At last, the Federal Government has chosen the path of common sense to support the globally practised modern way of raising livestock, which is ranching. If properly planned and transparently implemented, cattle ranching can be far more economically beneficial to the owners and the nation, as well as eliminate the raging farmers-versus-herdsmen clashes that currently threaten national peace and stability.
This should have been done earlier to spare Nigerians the outrage and waste of emotional energy that Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh's weird proposal of cattle colonies generated a few months ago. It was indeed a needless act of national confusion and a totally avoidable heating up of the polity.As proposed within a six-pillar-based National Livestock Transformation Plan, ranches of various sizes and designs would be established under a Federal Government-States Joint Ranching Policy in 94 locations of 10 states that include Oyo, Ebonyi, Benue, and Nasarawa. This will be the first, pilot phase of a national ranching project over a three-year period. It is noteworthy and, indeed, gratifying that 'Economic Investment' and 'Conflict Resolution' are two of the pillars of the proposed plan.
It is reported that the first phase of the national ranching project will cost N70 billion from federal and state governments and N179 billion will be spent over 10 years. It is not clearly stated though how much of this will come from private investors. It is however reasonable and necessary that those governments that are participating in this project reveal to the citizens who is putting down how much and in return for what. For good reason.
However, deriving from the ill-conceived and ill-timed cattle colony proposal, and the very unsatisfactory handling by the Federal Government of the persistent killings by herdsmen, there is strong of suspicion of, and doubts about the motive for government involvement in cattle rearing matters including committing public money to what should be private business. Many individuals and groups, have justifiably expressed opposition to the whole idea of putting public money into private business the way government now seeks to do. In the very state of Benue that is supposed to benefit from the national ranching project, three socio-cultural groups, Mzough U Tiv, Idoma National Forum, and Omi Nyi'Igede, while commending government for accepting the ranching option, have, however, rejected "the idea by government to use public funds to construct ranches for private business of cattle rearing." Hinting at the superfluity of the National Livestock Transformation Plan as it concerns Benue State, they noted that the extant Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, 2017 already provides for interested persons to acquire land for ranches.
Ranching is a form of agribusiness that, in modern economies, should be private sector driven. In an earlier editorial, this newspaper pointed out that cattle herding is, like poultry rearing, piggery, and cocoa or cassava farming, a private business. And it stands to reason that, even with due regard to an entitlement to government assistance, it must remain wholly the business of its proprietors. But this is not to prevent ranch operators from enjoying government support as indeed do other types of agribusiness in such critical areas as will enhance productivity and in turn, boost national economy.
It may be even granted that, whereas it is received wisdom that constituent parts of the federation concentrate on their respective area of comparative advantage, advances in science and technology make possible such activities as ranching in hitherto unexpected places. This is to say that any state in the federation can, under appropriate legal terms and conditions and the right socio-political conditions, allow the creation of ranches owned or managed by even non-indigenes. But, fundamentally, the ranching matter boils down to land ownership and control. And this assumes the utmost sensitivity because all over the world, land is considered the mother of wealth. In this country alas, narrow-mindedness and deep-seated distrust among the federating units, fuelled by a manipulative and dishonest elite, prevent beneficial cooperation. This being so, under no condition at all should such project permanently dispossess in any way, the indigenes of the ownership of their land. It is important to state that no state governor has the moral, legal, or political authority to allow that. The land must eternally belong to the original owners.
The economic argument is unassailable for ranching wherever it can be productively carried out in Nigeria. It is the politics of ranching that bedevils what should reasonably be a purely business decision and a matter of economics as it is in other climes free of real or suspected hegemonic motives, and real or imagined fears of domination. But it can be done here too if there is the will. One way to go about it is that ranch ownership be, by law, spread among public and private shareholders with local communities and indigenes well represented. The diversity of ownership should protect the project from arbitrary decisions and control by one or a few powerful owners. In whatever way the National Livestock Transformation Plan is implemented, this government must ensure it is open, transparent and it meets all, yes all, the socio-economic six pillars that it promises to address. The credibility of the Muhammadu Buhari-led government is at stake in this matter.