, An estimated 230 million children live in countries affected by war and strife.
Eighteen million children are growing up in war zones, two million have died, six million have been permanently disabled and one million have become orphans.
Over 300,000 children are forced into violence as child soldiers; these figures have not made room for children caught up in the farmer-herder crisis in the middle belt region of Nigeria.
Nigeria and the international community have failed to acknowledge how dire the situation in the Middle Belt is.
The Impact of the Herders-Farmers Conflict on Children in the Middle Belt
Death: Thousands of children have lost their lives to the herders-farmers conflict; casualties of a situation they know nothing about. These children are either civilian casualty or direct combatants caught up in the crisis.
Injury: Many children who survive attacks on farming communities escaped with various degrees of injuries; a toddler suffered severe burns in the last attack on Southern Kaduna, another had a head injury from a machete.
Disability: Children have been disabled in this crisis, many of whom have grossly inadequate access to rehabilitation services. A young man from Kaninkon Chiefdom had to go under the knife last month to amputate his leg which had become gangrenous; funds had to be solicited and to date, no plans have been made towards the purchase of prosthetics for the amputee; there are many more like him.
Illness: Conditions for maintenance of child health have deteriorated in areas affected by the herders-farmers crisis – nutrition, water safety, sanitation, housing, access to health services. There may be loss of immunity to disease vectors with population movement. A day old baby in the Apa camp where displaced people from Agatu camped last year had no clothes on him and was born without any form of health care. His mum held him in a unsanitary class room where people struggled for relief materials and almost trampled on both mother and child. Leaving that camp, I had little hope for the health of that new born. Displaced children are particularly vulnerable to the deadly combination of malnutrition and infectious illness; the IDP Camps in the North Central are barely recognized by the government thus eliminating their chances of getting relief materials and proper health care which includes immunization thus increasing figures of illnesses and child mortality.
Rape and prostitution for subsistence: Many children from the middle belt have been trafficked for survival. These are issues we have not even acknowledged in this crisis, before we even begin to look into the issue of statistics and tracing of trafficked children.
Many young girls particularly from affected villages in Benue and Kaduna have been sent off to Lagos and other cities to work as underage maids, many have been conscripted into prostitution rings by people who promised to take care of them; Most of the affected children are orphans. All these leave lasting physical impacts in sexually-transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, psychological impacts and changes in life trajectory.
Psychological suffering: Approaching the IDP Camp in Takau, a young child of about four years saw our vehicle arriving; a vehicle she did not recognise. The little girl ran away screaming. She refused to come collect the books we were sharing to the other children. Her mother had already descended on her but we had to explain that the last time this little baby saw strangers approach where she lived, they came to kill and destroy. At four years old, this baby knows that once you see strangers, you run; PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAUMA!
Children in the middle belt are exposed to situations of terror and horror – experiences that may leave enduring impacts in posttraumatic stress disorder. Severe losses and disruptions in their lives lead to high rates of depression and anxiety in war-affected children.
Moral and spiritual impacts: The reaction of Nigerians to the war waging in the middle belt; THE FOOD BASKET of the nation has largely been indifference. The government has shown little will in combating the crisis and providing for the affected. This malevolence has caused many children in the middle belt to suffer loss of meaning in their construction of themselves in their world. They may have to change their moral structure and lie, steal, and sell sex to survive. They may have their moral structure forcibly dismantled and replaced in a permanent quest for survival.
Social and cultural losses: Many Children in the middle belt have lost their communities during the crisis in the middle belt. Some have not been able to return for years; this displacement has also cost many their culture. Displaced people are often stripped of their social identities; the children in the middle belt are no different.
Child soldiers: It is estimated that there are tens of thousands of young people under 18 serving in militias in about 60 countries; children (especially boys) in the middle belt are no different. I was caught up in the Jos crisis of 2008 and many boys under the age of 18 had to go out and protect their communities; no boy above ten years old was allowed to stay indoors with the women and under children, they were outside guarding with the fathers. Many of these boys had to fight off attackers in the dead of the night, some were initiated into traditional, village cults for protection; Yes! These are child soldiers. Many young men who have no formal nor psychological training in warfare but are growing up to see war as a way of life. It should be noted that an 11 year old plateau boy of 2008 is now a 20 year old man who has grown up unchecked in a war zone and has fought in this war for 8 years, losing friends and family along the line. Many young children caught up in the crisis of the early 2000s are now in their 20s; they have grown up with the stress of living in a war zone and are now experiencing severe psychological repercussions as adults STILL in war zones.
Long Term Psychological effect of War on Children in The Middle Belt
Children from war-torn backgrounds have a tendency to develop depression as a result of the horrific things they have seen. A study by Vinck in Northern Uganda found that slightly over half of abducted children had moderate to severe depression. Pfeiffer found that 16 percent of kids who were abducted were depressed and, of these, 34 percent were suicidal. For kids kept over a month rates were even higher, with 24 percent of the total group depressed and 37 percent suicidal. (Thompson, 2014)
In her work on The Psychological Effects of War on Children for the Borgen Magazine, Caitleen Thompson further posits that Children suffer in more ways than PTSD and depression. For example, children that come face to face with armed conflict often feed off of the hostility around them and become violent and aggressive. This sets the motion for a continual circle of violence. (Thompson, 2014) It means communities facing unchecked violence now will continue to experience violence in the future; no end in sight.
