Awo brought Malian cattle breed, developed indigenous livestock programme —Noibi, renowned agriculturist

Luqman Adedeji Noibi, an agriculturist, a former special assistant on agriculture to ex-Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State and former General Manager, Shonga Farms Holding, Kwara State, in this interview by ‘LAOLU AFOLABI, speaks on the herdsmen crisis in the South-West, the impact on economy and what the governments should do to restore normalcy.

 

Herdsmen invasion of farmlands in the South-West and the consequent killings, maiming farmers, raping women and other atrocities, how do we come to this point?

The Fulani people have been with us for more than a hundred years and they have been rearing their cattle. That is their principal occupation. We have been able to accommodate them but over time, I think we started noticing atrocities in some of their actions. As it were in the past, there was the cattle route that passed through different parts of the country, designated by government for cattle rearers to move. As time went by, development caught up with the cattle route, so the route they have by design is no longer available, they now have to pass through different places in their quest to feed their cattle. They are cattle rearers, they are nomadic people. That is their life.

One thing that is an advantage to this part of the country is our vegetation, compared to what is in the North. The problem now in the last few years is climate change. The climate is getting inclement. For them in the far North, they move to the Middle Belt, down to the South. They cannot survive for long in the North. The land there is for rice farming and the dams are constructed for irrigation purpose. In some of the places habitable for them, especially the Middle Belt, the people are hostile to them. That’s why we have so many crises in those areas. But we were more accommodating in the South-West, so they come down to the South, but you won’t see these herdsmen in towns, they stay in most of our abandoned villages and keep their cattle as well as live there. They have been part of us and you will be surprised that they understand our system as much as we do. With time, having found out that development was encroaching most of their habitation and they have to feed the cattle, they move in to our farms and destroy vegetation there. They have since been doing that and there is little or no repercussion for them. You will notice that in the last six or seven years we have been having this problem.

The new agenda and development that is of more concern is the criminality added to their actions. Fulani people are, to a large extent, a tribe cutting across the country and even beyond it, to Niger, Cameroon, even up to Central African Republic. The crisis in the Central African Republic, Libya and others has worsened the development. Most of these nomadic people have moved down South to countries like Nigeria with several opportunities for them to rear their cattle and live. Some of them came with arms and ammunition and the issue of criminality becomes a concern.

 

Are you saying those perpetrating crimes are not of Nigerian stock?

Don’t forget I told you some of these Fulani people have been with us for a long time. They live here and rear their cattle among us. But lately, there are infiltrations of their camps, those coming to join the set of the tribe that had been with us all the while. They are those who have added criminality to their trade. That’s not to say that the existing people who are finding ways to feed their cattle free of charge are now encroaching into farms unprotected, destroying investments and that’s another main issue. It’s a complex matter. We have to be careful so that we don’t label a particular tribe as a problem in the country.

 

We have the Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria. Going by their name, what have they done to develop the cattle breed we have in this part of the country?

I am a scientist; I know breeding is a complex word. It takes years to breed a livestock. The name Cattle Breeders Association is just a brand name; they are cattle rearers; that’s just as simple as that. When you call them cattle breeders, it means that over a particular period of time they are able to develop a particular breed of cattle with some qualities. The type of cattle they rear cannot produce more than six or seven litres of milk per day. So we ask, what improvement have they been able to make on their breed? What improvement have they made on the milk production over a period of time? I don’t see them from that angle. They are just to rear cattle, that’s all and there is a big market for them all over the country, especially in the South. They don’t eat much meat, they eat eggs. Have you been to Kara market before? Check the quantities of cows being sold on a daily basis.

 

How big and veritable is their market in the South?

Raw statistics say we are consuming more than 10,000 cows in a day in the south-western states. In Lagos alone, they consume more than 4,000 cows, imagine what now obtains in the five other states making the South-West. So it is a big trade, a veritable market in the South-West. There is the population here, a growing one and we consume a lot. Imagine a cow now selling for between N200,000 and N250,000, multiply by about 10,000 a day, not to talk of a month, it is a big market for them. If a herdsman is moving 100 cows, do you know what that means? Some of our own people too are doing businesses. Some of the cows, about 70 per cent, are owned by our people. But it is their business. It is not easy to house cattle and feed them. Talk of water, a cow drinks about 50 litres of water a day. Then the food, it costs a lot to feed them.

 

So if the Fulani are asked to leave, what does the South-West lose?

We will probably pay more for the cows. This is their market and we do not have the alternatives. What should have been our alternative is now extinct. We do not manage it well. In fact, we are doing very little in that regards. I don’t really see the option of Fulani leaving the South as working. I believe we can live together, identify the criminals among them and then map out strategies on how to do business without being injurious to other parties, especially the crop farmers. Almost on a daily basis, I drive herds of cattle out of my farm. They will always find a way into the farm because they are looking for food.

 

What happened to our alternative(s)?

Chief Obafemi Awolowo, based on his government’s focus in agricultural development in the Western Region, had plans to develop our indigenous livestock. We have the indigenous breed of cattle. They call it Muturu. The breed is short. You see it around Yewa in Ogun State, Oyo North and the likes. It’s a local breed. But we see the size of the Bororo as bigger than ours.

During his stint as Premier of Western Region, Chief Awolowo went into collaboration with the Malian authorities and the government brought cattle breed from Mali. They call it Ndama and he created ranches in different parts of the Western Region. There was the vision then to develop livestock rearing. The Ndama breed is bigger than the Bororo. Unfortunately, when the government left and then the successive military incursions, we didn’t sustain it. The military government especially was not after all these things.  Most of these assets are left to rot. Sadly, we have an inefficient public service.

