Audu Ogbeh
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh

SATURDAY POLSCOPE STORIES

with Eddy Odivwri  eddy.odivwri@thisdaylive.com 08053069356

It was Malcom X, the Black American human rights activist who once wondered: “Why do otherwise wise men turn foolish when they join government?” I have been struggling to check if this question should not be very apt for the Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Chief Audu Ogbeh, whom I think is the oldest man in the Buhari cabinet. If wisdom is in the domain of the elderly, then Audu Ogbeh should be a premium custodian of it. But perhaps the enthusiasm with which he wants to execute his job brief and the zeal with which he wants to impress his principal, Mr President, has, so to say, dulled his brain in a way that his reasoning is now a coefficient of foolishness.

The idea of a cattle colony is coming from Ogbeh’s Agric ministry. He had earlier toyed with the idea of special grazing zone across Nigeria. And since the Grazing Reserve Bill did not go through the National Assembly, the nomenclature has been tweaked to a more worrisome appellation as Cattle Colony. A colony is bigger than a reserve. While a reserve is a defined tract of land usually set apart for animals and plants, a colony is a wide expanse of land measuring 5,000 hectares of land. A hectare is about the size of a standard football field. So a colony is about 5,000 football fields. That is what Ogbeh wants every state of the federation to provide, so the Fulani herdsmen can have enough grazing land for their cattle. And in turn, Nigeria will know peace. The unspoken corollary of this demand is that unless the Fulani are granted these colonies across the country, non-Fulani Nigerians will know no peace.

The excessive pandering to the desires of the Fulani herdsmen is tantamount to the complete Fulanisation of Nigeria.
Let’s pause and think: Whose resources are going to be used in developing the infrastructure in the proposed cattle colonies?
By the way, whose ancestral land will be seized by a state government and given to Fulani herdsmen to form a colony?
How many states have that kind of land to give out? In fact, if the idea works, the Fulani will end up owning a third of the landmass in Nigeria. Perhaps only Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State who is so puppetry in his inclination to impress Mr President has declared that he will provide the cattle colony for the herdsmen. Three northern state governors have even rejected the idea.

But pray why don’t these herdsmen move over to the famous Sambisa forest and create all the cattle colonies they want there? After all, the military has saved the forest from the hands of the “degraded” and “conquered” Boko Haram terrorists. Government can help with irrigation in the forest so it can grow enough grass for the Fulani herdsmen and their cows.

But even more than the issue of space, have the advocates of Cattle Colony thought about the controversy of settler-indigene dichotomy which the Cattle colonies will cause later? Have we forgotten what sparked the ethno-religious Yelwa crisis (in Plateau State) in 2004, leading to the declaration of state of emergency by the then Obasanjo-led federal government? Or have we forgotten the Zango-Kataf story in Southern Kaduna? Wherever the Fulani dwell, they will begin to claim as theirs over time. It has happened too many times in too many places.

Indeed, as it happened in Kafanchan, where they installed an Emir of Jemaa, the Fulani, after dwelling in the colonies, will naturally build mosques, marry many wives, born many children, and before long turban one of themselves as the emir and begin to control the political dynamics of the area. This is open acquisitionist agenda, and it appears to me like what medical doctors call B-I-D (Brought-in-Dead) agenda.

Now, it hits down even stronger when we reckon that the man pushing this policy is from Benue State, the same state that has suffered most in the hands of the atrocious Fulani herdsmen. In February 2016, Agatu community in Benue State was literally wiped out by the herdsmen who murdered over 400 persons and razed down their houses. It was all talk-talk. Nobody was arrested. Nobody was prosecuted. Nobody was jailed. The people buried their dead and life continued.

And then just before 2017 would roll off, the same herdsmen surfaced again, this time killing almost 80 persons in one fell swoop, unprovoked. Their only offence is that their state government (Benue), last November 1 effected an anti-grazing Law prohibiting the Fulani herdsmen from having open grazing in the state. As punishment, almost 80 people unconnected with lawmaking were brutally murdered two months after.

