Penultimate week, the federal government stirred the hornet’s nest, at least in Benue State, when it announced plans to establish cattle colonies in some states across the country.
Our correspondent reports that Benue is one among the seven states to benefit from the gesture, which the federal government said was to permanently address farmers-herders conflict.
Vice President Kashim Shettima, who made the announcement, said that President Bola Tinubu had approved the construction of 1,000 houses in Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna, Niger and Benue states as part of a broad plan to address conflicts in the North.
Experts say a cattle colony holds great potential for a benefitting state, the livestock sector and farming communities.
Apart from being built-in like a shopping complex where cattle and meat is carried out, the project’s (colony) description in the eyes of the federal government would include ancillary facilities of schools, clinics, veterinary clinics and ranches.
They said the establishment of a cattle colony would spring forth multiplier effects in the value chain which would impact positively on joblessness and take idle youths off the streets.
Besides, it would rub on the economy of the states and boost income for not only petty traders, but also the transport sector, among other sectors.
However, soon after Shettima’s outing in Borno State where he made the announcement, reactions from stakeholders in Benue State went viral on both mainstream and social media.
One of the initial responses came from the House of Reps Member for Gwer East/Gwer West, Arc Asema Achado, who urged the federal government to rehabilitate, resettle and rebuild the destroyed homes of the displaced people in the state before building ranches.
Achado noted that while the statement by the vice president concealed specificities on who would benefit from the houses, part of the press release showed the project would include “ancillary facilities of schools, clinics, veterinary clinics and ranches for Fulani communities in Kaduna and Benue.”
Achado, who has been a vocal advocate for peaceful coexistence among tribes and groups in Nigeria, believes that such projects should prioritise the victims’ needs.
He argued that Benue State had been a killing field for years, with thousands of people killed by herdsmen and bandits, adding that many displaced persons were now taking refuge in poorly constructed IDP camps, facing dehumanising conditions and threats to the state’s “food basket” status.
Achado, therefore, suggested that the first step should be to deploy security men to ensure the dislodgement of illegal occupants.
He also suggested that stakeholders in affected states should be fully involved in implementing the project, as the Land Use Act vested all lands in the territory of each state solely in the governor of the state.
The lawmaker believes that providing ranches for herders in a state where humans are in IDP camps will not achieve the desired peace.
He said, “It is on this note that I wish to advise as a stakeholder and one of the APC chieftains in Benue, the first step should be directed at deploying security men that would ensure the dislodgement of the bandits that are unlawfully occupying homes and farmlands belonging to Benue people who are pushed to the IDP camps. Without taking this first step, I doubt the possibility of erecting houses in these areas amid such a volatile security situation.
“Upon dislodgement of the illegal occupants, the federal government should then begin the process of returning and resettling the displaced persons with assurance of safe and dignified living in their ancestral communities, giving the returnees recourse for property restitution, compensation, rehabilitation or reintegration to build back their livelihoods and economic development.” Comrade Aondongu Saaku, the state’s Chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), expressed doubts about the project’s feasibility, citing land limitations and potential conflicts between livestock and crop farmers.
He said, “The project will not work in Benue State because we’re lacking land for mechanisation. It will be difficult to cede out land because it’s not the federal government that owns land. And most of the communities will not even allow such a thing for now. It’s not going to solve the problem between livestock farmers and crop farmers; they should come in a different way to solve the problems.
“The fact is that even when you are talking about the National Livestock Transformation Programme (NLTP) and you want it to succeed, you have to start from animals relevant to the communities in focus. In Benue State, it will be better to use piggery instead of cattle for livestock transformation agenda. That’s because no marriage dowry here is completed without a pig.”
On his part, Ardo Mohammed Risku, state Chairman of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), emphasised the importance of farmer-herder cooperation in making the colony idea work.
He said, “Nobody has informed us about this development, so I don’t know anything concerning it. I’m just hearing about it. But on whether the development of the colony will bring lasting solution between farmers and herders, I believe that the only problem between the duo is lack of understanding. If the government is going to put the initiative to work, then it must make sure of its acceptability to farmers and herders.”
Shehu Tambaya, ex-Governor Samuel Ortom’s Special Assistant on Animal Husbandry, stressed that the success of the proposal would depend on the terms agreeable to Benue indigenes.
He called for the fulfillment of past promises regarding rehabilitation and resettlement of displaced people.
Tambaya said, “If you recall, former Vice President Yemi Osibanjo made a commitment during the last administration to rehabilitate and resettle IDPs in Benue but couldn’t fulfill the promise before leaving office. I’m of the view that peace will reign if the current federal government fulfills that promise, because Benue people will welcome the idea. That will bring peace between farmers and herders.”
Dr Edward Amali, Director of Livestock at the state’s Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, highlighted the importance of an idea acceptable to all parties.
He said, “I won’t really comment on that because I don’t yet understand the idea fully. The only thing I can say about it is that what is intended to bring peace must be appreciated by all. If the federal government is proposing anything that appears a threat to any of the parties, it cannot bring about the much-desired peace, but whatever will bring about peace will carry everybody along.”
Governor Hyacinth Alia, however, clarified that the proposed colony aimed to house resettled IDPs, not pastoralists, and assured the people that it was not a Fulani colony.
Alia, apart from expressing support for the programme, also clarified that the project was not meant for pastoralists, but the farmers who had been long displaced from their rural homes and farming environments.
The governor said the federal government planned to reconstruct homes for displaced people in the state, dispelling rumours about his administration ceding land for the establishment of an animal colony.
Alia, through his spokesman, Tersoo Kula, said the clarification became necessary occasioned by stories making headlines on social media that Governor Hyacinth Alia, had included Benue in the list of states to get Fulani colonies.
Kula said, “The story is false and should be disregarded.
“As earlier explained, it is a burning desire of Governor Hyacinth Alia and the present administration to return the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) back to their homes as soon as possible.
“However, since most of their houses have been destroyed by the gun-carrying marauding herders, the Federal Government of Nigeria under the leadership of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has agreed to sponsor the reconstruction of new homes for our Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). The homes are to be built in cluster formats, enabling our people to live more closely with each other and to experience more stability.”
The governor assured that, “In Benue, the homes are for our people and not for any colony, whatsoever.”
Our correspondent further reports that Benue’s stance on the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) has been one of cautious support, emphasising adherence to the state’s Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, 2017.
Former Governor Samuel Ortom had supported the NLTP’s implementation while rejecting other proposals like RUGA.
The ex-governor had insisted that the plan would be implemented in line with its peculiarities to Benue state.
He had said that the focus of the plan in the state would be on livestock such as pigs, goats, poultry, sheep and cows, stressing that Benue decided to domesticate the NLTP when stakeholders were convinced that the state would be free to own and implement the programme.
Consequently, the situation remains complex, with divergent opinions on the cattle colony’s viability and potential impact on the ongoing farmers-herders conflict in Benue State.