The business side of cattle colonies: A look beyond the ordinary

By Nduka Uzuakpundu
The honest desire by the Nigerian government to find a durable solution to the spate of herdsmen-farmer bloody conflict, especially in the Middle Belt, has necessitated the idea of cattle colonies or ranches. This is a project in which owners of cattle – a majority of whom are Fulani – would have to settle with their animals in a given geographical location.
The intent, by government, is to discourage the age-long practice of herdsmen who are mainly of Northern origin – from their wandering or nomadic lifestyle of animal husbandry. The cattle colony project would seem to have assumed some urgency, on account of recent developments: the recent massacre of more than 70 people in the Guma and Logo Local Government Areas of Benue state. It was a rare shed of blood, which made front page news nation-wide, and beyond the shores of Nigeria.
In addition to similar herdsmen-farmers clashes, certain towns in Plateau, Taraba, Adamawa, Kogi states, and the South-East geo-political zone, have also been affected by the clashes. The crisis has raised questions of security in Nigeria, as to portray the Buhari Administration that has done quite well in degrading the once deadly Boko Haram operatives, in the North East of the country, in a clearly dim light. The same development has, doubtless, had the nasty effect of discouraging an ambitious in-flow of foreign investors and so, sorely-needed foreign direct investment (FDI) – from the country.
The Benue bloodshed remains the peak of the herdsmen-farmers clashes. It happened, even though the Security Agencies, like the Police, had given the Ortom Administration and the people of the state, the promise that there was little cause for alarm. But, that it happened, to the effect of a mass-grave ceremony by the Benue State Government, has raised some theory of conspiracy, for instance, by a faceless cabal, who are profiting from the various battle fields involving the herdsmen and tillers of the earth, from Nasarawa to the Eastern reaches of the Middle Belt in Taraba.
The Benue massacre happened – much to the chagrin and embarrassment of the country’s security operatives and the Buhari Administration. It was underscoring a crucial effect of corruption and failure of government in securing the safety of lives and property – via peaceful co-existence in a culturally diverse, but richly so, a country that Nigeria is. But to tell the truth – a not-very-complimentary truth – it was clearly reprehensible an act of insensitivity on the part of President Muhammadu Buhari that he did not surface at the burial of the 73 victims of the herdsmen-farmers massacre in Makurdi – the capital of Benue state. That compares quite favourably with former President Goodluck Jonathan, who, in 2014, went on campaign, in Kaduna, where he watched a football match and danced, when the operatives of Boko Haram were hitting hard on their targets, even close to Abuja.
Perhaps, it would have been said that for health reasons, if Buhari had sent a Minister or the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to represent him. His silence, deafening, as it was, was seen as an act of unkindness or cold-heartedness – one commentator called it, “crass ineptitude that shouldn’t be left unexplained by someone who’s the President of the country” – towards the Benue people.
Tunde Babawale, who is a lecturer at the Department of Political Science, University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos, wanted to know whether Buhari’s reaction would have been so sickeningly cold, were it that they were people from either his home town, Daura, or elsewhere in his local government in Katsina state, that were so cruelly cut down by AK-47-bearing herdsmen.
He figured that the herdsmen-farmers crisis has weakened the security credibility and economic confidence in the country. Said he: “Nigeria may have lost nearly N12 billion, in nearly three years of the herdsmen-farmers clashes, in terms of property – shelter and farmlands, and man-hours. The situation is so bad because it has affected a lot of very industrious farmers, whose prowess and profile, explain why Benue state is referred to, by its slogan, “Food Basket of the Nation.”
Benue is a state famous for its cultivation of yams, amongst other agricultural products. “For Benue, like other states affected by the herdsmen-farmers clashes, there’s a whole lot, in a post-conflict period, to do: reconstruction of schools, health centres, houses, mosques and churches, redesigning of  security architecture and peace-building steps to make public safety and security – two crucial ingredients of development – if democracy is to be meaningful to the people of Benue state,” Babawale said. It was his view that Buhari’s silence for whatever reason – “has tended to fuel the belief that he was in support of the AK-47-bearer-herdsmen, because a majority of them are allegedly of Fulani extraction, like the members of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Associate of Nigeria (MACABAN).”
As he asked, “where, in the first place, did the herdsmen get their arms from? Has Buhari ever asked questions to that effect? Has he held a summit with all the Security Agencies? Is it that he’s comfortable with the security risk associated with cattle herders bearing arms – illegally? The attitude of the Buhari Administrstion to the crisis is as if it condones the spate of murder in Benue state, since no one has been punished for the crime.”
His suspicions was that, “There must be some individuals in the Nigerian security chain, who supply the AK-47 rifles, and probably at very cheap prices. Recall that, in recent months, the members of Nigeria Custom Service (NCS) have intercepted container-loads of arms: the most recent was a shipment from Turkey. Worse still, none has been arrested for the crime, and it’s still not certain, whether government is investigating that crime to fish whoever was behind out for some severe expiation.”
Political analysts in Benue state figure that, perhaps, the herdsmen-farmers clashes was being orchestrated by those who are bent on discrediting Governor Samuel Ortom by making the state unsafe and ungovernable, so that a good case could they make, as a result, to the effect of his losing the next election. This is a crisis that, at one time, was said to have had its roots in cattle rustling, in which the herdsmen alleged that their cattle were being stolen by some gang of people in some communities. There are farmers, who accused the herdsmen of shepherding their cattle deliberately into their farms to graze, and so destroy their crops – their means of livelihood, and an active player in the agricultural sector of the state and national economy. Both parties are perhaps, right. And, in recent years, well beyond the Middle Belt, there have been similar acts of piercing insensitivity and arrogance on the part of the herdsmen, who graze their cattle on farms in towns and villages in Delta state.  And in response, reports had it, farmers in such places, laid traps with poisoned fodder for the cattle.
