Again, herdsmen have started dominating the news. After the somewhat lull seen prior to and during the last elections, the activities of herdsmen have brought us back to the reality of the problem therein. These days, it is either Nigerians are hearing about killings associated with herdsmen or government and people are talking about ranches for them.
Last week, the Federal Government, unwittingly unveiled plans to establish what it called “Ruga settlements” in 12 states for herdsmen. According to Alhaji Mohammadu Umar, permanent secretary in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, during a workshop on Regional Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) and associated legislation in West Africa, the cattle farm settlements would address clashes between Fulani herders and farmers when fully established. He said the pilot programme would start in Kontagora, Niger State, on a 31,000 hectares of land.
The establishment of ranches is good for the business of cattle rearing. With it, cattle would be confined to particular places, where they would breed. This is what is done in other countries. This done, the problem of cattle entering people’s farms and eating up their crops would not arise. The problem of herdsmen fighting with farmers would not also arise.
However, in considering ranching, the government should know that there are also minuses associated with it. Owing to the fact that cattle have heavy hooves, which press down the soil, there is the risk of reducing the land’s ability to absorb water and nutrients. Some say ranching could be a key cause of desertification and that cattle ranching may contribute to air and water pollution.
Be that as it may, the thought of establishing ranching is still not a bad idea. However, there is something wrong with the way government wants to do it. This is why governors and community leaders are kicking against the plan. No matter the good intentions, government cannot establish ranches by executive fiat. Government cannot take people’s land anywhere it likes, decreeing that such land would become ranches for herdsmen. In fact, government has no business establishing ranches for herdsmen. What government ought to do is to draw up a programme through which it would assist herdsmen or their sponsors to establish and run ranches as a business.
Cattle farmers or people who are into cattle business should be the ones driving the ranching programme. Such interested businessmen should buy land from people who are willing to sell, like other people who have need of land, with full disclosure of what they want to do with it, and establish their business (ranches). Government could come in to provide amenities in areas where the ranches are located, like water, electricity and police posts. Since such a venture could be capital-intensive, the government could direct those involved on how to get loans to finance it. If the Anchor Borrowers scheme of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) does not cover this, it should be expanded so that people in this line of business could benefit. The loan should be a revolving one, so that, as people take and pay back, others would have the opportunity to also borrow funds.
The government said ranches would be established in 12 states. It is hoped that the people and governments of such states agreed to this and willingly gave land. There should not be any attempt to coerce people into surrendering their land for ranches. Doing so would worsen the problem between herdsmen and farmers, instead of solving it. The fact that governors, communities and organisations are saying they would not give their land for the establishment of cattle ranches says a lot. I believe their action is borne out of fear of the unknown. Nobody will blame them. The way the Federal Government has handled the herdsmen’s issue has made people suspicious. Also, the way herdsmen have conducted themselves cannot but make people to distance themselves from them.
Recently, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Dealers Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) said it was planning to establish a vigilance group of Fulani herdsmen in the South East, as part of its contribution towards monitoring and putting herdsmen in check. Whatever the intention such plan was meant to serve, no community in the South East would accept it. This could explain why the South East governors, the pan-Igbo socio-cultural organisation – Ohanaeze – and town unions in the region have rejected the proposed plan. Having Fulani herdsmen’s vigilance group anywhere would be a source of problem. Formation of vigilance groups is a sensitive matter, as it borders on security.
Besides, the expansionist tendency of some people have made the concession of land risky. Some of the indigenes-settlers squabbles being experienced in some parts of the country have their root in the concession of land. Those who settle anywhere, after many years, would grow and begin to claim the land. In any case, when a completely new generation of settlers is in place, they become “indigenes” by virtue of the fact that they were born and brought up there. When they begin to claim indigeneship, trouble starts.
If the South South, South East, South West and North Central people of Nigeria are rejecting the establishment of cattle colony, Ruga settlements or whatever name it is called for Fulani herdsmen in their territories, there must be something wrong with the idea. People and leaders of these zones are not raising objections because they do not want to accommodate others. They are taking precautions and being circumspect because their action today will shape their tomorrow. Nobody would want to do something that will, in future, be a problem.
The Federal Government should not only think of herdsmen but also the land owners. Apart from encouraging cattle breeders to buy land and establish their individual or collective ranches, the Federal Government should leave the choice of having or not having ranches open for the state governments. States that want to establish ranches, on their own, should do so. Those who do not want should be left alone. In the First Republic, regional governments established farm settlements. They chose the locations and financed them for the development of agriculture. It worked for them then and they achieved their objectives. Although such farm settlements are no longer functioning now, we still see their vestiges. In Abia State, they talk about the Michael Okpara farm settlements. In the South West, they still talk about the Obafemi Awolowo farm settlements.
States that want to establish cattle rearing settlements could do so. Such states would choose the location, provide the amenities and decide those who would be in the settlements, whether as employees or operators. By so doing, there will be control of those who settle there. Such people would not settle there to raise communities but as their business points, which they can vacate whenever they are through with their businesses.