Cattle Rearing and the Nigerian Nation
THE RUGA OF DEATH; THE RUGA OF LIFE!
The importance of Agriculture for life sustainability and development is one factor that cannot be controverted for the survival of humanity. In Africa generally, agriculture has been the mainstay of the economic survival of most, if not all the countries of the continent. Nigeria is no exception to this natural endowment. In fact, agriculture has been the mainstay of the country’s economy, until the advent of crude oil in Olobiri in 1953 – 1954; and overtime, this black gold overtook agriculture as the country’s economic bastion.
At the time agriculture was the dominant factor of economic survival for the country, the North could boast of Groundnut and Cotton pyramids; the East, Palm Oil and the West Cocoa. In the production of these cash crops, the country was among frontline source of these crops globally. The same could be said in the area of arable farming animal husbandry. Apart from private involvement in the various sectors of farming that sustained the country in those years of her dependence on agriculture, both the Federal, regional and later state government had agriculture corporations which took care of government investments in the various segment of subsistence farming in the country. Thus government was a collaborative, competing partner with private investors in all segments of agriculture in the country.
But when crude-oil (the black gold) became the economic mainstay of the, governments at all levels in the country; reduced their interests in segments of agriculture; leaving the sector at the mercy of the private sector. Then, the country resorted to importation of both livestock and other agricultural inputs to feed the people. In this situation, agriculture became a matter of interest for private investors who concentrated on life chick and chicken processing with most of the broilers imported into the country. Thus the pyramids of the North disappeared; while the West and the East lost their places of pride as palm oil, palm nuts and cocoa, in the world. Also affected was animal husbandry like Cattle rearing, goat and sheep rearing and rabbit rearing among others. Thus, all the government owned farm settlements disappeared with officials of the various settlements helping themselves to convert the available equipment and remnants of the produce to either start their own private businesses or sell them at give away prices. It was looting at its peak as government property is nobody’s property and needs no accounting for. The country became relegated in the sector and lost her global significance.
Various attempts by subsequent governments, especially in the present political dispensation which last lasted for two decades, to revamp agriculture and return the country to her past glory in the perspectives ended in disaster. Not even the operation Feed the Nation programme of the Obasanjo Administration could revamp the sector as the programme was a mere name decoration with the ultimate goal of benefitting only the then President of the country and his cohorts in control of the country. However, with the advent of the President Muhammadu Buhari Administration in 2015, one of the cardinal points of returning the country to her past glory of economic excellence and development was agriculture. Under the leadership of elder statesman, Chief Audu Ogbe as the Minister of Agriculture, the ministry made some impressive steps towards making agriculture the main stay of the country’s economy, with less dependence on crude oil, which was becoming a global problem in terms of economic sustainability, especially for Nigeria. For the first four years of the administration, the focus on cash crops and cereal production moved the country in the right steps towards self-sufficiency in this area of agricultural production. Towards the end of the first term of the administration, government was making plan to venture into animal husbandry, especially cattle rearing on a large scale.
With the return of the Buhari administration to power for a second tenure, following the victory of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) at the 2019 General Election, the government rolled its plans for elaborate nationwide cattle rearing programme, which was to be established in all the 36 States of the country and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. But ironically, the programme looked a very suspicious and dangerous venture as it was loaded with a hidden agenda of favouring a particular ethnic group in the country to the disadvantage of others. The proposed venture of the Federal Government, popularly known as Rural Grazing Area (RUGA); the project from all indications portend to be RUGA OF DEATH.
According to available details on the project, the Federal Government was to acquire land in all the states of the country for this grazing and to be managed by only the Fulani cattle farmers. In the first instance, the ultimate goal of the Buhari administration in this perspective was to acquire the land and provide adequate fund for the Fulani Cattle farmers, who are kit and kin of Mr. President. By essence, the Ruga project was to create Fulani colonies in all the states of the Federation; and government’s decision to spend several billions of naira on this project for a particular tribe, definitely proved not to be a business venture for the benefit of the country; but a politically motivated strategy to entrench the Fulani cattle farmers in all parts of the country. And ironically, these Fulani itinerant farmers have the penchant of overrunning their hosts’ landed property, over-lording over them and taking over their lands by force; through the use of deadly weapons. Thus, the intention of the Federal Government met with stiff oppositions from the different people of the country who marshalled points to justify their suspicion of a hidden agenda.
Among other reasons, the anti-Ruga group faulted the Federal Government for wanting to spend such a colossal amount for the benefit of a particular ethnic group in a business venture that is of no benefit for the country; in any reasonable economy, venturing into such a business is supposed to be the responsibility of the interested parties or group of persons in all ramifications, including funding and other aspects; as the government is not expected to be a “Father Christmas” in this perspective; where the government thinks of doing such a project without the intent of a hidden agenda, other major tribal groups should have considered and sponsored as an ethnic group for agricultural ventures that are peculiar to their regional or ethnic group.
The fear of the people of the country, especially those in the southern regions, was justified by the fact the Fulani cattle farmers had become security threats in the country; judging from the way they had been allegedly killing people in different parts of the country with impunity and the Federal Government still doing nothing to check the excesses of this particular ethnic group. Instances of the Fulani Herdsmen/farmers crisis in Benue, Plateau, Enugu and other States of the country; clearly showed that this group of itinerant famers are on salient move for conquest and the decision of the Federal Government, instead of curtailing their dangerous moves, thought it wise to tacitly support their horrendous activities by introducing RUGA. Furthermore, Myetti Allah, the association which claims to be the umbrella body for these murderous group of cattle farmers has been making uncomplimentary statements and even to the extent of giving ultimatum that if their wishes were not granted it will spell doom for the country.
