By Muyiwa Adetiba
Since the Federal Government, or an arm of it, announced the policy of RUGA settlements to contain the itinerant nature of our cattle business, neither the government nor the governed has had peace. Even now that the government has suspended the policy, the noise is yet to abate. Prominent people have shown their emotions and biases. Leaders of Socio/cultural organisations have chosen to follow the emotions and sentiments of their people rather than inform, lead and navigate them through this difficult pathway in the life of the country. Religious leaders are pitiably predictable in their condemnations or praises for the policy. Blogs are peddling half-truths and knowledgeable people including professors are reposting those that suit their positions. Everybody it seems, has taken sides based on personal, ethnic or religious interests on a policy that is yet to be properly enunciated, properly articulated and therefore properly understood. Elders that should offer a voice of reason, of temperance, are beating drums of war. Misguided ‘youths’ are giving misguided ultimatums.
With all that is going on, it is difficult to keep a clear head. Yet, a clear head is what is required at this moment of anyone who is read or listened to when they pass comments on public issues. I was tempted to skip the RUGA issue completely and go ‘Afghanistan’ to comment on America’s Fourth of July celebrations, where a real belligerent drum of war was beaten. But that would be escapism bordering on dereliction. Besides, my looking away is not going to make the issue go away.The issue as I see it, is largely an economic issue which is described in colourful imagery depending on who is doing the narrative while the methods of addressing it is covered in greed, ethnicity, sabotage and incompetence.
The North, particularly the Fulani North, rears cattle while the South largely consumes them. It is natural that a product will find its way to its consumer. It used to do so in this case, through a grazing route which was subsequently gazetted. Then population growth coupled with executive greed—former leaders who turned parts of the route into personal farms—and neglect nearly obliterated this route. The ensuing indiscriminate search for pasture and water led to clashes between farmers and herders. The fact that there is no organised or defined grazing route also made the roaming cattle to become more vulnerable to rustlers. The reality of drought on one hand, clashes with farmers on the other and rustlers along the way, turned otherwise benign herdsmen into aggressive survivalists. Losing 30, 50 cows in one night will harden any herder—just as losing your farm and home would harden any farmer. The herdsmen armed themselves initially as defence against attacks but soon became looters, rapists and arsonists. The next step was inevitable. Many became criminals who found it more profitable to take human beings than to take or fend for cattle. The reluctance and tardiness of security officers to nip a growing crime in the bud worsened the situation.Like cancer, this state of insecurity has spread through the life blood of the entire country. Hysterics replaced calm reasoning. Desperation led to knee jerk actions. The country became long on rhetoric but short on solutions.
The situation reached a state of emergency for want of a better phrase.Fortunately it is a phrase—and a phase—that the President, being a General, understands. The first step in a state of emergency is containment, typified usually by a restriction of movement. That has been suggested by some in this case. But an abrupt restriction of cows and their herders has it consequences. First is the economics of it. It will affect the livelihood of many on both sides of the River Niger. People in the south forget how much they depend on livestock from the north for their many celebrations. Many are ignorant of the process it takes before meat gets to their dinner tables.Then we would need a large number of officers to police the restriction. The attendant result is an even more increase in violent crimes.
Fortunately after a slow start, we all seem to agree that ranching is a better form of containment. But that is as far as consensus goes. The contending issues are land and the nature of Government support. Some people believe that ranching should be treated as a private business like other ventures. Whoever is interested should look for land, food and market like other farmers. The government believes a more comprehensive incentive is needed to change an age-old habit of cattle rearing. I see the sense in both arguments.Ranching is a very expensive business unlike poultry or piggery. It is also the main source of meat in the country. Secondly, we want to change, wholesale, the whole business of rearing and selling cattle and thereby avert incessant clashes. These two reasons and the urgency of the situation make government intervention inevitable.But intervention should be limited to providing infrastructures and funds at reasonable rates for interested investors.Government should also not force any State to enlist. And those that enlist should not have to cede their land permanently. There is something called leasing and it is applicable to land.Secondly, Ranching, RUGA, Colony or whatever name government aims to call it, should not be limited to a particular tribe. States that are interested in the programme should reserve the right to populate the settlements as they choose. My suggestion would be to encourage people of different tribes to populate each settlement with indigenes being in the majority. Let Southerners invest in the North and vice-versa. That way, we could have a mini Nigeria in each settlement. Or we cancel the idea of settlement altogether and let allied industries gravitate towards ranches. Although that would not make for an organised and integrated livestock industry, it should diffuse the tension and distrust in the country.
My advice to States still sitting on the fence is to get on board. Especially the Southern States where cows are consumed in huge numbers everyday. Now is the time to get involved in what could be a win, win situation if handled properly. It does not make sense to have to depend on others for your food security. This Government is leaning towards a form of settlement for cattle and allied industries as a way to solve the farmer/herdsman clashes. A lot of money is likely to be pumped into this project and those who are lucky to get ranches in these settlements might become instant millionaires given the support and incentives that could be available.The settlements could be the new oil fields of the future which the elites irrespective of tribe or religion, would again scramble to corner for themselves. Any State that opts out should not cry of marginalisation in the future.