Cattle colony: So many questions, few answers

Cattle colony: So many questions, few answers
March 05 18:44 2018 Print This Article

By Nasir Kura

Since the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, disclosed federal government’s plan to establish cattle colonies as a way of checking the incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers, the issue has continued to generate reactions.

While the ministers said that 16 states had indicated their interest in the scheme and are willing to give land for the project, the policy has become a controversial issue with Nigerians trying to understand its merits or otherwise.

Many state governments, ethnic and regional associations have met over the policy and took positions.

Already, but expectedly, many states in the south, and even few in the north, opposed the policy. In fact, some governors in the north who have earlier supported the idea now withdraw their support.

Yahaya Bello of Kogi state, for instance, who was quoted as endorsing the policy, has allegedly been told by two of the three major ethnic groups in the state – the Igala and Yoruba – to steer clear of their territory in his search for the land to be used as cattle colony.

The Kogi situation is similar to Plateau’s, one of the states listed by Ogbeh as ready to allocate land for the purpose. Some of state’s leaders have openly rejected the idea and vowed to resist it.

First to make his position in the Plateau was Senator Jonah Jang, Lalong’s predecessor, who said that his constituents were opposed to the creation of cattle colonies and were not ready to relinquish their ancestral lands to be used for that.

Mr Titus Alams, former Speaker, Plateau House of Assembly, also voiced his opposition to the policy, declaring that Plateau has no land to spare as its farmers do not even have enough.

Hearing voices kicking against the policy in his state, Lalong’s media aide issued a statement that no land in Plateau would be used as cattle colony.

Ironically, some leaders of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), the umbrella body of the herdsmen, do not believe on the need for cattle colonies, which is nearer to ranching.

Alhaji Sadiq Gidado, its Chairman in Awka, Anambra state, told newsmen recently that cattle colonies would not work, especially in the South-east geopolitical zone.

“In the South-East, the proposed cattle colonies cannot work. You cannot just take somebody’s land and give to another person to conduct his own business. It is not right,” he said.

He said that the Anambra government has devised a way of avoiding herdsmen/farmers clashes by working in synergy with security operatives, farmers and herdsmen through the Cattle Menace Control Committee.

Gidado, who dismissed cattle colonies and ranches as “political creations’’ by politicians to bring disharmony between farmers and herdsmen, blamed the frictions on migrant cattle breeders, who were not members of MACBAN, saying that the body had fashioned out some measures to forestall future incidents.

“The regulation is that you only graze where there are no farms,” he said. “If you destroy farmlands intentionally or unintentionally, you must be punished for what you have done and be made to pay for what you have destroyed.”

As the policy gets increasingly controversial, pundits appear lost over the difference between the colonies and ranches. Or even the grazing reserves the National Assembly rejected in 2008.

Ogbeh explained: “Cattle colonies are better for the breeding of cows because 30 or 40 ranches can share the same colony. A ranch is usually owned by an individual or a company with generally few cows. In a colony, you could find 30,000 cows owned by different owners.

“The reason why we are designing the colony is that we want to prepare on a large scale, on economy of scale, a place where many owners of cattle can co-exist, and where cows can be fed well, because we can make their feeds. They can get good water to drink. Cows drink a lot of water. We can give them green fodder.’’

From the minister’s explanation, colonies will be larger and sit on lands acquired by the federal government, unlike ranches where cattle breeders will acquire land according to extant rules and subject their operations to the norms and cultures of their host communities.

Yet, the idea of cattle colony has remained largely unpopular because it sounds rather abstract to most Nigerians. Of course, the idea may be a good one, but many people still do not know what it means and, therefore, suspect that it may be a tool being used to achieve some sinister agenda.

A big problem of the scheme is the fact that the initiators have not clearly explained its modus operandi, thus giving an impression that communities will be created or carved out of existing ones solely for herders, availing them access to lands that are not theirs.

Thus, government should address peoples’ fears by providing answers to their questions, and they are many. For example, if the land is acquired and the cattle colony is established, who owns that land? Who controls it? Does it belong to the federal government, traditional communities or families from whom it had been collected or the new inhabitants? What is the fate of economic trees in such lands? Do they belong to the original owners of the land or the herdsmen occupying the colonies?

And even a greater fear is the fact that lest care is taken, the cattle colonies could turn out to be “states’’ within a state because they would be autonomous communities whose inhabitants’ way of life could be different from those from whom the land was acquired.

Although Ogbeh has said that a colony will host 40 ranches, which means that hundreds of herders will settle there, people point out to the fact such herders will increase in number and seek more land to occupy which could cause more clashes.

Others also argue that taking land to be given to pastoralists could mean taking away scarce arable lands and this development could impede farming activities in rural communities.

So, does the solution lies in encouraging individual cattle owners to acquire land for ranching, as is the case in other countries?

Yet, others point out those cattle colonies must first be preceded by a census of herdsmen and their cattle, so as to know what number to cater for as it is, no one actually knows the number of cattle in Nigeria or the number of herdsmen, thereby making plan difficult.

It would be recalled that Governor Nasir El-Rufa’i of Kaduna state said in 2016 that herdsmen attacking rural communities in his state were not Nigerians.

He said that a census of herdsmen was important in view of recent observations that most of the herdsmen attacking rural farming communities were not Nigerians.

The governor said that he had established contact with the attackers who were based in some West African countries, and had begun discussions with them towards halting the attacks. Thus, there is no guarantee that the planned cattle colonies won’t be occupied by foreign herdsmen.

Thankfully, as questions continue to be asked and fears mount over the plan to establish the colonies, Ogbeh has tried to assuage the fears by saying that communal land ownership would not be transferred to herdsmen wherever colonies are established.

He said: “There is no truth in the speculations that government is conspiring to grant supremacy over communal land to herdsmen. Government is not using herdsmen to colonise anyone because the project is being executed in partnership with the government of states that volunteered land for it.’’

He said that the federal government would fund the project while those states wishing to benefit from it will make little contributions. Ogbeh said that government would soon hold a stakeholders’ meeting on the implementation of the new policy so as to listen to the complaints and address the fears.

Still, the Buhari-led government needs to consult widely to get more solutions that will address mutual fears and suspicion between farmers and herdsmen.

But, if truth be told, this initiative is worth getting the necessary support, if only for the fact that it’s, so far, the most laudable and pragmatic policy aimed at bringing the bloody farmers and herders clash to an end.

Of course, there’s no doubt that ranching has its immense importance chief among which it makes it easier to distinguish between Nigerian and foreign herdsmen, who cannot be steadied in one place.

Going forward, herdsmen should be enlightened to create ranches and professionalise their operations. Above all, herders must be made to appreciate the need to settle themselves and their cattle.

It’s regrettable that for too long, and for no justifiable reasons, governments neglected livestock in favour of crops, as if the former is not part of agriculture which governments had always tried to get Nigerians involved in, with a view to pushing emphasis away from oil.

Of course, there is no doubt, that what is needed at this point is a workable solution that will protect the interests of all parties and avoid bloodsheds and loss of property.