Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
13 November, 2017.
At the end of their communiqué, the cows made these suggestions to His Excellency:
1. Rather than brew another crisis by attempting to enforce a law that is impossible to abide by, the Governor should stop seeing cows as problems, but assets which can be used to harness the economy of Benue State. This paradigm shift alone can open a new vista in managing the security challenges in the state. It will cast a friendly look at cows, reduce the farmer-herdsmen acrimony as both, in partnership with the state, can forge a symbiosis that will result in a win-win situation.
2. Cows expressed their desire to have elite progenies that can yield millions of liters of milk and tons of beef annually for the State under an intensive ranching programme that will be subsidized by government. Only such cows deserve to dwell in the Eden that the Governor envisages. The present breed of cows, are consigned by nature to the fate of free-range grazing if we must survive the fluctuating weather of the savanna and our low capacity to yield dairy and beef products for our owners. With better breeds, our owners can settle in ranches and enjoy other social facilities like education, health, etc, that other NigerIans enjoy. This, the cows understand, is not a short term plan but a strategy that will involve the Federal Government over a period of between 50 to 100 years. Without such effort, any effort to ranch cows in Nigeria will be putting the cart before the horse.
3. Current generation of cows wants the Governor, and indeed other Governors of Northern States, instead of promising them a utopian paradise called ranches, to help them reclaim their ten territories in the State. These territories with their sizes, called grazing reserves, for the information of His Excellency, are located at Ushango (2,500ha), Oturpa/Odonto (4000), Otukpa (4,000), Naka (4,000ha), Ukum (5,000ha), Torda Donga (6,000ha), Gwer (4,000ha), Oju (3,000ha) in Agila and Kpata with areas of 2,500, Oturpa, Otukpa, Naka, Ukum, Katsina-Ala, Gwer and Oju LGAs respectively. Two additional ones of 5,000ha each exist at Agila and Kpata. These were the reserves up to the 1960s, said the cow’s ancestors. Additional ones can be created in light of increase in population of herds and people in the state.
4. Cows are tired of a monolithic ownership. Other ethnic groups in the state will improve their lot by owning cattle and benefitting from the riches that they provide. As sedentary populations, they can even try ranching as an example for other owners to follow. The cows complain of the inhumane treatment that they receive from the present nomadic pastoralists and expect better treatment if ownership is democratized. In the ensuing envy-free atmosphere, there would be room for thousands of jobs. It is also a panacea to the mutant, bovine klepto-gene of the Tiv. A taste of ownership and the toil of creating wealth will turn the gene recessive, thus eliminating the urge for theft and advancing the cause of peace in the state.
5. The economic potentials of cows need to be recognized and harnessed in the state. To achieve this, the cows advocated for registration of all herds along with their owners in the state. Each cow must carry a chip that will be used to immediately identify its location and owner. This facility is available and already in use in the country. To enforce it, markets and abattoirs in the state must sell and slaughter only chip-compliant cattle. Chips can also stop cattle rustling as the location of any cow can be identified and traced easily. This is better than thinking that a law prohibiting the movement of cows in the state will stop rustling because before preventing rustling, it will prevent cattle husbandry totally. The cows plead with the Governor to abandon the analogue configuration of his grey matter and go digital. Digitalization is preventing many crimes and solving many security problems in the world today.
6. Cows expressed the sadness that they have become subjects of insecurity in the state in spite of their enormous asset value. They are ready to change the situation by appealing to their owners to make them subjects of revenue collection by government. The Sardauna did that in the 1950s and 1960s. What prevents His Excellency from returning the Jangali of say N1000 per cow and use the proceeds to finance jobs for restive youths, maintain robust livestock services, establish livestock based companies and, lo and behold, the cow becomes a friend of the State rather than enemy? Similar charges must also be paid for utilizing livestock facilities like routes, grazing reserves, when a cow is sold, etc.
