Last week, the issue of cattle herders and the controversy over the modus operandi of their business, resonated in Nigeria once again. It has literally become a recurring decimal in the country. This time, the government wants to reactivate the grazing routes and convert them to ranches. The development was made known by the Federal Government, through the Executive Secretary, National Commission for Nomadic Education, Prof Bashir Usman, who announced government’s readiness to remodel its grazing reserves into ranches in 17 states of the federation.
Critical observers are tempted to believe that following the refusal of some state governors to give land for ranching, the Federal Government has decided to reactivate and convert the country’s grazing reserves to ranches to end the deadly clashes between farmers and herdsmen.
Historically, in Nigeria, the practice of preserving land for exclusive use by livestock existed prior to colonial times. Allocation of grazing grounds to pastoralists around towns and villages for use particularly during the cultivation season was socially sanctioned. However, since there was no legal instrument to prevent encroachment by crop farmers, such reserved areas subsequently disappeared with increasing population and cropping intensity.
The Nigerian Government’s Grazing Reserve Act of 1964 was a response to the problem of alienation of grazing lands increasingly being faced by the pastoral population at the time. In a broader framework, the law was also taken as one of the policy measures to address some of the constraints confronting livestock development in Nigeria. Thus, grazing reserves were established not only to protect grazing lands from crop farming and provide easier access to them by pastoralists but also to encourage the sedenterization of nomadic/transhuman pastoralists through legally secure titles to grazing water and, in general, as one means of promoting livestock development.
Out of about 415 grazing reserves across the country, the government plans to create 177 ranches. The 177 grazing reserves are alleged to have been carved, demarcated and gazetted already, as the Federal Government remains confident that some states would provide land for ranching. Aside Kogi State that had officially agreed to provide about 5,000 hectares of land, no other state had publicly announced its willingness to provide land for ranches or cattle colony.
Already, governors of the South-East states, last week, rose from a meeting in Enugu with a decision that no land would be made available for the establishment of cattle ranches in the zone.
Government strongly believes that once the grazing reserves are developed into ranches, the issue of roaming about with cattle will be a thing of the past. But, Nigerians are still suspicious of government’s real motive. They are afraid that it is a move to take over people’s land by a particular tribe.
The fears, concerns and anxiety
At the dawn of 2019, Nigerians were greeted with gory pictures of lacerated and dismembered human parts as a result of attacks on communities in Benue State by suspected herdsmen. The trend continued and spread to Taraba, Nasarawa and other states with the herders alleged to have been at the centre of the dastardly act.
Soon, Nigerians began to ask questions as to what could be responsible for the development. It was revealed that herders, mostly from the Fulani ethnic group, and farmers often clash over the use of fertile land. Many argue that a growing population and the effect of climate change have exacerbated the plights of herdsmen, as statistics has shown that more than 35 percent of Nigeria’s land is threatened by desertification, particularly in the Northern part of the country. The climate change, critical observers insist, has pushed the nomadic Fulani inward the Southern part of the country in search of grazing land.
As a result, thousands have been killed in skirmishes between farmers and traditional herdsmen as the latter work their way Southward in search of grazing for their cattle.
While some attribute the incessant clashes between the traditional Fulani herdsmen and the pastoralists to the scramble for land, others are quick to conclude that the crisis has more to do with religion.
Those who argue that the quest for land is responsible for the unending clashes blame the herdsmen for intruding into people’s farms with their cattle and grazing, thereby destroying their means of livelihood. Such people don’t understand why the herders should deliberately move their cattle into people’s farm and eat up every crop, and at the same time kill anybody that challenges them.
This school of thought has always supported its position with a statement by some Fulani that everything including land belongs to Allah and not the host communities, in this case the farmers.
However, those who hold that the clashes have religious undertone are quick to point to some communities and towns in Kaduna and Plateau states where the indigenous people’s magnanimity and accommodating spirit have turned out to be their greatest undoing. In such places, they argue that the Fulani who were given land to graze their cattle in the past eventually waged war against the people, subdued them and enthroned Islamic religion in such places.
This position was corroborated by a former Senior Special Assistant to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, Jonathan Asake who narrated how the Fulani converted Ruga settlements in his community into an emirate. He described the move to create Ruga or its semblance as an attempt to “Fulanise” the country.
During an interview on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily, he said that the term ‘Ruga’ was a Fulani word and it was thus hypocritical of anyone to say it would not be exclusive to Fulani when implemented.
Asake, who is from Southern Kaduna, said in 1987, the Kaduna State Government, approved Ruga settlements for the old Kachia Local Government Area, which currently comprises Zangon Kataf, Chikun, Kajuru and Kachia Local Government Areas.
“Overtime, the Fulani herdsmen began to expand these settlements. Today, some of them have been converted into emirates. The grazing reserve has been changed to Laduga. Laduga is actually a Fulani word and no indigene is there. The land has been taken over from the indigenes. And that place is now a big town, with big hospitals and roads,” he said.