However, with remarks from elder statesmen and other well-meaning Nigerians, like former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who warned the ruling APC Government of the possibility of another civil war in the country, if the RUGA project and continued support for the Myetti Allah persists; and the present state of insecurity in the country; the Buhari administration decided to shelve the RUGA project, a project that even in its conception period has led to the deaths of many innocent Nigerians, as a result of the impunity of the herdsmen. What the nation, nay the whole world is however is waiting for is if the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration would listen to the voice of reasoning and cancel the project in it’s entirety for the benefit of the unity of the country and for equity and justice amongst all the people of the country; or damn the consequence and plunge the country into another civil war; or find an acceptable middle way solution that will benefit everybody. Only time will.
Meanwhile, while the Federal Government RUGA of DEATH project is still in a comatose situation, a State Government in the country has introduced a more feasible and beneficial cattle rearing venture that could save the country from imminent danger in the area of cattle rearing – a real business venture that is not fraught with any dubious intentions or hidden agenda. This project, recently initiated by the Anambra State Government; provides a more reasonable alternative to the Federal Government’s Ruga of death project. Known as “Efi Igbo”; the project is large scale cattle rearing business venture; using all modern means of animal rearing, as obtained in developed country’s in the world. Unlike the Federal Government “charity venture” meant to benefit a particular ethnic group fraught with political motivation and conquest drive; the Efi Igbo cattle rearing business is being facilitated by private entrepreneurs with the support of the State Government. It could be termed a joint partnership with all trappings of business venture. The Efi Igbo cattle rearing business is indeed the opposite of the Federal Government’s Ruga Project and therefore could be referred to as the “RUGA OF LIFE”
The Efi Igbo (Ruga of Life), cattle rearing business was launched at a memorable ceremony at which the governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano was among the guests. The project is the initiative of Wonder Farms Umunze, a subsidiary of Eagle Foods Limited, Umuchu. In his address at the ceremony, Chief Ugochukwu Okpaleke (Eze Umuanumanu), disclosed that “the Efi Igbo” from Anambra State can feed the whole of southern Nigeria with red meat in the next one year”. In his own remarks at the occasion Sir Willie Obiano expressed satisfaction at the venture and admonished “Ndi Anambra to venture into rearing of cattle business more and more” as this will encourage government’s continued tremendous job in the agriculture sector.
It will be recalled that at a press conference in Lagos, about three years ago, Governor Willie Obiano, introduced the phenomenon, Efi Igbo project initiative, to many journalists present at the conference. In blazing the unique trail, the governor did not mince words about the workability of the growth of the Efi-Igbo project. The administration has since broken bold ground in this drive with the Efi-Igbo ranches of Eagle Farms Ltd, Umuchu in Aguata LGA, and Wonder Farms, Umunze in Orumba South LGA.
Chief Clement Chukwuka of the Anambra State Small Business Agency (ASBA) whose organization grants facilities to dealers in of Efi-Igbo, based on directives by the governor to develop the indigenous breed of cattle, reveals that the ranching success is a major plank of reinvigorating sundry small businesses in Anambra State. The N1bn disbursed by the agency at its inception was distributed thus: 45 percent to manufacturing, 35 percent to agriculture, 12 percent to trade and commerce, and 10 percent to services. Chief Chukwuka said: “It is gratifying to note that our N1bn SME facilities granted to beneficiaries has almost zero default as no obligor has defaulted in their monthly interest payment obligations.” Also, 250 youths that underwent training at the Agricultural Training School in Mgbakwu and their counterparts who graduated from the Technology Incubation Centre in Nnewi have been mobilized.
With the synchronized government backing, the Efi-Igbo industry is poised to break into wider spheres such as the crossbreeding of Efi-Igbo and Fulani cattle. This upgrade will definitely make Efi-Igbo much bigger and, consequently, more competitive in the market. According to Anambra State Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, C. Don Adinuba: “I have been to a very huge farm in Adamawa State belonging to a former Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Murtala Nyako who later became the Adamawa State governor. It has plenty of crossbreed cattle. Cattle from Europe have plenty of milk but not as much flesh as cattle from Argentina. So, cattle from Argentina and Europe were crossbred to produce a specie with plenty of milk and plenty of flesh. You can call it the science of using one stone to kill two birds, or the art of having the best of the two worlds.”
Unlike the Fulani cattle, Efi-Igbo would not undertake the debilitating journey from the desert to the sea. Through the ranching, a healthier stock will be the result. As one of Anambra State’s greatest sons, the novelist Chinua Achebe wrote, “Wherever something stands, another thing stands beside it.” Fulani cattle and Efi-Igbo will make for great progress in the celebration of Nigeria’s cherished diversity. The Efi-Igbo phenomenon as a redoubtable alter ego to Fulani cattle clearly showcases Governor Obiano as a farsighted leader who is highly imaginative and pragmatic. His reputation as a great promoter of his people’s culture cannot be overemphasized.
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