Curious twist over livestock project

The 10-year N100 billion National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) of the Federal Government to comprehensively modernise the livestock sub-sector is a flawed method to achieve a laudable objective. The plan continues to be viewed with suspicion as an instrumentality to impose a distant federal authority and interest upon the land of the states and their indigenous peoples, for the reason that irrespective of the positions of the state governors (as members of the National Economic Council) on the matter the people on the land simply do not accept it as enunciated. And, let no one make a mistake about a fundamental principle of land use: the people ultimately determine the use of their land.

The point to note with the utmost sensitivity therefore is that, unless the people of the land are carried along and persuaded to accept the programme, it will not work according to the good intentions of the NLTP.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo launched the plan in Adamawa State the other day with the assurance that it is a collaboration among federal and state governments, farmers, pastoralists and private sector investors. But curiously, the government at the centre is to contribute 80% of the required fund while participating states will contribute 20%. If this is so, what then is left for the financial involvement –and commitment of the private sector participants? Besides, it stands to reason that the majority financier will have a domineering presence as well as dominant power on the implementation of the project in any way it chooses. This is certainly not a project with equitable ownership and representation structure.

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The Vice President dwelt at length on the benefits of the project. “It is a plan that hopes to birth tailor-made ranches where cattle are bred, meat and dairy products are produced using modern livestock breeding and dairy methods.’’ He added: ‘‘I wish to emphasise that this is not RUGA…settlements launched by the Ministry of Agriculture (and which) created a problem when it was perceived as a plan to seize lands to create settlements for herders. RUGA was not the plan designed and approved by the governors.’’ Ebonyi State governor Dave Umahi emphasised that states were free to participate or not in NLTP and indeed those willing were free to first use any variety of livestock desired. Second, they were free to adapt implementation to their unique circumstances to resolve farmers-herders conflict, a view shared by the Benue State government that has indeed accepted the NLTP but emphatically ‘‘rejects…cattle colonies, RUGA settlements, and grazing reserves…’’

The 13-point strategic rationale for NLTP appears, on the face of it, reasonable enough. No one will deny that the fundamental challenge with respect to the current model of meat and dairy production is the inefficiency of the system, and that ‘‘nomadic livestock production faces such problems as overgrazing and recurrent fatal conflicts between pastoralists and crop farmers. No one will fault the need to modernise the livestock subsector through the establishment of profitable and sustainable livestock ranches.’’

However, deriving from the widely condemned Audu Ogbeh-initiated RUGA (Rural Grazing Area) project with dubious intention, ill-conceived, and surreptitiously executed (including staking out parcels of land in his home state of Benue without the knowledge of local authorities), NLTP remains similarly suspicious. The reasons are not too far to seek. It aims to establish ranches and improve what it describes as ‘‘the broader supporting architecture around these issues.’’

What in specific, identifiable terms does this ‘supporting architecture’ include? A RUGA-type settlement complete with publicly funded social amenities to promote the private cattle business of an ethnic group on the lands of other peoples? A nagging question that further fuels doubts of the intentions of the Federal Government is the motive behind its apparently obsessive concern to create ranches under whatever name, on other people’s lands (including in places that have a long history of both privately and government-owned ranches) that costs tens of billions of naira, and according to the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), ‘‘provides for the establishment of corridors for migrant cattle with feeding and watering points along the routes.’’ On the other hand, the received opinion is the global tendency toward a private sector-driven livestock business.

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It may be recalled that Kano State Governor Abdullahi Ganduje had, in the heat of the RUGA controversy, invited ‘herdsmen from all parts of Nigeria to relocate to Kano because we have enough facilities to accommodate them…including ‘‘Falgore Games Reserve that has been designed to accommodate schools, human and animal clinics, markets, recreational centres and other social amenities that would provide the herdsmen enough comfort to take care of their animals and transact their business…’’ Why the much-concerned Federal Government would not take up this offer and save itself the avoidable trouble and financial cost of an unpopular NLTP or RUGA, or similar diversionary measures, is for government people to explain to Nigerians. Furthermore, the ruling APC in the first article of its manifesto promises to devolve power, among other things, to the lower levels of government authority. So, the NLTP and the Water Resources bill seek to enlarge the role and control of the Federal Government. This is a stark disrespect for both its party promise and the popular and increasingly loud call by all reasonable people for a truly federal structure that strengthens the federating units.

The most vocal opposition to the NLTP has come from the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) that does not mince words to declare the plan as a means to grab land in pursuance of an ethnic domination agenda. ‘‘The entire plan is about cattle and herdsmen’’ says the SMBLF. It is not an exaggeration to say that this plan, as well as an executive bill on the management of Nigeria’s water resources is driving dangerous division along the ethnic fault lines of the country. The division is not only between South and North, the Middle Belt that is situated between the two is unhappy with the plan and with another proposition of the Federal Government namely an executive bill on the ownership and management of the country’s water resources.

A curious Water Resources bill was reportedly presented to the federal legislature as far back as 2017 by the then Senate Minority Leader (and now President of the Senate), Ahmed Lawan. It did not sail through. But reports said the same bill has been represented to the federal legislature as an Executive Bill. Again, the proposed piece of legislation has been rejected by the SMBLF because according to them, major rivers in Nigeria are being made available by a federal law to Fulani pastoralists. This will not be acceptable to the people who own the land and the rivers.

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NLTP, Water Resources Bill and such other proposals of government that do not enjoy the acceptance and support of a majority of the populace cannot be said to contribute toward building a great country. This Federal Government should simply focus on the policies and programmes that unite Nigeria – and there is more than enough to do for a faithful fulfilment of its constitutional obligation to this country and its people – instead of distracting itself with suspect plans and projects that not only serve to provoke distrust- even anger, but also strengthen perceptions of an agenda of ethnic hegemony. We should add too, these are not at all indications of a country that is well led.

Guardian Newspaper Editorial Board

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