With Joseph Ushigiale
The recent endorsement of the Danish and Kaduna State governments’ dairy farm partnership initiative by President Muhammadu Buhari which went almost unnoticed has far-reaching implications on the Fulani herders/farmers clashes as well as profound capacity to reshape the crisis and cattle ranching discourse towards a new trajectory.
Why is it so? It will be the first time since after the Fulani herders/farmers clashes which have claimed over 3,000 lives, caused 47 per cent internally generated revenue in affected areas and $13.7 billion property destroyed including the displacement of thousands of people in Taraba, Nasarawa, Benue, Adamawa, Plateau and Kaduna states that the President would openly admit or acknowledge that open grazing is no longer feasible and that the time has rightly come for cattle herders to jettison their age-old and time-worn nomadic methods and embrace modern ways of rearing cattle in Nigeria.
As a background, the president received in audience, the outgoing Danish Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Torben Gettermann. As part of his farewell itinerary, the diplomat unveiled a partnership initiative entered into between his country and the Kaduna state government in the area of dairy farming.
According to the president’s spokesman, Femi Adesina, Gettermann told the President that the concept of dairy farms was to have 1,000 families of herdsmen with 12,000 heads of cattle in a location, where they would have veterinary attention, schools for their children, and generally live as a small community. He said a Danish company, Arla, would then buy the milk off the cattle farmers, adding that the concept was not the same as ranching.
The envoy said the Danish government would bring investors through its agriculture counsellor in the country, while the Kaduna State Government would provide initial infrastructure and funding.
“A pilot project will start in Kaduna, and then move to other locations, as it becomes commercially viable,” he added.
In his response, the President asserted that “The establishment of dairy farms, as being promoted by the Kingdom of Denmark, will save the country from the almost perennial problem of clashes between herders and farmers, made worse by population explosion. “When the dairy farms are economically viable, the herders will see the need to stay in one place, as they will realise that productive considerations, rather than the number of heads of cattle, are more important.” But why would it take the president, who is himself a cattle owner and farmer this long to realise this? To be fair to the Buhari administration, the Fulani herdsmen/farmers clashes precede this administration, however, a careful study of the crisis within the last three years will reveal that it has escalated more under Buhari administration than in any other regime before it.
The reason for this is situated in the President’s penchant for slow reaction to rather volatile situations, shifting blame to previous administration as well as sticking to primordial sentiments and adopting knee-jerk and old-fashioned ways of solving new problems instead of embracing global modern techniques.
Hear him: “The problem is even older than us. It has always been there but now made worse by the influx of armed gunmen from the Sahel region into different parts of the West African sub-region. These gunmen were trained and armed by Muammar Gadaffi of Libya.
“When he was killed, the gunmen escaped with their arms. We encountered some of them fighting against Boko Haram. Herdsmen that we used to know carried only sticks and maybe a cutlass to clear the way, but these ones now carry sophisticated weapons. The problem is not religious, but sociological and economic. But we are working on solutions.” Buhari said.
Apparently frustrated by Buhari’s lack of pragmatism, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) led by its President, Rev. Ignatius Kaigama called on the President during a visit of its members in Abuja to use his background as a farmer and cattle rearer to find a `civilized solution’ to farmers/herdsmen clashes across the country.
The state governors in the affected states, on the other hand, decided to enact laws outlawing open grazing of livestock in their respective states. The action stoked the flame of anger and provoked the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore Association to draw the battle line culminating in it insisting that the law must be repealed because it would not obey the law. What happened next is now history.
But why again would it take the federal government which already has abundant resources and evidence at its disposal so long to wait for the Danish government to prompt it to take decisive and proactive measures to prevent the avoidable killings in the ensuing conflicts between Fulani herdsmen and farmers in Taraba, Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa and Adamawa States?
While we praise the Danish government for deploying what we hope would be an effective solution to a festering problem through diplomatic means, there are also some palpable takeaways from the dairy farms initiative. First, it has been laid bare that the dairy farm initiative is a business venture supported by a model which is expected to be profitable as against the federal government’s patronage and pacifist policy to placate MACBAN and its members.
Accusation that the MACAN which has never exhibited such recalcitrant tendencies under previous regimes is exploiting its filial relationship with the president to wreck havoc on the hapless farmers is cited in a report carried by the Vanguard newspapers that Buhari led a delegation on October 13, 2000 of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) to Lam Adesina in Oyo state to press a case against the killing of some Fulani herdsmen at the time.
If the president can now admit that the time has finally come for Fulani herdsmen to embrace modern means of cattle rearing, does it mean that he just recently learnt of these modern techniques of cattle rearing? Is he also telling Nigerians that his own cattle are roaming in the wild?
It simply means that the president has all this while he deliberately turned a blind eye and either displayed a lack of political will or adopted partisanship in the handling of the Fulani herders/farmers clash in the past three years that he has been in the saddle same as he did during Lam Adesina’s tenure to protect his MACBAN against landowners.
The president can be forgiven if he is currently roaming his cattle in the wild like others, but if he is not, charity should begin at home by getting the herders to adopt his farm practices. It is a shame that Nigeria will be adopting a modern cattle rearing model in this age and time when the concept of open grazing in the civilized world was abolished following the invention of barbed wires in 1894 in the United States which gave birth to ranching of cattle.
If the present administration was interested in saving lives and engendering peace, it would have utilized available resources at its disposal to provide interim succour for the herders. For example, there are solid ranch resources in Obudu Cattle Ranch, Cross River State with 27 well-established ranges that can comfortably accommodate 35,000 cows. Others abound with temperate climax suitable for cattle rearing in Plateau state ditto Mambilla in Adamawa state etc which the federal government would have quickly deployed to stem these killings rather than pursuing its primordial sentiments and arguing for the resuscitation of outdated cattle routes in the face of advanced technology in agriculture especially cattle rearing.