Cattle colony? Perish the thought

Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture Audu Ogbeh

Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh’s  proposal to establish  ‘cattle colony’ in each state to resolve the  frequent  and  destructive  clashes between  farmers and itinerant  herdsmen is strange and un-implementable. It is, an idea ‘dead on arrival’

As many commentators have rightly noted, there is only one place in the whole wide world Pakistan, where this unusual concept operates and even then, it is essentially a trading centre for cattle and cattle products. It is not a facility to rear cattle.  So pray, how will this minister’s proposal solve a lingering socio-economic problem that is fast transmuting into a dangerous political problem?

Whereas the received –and informed- opinion is  that Nigerian authorities should embrace modernity  by establishing  cattle ranches  that have been proven, globally, to be more economically beneficial  to both cattle owners and  national  economy, Ogbeh claims to have the approval of  the Federal Government to  immediately begin his project in 16 states  that  have volunteered  five hectares  with  public money offered by President Muhammadu Buhari to support it. So quick an action indeed by a government not at all known for speedy response!

Beside the unusualness –we would not even dignify it as unique – of the Ogbeh ‘colony’ idea, there are both denotative and emotional meanings of the word that trigger suspicion and other negative hints. And anyone with a sense of history – of Nigeria and elsewhere – will appreciate the real and the implied harms of a colony to the colonised.

Cattle herding is, like  poultry rearing, piggery and cocoa  or cassava  farming private business and we should think that,  even with  due regard to an entitlement to  government  assistance,  must remain  wholly the business of  its proprietor.

It is a shame that Nigeria is arguably the only country in the world which in this 21st century, has to contend with marauding cattle herders at all, not to talk of persistent acts of murders, kidnapping, rape and destruction of farmlands in the supposed name of grazing and defending herds of animals.

While Ogbeh did not disclosed which states are ceding portions of  their precious  land  for the  purpose of  a private cattle business supported with public money, it is known by the pronouncements of their  governors,  that Kogi and Imo states are in this league  of ‘land  ceders.’ These governors need be reminded, however, that the extant Land Use Act reposes the ownership of land in their states in the governor only as a trust. The Act vest ‘all land comprised in the territory in each state (except land vested in the Federal Government or its agencies) solely in the governor who would hold such land in trust for the people…’  It is reasonable to assume that a governor worthy of such trust will do nothing whatsoever, to alienate the people of the state from their land except, of course, with prior consultation, and the agreement of the people. This is a key ingredient of leadership. There is no evidence that the governors of Kogi and Imo states did any such thing. Indeed, the Igala people and the Yoruba –speaking Okun people of Kogi state have registered their objection to the offer by their governors. On the other hand, several others, including Benue have rejected the idea outright.

Ranching is not a new concept in Nigeria, As far back as the first republic, there have been ranches in Obudu, Mokwa, and Akunnu. The Ahmadu Bello University’s College of Agriculture in Kabba, Kogi State use to run a thriving ranch until, with time, it went the way of all things “Nigerian’.

Land is universally considered the mother of all property and the most enduring source as well as store of wealth’. Which explains that people, societies, and nations go to war and sacrifice lives to seize or to defend it. A Federal Government that has no inherent land of its own -except as magnanimously given by the constituting states- cannot, under the current constitutional democracy, establish a ranch by fiat. And we should think that a state governor cannot, in turn expropriate a people’s ancestral land for any but such purpose as serves beyond any reasonable doubt, the public interest. To do otherwise is a mere display of an arrogance of, we must remind, ephemeral power.

The Federal Government under Buhari should stop confusing itself –and the populace- with obfuscating semantics and it should stop dancing around a settled matter. The modern, global best practice keep cattle in ranches around which associated industries are conveniently built. This is the way to go. Unless there is another motive for a different course of action.

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