Proposal for Pilot Ranches: Reward for Criminality?

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By Chris Akiri

THE news, in almost all print and electronic media less than fortnight ago, that the Federal Government planned to establish ranches in 94 locations in ten States of the Federation—Adamawa, Benue, Ebonyi, Edo, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Oyo, Plateau, Taraba, and Zamfara—with the initial sum of N70 billion, and with a colossal sum of N170 billion in the next three years, was at once thrilling and rankling. It thrilled because the almighty Federal Government had, at last, succumbed to the importunate suggestion of right-thinking Nigerians that ranching, rather than open, criminal, wilful and reckless grazing of cattle on people’s farms, was the only solution to the Fulani herdsmen’s murderous onslaught against law-abiding, innocent farmers throughout Nigeria; and rankling because the Federal Government has decided to take over cattle rearing, a private enterprise, with profits accruable to private entrepreneurs, with public funds, with the most unlikely corollary that the Federal Government will also establish plantations for rice, cocoa, oil palms, rubber, groundnuts, cassava, etc. for farmers in those sectors to avoid accusations of favouritism, overt primitive tribalism, cronyism, preferential treatment and robbing Peter to pay Paul. It is interesting that most of the very sharia-compliant States are exempted from the scheme!

Earlier in the year, the Hon. Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, wrapped up in himself, made the eerie and mercenary suggestion for grazing “colonies”, nationwide, a sad reminder of the British colonial factor and an evocation of the expansive Fulani jihad of 1804-1808. The nestling of that suggestion, by reason of its being eerie and freakish, died in its nest as it was not allowed by politically savvy Nigerians to even become a fledging. One wonders how this “new project”, pilot ranches in ten States, is, in any any way, different from the rejected Audu Ogbeh’s “grazing colonies”. Grazing colonies; pilot ranches! The legerdemain of a practised punster? Or wordplay by artful sophists? The construction of an honest interpreter would be that “a pilot project”, designed to expropriate land from States as ranches for Fulani cattle and “grazing colonies” for Fulani herdsmen” are six of one and half a dozen of the other!

But the pertinent question here is, how will the Federal Government go about this project, in view of the extant Land Use Act (Cap. 202, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990), enshrined in section 315 (5) (d) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as altered)?

Section 1 of that Act provides that, subject to the provisions of the Act, all land comprised in the territory of each State in the Federation is vested in the Governor of that State and that such land shall be held in TRUST for all the Nigerian citizens of that State. For the avoidance of doubt, suction 2 (1) (2) of the Act elucidates the limit of the Governor’s powers with regard to the provisions of the Act:

“2 (1) As from the commencement of this Act—

  • all land in urban areas shall be in control and management of the Governor of each State. And
  • all other land shall, subject to this Act, be under the control and management of the Local Government, within the area of jurisdiction of which the land is situated.” Section 49 of the Act which protects the Federal Government’s title to any land held by it before the commencement of the Act, does not permit it to acquire land as magisterially as it did in any State before the Act commenced.

In view of the foregoing provisions, no Governor (a trustee, with a sovereign, i.e. administrative, right only) can alienate any urban or non-urban area of his State for cattle grazing without the acquiescence or active involvement of the citizens of his State, who are legally vested with proprietary right to their land.

It is outside the bounds of credibility that States like Taraba, Adamawa, Benue, where countless farmers have been and are being slaughtered, and Plateau, where over 100 innocent men, women and children were dastardly and mercilessly launched into eternity a few days ago by Fulani herdsmen, will plump for “pilot ranches” as a “permanent plan” to end the killing of innocent farmers by herdsmen.

With the benefit of historical evidence, one dares say that these so-called pilot ranches are designed to be future Fulani Emirates, or how do you, in any future (near or distant), disentitle armed nomadic Fulani herdsmen (defiantly armed with AK47 rifles that fell from heaven) to expanses of grazing territories acquired from State/Local Governments by the Federal Government of Nigeria for a consideration and certificates of occupancy (CofOs) to boot?

Myetti Allah’s haughty claim (hinged on the protection of powerful patrons) that the killer herdsmen killed and are killing farmers, their wives and children to avenge the theft of their cattle by rustlers, thereby ranking animals higher than human beings (over 100 persons for 300 missing cows), clearly shows that the killer herdsmen are not foreigners after all!

Whereas section 319 of the Criminal Code Act (Cap. 77. Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990) provides that any person who commits murder shall be sentenced to death and be hanged by the neck until he be dead, section 390 (3) of the same Act, which is tangentially on all fours with section 287 of the Penal Code Act, stipulates that any person who steals any of the following, that is to say, “a horse, mare, gelding, ass, mule, camel, bull, cow, ox, ram, ewe, wether, goat or pig or the young of any such animal”, shall be liable, on conviction, to pay a fine of two hundred naira (N200) or to imprisonment for two years!

Quite clearly, a lower animal (a cow, horse, elephant or orangutan,) however anthropoid it may be, cannot be equated with a human being. Therefore, 300 cows allegedly rustled by unidentified persons cannot, and should not, be an excuse (in law, morality or religion) for Fulani herdsmen to butcher over 100 human beings in Plateau State or anywhere. And the security agencies, as though afflicted with selective amnesia and aural impairment, would pretend not to have heard the boasts and threats of Myetti Allah, whose leader once publicly enthused about Nigeria being Allah’s biggest gift to the Fulani ethnic nationality!

All right-thinking Nigerians are at their wits’ end to understand why killers of human beings are rendered immune to arrest, let alone trial, for their heinous crimes, and why five young men in Adamawa State were promptly apprehended by the police, tried, convicted and sentenced to death by hanging for allegedly killing one Fulani herdsman. The other day, Mr. Mansur Dan-Ali, Minister of Defence, an appointed public official, ludicrously appealed to the Benue State House of Assembly, comprising duly elected lawmakers and a duly elected Governor of that State to suspend a Law, the Anti-Open-Grazing Law, passed by the former and assented to by the latter, as a condition precedent for the effective performance of the functions of his office!

It would be recalled that Governor Simon Bako Lalong of Plateau State was reportedly quoted/misquoted to have accused the Benue State Government of allowing an Anti-Grazing Law to be enacted in that State. Question: Were the recent killings in Plateau State the result of an Anti-Open-Grazing Law?

To be sure, the tricky plan to establish “pilot ranches” (read colonies) in 94 locations in ten States of the Federation is designed to reward the killer herdsmen for their murderous  proclivities.

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