The President and commander-in-Chief,
Federal Republic of Nigeria,
Your Excellency Sir,
CATTLE COLONY: THE PITFALLS, FEARS AND ITS CONSEQUENT REJECTION BY THE PEOPLE OF KOGI CENTRAL SENATORIAL DISTRICT
Ebira Youth Congress (EYC), the apex and umbrella socio-cultural organization of the youths of Ebira ethnic group and by extension, Kogi Central Senatorial District both at home and in the diaspora is, at this point, constrained to humbly bring to Your Excellency, the above subject.
Perhaps, by way of refreshing Your Excellency’s memory, we wish to restate that the Congress (EYC) has maintained a constant touch with your well-regarded office since your assumption of office. We have severally brought to Your Excellency’s knowledge, through letters, the pulses and feelings of Anebiras (the people of Ebira) at epochal moment, particularly on matters bothering governance and the welfare of our people.
A few of our previous contacts with your prestigious office suffice. Anebiras had joined millions of Nigerians to evince their joy at your resounding victory in the 2015 general elections, through a letter dated 2nd June, 2015. Upon the crass threat by a misguided group to make Kogi State ungovernable if Alh. Yahaya Bello, the current Governor of Kogi State was ever sworn-in as Governor, the Congress took its position on the side of civility, law and order: a press conference was convoked in Lokoja, the State Capital, followed by a letter of urgent security concern to the Inspector-General of Police, with copies to your exalted office and other relevant quarters. We are glad at the action taken by government which saw to the invitation, interrogation and eventual detention of some high personalities linked with the said group.
On the account of that development, the office of the Inspector-General of Police under Mr. Solomon Arase, invited the leadership of the Congress on two occasions.
Worried by the continued neglected state of the Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (ASCL) and the Lokoja-Okene Express Road, we addressed letters dated 18th May, 2016 and 27th October, 2016 respectively to your highly esteemed office. Similarly, when criminal elements held Ebiraland hostage with respect to their nefarious activities of armed robbery, kidnapping, strange killings among others, the Congress, via a distress (“Save Our Soul”)letter dated 8th February, 2017 cried to Your Excellency for an intervention. Again, we have reasons to remain appreciative of your continued supports to the government of Kogi State’s war against crime.
It is in the context of these usual concerns for the wellbeing of the people of Kogi Central Senatorial District, Nigerians and humanity as a whole that the EYC, being an authentic and long standing voice of the District, feels duty-bound, following intensive and extensive consultations with critical stakeholders and generality of the people, to convey to Your Excellency, the peoples’ fears which have necessarily compelled our total rejection of the establishment or imposition of cattle colony in Ebiraland. Your Excellency sir, the people of Kogi Central Senatorial District have rightfully directed their heart cry to you in the belief that, as a caring leader who is working tirelessly to create happiness for his people, our desire will be met through your timely and indispensable intervention(s).
Before proceeding, we seize this opportunity to commiserate with Your Excellency over the senseless killings of innocent Nigerians in Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau, Adamawa, Zamfara States and other parts of the Federation. Accept our sincere condolence, as we pray for the peaceful repose of the departed souls- amen!
For the avoidance of doubt, Mr. President, as believers and supporters of a truly one, united and indivisible Nigeria, Ebira people are not known to be averse to hosting Nigerians of other ethnic nationalities in our land. For decades, the Ibos, Hausas, Yorubas and other tribes from across the federation have lived peacefully in our midst, excelling in their various endeavours.
It is expedient to point out, Your Excellency, that Fulani herdsmen have been major beneficiaries of our hospitality. They operate freely in Ebiraland and were peaceful until about the late seventies till date. Ebira farming communities of Aku, Irepeni, Osara, among others, at different times, came under fierce attacks from Fulani herders, with many lives lost, farms destroyed and the entire communities sacked.
