This is a follow-up on the issues I raised last week in “A friendly letter to President Buhari” (The PUNCH, May 3, 2016), namely, the vexing problems of herdsmen’s killings and the plundering of farmlands by their cattle across the country. The calls from various quarters for an urgent intervention by the government could not have been louder.
The efforts made so far by the Federal Government are welcome. Some are inadequate, while others need clarification. For example, the directive to the Department of State Services and the police to secure affected communities has failed to prevent attacks on old and new targets. This is underscored by several attacks that have taken place since the directive was given. For example, the District Head of Fadan Karshi in the Sanga Local Government Area of Kaduna State, Mr. Bala Madaki, and his nephew, Emmanuel Tanko, were killed by suspected Fulani herdsmen on May 1, 2016. Reports show that this was a repeat attack on the same community.
Furthermore, just last weekend, at least 12 persons were reportedly killed and 18 seriously injured by suspected Fulani herdsmen in a fresh attack in three villages in the Gassol Local Government Area of Taraba State. All this goes to show that the President’s directive on securing communities previously attacked is not working, and no measure is in place to prevent attacks on new targets.
As for the directive to apprehend the perpetrators of various killings across the country, the anxious public has yet to be informed about major arrests since the directive was given. If arrests have been made, then the culprits should be paraded, arraigned, and sentenced publicly, partly to provide psychological closure for those who lost loved ones in the attacks and partly to serve as a deterrent to other herdsmen. At the end of the day, the public wants to be assured that the President’s directive to deal with the perpetrators is not another instance of movement without motion.
The President’s most impactful directive is on the creation of what he called “grazing areas” with which your ministry is charged. It is refreshing that you have re-interpreted this directive appropriately, namely, to create ranches for cattle farmers, rather than the controversial grazing reserves, which would also require grazing routes through several states.
Many states have vowed never to allow such encroachment. Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State spoke for others, when he declared: “Grazing zones could be created for those who are traditional cattle rearers in their areas. I’m not against that, but you cannot come here and tell me you want to occupy our land for grazing zones. The land exists in our respective states and as such, the rightful owners should decide what to do with them” (Nigerian Tribune, April 26, 2016).
Questions remain, however, with the plan you announced about creating ranches. Let me repeat what you said: “We have already acquired 5,000 hectares of land from nine states. We wrote and the governors gave us land but we have to farm them out to private sector investors who will prepare the land and make sure they can harvest grass six to seven times a year, dry or rainy season, and the cows have fresh grass to eat.”
Following an earlier lead from you, it is safe to assume that the nine states are all from the North, the home region of cattle rearers in the country. Here are my questions: Who partners the private investors in preparing and grassing the ranches — the Federal Government or the respective states which own the land? What role will the ultimate users of the ranches — the cattle rearers — play in the venture? Would they purchase ranches, once ready, or pay rent to the investors? Or, will the respective states pick up the rent and farm out the ranches to cattle rearers in their states? And what happens to pockets of cattle owners in parts of the south? Will you also work with the affected state governments in providing the same assistance?
Or will their cattle continue to graze freely while those in the north are being ranched?
I raise these questions as a follow-up to my earlier suggestion in the letter to the President that the Federal Government should not put taxpayers’ money into the ranching venture, unless there are plans to so assist other animal and crop farmers throughout the country. I quite understand, of course, that the Federal Government may want to partner cattle farmers, if the goal is to put Nigeria on the map of top suppliers of beef, dairy products, and leather to the rest of the world. What I am saying is that such a policy should be generalised to other farmers.
There is also the technical question about the basis of your planning so far. How many cattle farmers are there and, approximately, how many heads of cattle are we talking about? If you don’t have these statistics, how are we sure that the arrangements underway will solve the grazing problem once and for all?
There are also other knotty issues in need of clarification by your ministry. One is the true identity of the marauding herdsmen. True, there are cattle owners, like Senator Abdullahi Adamu, who are not Fulani; but are there herdsmen in Nigeria, who are not Fulani?
You raised another dimension of the identity problem, when you wondered if foreign herdsmen were not behind the attacks. This position tallies with that of the Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase, who insinuated that the killer herdsmen could have been foreigners. He even pinpointed armed men displaced by the crises in Libya and Mali.
However, this position is contradicted by the Nigeria Immigration Service, which argues that there is no proof that there are foreign cattle rearers in Nigeria. At least, none entered through Nigerian borders. The position is also contradicted by local knowledge. For example, the leaders of the Cattle Breeders Associations in Plateau and Benue states have stated publicly that the killings by Fulani herdsmen were a revenge for the killings of their members and for stealing their cattle.
This immediately raises the question of cattle rustling, which needs as much attention as cattle grazing. Who are the cattle rustlers and where do they come from? Perhaps, the spotlight on foreignness should be turned on them.
These contradictions go to the heart of the Nigerian problem: No reliable statistics. No coordination among related government agencies. Problems are solved on the fly. Government officials say what they think, rather than what they know for sure. And the list goes on.
Still one major task remains, and it should have been the starting point — disarming the herdsmen. Since herders will still continue to roam with their cattle in search of green pastures before ranches are ready, it is critical to disarm them to minimise future assault.
Again, you already indicated that you would bring this matter to the President’s attention. Please, do so immediately. It also will be useful if the sources of their arms could be investigated so they could be blocked.
Now, my friendly advice. True, the buck stops on the President’s desk on this issue, everyone now knows that it also passes through your desk. It will be a great achievement if you could facilitate the process by which the menacing clashes between herdsmen and farmers are brought to an end. While going about this onerous task, it will be helpful to update the public from time to time. It also will be useful to seize this opportunity to begin to develop a databank on cattle rearing in this country that could be used as the basis for future planning.