On top of this, kids who are exposed to war at a young age are often afraid and more prone to panic attacks, anxiety disorders, bedwetting and nightmares.
NIGERIA NEEDS A PSYCHOLOGICAL INTERVENTION FOR THIS GENERATION OF CHILDREN GROWING UP IN WAR SITUATIONS!
It is crucial to the Middle Belt Region’s children’s emotional health that child psychology specialists are included in the humanitarian efforts to provide aid to affected communities.
Curbing The Herder crisis and Protecting the Life of the Nigerian Child
Sincerity: Nigeria needs to be sincere in its approach towards ending the Herder-Farmer crisis; practical steps should be taken to prioritize the Nigerian life above all in this situation.
Improve and Upgrade of Herding Methods: Nigeria should adopt systems working in developed nations who have optimized their herds. Again, we have a lot to learn from Brazil’s evolution and improved methods; There is a need for the government to take on the improvement of cattle rearing methods.
Create Proper Value Chains: The beef industry in Nigeria has largely been run as an unchecked, underground business thus creating room for illegal activity, cattle rustling and poor produce. Nigeria needs to create a proper cattle industry with a value chain for and by Nigerians. It should be noted that due to this conflict, many Nigerians cannot rear cattle outside of the transhumance tag without being robbed of their herd or in worst case scenarios, killed for owning cattle.
Documentation of Transhumance: For any reason, Nigerian borders should not be opened to undocumented people. Transhumance should be properly documented and tracked throughout the process of their herding within Nigerian borders. Strict documentation and monitoring will ensure a safer breeding process for nomads and citizens alike.
Creation of Mountain/Forest Unit in the Police Force: Developed nations employ mountain/forest rangers to protect areas less visited by the general population. In addition to our weak borders, we do not have any special forces guarding these areas spread across the nation. Recent reports of kidnap and robbery of citizens travelling through forest region by alleged nomads is a pointer to why Nigeria needs special policing for our forests and mountains.
Strengthen Nigeria’s Border Force.
Limit Access of Transhumance: In view of the animosity between Transhumance and non related Farming communities, Ranches in specific states should be created and communities should be allowed to decide whether or not they want Ranches located within their communities.
Justice: The government needs to show commitment to arresting and prosecuting perpetrators of attacks in these communities. The government needs to desist from political and divisive rhetoric which have over the years emboldened attackers.
Quoting Joanna Santa Barbara of the Croatian Medical Journal (Impact Of War on Children and Imperative to End War – 2006), “Perpetrators should be prosecuted for such actions as destroying clinics, schools, and hospitals – all of which are protected by international law. Where access to health services, such as immunization, is hindered by the violent conflict, there should be humanitarian ceasefires to enable access”. But how do we get a ceasefire when government has not acknowledged a war situation in the middlebelt? How do we ensure this when schools, clinics and hospitals are destroyed yet largely ignored by the Nigerian state?
In conclusion, the war in the Middle Belt region of Nigeria has prevailed for too long, preceding the Boko Haram war and further destabilizing the region unchecked. The middle belt has witnessed steady pockets of crisis since the early 2000s, spanning over 16 years and will witness another decade if we continue with the current lackadaisical approach to addressing the factors fuelling the crisis.
We are faced with the danger of communities filled with a generation of children who have only known war their whole lives. These children have little access to school and other aspects of normal childhood and have unfiltered access to war and strife. To put it into perspective, the next generation of Nigerian adults will largely be equipped for adult life by the various aspects of war fare and will relate and manifest the endless cycle of war.
Marama, N. (2017, March 6). Nigeria, Lake Chad Region Porous Borders Pose Threats To Security, Lives. Retrieved from Vanguard: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2017/03/nigeria-lake-chad-region-porous-borders-pose-threats-security-lives/
Najwa, M. (2014). Children and Emergencies in 2014: Facts and Figures. UNICEF
Rebecca, D. (2014). The Brazilian Cattle Industry. Retrieved from The Brazilian Business: http://thebrazilbusiness.com/article/the-brazilian-cattle-industry
Carrie, G. Louise, H. Jana, H & Amy. (2012). Possible Solutions to the Problem of Cattle – Related Deforestation in the Amazon: A Value Chain Analysis of The Beef Industry in Brazil Retrieved from Duke University: https://sites.duke.edu/environ898_10_f2012_wwfbrazilbeef/results/
Caitleen, T. (2014). The Psychological Effect of War on Children. Retrieved from The Borgen Project: http://www.borgenmagazine.com/psychological-effects-war-children/
Miss Kato is the Executive Director
Dinidari Empowerment Foundation, Nigeria