Cows and Benue’s Ortom

Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
13 November, 2017.

His Excellency, the Governor of Benue State, Mr. Samuel Ortom, after prayers in churches and mosques as he said, was guided by God to sign a law he believes will protect both the cow and the people of Benue State.

For peace in the state to reign, cows must be given a human, VIP treatment. The governor reasoned that cows suffer so much roaming about the lower Benue basin in search of food and water and they often make the mistake of encroaching into farmlands, for which they get killed by farmers. As they roam about, they also run the risk of being stolen, especially by Tivs who, for centuries, carry a mutant gene that makes their mouth salivate and fingers itch at the site of a cow. And there began the trouble that will eventually led to loss of lives and property in the state recently.

After reading the law, however, I am beginning to doubt the divine origin of the new law. In this essay, I have discussed the offer of the Governor to the cows in his state and the reasons why the cows rejected it flatly, along with the suggestions they gave to His Excellency, in a conference they held at Makurdi recently.


His Excellency wants to save the cows two troubles – the trouble of slaughter to pay compensation for encroachment into farmland and that of serving the demand for a mutant, bovine klepto-gene. So he directed that all herders must acquire swathes of land, provide it with all facilities like fencing, shelter, security, water and electricity. This is the ranch paradise where every cow must dwell for eternity in Benue State. The governor is not done.

In addition, he also said every cow must henceforth be transported, not escorted; saving it the agonizing trek to grazing fields, streams, markets and slaughter houses. The only privilege which the Governor forgot to offer the cow is to spare it the butcher. Had he done so, each cow would have voted for his second term, come 2019.

The Governor gave the cow his highest assurance by codifying his promises in a law called “Anti-Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranching Act” (sic). He said, whoever is not ready to give the cow this treatment must leave Benue State, lest he will be imprisoned or fined, and so would anyone that attacks a cow or criminally butchers it to satiate his stomach.


Ordinarily, the cow should accept the Governor’s generous offer and praise him for his concern. Rising from a conference to study the matter, members of Benue State Cows Association issued a communiqué in which they totally rejected the Governor’s offer and went further to charge him with intent of ethnic cleansing. He wants to starve them or banish them from his state, they said. Their reasons are simple.

One, they are not the improved breeds of cows that are amenable to ranching. Throughout Africa, keeping the local breed in a ranch is not economically possible. Forty of them are worth only N4million at best and the utopian facilities that the Governor wants them to enjoy would require, for each herd of forty, an investment of over N30 million, including machinery of tractors, balers, silage choppers, etc. What these local breeds would yield in terms of meat and milk in the end cannot settle even a tenth of the cost.

Two, the governor has not offered the cows an exchange program, where they will be sold out in exchange for imported breeds that may be small in number but high in beef and dairy yields. He is not even offering a cross breeding program that will enable them yield progenies that would be amenable to his VIP treatment. Nothing. Only the promise which cow owners must take or face the consequences of imprisonment, fine or banishment.

Two, the governor has not promised to offer land for the ranching. Does he expect ranching land to drop from Mars? The cows asked. The Governor has no answer to this too because he knows that the Tivs will not surrender their present and future farmlands to cows. And what happens to the ten grazing reserves that the state inherited from the defunct Northern Region, which, if sustained with security, infra-structure and veterinary services, would become avenues for actualizing his paradise dream for cows?

Three, what happens in the hinterland, forty kilometers away from any motorable road? Would the Governor, to avoid farms and guard the provisions of the law, supply a helicopter service to air-lift cows to markets and other ranches, for example? Or what would the cow do? Fly like a bird or what? What is the fate of the stock routes and flanks of federal highways that are earmarked for movement of cattle where necessary?

Four, ranching is not a feasible alternative to pastoralism in Sub-Saharan Africa as many studies including World Bank reports have proved. So many loans provided by the Bank to Sub-Saharan farmers have failed. Ranching also require high use of feed concentrates as seen in UK in particular. If Nigeria is to successfully enclose its cattle herds as Benue State wants instantly, it will require over N400billion annually to import feed concentrates for its 19 million heads of cattle. As noted in Gains of Pastoralism in Nigeria of Dr. Junaid Maina, “these, among other things, explains why ECOWAS Heads of State endorsed transhumance pastoralism in 1998 (ECOWAS Decision A/DEC.5/10/98)”.


In their communiqué, the cows drew the attention of the governor to the fact that they are not a liability to the state and not in need of pity either. They are an asset that could contribute to the development of the state in no small measure if given the attention they deserve.

First, their sheer numbers, which run into millions, give the economic value that no sensible state would like to lose. Think of the numbers sold daily statewide. If Benue has 10 markets that sell a total of 1000 cows daily, that will mean a monthly turnover of over N3billion. If conditions for the cow are made so unbearable in Benue State by enforcing the law, the cows can migrate to, say, the neighbouring Nasarawa State and carry along with them the benefits of employment and revenue of the beef business. How many families in the value chain would lose their means of livelihood in Benue State? How would this loss solve the problem of unemployment of Benue State youths?

Two, the beef market in Nigeria is big. Lagos alone consumes 6,000 cows a day. The consumption of beef, an index of standard of living, will continue to increase as Nigeria continues to develop. What, the cows ask, prevents Benue State, being one of the richest in cattle, from establishing a meat processing plant and turning it into profitable venture instead of allowing some other states to take the lead? What also prevents Benue State from establishing a tannery, an organic fertilizer plant and many other things that will utilize the by-products of livestock in the state? As the nation turns to Agriculture, Benue State must think of promoting beef production through enhanced pastoralism than scrapping the practice for short term political gains.

Three, with their large population, the cows also believe that they are a goldmine from which Benue State can dig colossal amounts of revenue. If the government will claim just N1,000 per cow as annual cattle tax, with over 1 million cows, it will realize nothing less than N1billion annually. This, if managed well, can be used to improve security for the cows, create thousands of jobs for youths, and establish the meat processing plant suggested above and many other ventures that will immensely contribute to the economy of the state. If the Sardauna would collect cattle tax and establish these businesses sixty years ago, the cattle wonders why Benue State would fail to do same in the 21st Century and instead see the cow as a liability that needs to be dispensed with.

Four, ecologically, the cows said they contribute immensely by saving the Tivs from the hazard of fire. Without their grazing, so much combustible grass will accumulate over the years and, God forbid, a day would come when a wild fire – ignited most probably by rodent hunting Tivs – would wipe out Tiv’s thatch houses, villages and towns in a matter of days. Unlike in California, there would not be no helicopters to put off the fire, which may be traveling at the speed of dozens of kilometers per hour. Their grazing of the predominantly tall savanna grass, the cows claim, is a blessing to Benue State.

The suggestions the Cows gave in the communique will be presented in Part II.

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