By Ochereome Nnanna
THE All Progressives Congress (APC) Federal Government led by President Muhammadu Buhari appears hell-bent on imposing the establishment of grazing reserves across Nigeria in spite of the many unpalatable implications it will unleash on unsuspecting Nigerians. On Thursday, 31st March 2016, I wrote an article on this column entitled: “Ranching, yes; grazing reserves, no!” The article called attention to what was then speculated as intentions of the Federal Government to launch this obnoxious policy aimed at handing over lands belonging to indigenous communities to Fulani cattle owners in the guise of establishing “grazing reserves”.
Now, the masquerade has been unmasked: the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Audu Ogbeh, has disclosed that President Buhari has directed him to implement the programme. According to him, he will start it from the North, where he will establish 50,000 hectares of grazing reserves. Then, he will import his beloved Brazil grass to feed the cattle. When he is done with that, he will, in his own words: “move South”.
With the Fulani herdsmen now settled in their newly-acquired grazing lands, perhaps without paying a kobo or even negotiating with landowners and obtaining their express permission to use their land, the herdsmen will stop invading communities, destroying the farms of poor villagers, killing, maiming, kidnapping, raping and dehumanising innocent Nigerians. Nigeria will become self-sufficient in animal and dairy products, and everybody will live happily ever after. That is the picture Ogbeh and his paymasters are painting for us.
However, we have very strong reasons to suspect that the establishment of grazing reserves is an ancient agenda of ethnic imperialism which dates back to the Fulani Jihads that Islamised the North about two hundred years ago.
I read an interesting article by one Dr. Gundu of the Department of Archaeology, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He gave a useful insight into the grazing reserves phenomenon, which should jolt our complacently ignorant countrymen, especially those from the Southern parts of the country. Gundu’s article is entitled: History Class On Grazing Reserves: “Why Fulani Herdsmen Want Your Land”. It traces the historical experiments in the North to impose this policy and an outcome of it in some parts which you will not want repeated in your local community.
According to Gundu: “Grazing reserves and stock routes are known to dominate Fulani demands on the country and all leading presidential candidates in previous elections in the country since 1999 have committed themselves in writing to the Fulani on the issue of grazing reserves”.
Gundu also observes that the idea dates back to colonial times. The British colonial masters, who handed over power to the Fulani (the overlords of the North) had toyed with the idea of granting them this wish but did not have enough time to do so. So, when the Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, became the Premier of the Northern Region, he established the first grazing reserves and “”stock routes” in Sokoto, Katsina, Zaria and Bauchi Provinces in 1965.
An angle of it will interest (and warn) you. Today’s Southern Kaduna was part of Zaria Province, so Ahmadu Bello sited a grazing reserve in Kachia (a Christian part of old Zaria Province which the Usman Dan Fodio Jihadists were unable to Islamise). He settled his ethnic Fulani herdsmen there. They became known as Kachechari (or Fulani’s of Kachia). Though the indigenes still regard them as “visitors”, these Fulani’s who have been settled in this territory for 50 years now demand a chiefdom, which will officially confirm their ownership of the land that belongs to Kachia people. Till date, it is a source of tension between the two sides, and the “herdsmen” have been armed to assert their “ownership rights”.
President Buhari is, by posture and disposition, first of all Fulani/Muslim before any other thing. He essentially models himself as the modern-day Ahmadu Bello, a prince of the Sokoto Caliphate (though Buhari is no prince). Gundu notes that when General Sani Abacha was the Head of State and Buhari was his highly privileged cohort and the Executive Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), he put pressure on Abacha to revive Ahmadu Bello’s grazing reserves scheme. This, however, could not take off before Abacha died.
It is also on record that President Buhari, a well-known cattle business owner, was (and maybe still is) the Grand Patron of the association Fulani cattle owners and herdsmen, the Minyeti Allah. In fact, he once led a delegation of his members to former Governor Lam Adesina of Oyo State when clashes between Fulani’s and indigenes in Oyo state to loss of many Fulani lives. He is quoted to have asked Governor Adesina: “why are your people killing my people?”
So, it should not come to anyone as a surprise that, as President of Nigeria, Buhari will be pushing this policy in this day and age when nomadic pastoralism has gone out of fashion except in backward climes in Africa and Asia where some elements among the Mongols, Fulanis and Masais are still tightly clinging to their ancient cultural lifestyle.
It is also not surprising that some state governors in the North, like Kano and Plateau, have already offered to participate in the grazing reserves project. Kano, in fact, boasts that it was the one that revived the idea. If Kano and other Northern states where Fulani herdsmen have ancestral homes and legitimate titles to land prefer to establish reserves rather than encourage cattle owners to set up modern ranches, so be it.
If Plateau has opted for it after herdsmen slaughtered men, women and children (especially babies) in isolated communities for more than ten years, I hope Governor Simon Lalong has consulted his people and secured their approval to do so. I know, for sure, that Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, has vowed his state will not be part of it, but politicians are like chameleons. Whatever he does, he must implement the wishes of his people.
That is the bottom line of this matter. Every state governor, whether they are of the APC or PDP or any other party, must consider the implications of creating and handing over lands for grazing reserves to Fulani cattle businessmen and their armed militias. It simply means you have converted them to automatic indigenes of your state. If that is what the people of your state want then go ahead.
Otherwise, you will be setting the perfect scenario for future wars between the children of the indigenes and the Fulani “visitors” in years to come. Fulani herdsmen will not always be allowed to continue to terrorise other Nigerians unchecked. A time will come when people could take matters into their hands, even if it means confronting the law enforcement agencies which are reluctant to enforce the law and protect those being attacked in their communal lands. Buhari will not always be there to guarantee the safety of those he wishes to foist on indigenous communities through this ethnic expansionist policy.
The only sensible alternative, I restate, is to create a national policy to covert herdsmen into ranchers. Ranching is a business – big business. Modernised animal agriculture is an essential part of our drive for employment, economic diversification and self-sufficiency in food. We must plan big for it and make it attractive for as many Nigerians as possible to venture into it. Animal agriculture does not have to be an exclusive ethnic occupation or preoccupation.
Ogbeh and his paymasters are blundering into a foolish and explosively risky national policy which consequences they may not be around to shoulder. They must be stopped by well-meaning Nigerians and people of good will before they plunge this country into another Sudan Darfur.
A word is enough for the wise!