Audu Ogbeh Audu Ogbeh The Guardian, Lagos.

Politics and Semantics: The Cattle Colony Question Featured

By Business & Economy / Saturday, 27 January 2018 05:44

A thinking man, through and through. Yet, he walked his way right into a bind. An austere figure, experienced politician and brilliant theoretician he is. Nigeria’s Agriculture and Rural Development Minister, Chief Audu Ogbeh launches exposition on any subject with an “open heart” and a wan smile that hides nothing. 

To him, facts are essential, but they must be logically ordered in a way to reveal the true nature of essences. Conditions leading to his meeting with Benue State government officials had been acrimonious. Some 70 peasant farmers were murdered the previous week, by unknown assailants, suspected though, of being of Fulani stock. Violence, arising from dispute between Fulani pastoral nomads and peasant farmers over land and passage rights over land in the Benue trough is long drawn. For many, Rubicon was crossed the week before and there was no going back. 
Positions were taken and attitudes hardened prelude to the meeting called to review events of the preceding weeks. Perhaps, due to the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari is of Fulani ethnic stock, thoughts were possibly in the direction of extracting maximum vengeance of some sort where it would hurt most. To directly accuse the country’s president, albeit, by any means necessary, of condoning or encouraging violence waged against Benue State minority ethnic groups who are predominately peasant farmers, by the president’s tribe’s men would look bad. Nothing less would do. And so it went. 

But not everyone was involved in such calculation, not all the delegates from Benue State were of such mind, and certainly not the honourably minister. As often the case, he came to the meeting prepared. A committed “technocrat” with a sharp and curious mind, in days and nights after each new wave of mysterious killings in countryside farming communities which assailants just seem to disappear into the wild, his blood pressure would necessarily rise. Accusations of what seems an obvious involvement of herdsmen of predominantly Fulani extraction in these murders, simply raised the stakes to levels that in many instances bordered on the ridiculous, with the president being accused of “encouraging violence”.  

In the days that follow, Chief Ogbeh would be immersed in dossiers and reports on dynamics shaping the horizon of rural communities from the agriculture point of view. From early times, as records in the vaults of his ministry indicate, annual seasons that determine when crops are harvested, the bush left to fallow in farther terrains lying along what were considered troughs, and cattle from distant parts of western Sudan grazed and were led through were times of great disturbance. 

Land use and passage rights, as orally agreed upon between herders and peasant communities were quickly disposed of, in times of draught, climatic changes or emergence of new community leaders, not sufficiently versed in details of points previously agreed upon. No form of legally binding documentation were produced or archived, as main bodies of agreements between a people who could neither read nor write, and who did not even speak the same language. Accounts in reports prepared by British colonial officers who reviewed the roots of tension that often exploded into skirmishes and violence recorded between farmers and herders would be noted by the Minister. 

In the current age, however, a seemingly permanent nature of tension between these historical parties of land users, and violence that attends it suggests the interjection of another factor. Chief Audu Ogbeh’s interest must have been spiked by this. The nature of the problem would be  obvious enough for him, after several days of study and careful thinking. One hundred years ago, intractable grievances caused by misunderstanding on land use and passage involving the same parties had roots in the non-dynamic understanding of agreements and conventions reached on the subjects. Drought, climatic changes and other forms of natural disasters that could, and did impact on tenure agreements and rights on land were not parties to these conventions. Thus at their slightest intervention, a people who lacked appropriate communication tools to explore solutions towards surmounting difficulties imposed by the emergence of the “new factor," easily took to arms.

Within a period of 100 years, what impact has time and developments in communication sciences and social engineering exerted on peasant farmer - pastoral herdsman relationship in Nigeria? As things seem today, not much. Chief Ogheh’s opinion that the failure by successive governments to address this historical problem fuelled the current wave of disturbance may be viewed in this context. Chief Ogbeh’s position may be evaluated in the light of United Nations Education and Scientific Organisation’s figures on adult literacy rate in Nigeria, which as late as 2008, was estimated at a level of 59.6% in 2015, nationally. The bulk of the country’s literate populace are urban dwellers, which make up just 49% of its populace. Less than a quarter, of the country’s 51% rural dwellers completed formal secondary school education. Liberally speaking, less than 7% of that number have had higher than secondary school education. These figures, as may be deduced, impact directly on the capacity of the main parties directly involved in the lingering dispute to effectively communicate, and to work jointly at consensus building, necessary for them to surmount what seems an intractable problem. 

