That Chief Olu Falae was abducted and later released after a number of days no longer could be regarded as news. What could be news are the undercurrents that are either directly or remotely associated with the ugly incident, which may rear their heads as a consequence of trends which, over the years, have remained unchecked but now have matured to high caliber of criminality.
And an urgent remedial action needs to be fashioned out very quickly to avoid a snowballing of a societal ill that has negative and destructive social, political and economic implications. The abduction of Falae, the circumstance of his abduction and the fact that ransom had to be paid before his release send ominous signals to the whole of Nigeria. And this cannot be ignored or wished away.
There is no better time to put an end to the assaults of the herdsmen in the farming communities all over Nigeria than at this point. While the relevance of these herdsmen is not in dispute with respect to their involvement in cattle rearing, modern civilisation has rendered their approach obsolete and proved that they no longer have the exclusive preserve of cattle production. In fact, cattle can be more productively produced without going through the detrimental movements that have now become a recurring decimal.
Viewed from its current prevailing subsistence perspectives, cattle rearing activity by the nomadic herdsmen in Nigeria has not proved a worthwhile venture befitting of contemporary times, due to a number of factors bordering on environment, social security, return on investment, quality of products and contribution to the economy. In its current form, nomadic cattle-rearing is not a business in the sense it should be.
From a purely environmental perspective, the idea of nomadism offends the environment in a number of ways. It presupposes that no one is in control and any part of the country can be subjected to incursion by grazing men and their animals at will. In addition to the herdsmen from various parts of Nigeria moving across the country with their herds, hundreds of others move into Nigeria from other neighbouring Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Benin and even Burkina Faso. There are suspicions that some might even be making incursion from further afield.
This is not acceptable under a modern condition. A situation that tends to lend a semblance of legal leeway to nomadism, or tries to sustain it, is the old-fashioned grazing routes that – in practice – have no respect for political boundaries as grazing animals and their shepherd can cross from one state to another unhindered. To underscore the reality that such routes are not subjected to any periodic reviews, many of those in official gazette some three decades ago on old maps are now within or parts of growing towns and cities. Even at that, those nomads from within and outside Nigeria are currently unaware of routs in official gazette. They go places at will, to the detriment of hapless crop farmers.
The designation of grazing reserves also deserves a critical review as those so designated in the past were merely outlined or demarcated as specific land areas without keen thoughts or practical actions to develop such for sustainable grazing purposes. Accordingly, the animal rearers show no reason to resort to such places, especially as those became forests of trees rather than grasslands in many cases. Even those that remained grasslands did not grow the types of grass preferable to grazing animals. In the past, a lot of public funds and financial resources went down the drain under this contraption that served no real purpose.
On social security, animal rearers have most of the times been treated with undeserved preference in their access to places, which has led to their incessant incursions into crop farms. This has been largely condoned or connived at, which is an incentive to keep repeating the same damage. The reactions of the crop farmers result in bloody clashes between them and the animal rearers. These crop farmers have no insurance against the losses incurred in the process invasion of their farms. It is time something was done to stop its recurrence.
Of particular concern is the conduct of the herdsmen while taking their animals across major highways. This has led to many fatal accidents with the loss of many precious lives. Apart from Jigawa State, under Governor Sule Lamido, I hear of no other state that designated transit routes which are different from highways. In other states, major highways are essentially the transit routes for nomadic herdsmen and their cattle, sheep and goats. Yet, the mostly avoidable accidents resulting from the use of highways for grazing animals transit continue.
That the nomadic cattle rearing is not befitting of the contemporary Nigeria cannot be disputed. While some might argue that this nomadism is the way of life of the herdsmen, the issues of their infringement on others people’s space pose great constraints to the continued relevance of these worn-out and outmoded ways of animal rearing. Nothing confers such unfettered freedom on them under a modern civilisation. And, where their rights end, those of others begin. We are told that these herdsmen sometimes rob, rape, abduct or kill their victims. Where these nomads commit such atrocities, the fluid nature of their movement makes it difficult to track them down and subject them to the law. They therefore commit crimes and flee to other places, thus escaping the consequences of their actions.
Nomadism is not compatible with the paradigm of treating agriculture as a business. The movement of animals over long distances subjects such animals to stress, infections, mortalities, physical (numerical) losses and poor performances, particularly during the dry periods when their food intake tends to be less than the energy expended. Animals born and raised under such circumstances tend to perform poorly, grow slowly and are highly susceptible to infections, sometimes leading to deaths. Lactating mothers often experience poor milk production and other associated physiological conditions such as acetonaemia (otherwise called KETOSIS), which could also lead to the loss of the mother cow.
Performance losses due to ill-health are usually difficult to measure empirically, even in intensive farming. But they exist all the same and their impacts on production and financial returns are real and considerable. Diagnosis of disease conditions is a difficult task in cases of constant movement, particularly when there are no documented case histories. Animals are only known individually to the herdsmen and their observations about individual animals’ conditions are better taken with a pinch of salt. So, indices for determining performances are not in use, and whatever information about herds, their clinical conditions and economic performances are based more on conjecture.
This is an appropriate time to declare an economic state of emergency on cattle production industry in Nigeria. The impressions it gives do not reflect the truth and realities on the ground. The industry has not exhibited signs of life in the past three decades. Its existence did not manifest any attributes of growth. We cannot, as a country, account for the birth rates, death rates, prevalent sickness, production (meat, milk, hides and skin), sales, slaughters and population of those involved in the industry. We can only depend on ‘guesstimates.’