After the Awolowo government, the management of these assets was nothing to write home about. After a while, there were moves to sell these assets off to Odua Investment. There is the company, Western Livestock Company. Unfortunately, the company is not doing well. Today, most of the breed is no longer available, maybe there remains a few being used to cross the Bororo but you can check the ranches, Fashola Farms and Ikun dairy farm in Ekiti. I have been there. In the past years the breed is there but right now, I don’t think so. It’s unfortunate that we did not develop our local Muturu and we did not build on the one that was imported. It dawned on us that when the Fulani leaves, what will be left for us? I have always seen by experience that business is not done by the government. Any business that will be sustained should be handled by private sector in collaboration with public sector. I don’t even know if the Western Livestock Company still exists or already traded off. I have a friend who works there but they do nothing.

 

What about encroachment into ranching areas?

The people have encroached into ranching areas and the cattle too have encroached into farmland, roads and even residential areas. There are a lot of farm settlements for example in Ogun and Oyo states that have been encroached upon by the people. It’s government’s properties and somehow, they get leased out to the people by government officials. The farm settlements are places we would have been able to bring together all the cattle, collaborate with the herdsmen and get them registered. Today, the cattle want our space. They are leaving the North because of climate change and all that, so they need somewhere comfortable. So once you give them an opportunity, they will go to miles. But now, what has worsened it is the issue of criminality by the herdsmen. The Fulani people who have been with us know the criminals among them. They, however, won’t disclose their identities. Now that pressure is on them, they will definitely expose them.

 

Do the Fulani know these killer-herdsmen?

Look, the Fulani speak Hausa. When you speak Hausa to them, they understand. Yes, among themselves, they speak Fulfude. They are not very fluent in Hausa but they understand it to an extent. They know the criminals among them. Those who are not from the country usually have long hair, unlike the Fulani here. They accommodate them. Don’t forget that the Fulani here have been living with us for a long time. They know everything about our land. I once had a contract agreement to work with National Cotton Farmers Association (South-West). They were given a facility by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and we were looking for land that would be used to finalise our documentation. So we were going round to look for a suitable place. There was a particular place we got to in Osun State, I have forgotten the name of the town, but it’s a bit further from Iwo. The farmers identified the land and told us about the quality of the place for cotton plantation. The place is flat, excellent and soil quality was superb. We then asked: How do you get this place. They replied: “it is the Fulani community that recommended and gave that land to them. They gave the land to them for rent. I was there. The Fulani community identified the place for the farmers. A look around the place, one will see Fulani settlements all over. They have been there for years. That shows that they have been here for many years. They know our topography and land. They know our water, everything. Don’t forget that a cow consumes about 50 litres of water in a day. Our own people have left the villages for towns but they are in the villages. I was surprised when I got there. I was initially afraid because that was when the issue of kidnapping and criminality took another dimension.

 

How do we get rid of criminals among the Fulani tribe?

There are two sides to a coin. We have the criminality problem; we also have the encroachment problem. For the criminality problem, the governments of the South-West need to dialogue with the leadership of Miyetti Allah and leaders of Fulani community in the South-West. We have to identify their real men, those who have genuine business to do here. We can even take their census and have their data. It’s only through this that we can know right from wrong. We should make the leadership responsible. Once the leadership makes a commitment about this, then we can begin to see reduction in crime levels.  Now they have agreed to leave the forest. A forest is not meant for people to live. In those days we used to have forest guards. But now, everywhere is open, we need to flush them out. There are also collaborators among our people. I am telling you that this kidnapping issue is being perpetrated by a cartel. Some people know them, they are benefitting from it. Everybody now wants to make money. Our law enforcement agents should work seriously by fishing out the criminals among the herdsmen.

The first way is to get their data. We should get away with the idea that we don’t want them around us. The governments in the region should bring us consultants, who will design paddock, irrigate the place and make it conducive. The idea will generate a lot of employment opportunities and value chain. The government should provide a large expanse of land from government properties and the herdsmen should be made to pay for the service. We should get away with politicizing everything. In this circumstance, we want to find solution to this problem. Yes, cattle business is a private business. The government of the South-West should come up with large expanse of land for ranching. At the end of the day, the government will recover its money, and, at the same time, it will create employment. This will help to contain and control the herdsmen and their movement. All we must think of is how to control their activities. If we don’t, they become a menace. They are affecting crop farming, almost everything. We have to understand we cannot send the people out because even our own people live in the North too. Look at Governor [Umar] Ganduje now, he is doing business in an organized manner. He’s going to create a lot of employments, both direct and indirect, for his people and then, he will also make money.

Also, we must plan to develop our own breed and develop ranches. Let me tell you, all the top-rated hotels in Abuja don’t eat our beef, because it’s not soft. So they import beef from abroad, those that are professionally raised. The cows here are not professionally and efficiently raised. Some people now have private ranches. These cows we have here, if you feed them well, they have the tendency to grow three times their sizes. But when we move them around, they lose out most of the food they consumed. But if we confine them and give them good food, they will grow faster and bigger. The Fulani will not see this anyway, they want to move their cows around.

The government must do something to develop whatever we have at the moment and think on how to improve on them. The government must also develop blueprint for agriculture. We have to know there are a lot of opportunities in cow business, both for the government and for youths. We can plant maize, make silages and all others. We have to look at the big market and see how we can maximise the opportunities too.

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