The British Royal Majesty at the early days of colonialism in Nigeria commissioned a study of the Igbo nation and the report documented it that Igbo-Biafrans were not afraid of the British people but were amused by the British. Igbo speaking Biafrans were amused by the British because the later came with a sociopolitical culture that was far substandard to that of the Igbo ethnic group then.
As far back as 7th Century AD, the World renowned historians and cartographers captured the Igbo nation as it was popularly called then in ancient maps of Africa as Biafra and Nri Kingdom, bordered on the West by Benin Empire(present Edo state and part of Yorubaland), in the North by Zamfara Empire, in the East by Ethiopian(Abyssinia) Empire which constitute the present day Congo countries and Eastern part of Cameroon.
The Igbo ethnic group is primarily and culturally an agrarian nation with strict Customary Laws guiding the entire people, to ensure peace, stability and economic prosperity. There exists strict customary laws regulating cash crops farming and animal husbandry. These laws ensured effective utilization of the limited land resources and optimization of cash crops and animal food production in a very peaceful atmosphere devoid of clashes and crises. One of these laws strictly prohibits free roaming and grazing of Ungulates; that is, economically yielding herbivores such as cows, sheep, goats, horses and donkeys, over farmlands.
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These group of highly economic animals are by law referred to as “Obu Aku”, meaning tethered wealth or restricted economic animals. It is an abomination in Igbo land to allow them graze or roam freely and carelessly without tethers. Owners of such animals that allow them roam, graze and destroy farm crops faces serious sanctions which may include banishment from the community.
From the ancient times, Ndigbo recognized the serious constraints imposed by God's given limited land resources and so considered grazing reserves and grazing routes creation, economically senseless and unproductive. Thus, an economic practice that has been considered primitive, retrogressive and unproductive for over ten centuries, cannot and should not be hoisted on Ndigbo at this present digital age for any reason whatsoever.
Grazing Reserves and Routes are carryover of the Fulani conquest of the Hausas in the Fulani wars of 1804-10 and establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate of Sheik Othman Dan Fodio thereafter.
Under Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello's premiership of Northern Nigeria, regional legislations were enacted to give the force of law to these privileges of conquest to Fulani herdsmen over Hausa ethnic group. The Fulani by nature are nomads as against the Hausas and other ethnic nationalities inhabiting the North, who are farmers. By 1964, the Northern Regional Government had gazetted about 6.4 million hectares of the forest reserve, 98 percent in the Savanna. 21 percent of the land for Sokoto Province, followed by Kabba, Bauchi, Zaria, Ilorin, and Katsina, with 11-15 percent each(Awogbade 1982). The Wase, Zamfara, and Udubo reserves followed in succession.
In 1974, after the appraisal of livestock development in Nigeria by the World Bank, a loan of 21 million U.S Dollars was proposed to assist the First National Livestock Development Project(FLDP), with project costs split between the Federal government(50%), the states(25%), and the World Bank(25%).
It was initially estimated that the development of the livestock sector would require 42 million U.S Dollars over an investment period of 8 years.
The Federal government’s direct involvement in the establishment of grazing reserves started during the 2nd and 3rd National Development Plans(1970-80). During the 3rd Development Plan(1975-80), total investment on livestock development by the Federal and State governments was N119.8 million out of which N86 million, was allocated for grazing reserves (Source: “Grazing Reserve Development: A Panacea to the Intractable Strife between Farmers and Herders” by Ismail Iro PhD).
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As usual in Nigeria, particularly in the North, above efforts to convert the reserves into ranches in the North by building dams and digging boreholes to enable grass grow all seasons, failed as Nigerian leaders awarded contracts at outrageous amounts and pocketed most of the money in their private purse, resulting in the frustration of the project, hence the resort to original and primitive pastoralism/nomadism, which must have contributed to the very serious national security threat Nigeria faces today.
Incidentally, those who misappropriated that huge investment for development of grazing ranches are elites, the owners and backers of the Fulani herdsmen terror group of today. It is sad that the sponsors of the archaic, primitive and retrogressive Bill at the National Assembly, instead of calling for a probe of fraudulent misappropriation of the above investment fund, thereby attempting to drag the country into a ridiculous path of expanding country-wise, a Stone age agricultural practice. When one considers the fact that the sponsors of this Bill are well-educated, well-travelled and well-exposed to agricultural practices in modern societies, it becomes very frightening to probe into the true motives of the Bill, which is definitely not agricultural development.
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Now, lets look at the economics of creating grazing reserves. The Northern states where the Hausa/Fulani occupy constitutes approximately 60 percent of the national land mass. This large quota of land mass has given them advantage in sharing the Federal revenue to the disadvantaged Southern states with very small land mass over the decades.
The current allocation formula in Nigeria provides land mass as one of the criteria or yardstick for determining what any zone or state gets in the national allocation of revenue. All expectations have been that the leaders of these states would have judiciously utilized these federal allocations to develop the enormous land mass for cattle rearing, for which they have a considerable comparative advantage over the Southern states.
Furthermore, major cattle breeding countries of the world, which Nigeria is neither on their list, nor is it anywhere near, do not operate grazing reserves and routes. Cattle breeders like farmers, industrialists, traders, and so on, who buy and acquire lands for their operations, purchase their own ranches and rear/fatten them there for faraway markets to which they are moved as beef and milk. Movement of life cattle is limited to rail and motorized transportation.
Nigeria has less than 15million cattle according to 2009 estimates. Major cattle breeding countries of the world like India had as per 2001 figures, 219.643 million cattle; Brazil has 176 million; China has 106.175 million; USA 96.7 million; Argentina 50.369 million; Sudan 38.325; Ethiopia 34.5 million; Mexico 30.6million; Australia 28.768 million; and Columbia, 27million. All has adopted ranching methods.
Sudan may be the only exception since it is inhabited by nomadic Arabs.
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It is also crucially important to note that the Southeastern zone suffer greatly not only from scarcity of land but also from devastation of much of the available land by erosion; a scourge for which they receive little attention from the Federal government. The cattle breeders should therefore be encouraged to set up their ranches in their home states where there is abundance of land. It is an indisputable economic fact that the North has comparative advantage in cattle breeding with their enormous land space. We embark on other forms of animal husbandry such as fishery, piggery, grass cutter farming, goat and sheep, dog and snail and poultry business.
These and cattle rearing are private businesses and so singling out cattle business out of them is official discrimination against the rest of citizens of the country.
Confiscating the very limited farmlands in Southeast and other Southern states for the purpose of grazing reserves, grazing routes or even ranches, will automatically throw Nigeria into serious food crises, create a new wave of IDPs in our lands.
It is foolhardy to think that such a scenario will be tolerated, and so this Bill has a singular objective to impose catastrophe on the country.
In the second part of this piece, I shall be analyzing the legal contradictions, implications and some unanswered questions in the proposed Bill.
Written By Chukwuemeka Chimerue
Published By Nwosu C.S
For Biafra Writers