Commission for pastoralists, indefensible – Punch

Reluctant to implement the enduring panacea for the genocidal campaign of criminal herders, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, has ignited a fresh controversy about one of the most divisive questions plaguing Nigeria today. Obviously toeing the thinking in some circles in the Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) regime, the Minister of Justice has suggested that a commission be established for the pastoralists as a way of ending their bloody carnage. In the same boat is a former Bauchi State Governor, Isa Yuguda, who wailed: “The neglect of the Fulani, especially the cattle-rearers, who are presently giving Nigeria a minimum of one million cattle every day to slaughter and take as beef, their treatment by the Nigerian people has been most unfair.” According to him, if the government could release huge sums of money as subsidies in agriculture, why can’t the government subsidise pastoralism?

All this is nothing short of an exaggerated sense of entitlement embodied in the previous proposals that have been criticised because they seek to placate herdsmen criminality.

For years, murderous herdsmen, mostly from neighbouring countries, have laid siege to communities and highways around Nigeria, wreaking uncontrollable havoc on the people. Under the ploy of open grazing, the herders damage the crops and investments of farmers. This engenders conflict, discourages investment in agriculture with a gradual descent into food shortages.

But for Malami, the constant mobility of herders across the different belts of Nigeria, violating other citizens’ property right should be backed by a federal law. As he puts it: “It is perhaps time to consider the setting up of a commission for pastoralism regulated by law. This might provide recipes for resolving protracted farmer-herder conflicts.”

This is a blatantly faulty argument, which only reinforces an ethnic sense of superiority and entitlement. It is a way of cruelly twisting the concept of federalism to a dangerous point. Cattle rearing is a business, just like, farming, fishing and trading that have no special commissions. The practitioners engage in their vocations, buy land, rent shops and pay taxes to government. Why is the Buhari regime loath to recognise that cattle rearers are engaged in business and should not be trespassing on other people’s properties and source of livelihood?

Open grazing with the criminality that goes with it is at the heart of the intractable conflict currently undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence and unity. The failure to admit that cattle rearing is anachronistic in the modern times is driving the country to a total breakdown and fuelling the animus between the geopolitical nationalities. Thus, a federal commission is absolutely out of place. Any plan by the Federal Government to blatantly elevate cattle herding as a special business is thus unacceptable.

Unlike the global best practices, the Federal Government has failed to separate business from politics and crime. It trenchantly promoted the resuscitation of the long-abandoned grazing routes for the herders. When that collapsed, it introduced the Rural Grazing Area idea in 2019. A tenuous concept, government was to settle the nomadic herders and farmers on land belonging to other people. It instigated outrage about the special treatment to be accorded the herders. Now, Malami has come up with another policy of appeasement.

Actually, livestock farming is a lucrative global industry, fetching big income and huge employment. A new United States Department of Agriculture report states that four countries in Brazil, India, Australia and the US accounted for 63 per cent of the global beef export in 2020. In a season of COVID-19 pandemic, a research says red meat exports are underpinning New Zealand’s economic recovery: it accounted for 4.7 per cent of the country’s employment in 2020; $3.1bn export income; nearly $12bn in value added; 16.2 per cent of total exports and a tax income of $1.6bn. This is impressive, but it is certainly not achieved through open grazing.

Shockingly, Nigeria’s 20.0 million cattle head (No. 14 in the world) doubles New Zealand’s 10.18 million (No. 29), according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation. There are approximately 150 private beef exporters in India. The largest, Allanasons, generated $312.6m in first quarter 2017. In all, Indian companies brought in beef export income of $912m in Q1 2017, states Export Genius, a data inventory of 44 countries’ customs.

Therefore, government should leave out the worn-out excuses. Malami’s retrogressive idea should be consigned to the dustbin. Instead, the states where cattle farming is predominant should implement the global best practice of ranching – not the untenable and conflict-provoking open grazing. Beyond that, Ekiti State, visibly encouraging private investors and the US Mission in Nigeria, has debunked the false notion that ranching is a far-fetched idea in Nigeria. Having a target of producing 10,000 litres of milk daily, photographs taken at Ikun-Ekiti in the past week have opened the eyes of the world that ranching is indeed the right solution to the open grazing menace.

Nigeria cannot be a dumping ground for pastoral herdsmen mostly from the Sahel regions of West Africa. Herders, who move their livestock into the country in search of pastures and water mainly during the dry season when these commodities are in short supply, should be stopped.

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