The Chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria in the North-East, Alhaji Mafindi Danburam, tells JUSTIN TYOPUUSU that cattle breeders deserve incentives from government to make ranching work
The Taraba State Government said the implementation of its anti-grazing law, which started on Wednesday, will be a gradual process. What do you make of this?
As the Chairman of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria in the North-East, who is also the immediate past Chairman of the group in Taraba State, I want to tell you that we do not accept the open grazing prohibition law being implemented in Taraba State. We don’t need it, we don’t want it and that is why we are challenging the law in a court of competent jurisdiction — the state High Court. The case is before her lordship, the Chief Judge of Taraba State, Justice Josephine Tuktur. So, we won’t do anything before the outcome of the case in court.
Nevertheless, critics of development are ignorant. If the governor had taken the steps he just announced, we won’t have been where we are today. This is a government that has been in power for close to three years, but nothing has ever been budgeted for livestock in the state. So, if the governor tells you that he will provide pilot ranches with all the amenities and subsidy from government which have not been budgeted for, obviously you will think twice. Cattle breeding in Taraba State is not a tribal issue. Over 75 per cent of the population in Taraba State are cattle breeders. So with this population, how does he intend to go about it? Agreed, he wants to implement the law in phases, what has he put in place at the moment for us to see that he is serious? We don’t have the land and the social amenities. He doesn’t know the number of cattle rearers and herds of cattle in the state. How can he then implement the law? He needs to have the necessary data, because, in the law of ranching all over the world, it’s three cows per hectare. Now, how many cows do we have in Taraba State? We have more than two to three million cows in the state.
But some people will argue that ranching is in practice on the Mambilla Plateau here in Taraba State.
They are not practising ranching. Only those who are not conversant with the system will tell you that they are practising ranching on the Mambilla Plateau because they to transfer the cows to other areas where they can get pastures during the dry season. The truth of the matter is that our geographical location here does not support ranching; that’s why we are crying. Our cows here are not like the species they have in Brazil; so, if the government wants ranching, let it copy the Kenyan model and make it optional. If I see your cattle in ranches doing better than mine, it will motivate me to go into ranching.
But this is an innovation. Are you against innovation?
No, I am not against innovation, but in this case, I am against the person that invented the innovation.
So, are you against it because of your personal problem with the governor?
I don’t have any personal problem with the governor. I am against it because the governor is not doing it in good faith. He is not doing it with justice. Okay, the governor is the custodian of all lands in the state. We have over 20 grazing reserves in the state. Let him establish the pilot ranches in these grazing reserves and allocate them to typical herders in the bush, so that those of us in the town, who have the money, can buy land and establish our ranches. But some of these poor herders have between 10 to 30 cows and you say he must ranch. Who will provide water for him? An average ranch costs between N700,000 and N3m and that would not be possible for poor herders to do. So, does such category of persons need to sell all they have to do ranching? Until government recognises that this sector is also contributing to the economy of the state and they begin to give us subsidy, ranching will not work.
Another aspect of concern in the law is that it prohibits selling of land to a typical herder until the governor gives approval. Okay, how many of us have Certificate of Occupancy in Taraba State? We are practising traditional method of land ownership in Taraba State and if my wife or parent is sick and I need to sell my land to take them to the hospital, does that mean that I have to get the governor’s approval?
Let me tell you the truth, this ranching system is the best system of cattle rearing, but the perception of the Taraba State Government on the law is what is giving us concern. The Taraba State Government just wants to send our men away so that they can achieve their political aim. You know this perception they have built around the law. Had they come out with the law with a good intention, we would have been the happiest people in the world. But you see, government said they are going to establish pilot ranches, which is a good thing. But when you establish cattle ranches for me to copy, where am I going to get the land when the same government has put in place stringent measures for land acquisition and invariably refuses to sell land to me. Where would I practise it, when I want to do ranching?
Are you suggesting that the aspect of the law that talks about land acquisition should be made more flexible?
Not just that aspect of the law. The entire law needs to be repealed, because we have a lot of issues with the law that needs to be sorted out. You see our problem in this country is lack of equity and justice. Government created grazing reserves for herders in this country, but because of continuous neglect of the livestock sector, all the grazing reserves have been encroached on and no one talks about them today. Government lacks the political will to address this issue and until we tell ourselves the truth, we shall continue with this serial lamentation.
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What then do you think the governor ought to have done?
If the governor had contacted us before taking the bill to the House of Assembly, what we would have told him would have been different from what he has done. We would have advised him to retrieve all the grazing reserves and establish pilot ranches there for people to see and copy. When people copy it, they would already have land in the grazing reserves where they can practise ranching. The remaining population that could not be accommodated in the ranch could then buy land to ranch their cows. We would have also advised His Excellency to provide all the amenities in the ranches. The governor just woke up one day and enacted the law like a military decree.
But this law passed through all the stages of lawmaking, including public hearing. Why then do you describe it as a decree?
Although we boycotted the public hearing, what we had in mind was presented by some people but they did not consider it? The Muslim Council of Taraba State presented our position. The Nigerian Bar Association raised some issues, even the Palace of the Aku Uka of Wukari made a lot of input that would have made the law better, but they did not consider their input. If you are doing the law with a good heart, then you need to carry everybody along. His Excellency is the governor of all and not a governor of a section of the people.
The Miyetti Allah group supported the law in Benue; we didn’t oppose it. The only area where there were issues was the implementation, because they started implementation like a decree. They woke up one day and announced that ‘by tomorrow, nobody should rear cattle’. That was not the best approach, and that was why the Fulani in Benue reacted by fighting back.
Ranching is the best, but due to the fact that the people are not educated and the system is coming from someone who they believe doesn’t love them, it’s difficult for them to accept it.
If not for what happened in Benue, by tomorrow, you would have heard that Taraba has banned open grazing. But thank God the governor is in the committee of the Federal Government saddled with the responsibility of finding a lasting solution to the crisis. He will tell them his experience of the Benue crisis and they will genuinely find a way of solving the problem.
What’s your take on the proposed cattle colony being planned by the Federal Government?
So, there is still colonisation in this country? You see, we know the plan of the Federal Government and I tell you that anything that infringes on our rights, we will go to court. Open grazing is our culture and you cannot wake up one day and stop me from practising my culture. Cattle colony is not our culture. We have our culture and tradition and we want to maintain it.
What is your view on the general insecurity in the country?
The government of the day must rise up to its responsibilities. All security chiefs in this country must be checkmated. Government should give traditional rulers in this country constitutional role to help check and maintain security in their domains. The indigenous Fulani are victims of circumstances. Our borders are too porous; everyone can come in unchecked. A lot of money is being voted for security yet there is no security of life and property. We need to have a rethink. The Federal Government must change its attitude towards the way and manner it is handling this crisis. Enough is enough! There is too much bloodletting in this country and God will ask all of us to give account of our action on judgment day. We must rekindle hope and trust in each other for the good of this country. We must go back to the drawing board and copy the model of our founding fathers. This country has collapsed. Let’s go back and see how our forefathers lived.