AKEEM NAFIU writes on the controversy being raised by the federal government’s plan to commit N179 billion into cattle ranches in 10 states ravaged by herdsmen, farmers clashes
Piqued by incessant clashes between farmers and herdsmen which had put President Muhammadu Buhari-led government on the spotlight, and its popularity waning by the day ahead of next year’s general election, the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) party has come up with a solution.
It is planning to create 94 ranches in 10 States being ravaged by incessant herdsmen, farmers’ clashes.
The intention was made public at the end of the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
All the 36 State Governors are members of the NEC.
The NEC was reported to have approved a 10-year National Livestock Plan which would cost about N179 billion and about N70 billion of the budget would be disbursed between now and the expiration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s first four-year tenure in 2019.
The project is about to be launched in Benue and Nasarawa states. These are two states which had been badly hit by the clashes occasioned by frequent herdsmen and farmers’ clashes which had led to loss of thousands of lives and property.
Apparently piqued by the calamity wrecked by the frequent clashes between farmers and the herdsmen, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbe, who spoke on behalf of the federal government, noted that open grazing was no longer viable.
According to him cattle herders would be the greatest beneficiaries of the project in the next few years.
The minister while allaying fears that the project would lead to seizure of land from owners or communities, expressed government’s determination to create the ranches in the violent prone states.
He said: “The conflict didn’t begin because the laws were passed. No, the conflict has been brewing but the laws were enacted in desperation by a state. Farmers went to the governor and complained, ‘they are killing us’, so, the governor says, ‘let me pass a law’. If we did what we are doing now 20 years ago, we will not be where we are now.
“The truth is that open grazing is no longer viable. We may not end it in one day, but it has to end and government has to help. This conflict is not peculiar to Nigeria alone; it’s happening in Argentina; it happened in the U.S. in the 19th century, in Pakistan and others. So, this is what we should have started doing 20 years ago. We didn’t and that’s why we are where we are.
“Lastly, government has no intention of seizing anybody’s land. So, the idea that somebody is going to forcefully take the land is not true.
“The ECOWAS Treaty says free movement of human, animals and goods. We had a meeting with the ECOWAS ministers here. We are going to have another. We will tell them, ‘you must do what Nigerians want.
“Roaming is no longer an answer. We may have to shut our borders. How large is the Nigerian border space? 4,037 square kilometres is the landmass from Sokoto to Badagry and from Borno to Calabar. Added up is plus 830 kilometres of coastline. Half of our borders are open. Should we build a wall? People wander in and out. So, it is a very complex thing.
“When we implement this thing, how do we prevent cows from West Africa marching in when they like with no respect for our tradition and cultures? These are the problems we face.
“In these ranches, we can then say nomadic education can work, the Fulani are in clusters. By 5a.m., they milk their cows and sell to the milk processing plants which will be installed there. They begin to realise that it pays to stay.
“There is an experiment we did in Kano. The firm tried to settle a number of herdsmen in a location and they gave scholarship to their children. If your male child is in school, they buy your milk for N120 per litre but if your girl child is in school, they buy it for N140 per litre and believe me, every morning Fulani send their children to school while they milk their cows.
They have to be in one place. So, a lot of incentives will come and we will use the cow dungs to generate electricity.”
Notwithstanding, opinions have been divided among Nigerians on proprietary of the N179 billion being proposed by the federal government.
While it was lauded by a few Nigerians, Afenifere, a Yoruba socio-political organization and the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) have described it as ridiculous on the rationale behind deployment of public fund for 94 ranches in the affected states.
They said although they were not oppose to the idea of creating ranches, the groups said it would be morally wrong for government to spend N179 billion public funds to establish ranches for herdsmen who were “private businessmen without a record of paying taxes.”
The group in a statement co-signed by Yinka Odumakin for South-West region, Senator Bassey Henshaw (South-South), Prof. Chigozie Ogbu (South-East) and Dr Isuwa Dogo (Middle Belt), noted that the 2014 National Conference had reasoned out the issue and recommended ranching as being done in all civilised countries.
It reads: “The decision to ignore this sensible recommendation has led to a situation where untold terror has been unleashed on farming communities with needless loss of hundreds of lives in the last three years with not a soul under prosecution and top functionaries of the administration making excuses for the killers.
“We, however, object to the FG’s decision to spend N179 billion of public funds to build these ranches over 10 years starting with N70 billion under this administration.
“What would our society become if fishermen, farmers and people in other trades begin to cause bloodbath so the Federal Government could give them special consideration?
