By Ladipo Adamolekun
Who are the cattle owners? I would argue that just as the eminently sensible registration of herdsmen and farmers in the forests of Ondo State is critical to tackling the problem of criminality among herdsmen, registration of cattle owners must be acknowledged as critical to achieving a comprehensive solution to the various dimensions of the herdsmen-farmers problem. This dual-track registration of herdsmen/farmers and cattle owners advocated for Ondo State should be adopted by every state confronted with the herdsmen-farmers problem.
Deafening Silence on Cattle Owners
Are all the cattle herded across all the six South-west (SW) states owned by Hausa-Fulani? What proportion of the cattle in SW is owned by Yoruba? Similar questions must be posed with respect to cattle ownership in the South-east (SE), South-south (SS) and North-central (NC) zones where herdsmen/farmers conflicts have persisted for over a decade or longer.
Based on what I know and what I’ve learned from reliable sources, it would appear that a significant proportion of the cattle owners in the SW are Yoruba and not Hausa-Fulani. I’ve also learned that a significant proportion of the cattle owners in Benue state in the NC are indigenes of the state and not Hausa-Fulani. In these circumstances, ethnic profiling and cries of attacks on the Fulani are nonsensical as far as cattle ownership is concerned. The deafening silence on cattle owners must come to an end; every state in the geopolitical zones where herders-farmers conflicts have persisted must proceed without delay to register the cattle owners within its territorial area and the registers must be accessible to the public.
Regarding the herders (darandaran), it is widely acknowledged that they are predominantly Fulani. Again, what proportion of the herders is from within Nigeria? And what proportion is from outside Nigeria? We should have credible answers to these questions at the end of the registration of herders to be conducted in every state concerned – provided every registration is both thorough and detailed. Given the strong evidence that a very high proportion of herders are of school-going age, the Communique issued at the end of a meeting of SW Governors in Akure in late January to discuss aspects of the herdsmen-farmers problem included a directive that all school-age children who work as herders should be withdrawn and sent to school. Easier said than done!
Without a reliable register of herders and without the active involvement of cattle owners, this decision is unlikely to be implemented. Pointedly, why would Yoruba cattle owners hire Fulani children as herders when they should be in school like the vast majority of Yoruba children (at least, in theory)? The same question is applicable to Igbo, Ijaw, Tiv, Idoma cattle owners who hire Fulani children as herders, to cite a few other examples. The proposed registers of cattle owners will help to name and shame both Fulani and non-Fulani cattle owners across the country who are keeping Fulani school-age children out of school.
A delicate but crucial task in the proposed register of herdsmen from outside Nigeria is separating regular/legal from “mercenary”herdsmen. If, indeed, mercenary herdsmen are engaged in killings and kidnapping, getting them registered is likely to be a very tough challenge. Again, it is apposite to raise questions about Nigerian cattle owners and foreign herdsmen. All cattle owners who employ foreign herdsmen who are illegals and/or mercenaries are complicit in their criminality. And they should know that ignorance is no defense of the law.
Overall, then, cattle owners are a big part of the herdsmen-farmers problem and the allied criminality of herdsmen. They must be made a part of the solution. In addition to the registration of cattle owners that has already been suggested, their representatives within each state should be included in the Livestock Business or Cattle Trade/Farming Committees to oversee the implementation of the agreed solutions to the problem.
Implementation Challenges and Enforcement Capability
The Akure Communique mentioned above explicitly prohibited open (free-range) grazing and unequivocally adopted ranching and grazing reserves as the way forward with respect to cattle trade/farming. Media reports suggest that these positions are broadly agreed upon across the states of the federation. However, after two months, implementation progress has been slow; there has been more talk than action. Crucially, the weak enforcement capability of state governments has been exposed.
Open Grazing Prohibition: Notwithstanding both legal and declaratory prohibition of open grazing in many states, the practice has persisted. Worse, there has been no official Federal Government (FG) response to recent news report that Fulani Nationality Movement (FUNAM) has threatened to attack individuals and states that are against open grazing of cattle in the country. Between February and April, herders who engage in open grazing have attacked farmers in several states across the SW, SS and NC, with varying degrees of criminality. Then, there is the category of criminal/killer herdsmen (mercenary herdsmen?) who attempted to assassinate Governor Ortom of Benue State during a visit to his farm in March and those involved in wanton killings in Ebonyi State in early April.