In 2006, Ini-aareh and Adu farming communities in Ajaokuta LGA were held hostage by a group of herdsmen for days. The farmers were forced to slaughter their animals to feed the hostage takers who had some of the women raped while they held sway in the communities for days. It took the combined efforts of the local Vigilante group and men of the Nigeria Police Force to rescue the communities. In 2014, Osara community again witnessed another horrifying clash with herders during which a farmer named Isiaka was killed. The current leadership of EYC was part of the team that painstakingly forestalled the escalation of that clash.
Your Excellency, Sir, you have not heard all! These series of violent clashes are aside the armed robbery, kidnapping and all other forms of heinous crimes being unleashed on us by the miscreants among the Fulanis herdsmen through their networks of banditry. Our high ways- Okene-Lokoja, Okene-Kabba, Okene-Ikare, Okene-Obajana, Okene-Ajaokuta, Ihima-Aiyere and internal routes were very dreadful owing to the criminal activities of herdsmen. Dossiers on their nefarious activities abound with the security operatives in the State.
However, the atrocities of these “herdsmen” in our land notwithstanding, Anebiras have resisted the temptation to demonize the generality of Fulanis herdsmen as criminals. The fact that Fulani herdsmen are contributing their quotas to national development like other ethnic groups in Nigeria cannot be denied. This recognition most probably underscored the decision of the then Paramount ruler (Ohinoyi) of Ebiraland, His Royal Majesty, Alh. Sanni Omolori, to designate a strategic place as a “Zango”(Fulani business hub) in Ebiraland. Subsequently, when the need to relocate the Zango for some security reasons arose, the current King (Ohinoyi) of Ebiraland, His Royal Majesty, (Dr.) Ado Ibrahim CON, again, approved another strategic place as a replacement. These narratives are aimed at disabusing any naïve mind from possibly misconstruing the reason for our stand on the issue.
In view of the foregoing, Ebira people have resolved due to compelling circumstances to raise a vehement objection to the establishment/imposition of cattle colony in Kogi Central Senatorial District and to passionately solicit Your Excellency’s urgent intervention on the following grounds:
1. The security of our lives:
we (Anebiras) have been subjected to untold hazards and distresses due to avoidable herdsmen/farmers crises in our land. Our losses, in terms of human lives and materials, cannot be regained. Our wounds from the various clashes are still very fresh. Your Excellency will agree with us that a wise man does not wait to learn his lessons only after his own pitfalls; he learns from the fall of others. We cannot afford to place premium on any security measures that have failed to prevent the people of Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau, Adamawa and other places from being slaughtered and displaced by herdsmen. Anebiras are accommodative but not to those that will surely turn their swords against us sooner or later!
2. Scarcity of land:
by natural configuration, Anebira are short of land space. Our limited land is dotted with uninhabitable mountains and valleys. With 15, 000 hectares being surrendered from Adavi and Ajaokuta Local Government Areas (L.G.A.), with the other three Local Councils of Okene, Okehi and Ogori/Magongo in the land reportedly set to follow suit; the future land needs of Anebiras, particularly our unborn generation are heavily compromised already. Both Adavi and Ajaokuta LGAs where 5, 000 and 10, 000 hectares respectively are to be ceded have been absorbing developmental sprawls from Lokoja, the Kogi State Capital that presently lacks land for development. Scarcity of land largely explains why over 33,800 Ebira farmers are scattered in the States of Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, Ogun, Oyo, Edo and some Northern States.
How do we then reconcile the willingness and eagerness of Kogi State government to cede massive portions of land to herders with the fact that most of our farmers have to do their farming business in other States? Our local economy has been in denial of the contributions of these farmers while they (the farmers) enrich that of their host States. Nothing seems more mystifying to us than the anxious and unsolicited manner the Kogi State Government is willing to surrender more hectares (in distant excess of the size earlier demanded by the FGN) of our land to herdsmen.
Mr. President, the singular readiness of our State government to cede a staggering size of 10,000 hectares of land from Ajaokuta L.G.A. provokes the questioning of the FGN’s preparedness to complete the Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (ASCL). With 10,000 hectares being severed, what will be left for the numerous allied industries and other physical developments that will come on stream when ASCL becomes fully operational?
