By Mohammed Isa Bilal
Cultivation and husbandry farming are without doubt the oldest occupation in the world, followed by others. In time past, farmers were inclined to invite or welcome pastoralists and their cattle on their farmlands; to spend days or weeks there, to obtain the dungs from the cattle, which readily become the needed nutritional ingredient for nurturing plants and crops.
On the other hand, the herdsmen feed their herds on the available weeds and grass. It was then a very cordial and win-win situation.
However, all these have now become history due to prevailing reality, arising from population explosion and the springing up of infrastructural development in hitherto virgin and undeveloped lands.
As a result, available open land for grazing cattle is restricted due to constant encroachment of herdsmen and their cattle into farming land, which in recent years have been pitching farmers and herders at loggerheads, with fatal consequences in most cases across the nation.
Also, the issue had and continued to generate heated debate between the protagonist and antagonists of open-grazing in the country.
Needless to state that precious and innocent lives and properties have been lost across the country, as a result of violent confrontation between herdsmen and farming communities across the regions of the country.
Worst still, the Fulani herdsmen have been rightly or wrongly accused of all sort of atrocities, such as: raping, maiming; arson; robbery; kidnapping; destruction of farm produce and outright killing of inhabitants of rural communities.
Also, the infiltration of foreign Fulani-herdsmen armed with sophisticated weapons has worsened the situation, making it difficult to differentiate between local herdsmen and foreign herders.
Way back in 2015, the Australian based Initiative for Economics and Peace (IEP), in its global terrorism index (GTI), identified Fulani herdsmen as the fourth deadliest global Terror Organisation, second to Boko–Haram, ISIS in Syria and Iraq and AL-SHABAB in Somalia.
Back home, due to the alleged inimical activities of Fulani herdsmen in the Western region of Nigeria, the governor of Ekiti State in particular, had banned open grazing in his state.
This has generated heated debate and tension, especially between Northerners, sympathetic to the cause of the herdsmen and Southern elites who felt it was the right thing to do, to checkmate the activities of itinerant-nomadic herders for the safety of their citizens.
Also, the 17 governors of Southern part of the country held a summit in Asaba, Delta state, on May 11, 2021.
At the summit, they came out with some decisions, prominent among which was the declaration to ban open grazing in their individual states.
This also, had generated heated debate and various legal interpretations among Northern and Southern elites which of course are still raging.
Be that as it may, we need to ask some pertinent questions in our quest to arrive at a workable solution to the menace which open grazing has obviously become.
Such questions are: Who are the beneficiaries of open grazing, is it the North or Southern Nigeria? Is open grazing or nomadic herding a Southern or Northern phenomenon and socio-cultural inclination?
Does open grazing of cattle still exist as the best way of cattle rearing around the globe? Do we in reality have available land for open grazing around the country without necessarily encroaching into people’s farms and individual properties?
Frankly speaking, the solution to the lingering crisis associated to open-grazing in the nation; can be found in the factual and unbiased answers to the foregoing questions.
Permit me to state that, perhaps, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano State had since found answers to the above questions and accordingly swung into action.
The governor strongly believed Northerners, especially those in position of authority, need to rise up and face the challenge posed by the Fulani herdsmen activities, at least to mitigate the constant violent skirmishes between mostly Fulani herdsmen of Northern origin and farming communities of Southern Nigeria.
This is more so, because, the raging controversy is all about the incursion of herdsmen who have affinity with core-Northern states, against Southern communities, with their socio-cultural economic endeavours. That is obviously no longer tenable and relevant in this 21st Century.
In view of the above reasons, Governor Ganduje was the first and remained the visible state governor who has initiated and established cattle colony otherwise known as RUGA project.
To demonstrate his concern for the beleaguered Fulani pastoralists, Ganduje sponsored 140 children of herdsmen to study the art of artificial insemination in far away Turkey. They have since returned to Kano becoming useful in the RUGA environment of Dansoshiya forest.
Also, Ganduje was the first and only Northern governor who extends invitation to all herdsmen from across the country to come down to Kano forest and enjoy the facilities put in place for their convenience.
He (Ganduje) was the first governor in the country who admonished the Federal Government to mitigate the influx of foreign herdsmen into the nation’s territory for obvious reasons.
He was also, the only Northern governor who admonished the Federal Government and the National Assembly to put in place a legislation prohibiting the movement of herdsmen from Northern to Southern part of the country.
Similarly, in February 2021, Governor Ganduje at that meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari and other APC governors openly supported adopting anti-open grazing measures, arguing among others, that such a ban would not only solve incessant clashes between farmers and herders but also prevent cattle rustling.
Going further with the Kano State RUGA project, which was conceived and designed to effectively change the socio-cultural nomadic life engagement of the herdsmen, to socio-economic and industrious engagement, Governor Ganduje had since partnered with the Federal Government on animal breeding programmes in its ongoing Kano State RUGA center project.
Through the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), an agency under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology which was intended for the improved and massive lives-stock production, the governor’s effort had paid up, as the agency has established a new Bioresource Development Centre (BIODEC) in the state.
The agency intends to take advantage of the abundant variety of cattle which the Kano RUGA Centre would avail, to employ genetics and genomics technology for the improvement of the Bonaji” cattle specie to produce about 25 litres of milk per day as against its natural capacity of five litres of milk per day.
In addition, Kano State Government is poised to set up 200 milk collection centres (MCCs) which have the potential capacity to add about 50,000 litres daily to the nation’s dairy requirement.
When the MCCs become fully functional, the Fulani maids will not need to transport the milk over long distance, but supplied their milk to the milk collection centre nearest to their hamlets.
This will also curtail significant economic loss due to milk spoilage, as well as boost economic benefit of dairy products across the state.
It is remarkable to note that such intervention initiated by Ganduje, is very relevant if juxtaposed by the fact that Northern states and by extension, the country at large, are on the verge of impending food and nutrition insecurity being fueled by farmers/herders clashes.
In describing the economic advantage of the ultra modern RUGA project of Kano State, Governor Ganduje has said: “We intend to replicate what Holland, a country of about 17 million population just like Kano State, does not practice open grazing but remained one of the highest producers of milk and dairy products in the world.
The herdsmen menace is a challenge to us in the North. We shall henceforth harness the economic potentials hidden and wasted in the past through unnecessary itinerant and nomadic way of life of our herdsmen.
It is an opportunity for massive employment of our idle youths, and by using modern technology, we very soon hope to generate huge revenue through local and external provision of all dairy products, such as: cheese and skimmed milk, as well as that of beef, hide and skin to improve local economy.
All things being equal, it is clear that the dignity, sensibilities and intelligence of Northerners have been put test; as a result of prevailing herdsmen phenomenon occasioned by tide of evolution.
And in times like this, pragmatic and egalitarian minded leaders must have to stand and be counted, as exemplified by Governor Ganduje.
Bilal is Managing Director, Royal Publicity Publishing Company, No. 8 Shendam Street, Jos, Plateau State and can be reached via: 08167989085.