7. Cows also want to contribute positively by increasing crop yields in the state. A forum in every hamlet should be created to facilitate the hosting of cattle on farmlands during the dry season, free of charge, as a community service. This will drastically cut down the cost of organic fertilizers, improve the edaphic properties of the soil, make farm produce chemical free and save the farmers in the State millions of Naira. This will be in appreciation for the farm residue that cows in the state utilize free of charge after harvest. Establishing this symbiotic relationship will usher in a new atmosphere of mutual understanding and hope, in place of the prevailing hate and envy.
8. Cows also affirm the point made by the His Excellency that there are bad eggs among their owners as there are among Tiv youths. Cows have become the chief victims of both criminals, whose actions precipitate the perennial crisis that cost the state many lives and property. Cows, therefore, call for a ruthless application of the Penal Code provision on citizen found to violate the sanctity of life and property in the State. It is the failure to enforce the law that encourages criminals to violate it repeatedly. Government, in its failure to apply the law, has committed cows and citizens of Benue State alike to peril. Cow owners must support government in the merciless application of criminal law provisions on all criminals irrespective of their ethnicity.
9. Cows also call for the establishment of joint forums at state and local government levels for the exchange of ideas and amicable resolution of conflicts between farmers and herdsmen. Such forums must be headed by magistrates with the authority to settle issues judicially if necessary, instead of using riff-raffs in the name of vigilantes. Those vigilantes are the root cause of the ongoing crisis in Zamfara State. Ignorant of the law, they respond crudely to situations and attract reprisals that generate a vicious circle of violence. Cows believe that government must remain impartial, not seen as supporting one side over the other. Its duty must remain an unflinching commitment to law, peaceful coexistence for prosperity of all citizens under its domain.
10. Cows understand that unless governors up North attend to the need of their cows, there will continue to be migrations to Benue State. This puts the cows of Benue State at a disadvantage of over-population and overgrazing. It creates more room for farmers-herdsmen conflict as new comers, ignorant of the law and the lower Benue environment, are bound to make the costly mistakes of encroaching into farmlands and precipitating crisis. As their Governor and well-wisher, the cows of Benue State would appeal to His Excellency to convene the meeting of Northern Governors, cattle breeders and veterinary professionals to Benue State where a livestock development plan will be designed, and to which every Governor must commit. The revival of grazing reserves and opening of new ones must top the agenda, in addition to resuscitation of veterinary services that are now comatose. The problems facing the cow go beyond Benue State.
11. Cows also appeal to all Nigerians, to appreciate the dilemma of their masters. Cows are all they own; they are their bank account, house, farm, honour, just everything. To attack the cow means attacking their life assets and only means of survival. That is why they have to defend the cow at all cost and totally. Other Nigerians will not sit back and see their houses burnt or their private accounts looted. The same way the herdsmen must defend the cows. Understanding this underlying importance of the cow to the herdsman will solve a lot of problems. Instead of killing the cow and/or the herdsman at the slightest encroachment, Nigerians will enhance peace by allowing the law to take its course. Compensation will be paid by the erring herdsman and the matter settled amicably. Killing him or the cow will continue to result in further bloodshed.
12. Finally, cows hereby pledge the support of their owners to the second tenure of His Excellency would he take the necessary steps for the actualization of the above suggestions. If he fails, cows do not promise to shield him against the wrath of the card reader in any future SAK-free elections when their numerous owners decide to support any opponent willing to further the cause of the cow in Benue State.
After reading the above communiqué, I dare not say who is wiser between the Governor and the cows. My understanding is that so long as the intention of the Governor is peace and prosperity of his state, I think the cows have made points worth his consideration. It is my sincere hope that His Excellency will take the above suggestions seriously and implement them in place of the open grazing prohibition law, which herders can neither observe nor would it be implemented by Government successfully without courting further unrest, loss of economic value and putting the lives of Benue State people at the risk of ecological disaster. I also hope that His Excellency, the Governor of neighbouring Taraba State that has 40 grazing reserves and a large indigenous population of herders is also listening.