Monday comment

Emma Nwosu argues that beef is not more essential than rice, yam and beans to the people

We can do without cows but not without human beings, tubers and crops! After all, cow meat, popularly referred to as beef, is not a staple (essential food item) in Nigeria, unlike tubers and crops, such as yam and rice, which are eaten daily by both the rich and the poor. Of the 198 million Nigerians, it is doubtful whether up to 10 million (or five percent) can afford beef in the menu, or even bother about beef at all.

The poor, generally, bother about meat only once or twice a year (during festivals) and are content with the chicken, goat, sheep or lamb that can be reared in their courtyard or purchased from the nearby market during the festival of choice. It needs not be beef! It is, therefore, unconscionable for the federal government (which controls the security agencies) to look on while militant cattle entrepreneurs and herdsmen and their militias continually visit genocide on farming communities that produce the staples, in many cases, taking over their land and forcing them into exile! A million cows cannot equate to one human being! And, apart from the aftermath of shedding human blood, there is the looming aftermath of food insecurity. It has got to the point where we have to abandon cow meat and crash the market for cattle, for militant cattle entrepreneurs, herdsmen and the federal government to get the message.

Not only has it refused to rein in the warlord cattle entrepreneurs and herdsmen, the government is bidding for special territories that will nearly amount to one-quarter of the Nigerian landmass (if 10 hectares are excised from each state and the FCT) for ranching or by whatever name, nationwide, for the warlords! And these territories would be developed with public funds, by the same government that has been unable to provide road, electricity and other basic utilities for the populace, whereas, cattle rearing is strictly a private business (just like crop farming) that should be restricted to the territory of the entrepreneur who should negotiate with his governor and bank for ranches! There must be more to this bizarre sense of entitlement than meets the eye. For example, who would have greater political and religious influence than the one with the geographical spread and control of the nation’s landmass?

Precedents do not support reading the proposal from the entitlement of cattle entrepreneurs and herders, as Nigerians, to live and graze their herds, anywhere in the country, as some people suggest. With all due respect, the dominant cattle entrepreneurs and herdsmen are well-known to be conquest-oriented and expansionist since setting foot on Nigeria in 1804. To some, this expansionism is, actually, the essence of the ongoing genocide and the proposed territories which (in the long run) would expand into super-imposing emirates on neighbouring communities, by love or by force, going by precedents of similar settlements – a good example being Jema’a Emirate in the Christian region of Kaduna State. To complain only about public funding of the territories is to overlook the political and religious aftermath.

Also precedents do not support the bid from the need to subsidise cattle rearing. Although government has been involved in subsidising farm input, there has been no known case of involvement in the irreversible acquisition of land and infrastructure for farmers, either in the state of origin or beyond.

Furthermore, differences in culture and, in particular, agricultural practices, of the various zones of the country ought to be respected. Being one’s brother’s keeper should not amount to those conditioned to crop farming giving up farmland and livelihood for cattle rearing, as if beef is more essential than rice, yam and beans, etc., to the people. Moreover, it is now well-known that enough grazing resources and facilities could be mobilised and hosted among the traditional cattle-rearing states. Kano State, for example, has declared that it can accommodate all herders and cattle in Nigeria. So could other states of the North-West with vast landmass needing only a little science to turn fields around.

The government would further betray ulterior motive, if, despite this reality, it still proceeds with the phase-wise southward thrust of the proposed territories.  Ulterior motive is made all the more patent by the fact that the same government has been unwilling to tame the herdsmen who are not supposed to carry guns or maintain militias, not to talk of taking laws into their hand. If sincere, it should have, first, disarmed them and demobilised their militias, with their sources of weapon cut off and their principals fished out and prosecuted. Otherwise, the proposed territories would only conflagrate genocide against unarmed farming neighbours, making territorial annexation and expansion more rapid across the land.

Above all, due to climate change, population explosion and urbanisation, both pastoral vegetation and arable land will continue to diminish and the challenges of field grazing will continue to increase, making it unsustainable in whatever form or shape, particularly, in the crop-farming Middle-Belt states and in the relatively cramped southern states. Policy should aim at farmers possessing farmlands without trespass and loss while herders are able to feed cattle and earn better returns, in their localities, without incidents. For example, there can be commercial feedstock farming as a separate business, anywhere, from which ranchers will buy and transport to location. Jobs would be created in a win-win situation.

In short, ways must be found to husband cattle to global health, productivity and return-on-investment standards, without hindering crop farming and food security. It is utterly hypocritical and pregnant with intention to continue the bid for these territories, nationwide, in the pretext of good neighbourliness and peaceful co-existence, while Nigeria is being turned into a killing field by the prospective beneficiaries. If steps are not retraced, the people might have no other choice than to peacefully sacrifice cow meat.

This bizarre sense of entitlement and brow-beating would never arise in a proper federation – where federating units are significantly autonomous and unfettered to determine their priorities, make laws, harness resources in their domains and take responsibility for the delivery of basic services to the people, in an environment of healthy competition.  Some would prefer the provision of ranches while others would rather cater to crop farmers – according to culture, agricultural practice and relative revenue projections. Here is another justification for political and economic restructuring of Nigeria.

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