Adopting ‘Otukpo’s approach’ will end herder-farmer crisis in Nigeria – U.S. based journalist

By Felix Khanoba

A United States (U.S.) based Nigerian journalist, Chikezie Omeje, has called on communities in the country to explore the approach adopted by Otukpo in Benue State to curb Fulani herdsmen and farmers clashes.

Omeje, who studied data journalism at Columbia University in the City of New York, made the call on Monday during a virtual workshop on covering farmer-herder violence through data-driven solution journalism.

He said journalists have the responsibility to report in a way that will end the crisis instead of escalating the ugly menace through their reportage.

“Conflict between farmers and cattle herders has been reoccurring in Nigeria for decades but has escalated in recent years. The conflict is about land-use and grazing rights which have caused the cycle of violence with no regards for the humanity of victims.

“When will the violence end? Who will end it?” the Enugu State- born Omeje queried.

Speaking on the Otukpo’s example, Omeje said one incident of farmer-herder clash had been recorded in Otukpo in recent years despite other areas in Benue constantly coming under attacks.

He said: “The Fulani militia has attacked the state at least 303 times since 2005, killing no fewer than 2,539 people, nearly one-third of all the reported killings by the herdsmen in the country, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED).

“The 2017 Benue State Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law requires livestock owners to buy land and establish ranches, prohibiting open movement of animals within the state. But incessant attacks by the herdsmen have followed the anti-open grazing law. Fulani militia attacked the state 82 times in 2018….

“But in Otukpo, herdsmen reach agreements with landowners who allocated plots of land for cattle to feed on. They have livestock guards who lead the herdsmen as they go to the stream.

“They hold meetings every month where they discuss issues affecting them. The herdsmen serve as security in their settlement and other parts of Otukpo.”

While calling on journalists to leverage on data by ACLED as well as Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) by the Council on Foreign Relations that tracks violence in Nigeria, Omeje warned against stereotype of any groups in reportage, stressing the need for adequate focus on the real issues.

“Violence can be sustainably prevented or reduced if there is an improved awareness of the magnitude and negative impact of the conflict,” he said. “Violence can be reduced if solutions being taken by communities to maintain peace are reported.”

He added that “Peace building efforts can be enhanced if the stakeholders have a better understanding of the conflict dynamics.”

The AUTHORITY reports that the workshop was organised by Chikezie Omeje, a data and science journalist, as part of his Davis Projects for Peace at International House in New York.

The Davis Projects for Peace empowers students to carry out peace initiatives around the world every summer. The programme was the vision of the late Kathryn Davis who launched it in 2007 on her 100th birthday.

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