By Charles Ibekwe*
Most times, public resistance to policies and programmes of government streams from poorly conceived and implemented ideas or schemes. Today, some parts of Nigeria are embroiled in crisis over the implementation and enforcement of the anti-open grazing law by some states.
In the whole tango, what has persistently assailed Nigerians is “insistence” and “resistance” of the anti-open grazing law by states/farmers and the herders, who are the two major protagonists in the conflicts. But an analysis of the herders/farmers crisis in the three states of Ekiti, Benue and Taraba which have passed or are at the stage of passing the anti-open grazing law, reveals an improperly conceived idea and correctable oversights.
For instance, herders in Benue requested for extra time, after the expiration of the first deadline for the implementation of the anti-open grazing law in the state, but it was ignored. In effect, it was deft move that government ignored the first step by its failure to provide ranching lands for herders; but proceeded to enforce the law.
It thereby forced herders to contain with disruption of their business and the burden of hasty relocation. The crisis on the land between these two groups amply explains the lacuna and defects in crafting the policy and its enforcement.
However, the Nigerian Army under the direction of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt.Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai has stepped forward to offer the missing leadership quotient lacking in most leaders of Nigeria on the herders/farmers conflict. The Nigerian Army’s intention to veer into animal husbandry or livestock investments through the Barracks Investment Initiative Programme (BIIP) did not start with flouting its over 1,000 herds of cattle and other livestock on the streets and farmlands.
It first partnered the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and with the support and assistance of the Honourable Minister, Chief Audu Ogbeh, the Army first acquired hectares of land at Giri, a community on the outskirts of the FCT Abuja for ranching. It is an expanded investment programme of investment for soldiers covering diverse areas like fisheries, poultry and other aspects of mechanized agriculture.
The Nigerian Army Farms and Ranches is also stocked with over 30 tonnes of feed concentrates, machines for making feeds and grass seeds for producing pasture for cattle. This is replicated by the various Army formations across the country.
The BIIP initiative by Gen. Buratai may appear a simple logic, but it is worthy and comes with a lot of reliefs in unimaginable ways. Most importantly, it demonstrates Gen Buratai’s leadership competence and foresight, as he knows exactly the right button to press at all times to achieve set targets without disrupting or creating social dislocation.
The indoctrination of soldiers into BIIP investment drive is indubitably a means of exploring the agricultural potentials of Nigeria.
Gen. Buratai unveils the vision as; “It is my desire to extend the frontiers of the Nigerian Army from physical security to include addressing the food security of the nation in line with Mr. President’s policy on agriculture. I believe agriculture would greatly reduce the high rate of unemployment among our teeming youths. It would also enhance the welfare and well-being of families of officers and soldiers all over the country.”
The Army Chief has been consistent in pleading with soldiers to severe themselves from the cord of politics. So, conscripting Army personnel into agricultural ventures is one sure way of keeping them busy. The animal husbandry through ranching would also generate personal revenue to Army personnel to augment their incomes; hence oil revenues alone cannot effectively sustain the ever effervescent desire for increment in salaries and allowances to deflate mountainous problems.
So, Gen. Buratai once again wore his thinking cap to berth the BIIP, the first of its kind in the history of the Nigerian Army. Therefore, the Nigerian Army example is an initiative worthy of emulation particularly in conflict zones or flashpoints of herders/farmers crisis.
The Army has proven itself as a mirror and pathfinders which the Nigerian nation can use in resolving some of its monstrous challenges. An assessment of the expertise applied by Gen. Buratai in anchoring the BIIP, especially, the Nigerian Army Cattle Ranching Programme, which is immune to any seeable and unforeseeable clashes between farmers/herders posts interesting insights .
He could have simply ordered Army personnel to indulge in animal husbandry, without providing the lands. It would have aggravated the crisis between soldiers and farmers, like the faulty steps some of the State Governors have created. Thus, one is tempted to prod states like Benue, Ekiti and Taraba, and even Plateau states to learn from the wisdom of the COAS, by reaching out to the Nigerian Army for guidance.
The Nigerian Army has made a bold statement that cattle rearing and ranching is not the exclusive reserve of herders alone as erroneously assumed. It is therefore, the responsibility of government to create a genuine template and environment for its practice.
The loud message is that states like Benue, Ekiti and Taraba could also possibly invest in cattle business by ranching, as independent entities to earn revenue to service its public obligations to their citizenry. The Army has proven that this is possible without brewing the unnecessary tensions and upheavals, amid a robust and seamless relationship between herders and farmers.
And this is very possible because if a Southern state like Lagos could effectively partner Kebbi in the North for massive rice production, these states can also partner herders for investment into cattle through ranching. And so, provision of land was a vital component which they ignored and preferred to treat the business, with leprous fingers as if it belongs to some strangers, yet these herdsmen who have lived with their brethren for years.
Precisely, a review of the manner these states have handled their ranching policy is cankerous and a recipe for the herders/farmers crisis sprouting everywhere now. It defeats sound wisdom to put the cart before the horse. It is bad enough that these State Governors failed to know that provision of ranching lands ought to have preceded the enactment of the legislation against open grazing of livestock.
The instance of Benue state particularly is very pathetic. Governor Samuel Ortom appears to be standing logic on its head. While in Agatu, LGA to resolve the impasse between herders/farmers, Gov. Ortom endearingly described the Fulanis who have lived in that community for ages as “Indigenous Fulanis.”
Yet, he turned around to rub their faces with mud through a harsh legislation and declined to accept their plea for extension of time to re-arrange themselves or provided ranching lands. It is ungodly and inhuman, but that is what happens when complex and sensitive issues are immersed in politics.
The Nigerian Army example should be a shining light and the leeway for these Governors to retrace their steps and it is very necessary in the prevailing circumstances. The way forward still remains dialogue and doing the needful, as playing politics with the problem would rather exacerbate than resolve it. And it is not too late.
It is simple wisdom, but Governor Ortom is making it appear like a hard nut to crack. Of course, what does anyone expect from a state like Benue which cannot manage a mango juice company? So, politics has blindfolded everybody to the multiple benefits which can be sourced from a complicated venture like cattle animal husbandry with its derivatives in dairy products like milk and meat and so forth.
Similarly, even in Adamawa, the Fulanis and the Bachamas are all co-owners of the Land. But the feeling of racial superiority and ownership is at the centre of the violent and insane bursts between herders and farmers. So, in every state under the spell of the herders/farmers conflict the Nigerian Army example comes handy.
Let the conscience of these state leaders be pricked that they can afford to dance on the graves of the dead, by playing politics with this sensitive matter is absurd. They have betrayed themselves so shamefully, as none of the Governors of these states, with the exemption of Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti has burdened himself to call for a peace meeting in the face of the simmering crisis, when the natural solution has been willfully neglected. Could the desire to stimulate crisis and gain political mileage through undeserved public sympathy the justification for arming the CJTF by Governor Ortom and others with similar plans?
Quite honestly, ranching is still the best bet. But states calling out soldiers for rescue mission, must necessarily first provide lands for ranching before, enacting or implementing the anti-open grazing law. Only this step would demonstrate their commitment to the peace and security of the citizenry and end this scourge. The resort to politicking over such a serious matter of security is resentful.
*Ibekwe, a public affairs commentator wrote this article from Enugu, Enugu State.