On Tuesday, the Federal Government unveiled what it considered a good programme that would end the protracted herdsmen-farmers’ clashes, which have claimed many lives across the country. In the programme, 94 ranches, in the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria, are being proposed in 10 states.
The ranching programme, approved by the National Economic Council, is a 10-year “National Livestock Plan” being evolved to ensure that cattle are reared in designated areas, instead of the vexed open grazing. The programme will cost government a whopping N179 billion, out of which N70 billion would be disbursed in the first three years of the next four years tenure.
In the ranching programme, the Federal Government has listed 10 states for the pilot scheme. They are: Adamawa, Benue, Edo, Kaduna, Ebonyi, Nasarawa, Oyo, Plateau, Taraba and Zamfara states. The 36 governors are members of the NEC.
For having a programme aimed at ending the herdsmen-farmers’ clashes, government has done something. As it is said, it is better to take a wrong decision than not to take any decision at all. However, there are still some nagging questions. Would government’s plan solve the problem on ground or exacerbate it? Would government succeed in getting the programme off the ground at a time when there is much suspicion? Would cattle rearers restrict themselves to the designated grazing fields or ranches? Would there be security to ensure that cattle rustling does not become another source of problem between occupants of the ranches and the host communities? What is the guarantee that settlers in the ranches would not, in future, begin to claim the land and actually start an empire or emirate in a foreign land? Why is government using the nation’s funds to establish ranches for a private business? Is there a provision for occupants of the ranches to pay government for grazing in the fields?
Taking all these together, I have my fears and reservations. Ogbeh said government “has no intention of seizing anybody’s land,” adding: “So, the idea that somebody is going to forcefully take the land is not true.” Well said. However, we know that, by the provisions of the Land Use Act, land belongs to the state government. That is by law. The Federal Government may also own land it took over for national projects. But lands actually belong to the local people, the villagers and communities, by tradition. For the state government to take over land, it will have the buy-in of the villagers, who would be paid compensation. If the government of the 10 states, where the pilot ranching programme would start, have agreed to provide land and the villagers refuse to surrender their land, how would the government get land for the restricted grazing fields? Where this happens, we may see the state government using the instrumentality of office to take the land. This, no matter how it is looked at, is forceful takeover of land.
The Federal Government should have itself to blame if villagers and communities refuse to surrender their land. This is so because the government opened the window of suspicion by the way it has handled the herdsmen’s matter. Before now, government and its officials behaved in such a way to suggest that they support herdsmen. This has been shown in many ways.
Nigerians are living witnesses to the declaration of Minister of Defence, Col. Mohammed Dan-Alli (retd), that killings in Benue and other states were caused by the enactment of anti-grazing laws in some states. He also directly fingered the “blocking of grazing routes,” blaming it partly for the crisis. He had stated: “You see, whenever a crisis happens at any time, there are remote and immediate causes. Look at this issue (of killings in Benue and Taraba). What is the remote cause of this farmers’ crisis?
“Since the nation’s Independence, we know there used to be routes whereby the cattle rearers took because they are all over the nation. You go to Bayelsa, Ogun, you will see them. If those routes are blocked, what do you expect will happen?”
It is the same Dan-Alli, speaking for government, who said states that had enacted anti-grazing law would have to repeal them as an avenue for peace in their states. Such declarations could only make discerning minds believe that government officials are thinking more about herdsmen than farmers or villagers, who have been at the receiving end.
I think that government’s optimism that establishment of ranches, using its outlined method, will solve the problem of herdsmen/farmers clashes and their attendant loss of life and property is unfounded. The approach is too simplistic. The government seems to lose sight of future problems that will arise. Its method is like shifting the crisis to a future date, when, no doubt, other people will be in the saddle to contend with it. The way it is, only a few states will willingly provide land for the proposed ranches. At present, Benue and Ebonyi states have declared that they have no land to give for ranching. Also, socio-cultural groups in the South East (Ohanaeze), South West (Afenifere) and the Middle Belt, including groups in Benue, have rejected the proposal. This resistance shows lack of trust. The Federal Government, using its land in some states, may go ahead to establish ranches. But the question is: At what consequence?
Instead of forcing ranches on all states, the Federal Government should rather concentrate on states where the culture and religion of herdsmen and the indigenes match. Put in another way, the ranches should be in Fulani territories, since mechanism would be put in place for the growing of grasses for the cattle, so the fear of climate change does not arise. Doing otherwise would just be brewing future trouble. When ranches are established in places where language, way of life and religion of the Fulani, who will definitely be the occupants of the ranches, are different from those of the host states and communities, this will be trouble waiting to happen. The settlers will increase in population and they will begin to claim rights outside their native land, as it were. The situation in Southern Kaduna and other places, where the indigenes and settles are fighting over rights and land is a case in point.
I do not see any difference between the proposed ranching programme and the dumped “cattle colonies.” With ranches, there will still be the migration of herdsmen into places where people are not comfortable with them, but which habour official grazing fields. And when they settle there, the “colonies” will spring up. Proposed ranches should be in the states where the people and government agree, while others which have expressed some reservations and misgivings, should be excused from the arrangement.