Yet, for some other Nigerians, the government has not offered any concrete plan towards solving the problem, aside from making promises and such political statements as condemning the wanton destruction of lives and property each time they occur and giving palliatives.
But, after the clashes in Benue in January 2019 and considering its level of human and material destruction, the Federal Government quickly announced that it has finally found a solution that would end the incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers, not only in Benue State but also in other parts of Nigeria.
Politics of cattle colony
Government announced its preparedness to introduce cattle colony as a permanent panacea to the herders/farmers clashes in Nigeria. The then Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, was quoted to have said: “We have to deal with an urgent problem, which is cattle rearing and the conflicts between farmers and herdsmen, and actually bring it to a halt. Let us do our own duty by eliminating the conflict through the creation of cattle colonies.”
Soon after the announcement, Nigerians reacted with people in the Southern part of the country outrightly rejecting it, saying implementing the policy would spell doom for them. Government on its part believes that it would make a lot of sense to allocate land for pastures to cattle herders, but to many Nigerians, that would be a recipe for more clashes as the herders would sooner than later turn around to claim ownership of such lands.
Speaking on the cattle colony, Ogbe said it would solve the problems between herdsmen and farmers by designating vast tracts of lands in each state as herding grounds. “Herdsmen will use these designated herding grounds, or cattle colonies to feed their livestock, and as a result will not feel the need to disturb the fertile agricultural lands that belong to farming communities,” he submitted.
Despite the minister’s beautiful sermon, Nigerians remained resolute in their rejection of the policy. Their apprehension was clearly accentuated by the then Taraba State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Yusufu Akirikwen, who said: “What is cattle colony? We have been colonised by the colonial masters, and now we will be colonised by cows?”
With the outright condemnation, rejection and outcry over the government’s plan to foist cattle colony on Nigerians, the policy was immediately withdrawn and replaced with another one called Ruga.
Debate on Ruga
With the failure of cattle colony policy to sail through, government came up with Ruga policy as a way of ending herdsmen/famers clashes. Nigerians again rose against Ruga insisting that it was the same thing with cattle colony. They argued that the government changed its name but that the contents and intentions are the same. But, despite the harsh criticism, the Federal Government was almost getting ready to commence the pilot phase of the project in Taraba, Adamawa, Plateau, Kaduna and seven other states.
Most of the states that were ready to implement the Ruga policy were from the North; their Southern counterparts all rejected it. Government’s argument then was that Ruga settlement would attract a lot of investment to Nigeria. It also argued that if implemented, the programme would create about 2000 employment opportunities within five years.
The Ruga policy was so controversial that the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo and the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) differed on the project’s execution.
While MACBAN’s General Secretary, Baba Ngelzarma, claimed that Vice-President Osinbajo’s office was helping Fulani herdsmen to create Ruga settlements across the country, Osinbajo’s media aide, Laolu Akande, denied the claim.
Ngelzerma was quoted to have said that the Ruga settlement model was a component of the livestock development and transformation plan being implemented under the Office of the Vice-President.
He said: “All must agree with me that the crisis we are facing today has become a multi-dimensional one. So, the approach must also be holistic. It was the desire of the Federal Government to take a holistic approach that gave birth to the Ruga settlement model and it is not only Fulani who are herders.
“In Southern Kaduna, there are natives who are also herders. Even in Plateau, there are groups that are herders. It was intended for the herders as part of government’s effort to come up with an economic model of resolving the crisis.
“This is an integrated settlement that will bring about the production of pasture grasses, water, schools, markets, meat and milk processing, and where it can create a sub-sector of the economy. This is something that if done properly, will create a lot of jobs.”
However, in a swift reaction, the Office of the Vice-President denied being in charge of the implementation of the Ruga settlement initiative.
Akande stated clearly that the National Livestock Transformation Plan endorsed by the National Economic Council was different from the Ruga programme.
He said: “Contrary to claims reported in sections of the media, Ruga settlements are not being supervised by the Office of the Vice- President. Ruga is different from the National Livestock Transformation Plan approved by governors under the auspices of the National Economic Council.
“On the National Livestock Transformation Plan, 13 states are already in the process of implementation of a plan to transform the livestock production system in Nigeria along market-oriented value chain while ensuring an atmosphere of peace and justice.
“The states are Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Plateau, Nasarawa, Taraba, Zamfara, Katsina, Kano, Kogi, Kwara, Ondo and Edo. These states are at different stages in the process, but have indicated readiness to implement the plan. Truth is: this Federal Government will not impose on any state government regarding its land.
“NEC okayed the plan based on the recommendation of a technical committee of the council chaired by Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi. Other governors on the committee and working group are those of Adamawa, Kaduna, Benue, Taraba, Edo, Plateau, Oyo and Zamfara-mostly the frontline states.”
