By accepting to establish cattle colonies in Kogi State and incorporating the leadership of Fulani herdsmen into the government structure as panacea to ending incessant clashes with local farmers, Governor Yahaya Bello is courting the anger of opposition elements who alleged that his aim was to infiltrate the voting population to manipulate next year’s elections.
Because of misgivings about the proposal to establish cattle colonies as solution to incessant violent clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farming communities across Nigeria, the idea is attracting stiff opposition especially in the Middle Belt and southern part of the country.
While it seems that the Federal Government is determined to have its way in executing the proposal and a sizable number of the states in the north appear to be cooperating in that regard, the issue has become controversial in Kogi State, which geographically is located on the cattle route between the northern and southern parts of Nigeria.
Because of this, a web of politics is being woven around the proposal as the state governor, Yahaya Bello, who is not only supportive of the colony proposal but also seeking residency for nomadic herdsmen in the state, is already facing opposition from many stakeholders.
In accepting the proposal, which was initially propagated by the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbe, as the only panacea to curb the crisis, which came to a head early this month when 73 persons were massacred in Benue State, Bello said Kogi would be ready to host the pilot scheme of the cattle colony before it is spread to other states.
But the governor’s position is being met with stiff resistance from the Igala-speaking Kogi East and Yoruba Okun-speaking Kogi West. Major stakeholders in the two senatorial districts said they would not cede any of their lands to create the proposed colony. Curiously, even many Fulani herdsmen, the supposed beneficiaries of the policy, are also averse to it.
Other interest groups have been expressing their rejection of the proposal especially with the alleged continuing attacks on Benue and Taraba communities, which have not abated since it started early this month.
Coming on the heels of that terrifying episode, many indigenes are skeptical about the intention and what the colony is meant to achieve for state and its economy giving the fact that cattle rearing is personal business that will benefit only the owners.
Their opposition may not also be unconnected with their own experiences of the menace of the violent attacks from the Fulani bandits in many communities of the state that had led to deaths in the past.
Their skepticism was also by the background information that most of the issues of insecurity in the state in kidnappings and armed robberies were being linked to the activities of Fulani herdsmen.
Those opposed to the proposal were also concerned that despite the passage of Anti-Open Grazing Law, which is meant to reduce friction between herders and farmers in Benue and security measures being put in place in Taraba, the carnage by the herdsmen continued unabated.
But the Kogi governor, who has been having an uphill task in convincing the people of his good intentions, is looking at the issue from a different perspective of integrating the Fulani leaders into the state’s critical decision-making organs at the traditional, local and state levels.
For him it is better to bring the herdsmen closer to make it easier to track and trace their nefarious activities through their own leaders who would have been incorporated in to the governance structure of the state.
According to sources, the governor is also looking at the economic benefits in terms of the revenue the state can generate in from the cattle economy through investment in beef and dairy.
Bello’s approach may not be far from that of his predecessor, Captain Idris Wada who did a pilot project where some missionaries in Ajaokuta local council partnered with his administration to establish a school with electricity and borehole and a piece of land that was divided into five segments for grazing.
Wada while proffering solution to the Fulani herders/farmers clashes recently recalled that during his tenure, “A large plot for grazing land was provided, so that as the cows were in one section grazing, another section was being watered for the grass to grow.
“After a month or two the cattle were moved to the next section, while wetting is applied to the first portion they just grazed.”
According to him, “My government spearheaded the project with these missionaries and it transformed the lives of the Fulani settlers in Emiworo. The Fulani girls and boys were transformed to modernized, educated and intelligent children. I think it is a solution that can be replicated across the country where the Fulani can be settled and be part of the society and then carry out their occupation of animal rearing without destroying anybody’s farm land.”
While following his predecessor to offer the olive branch to the herders, Bello who had earlier rejected calls for the enactment of Anti Open-Grazing Law, went further by putting the burden of maintaining peace on the shoulders of traditional rulers and council chiefs, threatening them with dethronement should a clash with the herdsmen occurred in their domains.
The major huddle for the governor however, has been the negative perception by his political opponents who read political meaning into these actions. Their misgivings are not unconnected with the forthcoming 2019 elections as they believe his open invitation for the Fulani herders is to better his political lot.
They alleged that most of the new Fulani arrivals are being made to register to get voters’ cards in view of the to vote during the elections stressing that Bello’s motives were hidden in the belly of patriotism.
But the state’s Director-General, Bureau for Information, Abdulkarim Abdulmalik, explained that those opposed to the policy misunderstood the real intent adding that cattle colonies will check criminal activities as well as the incessant Fulani herdsmen/farmers clashes.
He indicated that the establishment of cattle colonies in the state will help restrict movement of herds to a particular location that can help to check their activities and that it would enhance security of lives and property across the country.
Abdulmalik noted that the migration of nomadic herdsmen from one place to another with their cattle causing hostilities and devouring farm produce with impunity was now a major source of concern to the people in the communities.
“The time had come to curb the menace arising from the indiscriminate movement of the herders and their cattle and the government felt it was better to curtail their movement. Government says let them have a designated place where they would be restricted with their animals if they disobey and anything happens they would be liable.”
According to him, those opposed to the creation of cattle colonies misconstrued the position of the government to integrate the nomads in a traditional structure in collaboration with their leaders at community and state levels.
“Henceforth, if there is any problem there is a line of communication through which they could be resolved. If we don’t integrate them, they are still passing by and they are destroying your products, it becomes more difficult for us to do anything.
“So, we have to be broad-minded and look at the issues rationally with open mind devoid of political mischief. We need them, they need us and they are of some economic benefit to us just as we are to them. All that is needed is for us to look at the nagging problem areas,” he emphasized.
However the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state is not swayed by the explanations of the government expressing dismay “at the action of a government that has offered the land and people as a laboratory to test an ill-conceived lethal policy.”
In a statement signed by the party’s Publicity Secretary, Bode Ogunmola, the PDP said it has “been following the debate on cattle colony since the unfortunate new year massacre of over 70 villagers in Benue State by suspected herdsmen.
“Not surprisingly, most states, governed by the All Progressive Congress (APC) rejected the idea. But, without consultation, Governor Yahaya Bello eagerly and enthusiastically welcomed it. As we speak, truck loads of the herdsmen have started arriving our communities.”
Ogunmola said by last weekend, three trailer loads of herdsmen arrived Aghara, a small community in Kabba-Bunu local council and that “they arrived with a letter directing the traditional ruler of the village to submit to them without complaints. We have received similar reports from other parts of the state. Without doubts, our state is under siege.”
He alleged that the immediate plan of the government is to mandate the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), to register the mostly foreign herdsmen so that they can be used to rig the fourth coming 2019 elections.
Ogunmola who decried the high security risks and the long-term negative implications of the policy said, “God forbid that aliens should be the people electing leaders over us in Nigeria. We do not know of other pecuniary gains Bello and his Abuja cohorts hope to harvest from the evil scheme.
“We reject the evil scheme in totality and therefore demand its immediate reversal. Farming is the mainstay of our economy. We cannot submit our collective patrimony or donate our God-given land to herdsmen, who at best are private businessmen. We say it loud and clear, cattle colony is a satanic policy, Kogi people reject it.”