Former Secretary General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nduka Eya, spoke to LAWRENCE NJOKU, in Enugu on the old ranching method and why it is more acceptable than the government proposed Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) settlements.
What was ranching like in the First Republic?
I will be 82 years old by the end of August, and I can tell you that ranching was a common thing when we were growing up. The one ranch that has remained famous is the Obudu Cattle Ranch, which is in Obudu, Cross River State, in an area where the climate is temperate. Because we had the British people who knew what livestock rearing was all about, they found the temperate area good enough for rearing cow, and this is the kind of thing that you see in Scotland.
At the Obudu Cattle Ranch, the animals, apart from being well fed daily, also had their health needs fully attended to, while sanitation officers were always on hand to ensure that the animals were in good health in order not to jeopardise government’s investment.
Even when we were in the University of Nigeria, the Department of Agriculture also had a ranch. The idea of ranching was so imbibed that if you reared livestock in the village, the onus was on you to enclose those animals so that they don’t escape and end up damaging someone else’s property.
As a child, I always fetched grasses for the goats, which my father had, and the goats were not allowed to roam about and eat peoples’ crops. That was ranching that we practiced by keeping our animals in one place, bringing them water, food where they bred and multiplied. We made our profit by selling some of them in the market. So, way back, individuals and governments operated ranches, with the latter operating its own on a large scale because it was in control of resources and what have you.
Revenues generated from these agriculture-based businesses, including ranches were used to establish industries and built institutions. That is why you still have the University of Nigeria, outfits like Golden Guinea Breweries, Nigercem among others.
I also remember a Fulani herdsman by name, Umaru Atinee, who settled in Enugu, along Owerri Road. He brought in cattle from the North by train and sold them here and there were no problems. He made money and even contested election here and won a seat at the Enugu Municipal Council.
At that time also, the government of old Eastern Region functioned and thrived on agriculture, and many families had their ranches and were doing their businesses without hitches.
In the North, rearing cow for revenue was not new as the animals were housed, fed and in the end they produced milk, which Fulani girls carried off to sell in the market within their neighbourhoods.
However, after sometimes, desertification set in and there were no grasses any longer for the animals to be fed with, while water also became an issue. That was how the herders started moving down south in search of water and grass and I must tell you that for a long time there was no problem. Those herders knew that people planted crops and so guided their animals so that they don’t destroy farmlands, but that is not the case today.
Apart from the feeds and water challenge, land started getting smaller as a result of urbanisation. So, those areas that provided forage for livestock are now built up.
At what point were these ranches lost?
Up till this day, individuals have ranches for cows, pigs in their homes, where they feed the livestock that they are rearing. It is only the mega ranches that were managed by governments that have stopped because government, with the passage of time, proved that it was not a good manager of businesses. Most of the animals in government-owned ranches died or were killed. During and after the Nigerian Civil War, these animals became easy food for soldiers, and people who survived the war did not take interest in rearing animals, but tilted to agriculture and other menial jobs for survival.
How difficult is the business of ranching, and can we revive them?
Yes, ranching can be revived. Southeast governors are encouraging people to go into ranching, and I personally have in my home, over six hectares of land, which I have the dream of running a cattle ranch there. Now that southeastern governors have come out to encourage ranching, I am going to take it up with my own state government because it is a paying job. My own is to restore the local cattle breed, which is going into extinction. And to achieve this, I have to enter into a partnership get the government to help me get a heavy loan, after which I will look for experts whom I will pay to run the ranch, and build infrastructure there.
I wrote to the former Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, after listening to his pontifications in Ogun State. He asked me to provide my project profile. I engaged experts and they wrote a project profile, which I sent across to him, but after 18 months, nothing happened and when I raised hell about how disappointed I was, his reply was that they don’t have that kind of arrangement. That is why I am saying that now that the southeastern governors have come out to encourage ranching, I am going to take it up with my own state government because it is a paying job.
It is important to stress that ranching did not stop at individual level, but it did at government level. In Jos, Plateau State, there was an abattoir, which could as well pass for an industrial outfit, where animals were slaughtered, packaged and exported. But suddenly the abattoir collapsed because it was not properly managed. So, why are people making too much noise about herders? Herders are in animal business, so they should be able to go out there and negotiate, build whatever they want to build as ranches. The southeast governors have said they would grow grass and the herdsmen would buy from them while they would also buy meat from them in return, but the herdsmen necessarily don’t have to settle on Southeast land.
Is there any difference between ranching of old and RUGA settlement?
There is nothing wrong with RUGA settlement, but the difference is that the idea is being politicized, and the politicisation started when the Fulani herders and farmers started having conflicts.
RUGA started by imposition and that is why the people are rejecting it. Southeast has stated clearly that it does not want that kind of thing. Ranching is a form of agri-business, which the government can run, and it is not out of place to do so. But coming to force something on a people, even when it is a private concern is wrong; it is lopsided; it is partisan, and that is why they are failing. Nigerians know too well that they can make a living from ranching. Those who engaged in the business in the past invested their personal resources and ensured it survived; they didn’t invade people or their land. Why the people want ranch is basically because it is the responsibility of the owner, who has to ensure that nothing happens to his animals where they are kept. In trying to enforce RUGA, government is looking at acquiring illegally, land belonging to people, building on it and handing it over to some private persons. And you begin to ask yourself, when has cow rearing become the only business known by the Federal Government? The RUGA settlement idea was wrong and insisting on it would create problems, while the old ranching method will solve whatever problems herders have with farmers in this country.