By Terver Akase
We read a statement issued by Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu in which he said the Federal Government will commence rehabilitation work on grazing reserves in the country next month.
We find the move not only shocking and curious but also as a misplaced priority. At a time the country is worried about the worsening security situation and many Nigerians are calling for national dialogue to address the fundamental issues that have led to the present state of affairs, the Federal Government considers the reopening of cattle grazing routes as the only solution available to it.
It is now clear that there is a hidden agenda which only the Presidency knows. Otherwise, all the regions of the country have accepted the fact that open grazing of animals is no longer fashionable and should be banned to pave way for ranching, yet, the government at the centre is insistent that grazing reserves/cattle routes must be created across the country.
On February 9, this year, the Northern States Governors’ Forum (NSGF) met and agreed that the current system of herding mainly by open grazing is no longer sustainable, in view of growing urbanisation and population of the country. The Forum consequently resolved to sensitize herders on the need to adopt ranching as the new method of animal husbandry.
The 17 Governors of Southern Nigeria rose from their meeting in Asaba on May 11 also this year, with a ban on open grazing in the entire region. The Southern Governors equally adopted ranching as the alternative method of rearing animals.
As it stands, the Presidency is the lone hand pushing for the continuation of open grazing and the return of cattle routes of 1950s and 60s. The Presidency has, by its endorsement of open grazing, emboldened armed herders who lay claim to all lands in Nigeria as belonging to Fulani, hence their invasion of farming communities and killing of original owners of such lands.
The fact must be established that grazing reserves or cattle routes are no longer tenable in the 21st century when Nigeria’s population far exceeds that of the fifties at a time these routes were contemplated. At present, the routes have been taken over by airports, roads, schools, hospitals, as well as markets, houses and other human activities. The country’s land mass has also reduced to less than 923 square kilometers with the excision of Bakassi to Cameroon. Besides, the international best practice of animal husbandry is ranching; and that’s the stand of Benue State.
We in Benue have embraced ranching as the viable alternative to open grazing and there is no going back on our resolve. Our ranching law which prohibits open grazing is Benue people’s reaction to the incessant killings, and it is also an instrument of development. The law was enacted by representatives of the people in the Benue State House of Assembly, in exercise of its powers as provided for by Section 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). Part 2 of the Second Schedule reinforces the power of the State House of the Assembly providing that “a House of Assembly may make laws for the State with respect to industrial, commercial or agricultural development.” The Law followed due process with public hearings and requisite opportunity for all stakeholders making input.
Ranching as a policy has the potential to launch Nigeria into 21st century agricultural good practices. Today, open grazing is extinct in most countries of the world. In Europe, America, Asia and in many countries in Africa, pastoralism has long given way to ranching. How can Nigeria then still be battling with a problem of pastoralism that in other countries has been solved over a century ago? According to the United States Department of Agriculture, USDA, India has 303 million cattle, Brazil, 226 million, China, 100 million, USA, 93 million, Argentina, 53 million and Australia 27 million. All these countries ranch their animals. Nigeria has less than 20 million cattle which can easily be ranched. Unfortunately, the cows are allowed to either roam the streets freely or encroach on people’s farms and other investments.
While we may not stop the Federal Government’s plan to rehabilitate grazing reserves or create cattle routes in other states, we wish to make it clear that no land in Benue State has been gazetted for grazing routes, grazing reserves, cattle colonies and Ruga settlements. Benue is therefore not part of the grazing reserves rehabilitation programme of the Federal Government.
We expect the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to weigh the negative consequences its recommendation will have on the unity and security of the nation and advise Mr President that Nigerians are not on the same page with him regarding the matter of open grazing. It is not too late to salvage the situation.
We are concerned about the plight of millions of farmers who have been displaced as a result of herders’ attacks and are now in IDP camps; a development which is already adversely affecting food production. Benue State has over one million displaced people who are mostly farmers, and the task of returning them to their ancestral homes is what should bother the Ministry of Agriculture and other agencies of the Federal Government.
Terver Akase is the Chief Press Secretary to Governor of Venue State, North Central Nigeria.