Striped of requisite tools and technique which once availed, endows humankind with extraordinary social abilities to surmount intractable, or unique problems, Nigeria’s crop of the peasant farmer and pastoral nomad have largely been unable to rise beyond heights their ancestors failed to ascend. They remain very much hostages of nature and evolving circumstance beyond their will to influence. In times past, countervailing impact of inexplicable circumstance of drought, flood, pestilence etc fuelled insecurity, which resulted in civil strife and wars between the farmer and nomadic pastoralist. Today, it is climatic changes and insufficient supply of water that is one of the several, but not spoken about factors fanning strife, disturbance and killings in Nigeria’s countryside. The situation is further complicated by demographic pattern of poverty, intense competition for ever diminishing resources, non-access to credit and financial means to transform mode of economic production among the people resident in rural areas in Nigeria. 

As high as 70% of Nigeria’s estimated population of 180 million people live in the countryside and are almost exclusively engaged (i.e., 65% of Nigeria’s populace) as peasant agriculturalists. Almost 40% of the country’s GDP is derived from peasant agriculture. Landmass by population, Nigeria may be said to be a small country of 180 million people living in a territorial landmass of 923,768 km - less than two times the size of the state of Texas (676,587 per km2, with 27 million people and population density of 40.6 people per km2. For Nigeria, the figure is 204 people per km2, and a “real population density” of 428 people per km2 of arable land).
The country’s National Bureau of Statistics report (2010), indicates that there was 54.4 level of poverty in Nigeria. There was 43.2% of extreme poverty in urban, while in the rural areas, the level of extreme poverty was as high as 63.3%. These figures may further be appreciated in the light of the following relations: 

Land degradation as a result of extensive farming, due to traditional farming techniques - deforestation and overgrazing are already severe in many parts of the country. Drought has become common in the north, and erosion caused by heavy rains, floods in the South.

2. Agricultural yields: 1.2 tonnes per hectare (Nigeria’s yield per hectare is 20% to 50% of that obtained in similar developing countries. Nigeria has one of the lowest usage rates of agricultural inputs. Mechanisation intensity: 10 tractors per 100Ha compared to Indonesia with 241 tractors per 100Ha. Nigeria’s agricultural production per capita has stagnated and has been declining rapidly over the last 20 years. Asia invested up to 16% of their national budget in agriculture to lay the foundation for broader economic growth and industrialisation. Nigeria’s investment is exceptionally low, averaging approximately 2% of government expenditure. 

3. Fertiliser use: 10.9 kg of fertiliser per year is used per hectare of land under cultivation ((FAO recommendation is 50 to 100 kg per hectare, depending on the crop).

4. Renewable internal freshwater resources per capita (cubic meters): 1,252.41, number 28 in Africa (Irrigation: 0.8% of arable land irrigated compared to Thailand’s 28% of arable land irrigated) 

5. Average household size in 2007: rural areas (7.4%) urban areas (4.0%). 

From the above data, what lies at the heart of an unending friction between Nigeria’s peasant farmer and his pastoral nomad neighbour seems obvious. This exactly was what was lost in Chief Audu Ogbeh’s explanation, due to the eagerness of his traducers to reinvent his narrative, with the visible intention of maligning the government he serves as Agriculture and Rural Development Minister. 

State policy administration is a science that verges on “arts”, i..e, the management of unintended consequences of intended actions. Government’s inability to compel accelerated industrialisation, such that would free peasants’ hands from soil tilling, and facilitate their relocation to factories in industrial heartlands, necessitated a change in planning. Uplifting production capacity of the peasant (i.e., small scale farmer) towards his economic empowerment, became the focal point of government agrarian policy, i.e., the Fadama Program. Fadama is a local word for low-lying flood plains usually with easily accessible shallow groundwater. 

Following the widespread adoption of simple and low-cost improved irrigation technologies, farmers realised income increases from various crops of up to 65% for vegetables (from Naira 29,956 to N49,510), 334% for wheat (from N7,456 to 32,375), and 497% for paddy rice (from N7,906 to 47,200) in the Fadama I program. Fadamas II and III built on successes achieved in Fadama I. 

