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A rare position

Tukur Baba  has the rich voice of an actor, but this tall  scholar  who specialises in the sociology of pastoral societies,  isn’t acting when he…

Tukur Baba  has the rich voice of an actor, but this tall  scholar  who specialises in the sociology of pastoral societies,  isn’t acting when he contradicts the  arguments in favour of grazing reserves, and his is a very rare position when compared with popular thinking on the matter. “The grazing reserve concept has become very popular. People think the Fulbe will benefit from that, but I am very skeptical, for several reasons which are both historical and practical,” he begins, “Let me start with the historical. About 400 grazing reserves have been identified in Nigeria, but less than 10% or about 40 have been gazetted and made into law in the last 50 years. It’s not been very successful.”
Next, he comments on the changing landscape which is already affecting the few reserves which have been set up “There has been a huge population increase. It is getting increasingly difficult to isolate any area, and keep it as a reserve. A fall out of this is that the  grazing reserves that have been set up are today a sorry sight.They have not been maintained and have deteriorated so badly, and they have been encroached upon by  crop producers.”
Highlighting the background to this situation, Baba argues “The government has not been able to provide support services, to improve on natural pastures, or provide veterinary services at the reserves. Today, these   are almost  nonexistent. The cattle dips and the  dams have not been maintained.” A lecturer at the Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto, he  states “if in fact to date, we have not been able to maintain the few ones already set up, a lot of them federal government owned, the prospects for the future are even bleak.”
Trained at ABU, East Anglia, and the University of Missouri, Columbia, USA, from where he earned a PhD  in sociology, he  also takes a look at the matter of subsidies “We are living in an era of the withdrawal of subsidies. Government is trying to move away from the era of giving subsidies. A grazing reserve is highly capital intensive. You need dams, veterinary services, schools, and so many  other things.”
Baba concludes “In the face of dwindling resources, is government likely to support such? My opinion is no. Indeed, there are many carcases of road  and building projects all over our urban areas.”

He says “As I said it is a capital intensive project. Who is going to pay for it?” Turning to other implications of setting up a reserve, he reasons “The fact is that you would confine people, and undermine the traditional basis of pastoralism in the process of doing so. That is to say, one of the major foundations  of the system is mobility. When conditions are adverse and there is no congeniality, no grass, no  water and there is the outbreak of diseases, the nomads  move away. But if the nomads are concentrated in a few reserves, where would the nomads go,” he asks “My honest fear is that the reserves will become a policy of containment. In other words it will be possible to confine the pastoral Fulani in an area such that you can easily deal with them in terms of social and political control.”

The global record in terms of reserves  is not a very good one, he points out “No reserve has worked anywhere in the world. Ask the American Indians as well as the Australinan  Aborigines. The reserves that have been set up to protect people in America today, are nothing but enclaves of criminality, gambling, prostitution, alcoholism, and despondency. Tell me of one reserve in Nigeria that has  delivered the promise of a protected life for anybody. Yes, we have reserves, but those reserves are enclaves of crime, despondency, HIV/AIDS, alcoholism, drug addiction,gambling,and this is my fear for the time when the Fulbe will  have their  reserves.”
His  words “I visited  a number of grazing reserves in the course of my research, and I can tell you that not a single one lives up to its promise, and this is because of the absence of infrastructure. Go to Gidan Jaja, the Zamfara grazing reserve, the buildings there have collapsed. There are no veterinary services, and the nearby farming population has encroached into the reserve. The grasses have deteriorated. No borehole is working and  the earth dams have silted. Nobody is maintaining the original roads that were put there. Now, what makes anybody think that the government would have the capacity  to allocate resources to the reserve. Even if we legislate the resources, there is the huge monster of corruption that we have not been able to tame.We have built a capacity to capture  government subsidies by a few people, the elite.”
He  posits “There is not a single reserve in this country that is run satisfactorily, and this is  very true of reserves in northern Nigeria. So long as you have a property that everybody can benefit from,nobody talks of responsibility or who should be responsible for maintaining it. Its going to deteriorate. Do we have an idea of how many cattle we are planning for? This is because when these resources are made available, they will attract pastoralists, and the mere fact that you bring them will lead to deterioration, in the context of  over grazing and over population.”
But one lingering thought persists “My major  fear about the grazing reserve is one thing: sustainability, and I have historical and practical reasons to  be very skeptical. What I would prefer to see is a system that gives the Fulbe pastoralists ownership and responsibility, and one which gives them legal status.I  have a strong feeling that the reserves will be captured by the  elite. The reserve is not a solution because it will be a containment policy. You contain the pastoral Fulani so that you can go and wipe them out, either through law enforcement or cattle theft, and they are left on their own.”
Lamenting the nation’s poor maintenance culture, he reasons “Our history in any other form of infrastructural development, is nothing to write home about. How many roads have we built and maintained even for the sedentary population? How many schools have we maintained?  Our universities today will not survive without TetFund. I  can go on and on.”

On people who are upset that they will lose their lands to the reserves when the former are set up, he suggests “Those people saying that the Fulbe will  seize their lands  in the name of reserves, should save their breath.It will not work in my opinion.” He repeats “The concept of the grazing reserve is a novel idea ,but it is not a solution. In fact, it will positively undermine the basis of pastoralism, because we are dealing with people who want a solution that they don’t even understand. There is no sufficient understanding of the reasons why the nomads move. They do so to avoid soil degradation, to avoid concentration, as well as diseases.The  reserves will worsen the situation in the long run,and I have given historical and practical reasons for this position.”
Throwing a challenge, he declares “I want somebody to come and tell me of one reserve in Nigeria where its promises have been delivered, and where the pastoralists have not been left to their own devices. Setting up the reserves will be the beginning of a catastrophe which will be at once environmental, physical and social.”
Baba adds “I know this is a very unpopular thing to say, but the truth need not be popular. The grazing reserve argument is being pushed and promoted by people who stand to benefit from it. Given the historical antecedents, I think that the typical pastoral pullo will find that it is a mirage. It is an illusion  for the benefits will not come. The  agricultural bureaucrats are waiting there to capture the benefits that are coming. It will be like the river basin development projects. They  will end up selling the reserves to elites like themselves.”

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