Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
Stakeholders at a one-day public hearing on farmers and herdsmen’s clashes organised by the joint Senate Committees on Agriculture and National Security and Intelligence in Abuja were shocked on Tuesday when herdsmen rejected the federal government’s proposal to create ranches for cattle rearing.
Stakeholders were even more shocked when prominent Northern leaders threw their weight behind the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders’ Association. The government’s proposal was conceived to stop the incessant killings of innocent Nigerians by herdsmen as well as perpetual hostility between the farmers and herdsmen in different parts of the country.
However, the herdsmen, under the aegis of Miyetti Allah, pushed for the creation of grazing reserves and routes, which would sustain their nomadic tradition of moving cattle from one part of the country to the other. But representatives of the South-east and North-central zones sharply opposed their submission and threw their weight behind federal government’s presentation by the Minister of State for Agriculture, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, on the government’s plan to create ranches for cattle rearers and consequently restrict their movement.
But Miyetti Allah which was represented by its legal adviser, Tukur Bello, asked respective governments and community leaders to “preserve and demarcate trans-human routes and cattle resting points with support from technical and financial partners.” The group also asked the governments to review past interventions and reports, and simultaneously work out a comprehensive development action plan under the auspices of the National Council on Agriculture for the smooth transformation of livestock production, including all actors in the value chain from pastoralists to transporters, markers, consumers and dealers in livestock by-products.
They also demanded the creation of a Federal Ministry for Livestock Development in Nigeria in line with practices in most African countries that have a large livestock population like Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger Republic, Chad, Cameroun and Central Africa Republic. The group also demanded the funding of grazing reserves development from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) intervention fund and SDG fund, and asked for support from technical financial and development partners like the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of United Nations, European Union and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (lFAD), among others.
The submission of Miyetti Allah was strongly supported by the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III; Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi II, Emir of Zazzau and Emir of Katsina, who were all represented by individuals and affirmed that they had been sent to support the position of cattle rearers. Their position was also supported by Professor Ango Abdullahi and Senator Jubril Aminu who claimed that grazing reserves were created by the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello, and should be sustained.
But Ohanaeze Ndigbo, which was represented by Mr. Paddy Njoku, opposed Miyetti Allah’s demand for grazing routes, saying the nomadic tradition of raising cattle was archaic and outdated and should be phased out. Njoku also said Ohanaeze supported the idea of ranching as against grazing reserves, and advised the federal government to immediately disarm herdsmen and forthwith commence moves for the rehabilitation of communities.
He insisted that cattle rearing was a private business and hence, it would be wrong for the government which belongs to all to deploy state resources to fund it.
Earlier in his submission, Lopkobiri said Nigerians needed to embrace the United States and Saudi Arabian models which created ranches for cattle rearing.
He said the development made their cattle more productive, pointing out that Saudi Arabia currently produces 4.7 million litres of milk daily for the entire Middle East.
Lokpobiri added that restricting the movement of cattle had become imperative if cows were expected to be productive, adding that when ranches are created, cattle will be healthy because they will be provided with water and grass.
He also said the development would curtail the spread and transmission of cattle-borne diseases to man.
Lokpobiri recalled that when there were repeated cases of conflicts between farmers and herdsmen in the United States, the problem was resolved through the creation of ranches for cattle rearers.
He disclosed further that since Saudi Arabia did not have fertile land to grow grass, they contracted the business of growing grass to a United States firm which he said grows the grass for them and periodically exports it to Saudi Arabia.
The junior minister also compared cattle rearing in Nigeria with Brazil, noting that whereas Brazil has 220 million cows, Nigeria has less than 19 million, recalling that 415 grazing reserves which once existed in Nigeria had been taken over by buildings and land acquisition.
He added that 5,000 hectares of land had been provided by governors from nine states to aid the provision of ranches, disclosing that the land would be well utilised for the provision of boreholes, dams and medical facilities for the treatment of cows.
Lokpobiri also said in view of the projection that Nigeria would become the third most populous country in the world, the government had earmarked plans to import animal semen for artificial insemination to aid in the productivity of cattle and avert starvation in future.
In his submission, the Chief of Defence of Staff (CDS), Lt.-General Gabriel Olonisakin, who was represented by Major-General Edward Nzeh, said following the presidential order to end the killings by herdsmen, the CDS had cultivated the collaboration of military agencies with paramilitary agencies to tackle the menace.
He also said the CDS was working on the establishment of a joint task force to patrol affected areas and simultaneously mop up illegal arms in circulation among herdsmen, adding that the military was working with other security outfits to protect the borders.
On his part, the Inspector General of Police (IG), Solomon Arase, who was represented by an Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG), Ibrahim Idris, said sharing borders with neighbouring conflict-prone countries of Cameroun, Niger and Chad had led to the proliferation of arms among herdsmen whom he said migrate to the southern part country.
He also said the police are prepared to control the possession of firearms, even as he described cattle rustling as a criminal activity which must be duly punished.
The IG also disclosed that 70 cases of cattle rustling had been recorded while 99 conflicts between farmers and herdsmen had also been documented.
But contrary to Lokpobiri’s claim that the killers were not Fulani, a representative of Southern Kaduna insisted that killers of Southern Kaduna people were Fulani men whom he said wanted to seize communities in the area.
He warned that Southern Kaduna people would resist any attempt to take their land and give to another group of persons.
But the chairman of the joint committee, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, interrupted him, saying all land belonged to the federal government and the government reserved the right to take any land anywhere it wishes, threatening further that only “government has the monopoly on violence.”