Over the past weeks, attacks by Fulani herdsmen on farmers and villagers in different states across the country have increased in frequency and ferocity. Arguably emboldened by the failure of the Federal Government to intervene decisively, the herdsmen have blazed a lethal trail across Southern Kaduna, and Plateau and Benue States respectively. Just last weekend, an emotional burial service was organised for the 73 victims of a recent assault by herdsmen on defenceless villagers and farmers in Guma and Logo Local Government Areas of Benue State.
Expectedly, calls have mounted for the Federal Government to quit its frustrating hand-wringing and take definitive action on the crisis. That would seem to be what the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, was doing with his announcement last week at a Strategy Retreat for the ministry’s civil servants and political appointees in Abuja, that the Federal Government had decided to embark on the establishment of cattle colonies in the states. Said Chief Ogbeh: “We want to handle the issue of cattle rearing and crisis between farmers and herdsmen and actually bring it to a halt… We are talking of cattle colonies, not ranches. We are talking of massive cattle breeding improvement through artificial insemination; we have to start immediately.” The minister also disclosed that 16 states had already donated land to the Federal Government for the project, adding that “the programme is not going to be cheap, but the president has personally informed me that if we seek help from him, he will give it to us over and above the budget we have.”
If, as it would appear from Chief Ogbeh’s statement, the Federal Government has already made an irrevocable commitment to the establishment of cattle colonies, then, questions have to be asked about how the government arrived at this position, and what policy advice it relied on. For if anything is clear, it is that no hearings were ever scheduled in either of the two legislative houses to debate the matter, and no memoranda were invited from the general public. Why is the Federal Government sold on an idea whose effectiveness is debatable, and whose legality is dubious at best? Whence the eagerness to commit financial resources “over and above the budget” that the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is able to commit? Already, leaders of thought in the Middle Belt and the southern states have expressed, in very strong language, their opposition to the idea.
We are exasperated that the Buhari administration is retreading the same path of untidy hurry it assumed a few months ago when it briefly flirted with the idea of establishing grazing reserves for herders across the country. At the time, we joined the mass of the reasoning public in pointing to holes in the planned scheme and were relieved when the government quietly abandoned it. We insist that there is no substantive difference between the current plan to establish cattle colonies and the previous one. If anything, the latter strikes us as a rehashed version of the former; in which case the same fundamental question must be raised: what is the benefit to the Federal Government from buying and building up landed property for herdsmen, private business people who do not need the government’s handout? If, tomorrow, a conflict breaks out between, say, auto mechanics from one part of the country and carpenters from another part, would the Federal Government also assume the burden for the retooling of the artisans?
At any rate, where is the humanity in seeking desperately to appease Fulani herdsmen when nothing has been done for the families of their victims who number in the hundreds? Why the disparity in attention and mobilisation of state resources? Finally, when will the killers who have been wreaking havoc on hapless communities be brought to justice? Nigerians demand answers to these critical questions from the Buhari administration.