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Why Bobi Grazing Reserve may become cattle colony flagship

The initiators of the Bibi Grazing Reserve located in Oro, Mariga Local Government Area of Niger State may have got the wind of the current…

The initiators of the Bibi Grazing Reserve located in Oro, Mariga Local Government Area of Niger State may have got the wind of the current conflicts over struggle for space between herders and farmers when they carved it out over 50 years ago.

Decades on, the reserve some how holds the key to the quest by the federal government at ending the incessant bloodbath across the country through the establishment of cattle colonies.

“Our forefathers foresaw a situation of conflict among us that was why they provided the reserve, “ Governor Abubakar Sani Bello pointed out when he paid an assessment visit to the area recently, preparatory to its revival.

The reserve which was established by the Northern Region administration sits on 31, 000 hectares of lush vegetation with a forest stretching several kilometers. It is divided into seven blocks with about 700 households and six earthdams. It also boasts of solar-powered boreholes and seven pasture blocks, while activities within it are monitored by rangers employed to safeguard it and keep unwanted guests and trouble makers away. The reserve later became the property of the federal government and was to be taken over by the Niger State government in 2006.

However, due to lack of maintenance, most of the facilities put in place are in ruins. According to Alhaji Kiri Baushe, an elder herder, the solar-powered boreholes stopped working a long time ago, while some of the earth dams which had hitherto provided water for  animals and grass have also collapsed. What’s more, because of years of neglect, the facility has been exposed to abuse by especially wealthy farmers who encroach upon it at will.

The unpleasant situation, Alhaji Kiri said, had triggered migration of herders from the reserve southward, while attempts by others to find a comfortable abode in some parts of the state resulted in conflicts between them and farmers with consequent bloodbath and loss of property.

Worried by the incessant crises, Governor Bello early last year paid an unscheduled visit to the reserve where he promised to revive and expand it. As the first step, he said a committee of all stakeholders would be put in place to interface with Fulani herdsmen on the reserve, re-assess the exisiting delapidated facilities with a view to recommending repairs and expansion of the reserve to cater for a minimum of one million ruminant animals.

He also directed the then Commissioner for Lands and Housing to immediately put in measures to revive the grazing reserve by taking its coordinates, reassess the structures and other features on ground.

“We have some structures on ground and I am sure those ones can be easily renovated. There are also schools and I believe they will need more facilities because we are expecting more herdsmen.

“We will need more grazing areas and we will need to develop grasses. We will also need milk collection centers and veterinary services to be provided on the grazing reserve,” he said.

After the visit, a committee made up of the then commissioner for agriculture and that of livestock and fisheries, Malam Haruna Dukku and Zakari Bawa Bala with members from the works and housing ministry as well as other relevant ministries and agencies was put in place. Dukku who was member of the just dissolved state executive council told Daily Trust that since the idea was to make herders who traditionally move from one place to another adopt the modern livestock farming, pasture has to be provided as well as water, both for the animals and herders.

He also said the state government was providing other social amenities such as schools, roads, hospitals, veterinary clinics and security among others so that they could be encouraged to remain in one place instead of the current situation where they roam from one place to another and trespass into farms.

He said the committee had come up with a 10-year development plan which has already been submitted to the federal ministry of agriculture, adding that the federal government and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) were happy with the idea and have indicated interest to inject N13 billion into the project. He also said the herders were enthusiastic with the idea and are ready to pay tax in return.

“We have to as part of our programme put in place a system to monitor and one thing we are considering even though we have not concluded yet is the tax system. The tax system is good even for security purposes and that will allow us to monitor who and who resides within the grazing reserve,” he explained.

He said private investors have also indicated interest to invest in the project, adding that such development would increase the state’s internally generated revenue.

When our correspondent visited the reserve penultimate Tuesday, a lot of transformation was already taking place. The access road to the reserve which was impassable has been graded. Also, works on the administrative block, police station, veterinary clinic and renovation of existing staff quarters have been completed.

Our correspondent met school pupils returning home. The Sarkin Fulani, Ahijo, said the school was built and run by an American woman. The school runs primay one to six. According to him, the school has enough teachers, six of them with a population of 130 pupils. It also has a staff quarters powered by solar energy.

The Sarkin Fulani wants the government to expand the school and combine western and Islamic knowledge in the curriculum. He also wants the government to establish a secondary school in the reserve to enhance transition from basic school. However, the development plan the state government drew up has already taken care of that need. The Sarkin Fulani was enthusiastic with the transformation embarked upon by the state government.

“For the first time we are seeing a commitment by the state government in reviving the reserve and upgrading its ailing facilities,” he said.

He however raised concerns over the encroachment on the reserve by farmers which he said negates the original concept of its the initiators and may lead yet to another round of conflict. But the immediate past commissioner for livestock and fisheries, Zakari Bala, allayed such fears, saying the integration process in the development plan had taken care of the problem. He said only the farmers that were part of the reserve from the beginning and have lived there for most part of the lives would be allowed to stay.

“The farmers will not be completely driven away because the herders will also need their by-products. The feeds the herders need will come from the farmers, so they will be leaving side-by-side but everybody will know their boderies because there is going to be cluster development. However, the big time farmers who are encroaching in from outside will be edged out through gradual disengagement,” he explained.

Our correspondent observed that there exists a farmers’ settlement deep into the reserve around Phase Three. Close to the settlement is a market which serves the needs of both herders and farmers. Kiri said the herders had lived with the farmers for many years. According to him, their concern is  on the big time farmers who are encroaching and cutting down trees, deforesting the reserve in the process. He said in every phase or block, there are small villages and settlements where both herders and farmers have co-habited for years. He, like the Sarkin Fulani, welcomes the integration process even as he expressed happiness with infrastructure already put on ground by the state government.

According to him, because of the ongoing intervention, some of the herders who migrated southward to other places like Kogi and Kwara have started returning.

“My  cousin, Ardo Abubbakar and his family members who left here for Enugu five years ago have returned, like wise many others who earlier left in search of greener pasture, “ he averred.

Like Kiri, the immediate past minister of agriculture and rural development, Chief Audu Ogbe who earlier paid a visit to the reserve, was elated at what he saw. Ogbe described the reserve as a flagship in the country’s cattle colony initiative.

He inspected the veterinary clinic, the pasture pilots, the police station and one of the dams within the reserve. He commended the state government for its commitment to the project.

“Niger State is leading the way for states’ participation in finding solutions to the lingering farmers’ and herders’ crisis. We are happy to work with the state to mainstream this into our National Livestock Transformation Plan,” he said.

He reiterated the commitment of the federal government to work with only states that are willing to key into the livestock development plan, even as he said government is not interested in taking anyone’s land.

According to him, a policy framework that discusses the issues that cause the conflicts has been developed.

“The conflict is about resources of land, pasture and water. This is in addition to these resources being limited today by our increasing population growth and desertification that are affecting the availability of land for agriculture, “ he pointed out.

Kiri said the former minister’s visit had further raised their hope that the All Progressives Congress (APC) is determined to end the age-long conflicts between herders and farmers across the country.

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