A modest proposal on grazing and ranching (2)

By Dele Sobowale,

“Accept gracefully what you cannot refuse.”


The mafia in the US once upon a time would offer a victim in a deal “an offer you cannot refuse” – meaning the consequences of your refusal were guaranteed to be worse than acceptance. Governors, mostly southern, like Fayose, who have announced their intention to stop grazing in their states in response to popular outcry against herdsmen will find it difficult, if not impossible to keep the herdsmen out unless we adopt a more rational way of addressing the complex issues which a total ranching policy will bring up.

The first part of this series pointed out two of those problems last week. One we have no reliable census of the number of cattle we want to put in ranches; nothing on how many ranches will be needed; at a loss concerning how much it would cost to construct a ranch and maintain one.

HerdsmenSo, we are ignorant on the aggregate economic cost of this idea which had suddenly become popular among elder statesmen, professors, political rascals, respected columnists. Yet sages and fools want us to start immediately by stopping grazing now. Second, from time immemorial, herdsmen have been leading cattle across several ECOWAS states to graze – even long before ECOWAS was created.

A Nigerian policy legalizing total ranching means closing all our borders to our neighbours. The diplomatic issues this will pose have not been addressed yet. So, ranching immediately won’t work. Whatever will emerge as a solution to the admittedly thorny problem of incessant conflict between host communities and herdsmen will require time and our best thoughts if the cure will not prove to be worse than the disease.

There are, in fact several reasons why no state, Ekiti included, can keep cattle out if the Federal Government does not introduce compulsory ranching – which President Buhari, given the current economic melt-down is not in a hurry to do. One might also add that total ranching immediately is not anywhere near the top twenty among our list of priorities. Grazing is what we need to manage better – at least for now. Already the Federal government is the legitimate owner, or controller, of several landed properties nationwide.

All internal waterways, river basin authorities and their landed properties, damns, federal highways, railway lines, federal primary, secondary and tertiary institutions, military barracks – among others constitute properties which the Federal government can put to any use without asking for the permission of any governor. If it so desires, its university and polytechnic situated at Ado-Ekiti can be used as grazing ground. So can all those other facilities situated in any state. Grazing is not what states can prohibit on their own. By the same token, for peace to be restored and harmonious relationships to exist between host communities and nomadic people, the Federal government must take the lead in organizing an all stakeholders’ meeting aimed at finding solutions that will accommodate the legitimate interests of all concerned until when we can migrate to total ranching. It is something that should be negotiated by people who will come to negotiate with open minds.

Obviously, peaceful co-existence, which we need badly, can only endure when we introduce law into what had hitherto been a lawless arrangement. Herdsmen lead cattle where they chose because there are no demarcated boundaries – no “no-go” areas. That had been an invitation to the chaos and destruction which is now tormenting us as the competition for land and water intensifies. I can state authoritatively that given a terrible drought in the Northern parts of Nigeria and the Sahel, herdsmen lead cattle from as far as Jibiya to the banks of Ogun River in search of grass and water. They don’t undertake the trip because they are crazy or in with farm destruction in mind. They do it because that is the only way of keeping the cattle we all consume alive. Most of them will probably not come south if there is abundant food supply in the North.

The current year proves the point being made regarding the itineraries of nomadic people. Rainfall this year had followed an unusual pattern. The North has received more rain than normal; the South is experiencing a mini-drought. On a recent trip to Abuja, going by road and talking to herdsmen, it is clear that most of them are keeping to the North. One funny fellow, who often travels to the South was cheeky enough to send a message to Southerners who don’t want them around. He said: “we have enough grass this year in the North. Your people can go and eat their grass which they don’t want cows to eat.” Perhaps, the starting point in finding a lasting solution is to educate our brothers in the South – especially the leaders and opinion molders that nomads don’t come to our communities with destruction in mind. They travel the long distances in order to keep alive the cattle we all eat.


“The climax of every tragedy lies in the deafness of its heroes.”

Albert Camus, 1903-1960. VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, p 90. Honourable Jubrin, former House Chairman of the Appropriation Committee, once struck me as the sort of young man we could star grooming for possible President in the future. It was clear from his answers to interviews in the past that he is articulate and intelligent.

His appointment as the Chairman of the Committee is the sort of appointment that Speakers in the US Congress give to young Reps who they consider upward bound. For me, only two things remained to be decided: his integrity and wisdom. Recent occurrences in the National Assembly, NASS, had put huge question marks in front of both attributes of great leaders. Jibrin had got himself into a lot of trouble of his own making. To tell the truth, right now, he is his own worst enemy.

When David Halberstam, declared some young men in the President Kennedy, 1917-1963, administration, US, as “intelligent but not wise”, he was describing young men like Jibrin at the time. One of the lessons he still has to learn was provided by Ernest Hemmingway, 1898-1961, years ago in his book, ROAD TO DUSTY DEATH. In it the great American writer warned all lone rangers that “A man alone hasn’t got a chance.” I could have told Jibrin that taking on the entire House establishment at once amounts to political suicide. It is only in “action” films that a man takes on a whole army and lives to enjoy the victory.

The young man is almost beyond redemption now. But all is not lost yet. A fine young man, he seriously needs an adviser before he does more damage to himself than he will do to others….

A modest proposal on grazing and ranching (2) on Vanguard News.


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