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Ranching, yes! ‘Grazing reserves’, no!!

By Ochereome Nnanna
IN January 2016, the traditional ruler of Ubuluku in Aniocha Local Government of Delta State, Obi Agbogidi Akaeze Ofulue III, was kidnapped by suspected “Fulani herdsmen”. They demanded a ransom of N100 million which, reports say, was paid by the family. But alas! The royal father was found dead as a result of his ordeals at the hands of these agents of darkness.

A member of my tennis club, Dr. Kings Okpako; a popular alternative medicine practitioner and politician, suffered a similar fate at the hands of some “Fulani herdsmen” in 2014. He still wears scars around his feet to remind him of his enslavement in the bushes of his native Abraka town.

As their response to the ravaging effects of “Fulani herdsmen”, the Delta State Government appointed a Northerner as a Special Adviser to the Governor! They said it was a way of achieving “understanding” between the indigenes and Northerners in Delta State.

I have nothing against offering any Nigerian an appointment in any part of Nigeria. It is a noble thing to do, but it must not be done as if rewarding evil deeds. When Alhaji Umaru Altine, a Fulani from Sokoto was elected the first Lord Mayor of Enugu in 1952, it was as a reward for his services to community as a committed political disciple of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and his National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons, NCNC. Such appointments are made to celebrate friendship and not to succumb to terrorism.

Now look at scenario number two: the same “Fulani herdsmen”, after successfully taking over isolated communities in Plateau State, spread their tentacles to neighbouring Nasarawa, Benue and other states further south. The most trending “exploits” of these modern-day conquistadors was the invasion and occupation of Agatu communities in Benue State.

Guess how the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Audu Ogbeh, whose kinsmen now live as refugees in their own homeland, reacted to this? He regaled us with the story of how these invaders are “not Nigerians””. He said many of them came from as far as Mauritania “because they were told there was a Jihad being fought in Nigeria”. Remember also that when the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, went to check the devastation of Agatu, he was more interested in reporting that the Fulani herdsmen lost over 10,000 cows to “cattle rustlers”, and that the attackers were “not Nigerians”.

Ogbeh and Arase never told us if the fact that they were “foreigners” excused their evil deeds, nor did they shed light on the reluctance of their Commander-in-Chief, President Muhammadu Buhari, to send a military expedition to flush out the “foreign invaders” in the same fashion that the military was unleashed on pro-Biafra agitators and Sheikh Ibrahim El Zakzaky’s sect in Zaria.

After all, the constitution mandates him to protect Nigeria from internal insurrection and external aggression. Why did he go after the pro-Biafrans while allowing the Fulani invaders to keep on killing, destroying and displacing law-abiding Nigerians from their communities to gratify their livestock? We have been asking these questions, but there has been deafening silence from the occupant-in-chief Aso Villa. We will not stop until we hear from him.

Contrary to the decision of the Delta State Government to ingratiate themselves to the tormentors of their people by giving one of them a political appointment, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State made it abundantly clear that those thinking that the herdsmen will be rewarded with “grazing reserves” in Benue State are jokers.  “It will never happen in this state”, he says.

I am writing this article in total opposition to the rumoured plans by the Federal Government to establish “grazing reserves” in all states of the Federation as a means of stopping the feud between nomadic cattle breeders and farmers. I understand that plans are upwind to persuade state governors to use their powers under the Land Use Act to confiscate parcels of land in their states for allocation to Fulani cattle breeders as “grazing reserves”. It is very disappointing that many governors, especially those in the Central and Southern parts of the country are already exploring ways of implementing this highly objectionable plot.

If this happens we will end up handing over lands belonging to indigenous families and communities gratis to non-indigene cattle breeders, thus rewarding them for their aggression and invasion of peace-loving communities. Any governor who accepts to implement this policy is an enemy of his people and a betrayer of future generations of the owners of the land who are also entitled to inherit their ancestors’ patrimonies. Aggressive Nomadism must not be allowed to become an avenue for ethnic expansionism and conquest of citizens protected by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

However, I am totally in support of creating a New Deal for animal agriculture in Nigeria. I am fully in support of Ogbeh’s intention to import nutritious Brazil grass to enhance livestock productivity. But it must be done under a national policy of settling all livestock in Nigeria under a well-regulated ranching arrangement. We must create a package of incentives to modernise and optimise livestock farming just as we are doing for plant cultivation. Both must go pari passu. We must also have Nigeria billionaire ranchers.

We must set a national policy that no livestock will be allowed to wander around in towns, villages or bushes in Nigeria (say, by the year 2020). Anyone who wants to establish a ranch in any part of the country should buy or lease land for that purpose, just like people involved in other businesses.

Fulani people who oppose ranching, opting instead for “grazing reserves” are nursing a hidden agenda. They do not want their kinsmen who rear their cattle to benefit from education and the comforts of a settled, civilised lifestyle.

They don’t mean well for their people. Once again, I say “no” to “grazing reserves” but “yes” to better life for livestock farmers – in the secured comfort of their ranches!

 


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