To date, only a few cases of effective enforcement of open grazing prohibition have been reported, notably two interventions by Amotekun in Ondo State involving cow herders on Akure-Ilesa road.But there is the unanswered question of what Amotekun corps would do with hundreds and possibly thousands of “arrested” cows. Clearly, effective prohibition of open grazing requires the existence of operational ranches or/and grazing reserves. The logic of this sequencing appears incontrovertible!
The June 2018 consensus within the National Economic Council (NEC) on ranching through a National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) is an echo of previous ranching initiatives by two regional governments in the 1950s and 1960s. The striking difference is that the regional efforts in the 1950s and 1960s – Western Nigeria Livestock Company (1956), comprising about 11 Ranches across the region and the Northern Nigeria Rural Grazing Area Law (1965) – had no FG involvement whatsoever. Against this backdrop, states that continue to evoke the NLTP ought to know that the primary responsibility for its implementation is theirs. Although one or two SW states are reportedly drawing on the template established in the region in the late 1950s, slow implementation appears to be linked to the expectation that some federal funding would be available. This could become a case of waiting for Godot. The FG cannot and should not be expected to fund ranches across the states in the federation – this will be antithetical to the devolved federation that many of the same governors are clamouring for.
An outline of a good practice alternative is provided by Bayelsa State’s livestock farming approach. According to the State’s Commissioner for Agriculture “If you are interested in cattle business in Bayelsa, the governor has opened up business opportunities of huge value chain in the meat business. It is time now. If you have land and you want to ranch, you can ranch, since we are going purely for ranching. If you want to plant grass and sell for cattle, you can sell.” Specifically, he stated that the state has created “opportunities [enabling environment] in the meat business for people to take advantage of and establish ranches or grow grass to sell to cattle breeders” (see Punch, March 30th, 2021).
Another good practice example is Kano State that has moved speedily to establish ranches. Because of the progress the state has recorded, it has attracted FG’s funding as recently confirmed by the Federal Minister of Agriculture: “Just this week in Kano, I inaugurated the pilot scheme of the National Livestock Breed Improvement Initiative aimed at increasing the diary potential of our indigenous dairy cows and meat yield of our national herd” (See Punch, March 22nd 2021). Notwithstanding the ambitious programmes and projects that might be contained in NLTPS (copies of which are not widely available, to my knowledge), the initiative for implementing ranching lies with individual state governments; and that’s how it should be.
FG owns no lands on which to establish ranches; its role in livestock farming can only be supportive of states’ initiatives.
Finally, I learn that a livestock farmer in one of the NC states has established a Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) for breeding his own cows. Apparently, he must have liaised with his state government to secure the land for his RUGA. However, one hopes that if his herdsmen are Fulani, they are not children of school-going age nor are they illegals or mercenaries from foreign countries!
Two Concluding Observations
First, some suggestions have been provided about what states need to do regarding the establishment of functioning ranches. Bayelsa state provides an example of a clear statement of its role in establishing an enabling environment for private individuals and groups (cattle owners et al) to engage in livestock farming. No concrete results have been recorded but the clarity of the approach is commendable. Next, Kano has moved rapidly to launch a state-led functioning livestock farming programme and has attracted FG’s funding support for one aspect of its programme.
Second, as already mentioned, effective prohibition of open grazing is contingent on the existence of ranches and/or reserved grazing areas. However, even as ranches are being established, prohibition of open grazing has to be enforced. I would argue that it is now irrefutable that urgent establishment of state police – by the Doctrine of Necessity, as recently advocated in a Punch newspaper editorial (April 7th) – is required for ensuring that state governments have the required enforcement capability to effectively prohibit open grazing. And it is only state police directly answerable to the Governor who is the chief security officer within the state’s territorial area that can meaningfully tackle the unending killings wreaked by criminal herdsmen.
Professor Ladipo Adamolekun writes from Iju, Akure North, Ondo State.