Throughout the ’60s and up to the first decade of the Fourth Republic, it was never thought by the brightest of security specialists or any of today’s prophets from the Pentecostal loop that herdsmen and farmers, whose activities are closely related in the economic calculations of Nigeria, shall, one day – as if in a warm-up encounter to Armageddon – clash to the extent of sculpting a mass grave and state-sponsored burial for slain innocent children, men and women.
“In days past,” Babatunde recalled, “the herdsmen were seen as very peaceful as they shepherded their cattle over a very long distance and for days before they arrived markets in towns and urban cities, where their cattle are bought, slaughtered and sold to consumers. Never were there clashes, then, with the natives of the territories they grazed and herded past their cattle. They grazed inside fenceless schools compound and by the road side. The cattle had, as it were, free food.”
But, even as the Buhari Administration toys with the idea of cattle colonies, there’s been a cynical aspect to it: some youths in the oil-producing Niger Delta say they also need gas colonies! Perhaps, the Buhari Administration should set up a special colony for all those who have graciously returned stolen money that are now lodged safely in the Single Treasury Account!
But seriously, the concept of cattle colonies presupposes an ambitious farm settlement, where cattle and their shepherds would live, as is the case in Europe and North America. It is a project that – if carefully managed, as a business enterprise, in consonance with the government’s policy of diversification of the economy – is sure to be capital intensive and, hopefully, beautify the agricultural landscape of Nigeria. Babawale said he was uncomfortable with the terminology “colony”, in that it refreshes the memory of the country’s experience under Britain.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, who has been a victim of the lawlessness called ‘open grazing’, is optimistic that many states, like Benue and Kogi, would buy into the project. As he put: “Nigeria is rich enough for establishment of cattle colonies. The intent is not to colonise or take, by indirection, the agricultural farmlands of the host communities.”
Ogbeh’s  thesis was given a nod by a former professor of history at the University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos, Jide Oshuntotun, who once served as Nigeria’s Ambassador in Germany, to the effect that, “ranching is the way out of the bloody herdsmen-farmer clashes. That is what obtains elsewhere in the world, as in the European Union and Argentina, say, where cattle-breeding is seen as a professional, agricultural business.” He offered that there was an urgent need to have a serious dialogue with the parties involved in the clashes, so as to check the carnage.
“We should not be killing ourselves for cattle’s sake. It is high time the Buhari Administration stopped the herdsmen-farmers clashes before it escalates into an ethno-religious conflict of monstrous proportion, especially because the Fulani are predominantly Muslims, while the farmers are Christians, Oshuntokun offered.”
No President desires a war by default, Babawale said, and if the Buhari Administration cannot exercise its Constitutional monopoly of the use of weapons of coercion, it may start losing its legitimacy.
With a good cattle ranching business, Oshuntokun argued that Nigeria would no longer need to import milk product and, so save foreign exchange. The ranches or colonies – some located close to the many river basin authorities and areas under the National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA) – would spring job opportunities for many – including graduates of secondary and tertiary institutions. “Nigeria must follow the global practice of ranching. The fact that the herdsmen have been used to a pastoralist system does not mean that they should not heed the necessity of modernity,” Oshuntokun said. In agreement, Babawale pointed out that it was a globalised world, in which every player had a role to play in firming the security of the economic environment where he acts. They both agreed that ranched cattle is healthier than the roaming ones that graze openly.
And, yet, suspicion of ‘colonisation’ run deep: a group of Igala journalists, in Kogi state, have voiced opposition to Governor Yahaya Bello’s readiness to go ahead in making the state one of the earliest to blaze the cattle colonies forth. The journalists are far from persuaded that cattle colonies, if properly managed – as a business ventures involving government, corporate bodies and private individuals – could bring back about an enforcement of the nomadic education programme, yield jobs, wealth for veterinary doctors, graduates of secondary and tertiary institution, who’re interested in entrepreneurial activities or engagement.
Truly, as Babawale said, “these are suspicions informed by the recent violence associated by the herdsmen and, it does appear that no matter how hard Ogbeh, Ortom and Bello, etc. may try to sell the positive or economic side of the idea of cattle colonies, no one who desires security and peace would buy into it.”
MASSOB has said that the herdsmen should go graze or, somewhat cynically, colonise the Fulani forests or farmlands anywhere in the north. They should not expect that they’d be given an inch of Igbo land to breed their cattle or do their business of animal husbandry. Such a hairless opposition to an untested, if lofty, idea underscores a natural quest for security and peace for self-preservation and sustainable human development.
The opponents of cattle colonies see it as a possible drain on the tax-payers money – that is, in the event of government purchasing or acquiring, on lease-basis, spacious land for cattle colonies. The facilities – shelter, hospital, water, electricity supply, etc. – would be funded by either federal or state government, just in case. Then, however sound the economics – based on the short and long-term profit of silencing the guns of the herdsmen and farmers – it may face the obvious challenge of culture shock for the herdsmen who, for goodness knows how long, have been used to traversing the length and breadth of the Nigeria, which makes them one of the most travelled and ‘adventurous’ tribes of having to remain stationary.
Perhaps, as they acquire new skills and behaviour, in their new milieu, as ‘polished’ and educated entrepreneurs in the field of animal husbandry, they might, over time, come to be seen, by economic historians, as the pioneering captains of a new, vibrant front in the Nigerian economy – cattle colonies.

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