NPR: Why It's Now A Crime To Let Cattle Graze Freely In 2 Nigerian States

Farmer-herder conflict in Nigeria is now deadlier than Boko Haram. Will this controversial approach to peacebuilding help, or only make matters worse?

Sale Tambaya, a cattle herder in central Nigeria, grazes his cows. After his home state criminalized open grazing on November 1, he and his family fled with their livestock to a neighboring state where grazing is allowed. Two of his sons died on the journey. (Tim McDonnell)

Sale Tambaya, a cattle herder in central Nigeria, grazes his cows. After his home state criminalized open grazing on November 1, he and his family fled with their livestock to a neighboring state where grazing is allowed. Two of his sons died on the journey. (Tim McDonnell)

This story first appeared on NPR.

As a cattle herder in Benue, a rural state in central Nigeria, Sale Tambaya's life revolved around his herd of roughly 100 cows and a few dozen sheep. Normally, he would take them out from a pen near his thatched hut every morning to graze freely in the surrounding grassland. But on November 1, taking grazing animals in the open was designated a criminal activity in Benue. Overnight, his family's livelihood had become a threat to their safety.

So at 6 a.m., he made his decision: The only way to keep both family and herd safe was to flee.

Tambaya, his wife Hafsat, and their six children walked all day with the herd. In the evening they finally reached the Benue River, a powerful tributary of the Niger that separated their home state from neighboring Nasarawa, where they hoped to find refuge and a place to graze the livestock. While Tambaya, Hafsat and four of the children boarded a ferry, two of the boys drove the cows and sheep into the water, clinging to the cows' tails because they didn't know how to swim. Both sons, as well as most of the sheep and 20 cows, drowned before reaching the opposite bank.

Benue is now the second Nigerian state to implement a ban on the open grazing of cattle, after nearby Taraba implemented a ban this summer. It's a controversial new approach to resolving a long saga of conflict between Nigeria's pastoralists and their farmer neighbors that has come with unintended violence and displacement, as shown in this video from the scene.

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