However, industrialisation of economic mode of production in all other industrial sectors has not taken off. Thus, as much as 65% of Nigerians living in a landmass less than 2 times the size of the state of Texas, have increased the acreage of land they till. Given the still low fertiliser use and hectre yield, one may safely assume that extensive use of available terrain was responsible for the spike in agricultural production witnessed. With everyone working on every plot of land in sight, all year round, in some places, peasant farmer - pastoral nomad relations is bound to be strained. 
When does the nomad move in with his cattle, through what trough and what does the cattle feed on? The situation may again be evaluated against recent, albeit successful policy of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government to drastically ramp agriculture production in the country. In a space of a year and a half, the country has witnessed unparalleled increases in production of many staples, such that Nigeria is almost self sufficient in domestic rice production. According to Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Information Minister, “Some 6 million farmers were involved in rice production”, Buhari’s government has “grown that number to over 12 million farmers”. That aside, Mr Mohammed affirmed “rice import from Thailand alone has dropped from 644 metric tonnes to 22,000 MT in just two years”. According to him, “Nigeria is also doing well in other grains, especially millet, sorghum and maize. We are now the second largest producer of sorghum after the US, the third in millet after India”. He disclosed that “for maize, we are producing 10 million tons while we need about 13 million tons for both human and animal nutrition. Nigeria leads the world in the yam and cassava production. We account for 70% of the world’s yam production. In two years, we hope to be the world’s largest exporter of yam”. 

Surely, in a country less than twice the landmass size of the state of Texas, these achievements must have come with a price. And now, state policy administration must try to locate the new sources of pressure and friction the ramping up of production capacity in agriculture caused. Location of new pressure points is one thing; identification of the true nature and orientation of these new factors something else; prognosis, policy planning, allocation of resources and strategic policy implementation of a comprehensive plan to redress “arising problems”, quite another thing. 
As desirable as it may sound, a head-long rush into deployment of military assets for what yet seems undefined and unimplementable missions, ie., “Immediate arrest and punishing” of all killer herdsmen cannot be realised. The wholesale relocation of Fulani (and other pastoral) settler communities who refuse to immediately install ranches with perimeter fencing for herds of cattle cannot be seen as responsible state policy pronouncement or direction at any level of state administration. State policy administration must not be conducted on the basis of knee-jerk reaction to unacceptable developments. 

In his call for the establishment of cattle colonies in states of the Federation, in which herds of cattle may be quarantined, Chief Audu Ogbeh must have taken into account security, socio-cultural, economic and constitutional ramifications of what could, and needs to be done. By the way, the minister’s recommendation was not presented in tone of a diktat. Its deliberate misrepresentation was sufficiently distasteful. In place of “cattle colonies”, what has been suggested in circles, some of which may be considered very important, borders on the ridiculous. 

For example, suggestions that beef be boycotted by all and sundry received attention in certain media circles. In light of the fact that no other source of animal protein exists, easier to nurture, rich in vitamin, easier to process, cheaper in cost, contributing more in economic value chain and tastier than beef, one cannot but question the intention of promoters of this line of thought. If anything at all, access to animal protein in Nigeria, is by far one of the lowest not only in Africa, but the entire world. In significant ways, effect of this reality is impacts directly on the conditions of child and adult nutrition in Nigeria. According to a 2017 report released by United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), “Over six million children in Nigeria between ages one to five have stunted growth due to malnutrition”. Figures released by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) indicates that 8.8 kg of meat was consumed per capita in Nigeria (per capita meat carcass mass availability, 2009). In Argentina, Australia and the United Kingdom, the figures were, 98.3 kg, 111.5 kg and 84.2 kg, respectively. Figures for Nigeria’s immediate neighbours, i.e., Benin, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, and the rocky West African Island nation of Cape Verde, the figures released were 20.9 kg, 25.6 kg, 13 kg, 12.7 kg and 46.1 kg.     

Still, in certain states of the Federation, herder communities unable to acquire land to build their ranches have been informed that may continue to be residents, but on one condition, “Without their cattle”. Yet, the animals translate to “property”. So, what happens to the herdsman and what becomes of his property? 


David Danisa

David Danisa



Audu Ogbeh Channels Television Published on Aug 11, 2017
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