Opinion: No, no to cattle colonies – By NIYI AKINNASO
Let me declare at the outset that the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, is my friend. I also want to acknowledge the outstanding job he has been doing in the agricultural sector. But I disagree with his handling of the conflict between herdsmen and farmers. As a friend, I easily could have called him up on the phone to state my disagreement. However, the matter on which I disagree with him is a serious national issue, which is part of ongoing public discourse. I have contributed to the public discourse and this should be regarded as a continuation of that contribution.
I agree with the minister that livestock farmers and their cow herders need some assistance; but not for the reasons he gave and not in the manner he is now suggesting. The reason he gave amounts to nothing but buck passing, while the measure he suggested that the government should adopt is historically naive and politically incorrect.
The minister had argued that the ongoing rampage of farmlands and the killing of innocent farmers and their family members by Fulani herdsmen are due to the government’s failure to do for livestock farmers what the government had done for produce farmers: “Over the years, we have not done much to look seriously into the issue of livestock development in the country…we may have done enough for the rice farmer, the cassava farmer, the maize farmer, the cocoa farmer, but we haven’t done enough for herdsmen, and that inability and omission on our part is (sic) resulting in the crisis we are witnessing today.”
I understand the background to the minister’s statement. However, I wish he had not put it this way, because it not only wrongly passes the buck for the herdsmen’s misbehaviour to the government; it also sidetracks the reasons given by the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria and the affected herdsmen for their attacks on innocent farmers. Didn’t they argue that they killed in place of stolen cows? Isn’t there also the insinuation that part of Benue land belongs to the Fulani and, therefore, must be retrieved by force?
This land-grabbing project cannot be dismissed outright, when one considers the evidence at hand: According to Vanguard Newspaper, at least 17 of Benue’s 23 Local Government Areas have been plundered by the herdsmen “with over 4,000 lives lost and property estimated at N95bn lost” (Vanguard, January 14, 2018).
There is yet another reason Ogbeh’s statement was wrongheaded. It focused on appeasing the wrongdoers at the expense of the victims. Two immediate measures should have preceded any attempt to assist cow owners and their herders. First, the killer herdsmen should have been arrested and indicted for murder. Second, the victims should have been compensated. True, no compensation could adequately replace lost human lives; but at least, it will assuage the pain of their survivors. It is for this reason that the absence of a Federal Government representative at the mass burial of 73 victims on January 11, 2018, was a sad miscalculation.
While I agree with the minister that livestock farmers need some assistance, the proposed establishment of cattle colonies is yet another misadventure in the Federal Government’s attempt to assist cow owners and herders.
The proposal is wrong on many fronts. First, in terms of language and policy, the term, “cattle colonies”, is not politically correct. Political correctness is not just a matter of language choice. It also dictates that policies and measures would not be taken that could be construed as giving offence or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society. It is in this sense that cattle colonies are even more repugnant than the earlier proposal of grazing land, and it will be rejected as vehemently as that proposal.
The idea of colonising other people’s land so that others will be able to raise their cattle on it seems to be oblivious to the history and consequences of the colonisation of Nigeria and the forced amalgamation of erstwhile independent nationalities, which underlies the ongoing clamour for restructuring the country.
It is insensitive of the Federal Government to make such a proposal at this time, given its unsatisfactory response to the demand for restructuring. To expect the states in the South and the Middle Belt, which are in the forefront of the call for restructuring, to assent to ceding their land to cattle is preposterous.
Besides, in this penultimate election year, when meaning is read into every measure or action taken by the government, the idea of cattle colonies rings a discordant note in the ears of those who heard about the Fulani expansionist project in Benue. Who knows what will happen to the colonies 50 years from now? Won’t the Fulani claim the land and even the state in which the colonies are located?
If this proposal had been discussed with the state governors, in whom land is constitutionally vested, according to the Land Use Act 1979, before going public with it, the Federal Government would have been properly advised to drop the idea. The ongoing public rejection of the proposal by many governors would have been avoided.
What is more, the Miyetti Allah in the North-East has now made a fool of the Federal Government over cattle colonies by turning around to accept ranching, provided the government can provide some kind of subsidy. On this column last week, I supported the idea of government subsidy, but not the way the Minister of Agriculture seems to be going about it (see, Ranching is the best solution, The PUNCH, January 23, 2018).
Rather than a direct involvement of the Federal Government with the cattle owners, such a subsidy should be given to the relevant states, just as the Federal Government did in 2016 when tomato farmers suffered heavy losses due to the infestation of their farms by Tuta Absoluta, otherwise known as tomato ebola.
The Federal Government’s vacillation on this issue has adversely affected public opinion about President Muhammadu Buhari and his administration. It will be a major development to the President’s advantage if he could follow through on his recent promise to put an end to the conflict between herdsmen and farmers. However he may want to go about the solution, it must be made clear to him that the idea of cattle colonies is out of the question.Punch