3. Cultural Incongruity:
most of the clashes among ethnic and to a large extent, religious groups in Nigeria and other parts of the world have been fuelled by cultural differences amongst the people. When practices relating to economic, political, religious and other engaging endeavours of people are contrasting, the tendencies are that crises are usually higher. The Ebiras and Fulani herders have neither shared cultural affinity nor strong historical togetherness. To impose an eerie geographical marriage between the two differing ethnic groups is to throw sensitivity and caution to the wind at a time that government is managing enormous socio-cultural issues. Ebira people are prized farmers while the Fulanis are known to place matchless value on animal husbandry. Does this not naturally set the stage for frequent but avoidable resource-based crises?
Your Excellency, Sir, in view of the grave security concerns that have thus far greeted the idea of cattle colony from a cross sections of Nigeria, we would like to bring forth the following as viable options worth of exploration.
a. Cattle ranching:
we like to add our voice to that of other concerned Nigerians who have argued for ranching as a viable alternative to the vexed issue of cattle colony. Government’s efforts at finding a lasting solution to the incessant farmers/herdsmen clashes remain commendable. It is however our humble view that government should avoid setting a bad precedent- such as attempting to deploy government machinery to dispossess other ethnic groups of their ancestral land for a particular group. What happens should agitations start for the creation of colonies for Ebira farmers in Western States of the Federation?
b. Sampling the cattle colony idea in selected States of the Federation:
being somewhat a novel idea, the Federal Government should encourage core Northern State like Sokoto, Katsina, Kano, Borno, Adamawa, Jigawa and the rest, where the Fulanis are natives and have strong historical and cultural ties to test-run the cattle colony idea. Its success or otherwise will naturally set the tune for other States to follow. The governors of Kano and Niger States are commended for showing courage in this direction;
c. Encouraging States of the federation to exploring their economic comparative advantages: each State of Nigeria is naturally blessed and known to enjoy one or two economic advantages over another. Rather than create cattle colonies across the Federation as initially proposed by the FGN, federating States should be encouraged to explore, to the fullest, areas of their comparative advantage over others. For example, State whose people are known for cropping should be supported while same should go for those known for animal husbandry. By this model, robust regional/state complementarities will be stimulated.
We profoundly commend Your Excellency for listening to the voice of reasoning and the cry of some Nigerians which led to the FGN’s withdrawal on its initial proposal to designate 5000 hectares of land as cattle colony in each State. The Kogi State Government has not only chosen to proceed with the idea that has been backtracked by the FGN, its initiator, but, has done so with a 200% increase in the size of land earlier demanded by the FGN. It is not in our powers to question the provisions of the Land use Act Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 that confers the ownership of land on the Governor of a State. It, however, follows that the Act presumes that State’s land will be administered in the overall interest of the citizens of the State because the land is held in trust for them. The fact that a progressive government exists to implement the wishes of the people speaks volume in this regard.
In view of all the foregoing, our passionate and heart-felt appeal is that Your Excellency use the instrumentality of the Presidency, in which the security of the entire nation is entrusted, to intervene in this matter in either of the following ways:
i. Rescission of the decisions of the Kogi State Government to cede 15,000 hectares of Ebira land to Fulani herdsmen as cattle colony;
ii. An immediate suspension (put-on-hold) of all actions relating to the said cattle colony establishment in Kogi Central Senatorial District, pending the possible determination of all matters of grave security concern as contained herein.
Your Excellency, Sir, while we reaffirm our strong belief in a truly united Nigeria where all are free to dwell and do business in any part of the country; we are impelled to place our security and the interest of our unborn generation first and above other considerations. Our past and present experiences in the hands of Fulani herdsmen are too harrowing to be waved aside! It is our humble submission that at a time like this, when the country is heavily impeded by heightened level of insecurity in all its geographical fronts, an issue of establishment of cattle colony in Ebira land that could further place the nation on the precipice should not have been contemplated at all.
We wish Your Excellency good health and an all-encompassing leadership. God bless Nigeria- Amen!
Comrade Baba Abdulrazak,
For the Congress (EYC) and on behalf of the people of Kogi Central Senatorial District.