“We call on the Federal Government to shelve the idea of committing public funds to ranches and allow the owners of the business to attend to their business needs in the spirit of “I belong to everybody” mantra of the president.
“To go ahead with the plan is to say that cattle owners own this government and that would make other segments of society to say ‘we have no inheritance in this arrangement.
However, some senior lawyers have also been speaking on the propriety or otherwise of government’s decision to use public funds in creating ranches in some troubled states.
Speaking on the issue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Seyi Sowemimo said the Federal Government’s involvement on the issue of herdsmen/farmers clashes had created a lot of political problems for the country. He was of the view that the problem can be better handled by state governments.
He said: “I would think that issues like these should be left to state governments. It’s not something that the Federal Government should be involved in. The issue of herdsmen/farmers clashes is already creating a lot of political problems for us because of the unnecessary involvement of the Federal Government in it. People now think that government is taking side with the herdsmen.
“Already, many state governments have put up anti-grazing laws and I don’t think it will be proper for the Federal Government to now start to do things that might undermine the efforts of the state government.
“The cattle are owned by private individuals and I think they should look for land to graze their cattle. If there is any problem in that line, then, the state governments should come in and not the Federal Government. This will reduce the level of disputes. So, I don’t support the idea that the Federal Government should continue to dabble into this matter”.
Sowemimo was echoed by the National President of the Campaign for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Malachy Ugwummadu, who also wanted state governments to shoulder the responsibility.
“One thing to note is that Nigeria as presently constituted desires to operate a federation. We are not practicing a federal system of government, but a true federal system recognizes the juxtaposition of state powers across tiers of government.
Even the Constitution further recognizes that the entire land assets of a nation belongs to the state and shall be vested in the governors who are to hold them in trust for the people.
“This means that each federating state shall have an autonomous power to deal with the peculiarities of the state. So, it will completely be an affront, a travesty and perversion of the sacred ethoes of federalism if the Federal Government can just wake up from its olympian height and begin to not just teleguide but also make unholy incursion into the private dealings of the federating states by trying to regulate their activities including the establishment of ranches. All these are happening because we have all along being practicing a perverse federal system of government.
“In the same vein, in spite of the enormous powers at its disposal, the Federal Government still delve into issues that ordinarily should be the business of state governments. It is with that ease that the Federal Government has made the proposal of the establishment of ranches but it needs to be reminded that for a heterogeneous society like ours which comprised people of diverse cultural make up, religion and ways of life, it cannot afford it.
“It is also illegal for the Federal Government to venture into activities that are not exclusively specified under the Constitution.”
Now, don’t take away the merit of ranching as the solution to the crisis. Ranching is the way to go in contemporary society as against the old tradition of cattle rearing”, he said.
Jiti Ogunye, believed the Federal Government action was a step in the right direction. He said it will be practically impossible for the herdsmen to secure the lands by themselves owing to some factors beyond their control.
He said: “Under the Land Use Act, by virtue of Sections 1 and 2, all land in a state are vested in the governor of the state as a trustee for the benefit of the people of the state. So, the Federal Government is not the operator of the Land Use Act. That is why anytime the Federal Government wants to cite any project in any state, it must work through the state to enable the state acquire the land in its favour.
“Now, for these lands that are going to be acquired, it is the states that are listed as the pilot scheme that would acquire them to start the ranches. The Federal Government in the circumstances of the perennial clashes between agrarian sedentary farmers who are tied to their lands and crops for survival and the itinerant nomadic pastoralist had to intervene. This intervention ought not to generate hasty condemnation.
“If we are saying that the pastoralists are engaged in private business and therefore they should go and buy their lands, what are the practical impediments? How would they as individuals or in their clusters be able to buy the large expanse of land that is required to contain those cattles? Secondly, as we have seen in Benue state, how do we deal with the reluctance of the locals to sell lands to those they regard as their predators and enemies? So, there are practical impediments which can only be overcome by government using resources through the power of land acquisition to be able to do the project.
“What I see in the prevailing situation is that there is a need for the Federal Government’s intervention. I have publicly advocated ranching and I think government is now reluctantly heeding the call. Don’t forget that not quite long, the Minister of Defence was asking states to drop the anti-grazing law and allow cattle to moving around. This tells you that the Federal Government is even reluctant on the issue of ranching. Now that government is talking about the issue, it’s unfortunate that some people are against it using false arguments.”
“In the prevailing circumstances, we cannot say that if there was no government-led acquisition of ranches, individuals on their own can muster the funds and talk with the state government. It has to be a policy by the government for it to materialize. Except it is implemented as an agricultural policy by government, we will not get out of the woods on that matter.”
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