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Nigeria’s cattle rearing politics: A colonial legacy

Bernard Adinuba

Nigeria is today engulfed in a boiling conundrum over the menace of Fulani cattle herdsmen, who as it seems, are engaged in stiff competition with the Boko Haram insurgents for a boisterous position in the infamous acts of terrorism.

Declaration by the Federal Government that the insurgents are by no means terrorists and its demand from the state governments to surrender their lands to the Fulani for grazing reserves, what it euphemistically termed “cattle colonies”, reveals the grave national tragedy waiting to explode. The cattle rearing politics is a legacy of the colonial administration, contextualized within the framework of agricultural policies since 1921. The genesis is traceable to the memorandum of 1921 which blueprint divided the Colony and Protectorate into arbitrary boundaries in accordance with ecological differentiation. It delineated the arid Northern Savannah and their southern fringes for pastoral production which consisted of Zebu and Gudali cattle in addition to export of cotton, groundnut and hides and skins.

The last item alone was valued £3.75 million in 1949. The Middle Belt was designated for food production in spite of the fact that it had large supplies of the trypanotolerant Ndama cattle stock. The palm belt zone was mapped out for export of palm oil and kernel notwithstanding that Igboland reared sizable number of Muturu – the indigenous dwarf, shorthorn tsetse resistant cattle. The Southwestern provinces were assigned with the export of cocoa and palm produce. It is worthy of note that in spite of the cynical reservations of fellow administrators who advanced the argument that the policies were incoherent and in a state of flux, they were adopted by all the directors of Agriculture: O. T. Faulkner, (1921-1936), J. R. Mackie (1936-1945) and A. G. Beatle (1945-1954 .

While busy carrying out boisterous propaganda on Southern and Middle Belt trypanosomiasis for which reason it discouraged livestock development in these places, the regime worked assiduously on the elimination of epizootic diseases in the North, which rinderpest constituted the worst menace, causing heavy economic losses since 1895 when it was first reported. Through wurin aiki – rinderpest camp sites established in each province since 1920, recumbent Fulani cattle were inoculated and the disease was successfully extirpated. In 1924, veterinary laboratories were established at Vom, a tsetse-free territory in Jos, to combat major epizootic diseases.

Fodder crops and grazing methods were developed and in pursuance of the fiscal policy of cattle taxation, the government frowned at the close-knitted practice of the nomadic Fulani cattle herders, who somewhat restricted their business to the North. It encouraged them to spread their cattle marketing southwards so that the benefits of Nigeria’s livestock would not remain the prerogative of a single tribe.

In any case, epidemiology of Cyclorrhapha tsetse flies otherwise called Glossina spp. was nationwide. While the South had a prevalence of Glossina Palpalis and G. tachinoides varieties, the North had in addition, G. Pallicera, G. hanningtoni, G. tabanifomis plus the most widespread and deadly G. fusca, found mostly in Niger, Kabba, Kaduna, Adamawa etc. Similarly, while the poisonous blood-sucking black flies of the simuldae family were prevalent in the Northern zone, they were rare in the Eastern and Western provinces. When it made a brief appearance in Oji River near Enugu in the early 1960s, its eradication programme was immediately carried out using DDT miscible.

In the North, eradication of tsetse flies commenced with the 1925 Kaduna Tsetse Conference, which culminated in the setting up of a joint veterinary and medical investigation centre at Gadau, north of Azare in1930. In 1948, the West African Institute for Trypanosomiasis Research (WAITR) was set up in Kaduna to serve the West African sub-region. In 1960, its name changed to the Nigerian Institute of Trypanosomiasis Research (NITR), with its activities still restricted to the North. The Federal Ministry of Health also operated sleeping sickness centres for the human angle of the disease, again restricting its services to the Northern states. By 1951, over 50, 000 cattle were treated per annum, by 1957, the figure had shot up to 770, 000. However, by 1960, only some 794 km2 of grazing land had been freed of tsetse infestation, increasing to over 500 km2 by the late 1970s. Unfortunately, as effort was limited to extension services and research, no government initiative was geared towards introducing the Western idea of ranching.

The counterproductive effect of the colonial agricultural policies on the entire nation became manifest during the Second World War when widespread hunger and malnutrition became the lot of the people, rich and poor alike, and manifesting more in protein and vitamin deficiencies.

It was worsened by prohibition order on the importation of a wide range of foodstuff from Europe including meat, milk and beverages. But the Fulani became the beneficiaries. Ban on cheese and butter imports led the government to kick-start the production of clarified butter fat (CBF) at Vom and Kano. Network of milk collection centres were established throughout the North and output rose from 90, 000 to 136, 000 kg of butter per annum and 22, 500 and 27, 000 kg of cheese.

The Fulani made good business by supplying the raw materials in the form of cream from which CBF was obtained through hand-driven centrifugal separators. Small dairy schemes also developed in Okene (Kabba Province) and Jakiri near Bamenda in the Cameroons then under Nigerian suzerainty. The booming business, however, ended abruptly at the end of war when better quality products started coming from Europe.

In any case, the wartime Fulani boost continued. Cattle Multiplication Centres (CMCs) also called ‘Fulani Treatment Centres,’ established throughout the Northern Provinces engaged in crossbreeding of local species with exotic equivalent to produce pure Friesian breed.

     It could be seen that the colonial livestock policy created disunity and sowed the seeds of today’s wrongful notion by the Fulani that they alone are endowed with monopoly of cattle rearing business. The report of Nigerian Livestock Mission from London led by Thomas Shaw and Gilbert Colvile (Sir Frank Ware) in 1949 did not fail to indict the colonial administration on the matter, accusing it of exaggerating the tsetse situation in the South. It was not until the Oliver Lyttleton Constitution of 1954, which introduced federalism with regional autonomy, that the Southern provinces for the first time established their own ministries of agriculture with rudimentary research and extension services.

Dr. Adinuba, a Lagos based Agro-Industrial Projects/Investment consultant, writes via [email protected]


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