At last, one factor has emerged which offers itself as capable of defining a paradigm shift in the country’s fight against the raging wave of insecurity that is gnawing at the heart of the nation, with its daily escalating levels of ferocity.
This is the resolution of the Northern Governors’ Forum at their emergency meeting which held last Tuesday to adopt ranching of cattle and discourage open grazing, in the light of the fact that the latter is no more sustainable in the country, and therefore needs to be discouraged. According to a communique from the Forum, open grazing has created a situation that is “heating up the already fragile security atmosphere with threats of reprisals which the governors are working assiduously to contain”. They therefore pledged to sensitise the herders on the imperative of adopting ranching and other modern ways of running cattle business. This is just as they called on the Federal government to provide grants for Nigerians willing to establish ranches.
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It is significant that by their resolution the Forum has finally joined several well intentioned Nigerians and foreigners alike to appreciate the intractability of continuing the age-old practice of open grazing of cattle, especially now that it has been sullied through the infiltration of the ranks of the legitimate Fulani herdsmen by a legion of miscreants who are in all likelihood aliens, to wreak havoc of kidnapping, murder and other heinous crimes on unsuspecting victims around the country.
Welcome as it is at this time in the country’s history, the wider implications are equally demanding. Firstly is that the Forum appreciates that the practice of open grazing has inadvertently earned the ignoble and undeserving status of a conduit for insecurity and criminality and thereby has lost the appeal of and accommodation from mostly the southern region of the country. Secondly, consequent upon the changing status of open grazing, an associated imminence of outbreak of avoidable, ruinous conflagration between ethnic groups across the country, and a possible end of Nigeria as a united nation state, is no more unthinkable. Thirdly, even belated as it is, the resolution provides the country with another opportunity to recalibrate itself, in its efforts at restoring peace and unity, across the country.
Nevertheless, as encouraging as the new deal from the Forum may sound, the way forward requires much more than mere goodwill pronouncements and homilies to actualise, but demands a full makeover of the sociopolitical space of the northern establishment. And this is where the country will expect the Forum to walk their talk. That is if they expect their resolution to be taken at face value. For as they need to be reminded, prevailing circumstances dictate that their advocacy against open grazing, be availed some adjustment in the assumptions on which it is based.
The first area for adjustment is the thrust of their advocacy of hinging reforms in cattle rearing through ranching on parochial grants from the Federal government. It does not require any endowment of clairvoyance to see this as a dead-on-arrival expectation. Except the federal government will adopt its now disturbingly disruptive disposition of impunity, to corral such a tendentious agenda down the throat of non-ranch operators, it is difficult to see how the latter will accept it, hook line and sinker. From the benefit of hind sight it needs to be recalled that the argument for parochial federal assistance for the development of cattle ranches had been trending and equally countered by the contention that breeding of animals including cattle is a commercial business, which respective state governments should provide the requisite enabling environment for it to thrive in their domains.
Second area for adjustment in expectations is that of building consensus among themselves on the premise of a monolithic northern Nigeria, as such an indulgence is to open themselves up for disappointment. The days of a monolithic Northern Nigeria were during the time of Ahamadu Bello who even at that time provided strategic development plans for the entire region and embarked on practical steps to actualise same. Lamentably, since his exit from power in 1966, his successors as well as governors of the legacy states of the North, had hardly bothered to revive his legacies one of which is his grand plan for driving the northern economy through development of agriculture and in particular cattle breeding.
Hence while they had jointly resolved to embark on ranching, the way forward is for individual northern state governments to engage in sound planning to identify the components of the agricultural value chain that are most compatible with their economic circumstances and progress to exploit same. Against the backdrop of agriculture being the mainstay of the Nigerian economy, lies the humongous comparative advantages for northern states in animal husbandry and especially cattle to exploit, courtesy of the savannah grassland with which they are naturally endowed. Lamentably however, like the rest of the country agriculture had been allowed to wallow in abject neglect with the spinoffs from its development hanging loose in abeyance. The Tuesday resolution by the Forum should therefore signpost a new direction for agriculture development by the northern states, as cattle ranching can neither operate in isolation, nor be conjured into reality by a magic wand. The dispensation shall require a total make-over in their disposition towards the entire agriculture value chain in these states and even the entire country.
In a classical context, the value chain associated with cattle breeding comprises the entire gamut of activities and actors that will be involved in tending the cattle from calving to slaughter and production of the complement of products such as beef, milk, leather, bones and hoofs, etc. Other aspects of the value chain include the commercial production of cattle feed and fodder as well as modern meat processing factories, just to name a few. With their recent adoption of ranching as the way forward lies the expectation that they will aim at reaping the maximum dividends derivable from the exploitation of the elaborate value chain in cattle rearing.
In a more pragmatic context, Nigerians are eager to see how the northern governors address the issues associated with their newly adopted agenda. An instance is the issue of feeding and watering the animals during the transitional period when the migration from open grazing to ranching shall run. Not to be forgotten is the fact it is the challenge that spawned the age-old practice of open grazing in the first place. Animal scientists estimate that a daily feeding regime for the average cow is between 7 to 10 kilograms of good feed or quality grass. This is as the water requirement for the cow is equivalent to at least two litres of water. However, the Fulani herder also claims that a single cow if granted the liberty, can chew up the entire thatch roof of his hut. With ranching now trending, how to source the quantum of feed and water for Nigeria’s current stock of 15 million cows and may be more, remains an issue.
To demonstrate their seriousness over their resolution the northern governors need to do at least two things immediately. First is to rally the leading lights of the Fulani establishment to lead the war and crush the bad eggs that are desecrating their ethnic identity, and thereby rebuild confidence as well as trust for their kith and kin, in the minds of other Nigerians. Secondly is to go into constructive dialogue with their southern counterparts on their plans to phase out open grazing according to a time frame. Thirdly is to commence on a reform process for agriculture in their domains towards enhancing its commercial business attractions.