The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum has said it is opposed to the use of public funds to set up ranches in 10 states as announced by the Federal Government, describing the decision as vexatious.
It insisted that cattle rearing is a private business, noting that the government should not spend N178bn public funds to establish ranches for herdsmen who the forum said “are private businessmen without a record of paying taxes.”
The forum stated this in a statement on Wednesday in response to the declaration by the National Economic Council that the government had approved a 10-year National Livestock Plan which would cost about N179bn.
About N70bn of the budget will be disbursed between now and the expiration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s first tenure in 2019 for the establishment of ranches in Oyo, Benue, Nasarawa and seven other states.
The SMBLF in its statement co-signed by Yinka Odumakin for South-West region, Senator Bassey Henshaw (South-South), Prof. Chigozie Ogbu (South-East) and Dr Isuwa Dogo (Middle Belt), however, commended the government for embracing ranching for herders.
It explained that the 2014 National Conference had reasoned out the issue and recommended ranching as being done in all civilised countries.
“The decision to ignore this sensible recommendation has led to a situation where untold terror has been unleashed on farming communities with needless loss of hundreds of lives in the last three years with not a soul under prosecution and top functionaries of the administration making excuses for the killers.
“We, however, object to the FG’s decision to spend N179bn of public funds to build these ranches over 10 years starting with N70bn under this administration,” the forum said.
The SMBLF contended that rewarding the herders with public funds to build ranches would only mean that “they have killed enough to beat the country into pacification mode and this can only encourage other people to arm themselves, cause sufficient killings to get an undue concession.
“What would our society become if fishermen, farmers and people in other trades begin to cause bloodbath so the Federal Government could give them special consideration?
“We call on the Federal Government to shelve the idea of committing public funds to ranches and allow the owners of the business to attend to their business needs in the spirit of “I belong to everybody” mantra of the President,” the forum stated.
It further said that those who wanted to engage in the business should approach the states where they wanted to build ranches and acquire land to build such with firm commitment to abide by the rules of host communities.
The SMBLF stated, “To go ahead with the plan is to say that cattle owners own this government and that would make other segments of society to say ‘we have no inheritance in this arrangement.’”
The forum said it was unfortunate that the government was comparing the proposed ranches to the Friesland Campina of Netherlands without bothering to find out that the firm was put together by cooperatives dating back to 1879 and with annual revenue of £11bn.
However, the Muslim community in Benue State on Tuesday called on the Federal Government to deepen its support for cattle ranching.
The leadership of the Muslim community made the call when they paid an Eid-el Fitri Sallah visit to the Governor Samuel Ortom.
The Leader of the delegation and state Chairman, Jama’atu Nasril Islam, JNI, who also represented the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Sa’ad Abubakar in Benue, Alhaji Garba Baba, described ranching as the only solution to farmers and herders’ crisis.
He also called on friends of Benue State at home and in the Diaspora to support the implementation of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017 of the state.
Baba said, “May we call at this juncture, once more on friends of Benue at home and in the Diaspora to assist in canvassing support for the smooth implementation of the Anti-open Grazing Law 2017.”