As at 2007, a report had it that Nigeria was a potential market for 1.3 million tons of milk valued at about $3 billion. Dairy imports were valued at $275 million in 2006. For basic discussions, assuming the population is held static since then, the demand for dairy products remaining inelastic, we can make the deductions, working with the current naira-dollar exchange rate. It means dairy imports are currently N60.5 billion, while the potential (that could create opportunities) stands at N660 billion. But our existing cattle producers stand nowhere near meeting even an infinitesimal proportion of this potential, let alone contributing anything meaningful to reduce the huge import bill on dairy production.
Our animal breeds are presently not able to produce any substantial volume of milk to meet a significant proportion of our national requirement. Nor do they compete well in terms of fertility. These pose challenges while also presenting myriads of opportunities. But they require that some basic foundations be laid, and very urgently through various interventions such as upgrades in breeds, improved nutrition and better health services to ensure better performances. Nigeria needs to cut down on annual dependence on importation of dairy products. The major dairy-related companies in Nigeria, including those in operation for upwards of four decades, are wholly import-dependent. They need to be made to commit to local production as opposed to importing raw materials and simply packaging within our country.
The survey conducted under the Resource Inventory Management (RIM) in 1992, gave the estimated nationwide population of cattle in Nigeria as 13.885 million (or approximately 14 million). Without prejudice to any of the issues relating to the statistical methods involved, and the obsolescence as a result of the time lag since then, this can be regarded as the most authentic report on livestock population before and after 1992. Twenty three years after, Nigeria has not generated any other official figure. Now, we could have some ideas, using the 1992 figure for the present analysis, ignoring its obsolescence and the human demographic dynamics since then, holding other variables constant.
If Nigeria has 14 million heads of cows (young, old, males, females, healthy or sick) for a median value of N60,000 per head, we should have N840 billion worth of industry, from cattle alone, ignoring goats and sheep. But this does not show anywhere in Nigeria’s economic radar. The traditional holders of this enormous wealth (if indeed the figure was anything to go by) are not known to the tax administrators, labour unions, researchers, do not feature in the formal sector, and the growth rate or decline rate of their industry cannot be accounted for. Yet, until very recently, servicing their industry was a major priority of the federal government, in the name of free livestock and veterinary services. They got drugs free, vaccines free, yet they do not present any statistical detail useful for economic planning.
Because they are constantly on the move, no single state can lay claim to the ownership of their stock (with the attendant possibility that their stock could be a subject of duplication in population records). A clear value chain is yet to be established for the cattle industry, as the nomads move live animals instead of moving meats. It is hard to subject animals on the move to agricultural insurance, as records need to be kept and these records need to be verifiable before claims can be settled if need arises.
Disease transmission is a natural consequence of their uncontrolled movement, thus making disease control a difficult task. It is therefore difficult to ascertain the national health status of these cows, especially as they also move freely through the borders between Nigeria and neighbouring countries. Again, it is possible that animals from these countries are counted as belonging to Nigeria, giving false impression of level of stock and wealth derivable therefrom.
For a country that desperately needs to generate funds from diversified sources, it is time to bring cattle industry under scrutiny and explore ways of deriving revenues from the cattle rearers. The nomadic education of the Jubril Aminu era as minister has since gone into extinction. Policy somersault has led to its eclipse without any remarkable feedback on its success or failure.
The vulnerabilities of these cattle rearers usually escape the attention of authorities. The environmental temperatures, rainfalls, disease-causing agents, rustlers, etc, are hardly accounted for in an industry presumed to be of multibillion naira worth. This calls for urgent policy and institutional changes that could properly position the venture as a business rather than a product of bequest or as a way of life. The physical capital inherent in cattle industry needs to be put in the appropriate context for the benefit of the rearers, the consumers and the government. The reforms on grazing animals that started during the regime of President Goodluck Jonathan, chaired by vice president Namadi Sambo, needs to be examined and brought forward for implementation.
Professionals are not involved in most of the activities of the nomadic cattle rearers as the animal owners prefer to do things their own ways. They buy drugs and vaccines in the open markets and administer these by themselves. They sell off sick animals to butchers for salvage slaughter rather than treating them. They employ crude methods in feeding, housing and caring for their welfare. No law appears effective in keeping these farmers bound to any standard operating procedure. This might explain why the opportunity for Nigeria to export beef to Europe was lost to Botswana at the peak of the Mad Cow Disease in the late 90s. Right now, many expatriates living in Nigeria (especially those in embassies) prefer to import the meats they consume.
Sadly, a few known commercial cattle farms are not doing too well to justify their existence, especially as the farm owners did not make their money from farming but set up herds as mere pastime. Apart from the owners’ mindsets and business approaches, the macroeconomic factors (importation policy) are major hindrances.
To end the constant nuisances posed by nomads, federal, state and local governments have to act in cooperation. What is the big deal in creating a business around cattle rearing? Setting aside grazing fields, paddocks and housing for the animals is an urgent task that must be done. This should not be done on the fast diminishing arable lands. Constraints of space does not allow for details of this task in this piece. They are, however, desirable and possible as means of dousing social tension, creating opportunities and producing animal food in a modern and sustainable way.
Dr. Olukayode Oyeleye is a Veterinarian, a Journalist and Public Policy Analyst.