Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum object to the use of state fund for building cattle ranches

PAN-cultural society group the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) has rejected the recent decision by the federal government to spend N179bn ($495m) to build cattle ranches across the country describing it as a vexatious declaration.


Since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office in 2015, there has been a dramatic surge in the incidences of Fulani heavily-armed cattle herdsmen attacking rural farming communities, leading to the deaths of hundreds. To resolve the matter, it has been suggested that the herdsmen raise their livestock in private ranches, so they do not encroach on farms, leading to conflicts with villagers.


In response to the call, the federal government has opted to build the ranches across several states, using public funds. However, this has attracted the chagrin of several society groups, who frown on the use of public funds to build private ranches for the herdsmen, who will be the sole beneficiaries of the measure.


Yesterday, the SMBLF met and issued a statement condemning the move signed by Yinka Odumakin (southwest), Senator Bassey Henshaw (south-south), Professor Chigozie Ogbu (southeast) and Dr Isuwa Dogo (Middle Belt). Although the meeting commended the decision of the government to embrace ranching for cattle rearers against the erstwhile insistence on archaic open grazing and old century cattle routes, it kicked against using public funds to set them up.


"The decision to ignore this sensible recommendation has led to a situation where untold terror has been unleashed on farming communities with needless loss of hundreds of lives over the last three years with not a soul under prosecution and top functionaries of the administration making excuses for the killers. We, however, object to the federal government’s decision to spend N179bn of public funds to build these ranches over 10 years starting with N70bn under this administration.


“Cattle-rearing is a private business in which individuals make billions of naira with no record of what they pay as taxes and it is unfortunate that the federal government was making this vexatious declaration while receiving the chief executive of Friesland Campina of Netherlands without bothering to find out that it was put together by cooperatives with roots going back to 1879 and is one of the world’s top five dairy companies with an annual revenue of $11bn. It is only reasonable that those who want to engage in the business should approach the states where they want to build ranches and acquire land to build such with firm commitment to abide by the rules of host communities," their statement said.


They added: “Rewarding the herders with public funds to build ranches would only mean that they have killed enough to beat the country into pacification mode and this can only encourage other people to arm themselves, cause sufficient killings to get an undue concession. What would our society become if fishermen, farmers, and people in other trades begin to cause bloodbaths so the federal government could give them special consideration?


“We call on the federal government to shelve the idea of committing public funds on ranches and allow the owners of the business to attend to their business needs. To go ahead with the plan is to say that cattle owners own this government and that would make other segments of society to say we have no inheritance in this arrangement.”