However, just as cattle colony and Ruga were resisted by Nigerians, the National Livestock Transformation Plan was also perceived as a clandestine step to introduce the rejected policies through the backdoor. To Nigerians, the government was just playing with names while the intention remains the same.
Reactions on FG’s new move
Benue and Plateau State governments have said that they were not aware of their inclusion in the Federal Government’s plans to remodel grazing reserves into ranches. This latest move by the FG and the positions of the Benue and Plateau State governments have been generating a lot of reactions from Nigerians.
For the former governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, the the system of establishment of ranches is the way to go, even as he insisted that grazing reserve is a failure. He stated that grazing reserve has become antiquarian all over the world except in places like Nigeria. “I think some states are beginning to construct their own ranches. I wrote some of the states that ranches should be the name of the game and I support any effort to go from grazing reserves to ranches,” he added.
The former governor described as a shame a situation where cattle invade the streets of Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. “We should be thoroughly ashamed in Nigeria but shame is no longer with us because we have made impunity a norm. So, we don’t have shame anymore otherwise how can you come to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, and you have cattle running around everywhere. Go to New York, London or any other country; they eat more meat than we do, yet they organise the production of cattle in a proper way,” he said.
Ezeife equally made it clear that the Federal Government should not even be engaged in ranches because it is a private sector business. “People who now own the cattle are not government. So, it is not for the government to build ranches for the owners; it is for the owners to embrace ranches and build ranches. We need to have a division of labour here. When it is private, it is private. When it is public, we know that it is public. So, I think we should begin to think less about FG’s involvement in cattle rearing and more of private sector involvement, which is what obtains in the rest of the world,” he submitted.
But for the Coordinator of the Ijaw Monitoring Group (IMG), Comrade Joseph Evah, every state should be allowed to design its own ranching model. He also insisted that no matter the name the new programme assumes, nobody wants to have Ruga except government changes its model and intention. Evah, however, said the cattle have always been with the people in the South since the creation of Nigeria but government’s insincerity about the policy was what made the people to kick against it. He said Southerners are being very careful about anything that has to do with cattle because Boko Haram insurgents are disguising as herdsmen and that is why people are opposed to the policies, whatever name it comes with. “Everybody is looking for a way to prevent the Boko Haram insurgents from infiltrating into their villages. So, every state government must have its own model like the state police we are talking about. It is okay if the state police are there and every state wants to model the cattle colony or ranches or whatever name you give it according to their own desire. So, every state government must insist on its own master plan on how to handle the problem. No matter the name you give to it, we in the South will not easily accept because we all know that Boko Haram elements are penetrating into Southern Nigeria in the name of herdsmen; and that makes everybody to be suspicious. So, every state government should design what suits it,” he stated.
The Spokesman of the Afenifere Renewal Group, Yinka Odumakin, described the government’s move as a step to the next level of impunity. He said remodeling grazing reserves to ranches was nothing but Ruga in action. He also believes that ranching should be left for the private businessmen since the FG has no business in cattle rearing. “They are riding roughshod over the whole country with a rampaging force to think that everything objectionable can be run down the throats of Nigerians. I believe that the government is overreaching itself. Communities of the South and the Middle Belt have said that they don’t want Ruga. What is the business of FG with ranches? Is the preoccupation of the FG cattle rearing? Cattle rearing are private business; let those involved buy land and do their business. This government is overreaching itself the way it is handling this issue,” he said.
Also reacting, the former governor of the old Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa said one thing the FG should not attempt to do is to establish Ruga. He insisted that the issue of Ruga should be left for the communities to decide. But, he commended the government’s plan to remodel grazing reserves to ranches, since according to him, all the grazing reserves are owned by the FG.
However, he warned that for the programme to succeed, government must not force it on any state. “It must be done with the cooperation of the state governments if government wants it to succeed,” he stated.
On Ruga, he said: “LG, State and FG should never be involved in Ruga. The community should decide whether there should be Ruga or not. It is a question between the herdsmen and the community. That is what is happening in the North and that is why there is no problem between the herdsmen and the community. Even in the South, Ruga is already there as a result of the community agreement between the herdsmen and the people of the community and it should be allowed to be like that; government should never get involved.
“But, in the case of grazing reserve, it is already owned by the government; so turning them into ranches is okay but the only problem is that in the past, there were ranches, pathways and waterways. What are they going to do with waterways and pathways; the routes through which the animals pass and the place where the herdsmen water their animals? What are they planning about that because even if there are ranches or grazing reserves, there must also be waterways, and pathways?
“In short, government can deal with the issue of ranches and grazing reserves but even then, FG can’t impose it on any state; it has to be with the state cooperation because it is the state that can give the facilities for the ranches and grazing reserves. The FG should never impose ranches on any state,” he submitted.
So, the questions begging for answers are: Will the government’s plan to remodel grazing reserves into ranches go the way of cattle colony, Ruga and National Livestock Transformation Plan? Or will the government go ahead with its implementation even with wild condemnation and public outcry? Only time will tell.