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Controversy trails FG’s cattle colony programme



Controversy trails FG’s cattle colony programme

The announcement by the Federal Government to set up ‘cattle colonies’ nationwide as antidote for the incessant clashes between farmers and cattle herdsmen appears to have been jettisoned following the uproar that greeted the policy. TAIWO HASSAN and CALEB ONWE write



Indeed, last January, at a retreat for special advisers and directors of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) in Abuja, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, said that the government had concluded plans to establish ‘cattle colonies’ across the country in a bid to curb the incessant clashes between farmers and cattle herdsmen in the country.
Already, he said 16 states had indicated interest and had offered up to five hectares of land each for the project.

He explained that this would ease the communal clashes that had been bedeviling animals grazing in the country.
However, in what seem to be a paradigm shift, the cattle colonies programme has been greeted with mixed reactions nationwide.
Particularly, many of the states among the 16 states being targeted by the government to embrace the cattle colonies programme rejected the policy out rightly, which brewed more animosity than solutions.

In what seems like a sudden policy summersault, FMARD that hitherto was considering cattle ranching as a panacea to the lingering herdsmen and farmers crisis, has abandoned the project.
Particularly, the cattle colony policy of the Federal Government is not only seen as controversial in nature as it sounds, but also, discordant tunes has ignited fury and knocks from stakeholders in the agric sector.
Also, the policy has raised serious suspicion that may take decades to abate as it has brought about uncertainty in the sector.

Ogbeh’s mastery role
In the forefront of the cattle colony marketing drive is the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh.
He has always presented himself as an experienced old horse rider who understands the rules of the game when it comes to administering agriculture in Nigeria. Particularly, he is so proud of himself as a singer who has the mastery of the rhythm of both ancient and modern agriculture. But this time around, his expertise seems too infinitesimal for a successful arrival at the desired destination.

Ogbeh who hails from Benue State, one of the major agrarian states in the country, and also one of the most hit states by the Fulani herdsmen bloodletting campaign, may be desperately concerned about getting a lasting solution to the wanton destruction of lives and property that followed the infamous campaign of the pastoralists deviants.

However, the more desperate he becomes, the farther he tries to maneuver Nigerian’s intellectual and political landscape with his ideas.
Ogbeh has said, “On the issue of cattle, we have to start immediately, 16 states have given us land to work on. The programme is not going to be cheap. Mr. President has personally informed me that if we seek help from him he will give it to us over and above the budget we have, and when that budget is released I plead with all of you to come on board to work hard to achieve results.
“We are talking of cattle colonies not ranches so to speak, we will provide water, grass, training for herdsmen, cattle breeding and insemination,” he said.

Grazing committee
Amid the uncertainty facing the cattle colony policy, the minister, then, had inaugurated a committee on farm grazing to look at ways of curbing the menace of fighting between the farmers and the herdsmen in the country.
Precisely, the committee recommended resuscitation of the grazing reserves, encouragement of private people to go into setting up ranches in addition to the Federal Government setting up of cattle colonies.

The Committee also wanted the government to intervene in the provision of infrastructures and support services such as roads, electricity, water, improved pasture and provision of extension services as well as empowering the Agricultural Research Institutes to invest in research that will be accessible to the end users.

Ogbeh’s denial
The agric minister has denied accusations making the rounds in some quarters that the Federal Government cattle colony programme is designed to seize local farm land and hand them over to Fulani herdsmen.
“When we speak of colonies, we are immediately greeted with reactions that this was an attempt to seize Nigerian land, hand them over to Fulani- herdsmen to colonise. Nothing can be further from the truth,” he said.

“The intention is not for Fulanis or anyone for that matter to colonise any territory. It is to provide safe haven for cattle to graze in peace, to under control environment prevent conflicts between farmers and herdsmen. If any suspicion does arise, it is unintended and regrettable. We never meant and do not have the intention to seize anyone’s land by force.”

Despite the stiff resistance by many states, including Ogbeh’s state, to cattle colony, the minister had expressed optimism that with the 16 states that had allegedly agreed to key into the cattle colony project, the problem was half solved.
This optimism however, is jinxed and may be a daydream considering the fact that the government was said to be more involved in the development of the cattle colony that it would have been in the cattle ranch experiment.

Cross roads
According to the promoters of this controversial policy, cattle colony is larger in scope than cattle ranch, and more capital intensive if established. This informed the decision of government to get more involved in it.
Given that 16 states have keyed into this project and government will provide the needed funds for its establishment, the curious question that is already bordering many rational minds, is whether there was a budgetary allocation for cattle colony in 2018 appropriation bill.

Some stakeholders viewed this policy as one of those distractions that those in government use when they wants to divert attention of citizens and they are also wondering whether the Federal Government would use funds meant for other projects to ameliorate the hardship of the herdsmen.

Another factor that some segments of the stakeholders are curious about is why would government that has no credibility in managing business get so engrossed in the ranching or the cattle colonies, which is apparently a private business of the Fulani herdsmen or any other private individuals who want to venture into it.

If the cattle colony is not provided for in 2018 budget and government diverts funds meant for other projects in the name of finding a lasting solution to the herdsmen’s trouble, have the authorities not deepened the distrust of the citizens?
Another factor that has jinxed the cattle colonies is the fact that the 16 states that have allegedly accepted the idea are mainly states in the north, where these herdsmen are running away from, claiming that climate change, which impact was already visible in the north was affecting their business.

Despite the efforts of the spin doctors hired by government to make cattle colony attractive to all and sundry, most states in the southern part of the country have remained adamant and rejected the policy.
Their fears are that there was a grand plot to bring Fulani jihadists to infiltrate their states, possess their lands and in turn colonize them with strange cultures.

Last line
Though, finding lasting solution to the continued crisis between the herdsmen and farmers is imperative to the development and growth of the country’s agric sector, the secret agenda in the cattle colony programme of the present administration is an headache to many Nigerians.

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