Then their kinsman whose voice of condemnation of the dastardly act was not heard, climbed the national podium to start talking about the creation of cattle colonies for the ravaging herdsmen. I find it difficult to understand how Audu Ogbeh became such a cattle activist. Is it all about impressing Buhari as an effective Agric minister or he is truly convinced that the lives and well-being of the Fulani cattle are more prized than the lives of his kinsmen or other Nigerians generally? I don’t understand that old man.

We all know President Buhari has some cows, sheep and goats in his Daura-based farm. But it appears that Ogbeh is so overarched in his desperation to please Buhari and his fellow cattle breeders at the expense of his kith and kin.
We have not forgotten that he had gone on a National Television to talk about the importation of grass for the cattle, so they can produce more and better milk.

He speaks of this cattle issue with such a deep and passionate concern as if the cattle are government-owned. Haba! Are the cattle breeders not private businessmen just like the yam farmers in Zaki-Biam or like the fishermen in Burutu? Why is Ogbeh so yoked with cattle-breeding and their owners?
And pray, do these herdsmen even pay tax, given the huge money they make? Lagos State alone consumes 600 cows a day. Calculate that for a month. Are the herdsmen captured in the tax net?

The Federal Government has over-pushed the concern of the Fulani herdsmen beyond a tolerable narrative belt and it is all snapping now. Many years ago, the same federal government had come up with the idea of Nomadic education. Nomadic teachers were supposed to be hired and empowered to follow herdsmen to wherever. And when they get to somewhere, while the cows are grazing, the teachers, armed with their mobile chalk boards, will gather the herdsmen and start teaching them how to read and write. For the poor conception, the scheme failed, but not before it gulped huge resources.

So, can somebody tell Chief Ogbeh that after the ministerial assignment, he will return to his kindred in Benue?
But even at the official level, what is about cattle breeding that is making the Agric ministry sacrifice all other farming endeavours? How can a crop farmer be sacrificed for the cattle breeder? Will cow meat be the only thing we shall all eat? Why the huge governmental attention on cattle breeders? Is it a case of arms might?

I listened to and watched the U-tube video clip of a large-scale farmer in Edo State, who responded to the invitation of the Edo State governor, that those in the Diaspora should come home and invest and grow the state. He did. In the first year, he had cultivated many hectares of land, planting plantains and cassava. The crops had grown admirably high, with all the prospects of great harvest associated with successful farmers.

Then one morning, before they got to the farm, Fulani herdsmen had invaded the farm, crushing and eating up all the budding plantain and cassava leaves. And suddenly the luxuriant green foliage of the farm turned into an arid Sahel famished land.
During the week, Chief Olu Falae’s farm, in Akure, Ondo State was once again burnt down. The attacks on him and his farm by the herdsmen, have been incessant. Nobody has been jailed for the many attacks on the former Secretary to the government of the federation. This is a government that has been singing a swan song of agricultural diversification, yet one set of farmers are running another set of farmers out of their farms and the government is acting benumbed and watching with a near conspiratorial nuance.

Benue is a renowned food basket of the nation. Does Ogbeh not realise that the activities of the herdsmen will affect crop cultivation in Benue and other parts of the country in such a way that it could impact negatively on the food production in the country?
Apart from the destruction of farmlands by the herdsmen, the farmers are now sufficiently terrorized that they can no longer go to their farms to avoid being raped, kidnapped or killed altogether by these killer herders. Perhaps more than the Nigerian Civil War, this is a potent threat to national security and stability.

How many times has Ogbeh spoken in favour of cassava or yam farmers in the country? Why does he not talk about rice, yam or cassava colony? Or put even more brusquely, why does he not talk about Pig colony? Or does he not know some people breed pig and depend on it for their livelihood, just like the Fulani herdsmen depend on their cattle?

But apart from the threat to the food security of the country, have we not seen cows at Port Harcourt airport runway? Have we not seen cows in University of Abuja campus? Have we not seen cows in Abia Government House? Have we not seen cows on the streets of Abuja and Lagos? Just what is all these nonsense? Is it only in Nigeria that we have cattle breeders?
Why did Ogbeh not pursue the idea of cattle ranching as is done in many civilised countries? Why are we like this?