KEHINDE OSASONA, in this report, takes a critical look at the recent endorsement of the federal government’s Agro Rangers initiative by a group, Centre for Media Advocacy (CMA), and asks if the initiative is capable of checking the persistent farmers, herders’ clashes including cattle rustling and banditry?
While proffering a long-term solution to persistent clashes between farmers and herders on one side and communities and herdsmen in the country, the federal government had in 2018 announced a new plan to establish Cattle Colonies across the country.
According to the immediate past Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, each colony is to cover 5,000 hectares (about 25km by 20km) and would be a cluster of ranches with resources and facilities including grass, water, veterinary services, mills for converting agro-waste to livestock feed, schools, hospitals and markets, all secured by agro-rangers.
States were expected to provide land and the federal government would bear development and maintenance costs, possibly with support from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and others even as ranchers and herders would be required to pay “a small fee.”
The government argued that benefits would include protection from cattle rustlers, fewer farmer-herder disputes, healthier stock, higher meat and dairy production, and more revenue for state governments.
When the immediate past Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau, told Nigerians that the federal government would soon commence training of agro-rangers across the country, many people were skeptical about its workability if at all it came to being.
However, while justifying the initiative, Danbazau explained to stakeholders during an official trip to Katsina state that in establishing the paramilitary corps, the federal government considered among other things the agricultural investments of individuals and corporate investors in the country.
According to him, the Civil Defence Academy would be saddled with the responsibility of training the agro-rangers unit who will in turn help protect agricultural investments against cattle rustling, incessant farmers, herders’ clashes affecting farming and agricultural investments and even kidnapping of farmers and agricultural investors.
He said, “We have the Civil Defence Academy in Katsina state, along Batsari road, for training of the agro-rangers. We will use the academy to train the new outfit called agro-rangers.
“The agro-rangers are made up primarily of operatives of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). At least 2,500 personnel of NSCDC have been deployed in the programme in the first instance.
“We formed the outfit out of Civil Defence because the statutory responsibility of Civil defence is to protect strategic assets and critical infrastructure. And we considered agricultural investment as strategic assets of this country knowing full well that nobody would want to invest his wealth where there is no security.”
Continuing, he said: “So, with our experience of kidnapping with herders, farmers conflicts etc, we thought we must have this outfit so that we do not over-stretched the Nigerian police and military. So, this outfit will be responsible for protecting agricultural assets for individuals, organisation and institutions.
Niger state command’s launch
Speaking in Minna, Niger state at the launch of the Niger state wing of the organisation, the assistant commandant-general of the NSCDC, Mr Adamu Soja, said the agro-rangers would be responsible for the protection of cattle colonies, grazing reserves and ranches where applicable.
Soja said the paramilitary units would forestall persistent clashes between herdsmen and farmers.
“This federal government programme is aimed at protecting and securing the ranches, animals, grazing reserves due to the economic diversification scheme from oil to the agricultural and mining sector so as to give local and foreign investors the enabling environment to do their business
“The NSCDC is saddled with the responsibility of securing and protecting grazing reserves, ranches and colonies where applicable in all the states of the federation but will not protect criminals,” he said.
Soja further said the idea behind the setting up of agro-rangers would be strictly adhered to, assuring potential farmers in crops, animal production fishery to request security.
According to him, such requests must follow due process, adding that there would be no financial implications.
Sokoto partners NSCDC
Meanwhile, the Sokoto state government has expressed its willingness to partner with the NSCDC agro-rangers for the protection of the newly state-owned farm.
The Commissioner for Animal Health and Fishery Development, Alhaji Tukur Alkali, told newsmen that the 800-hectare farm, worth N7 billion, is located in Rabah local government area of the state.
He said officials of NSCDC, including the National Head of the Agro Rangers Unit, Mr Adamu Soja, and Sokoto state commandant of the corps, Mr Babangida Dutsinma, had inspected the facilities of the farm and offered useful suggestions on how to safeguard them.
The commissioner said the farm named “Sokoto Cattle Breeding, Dairy and Beef Processing Project” was set up by the state government to provide employment for the people and boost the state’s internally generated revenue (IGR ).
He said the project was also aimed at encouraging smallholder farmers to adopt mechanised agriculture, as the farm would be a reference point to all farmers with regard to mechanised farming techniques.
According to him, the farm had modern agricultural equipment which included multipurpose seeders, combined harvesters, weeders, ploughs, threshers, mixers, incubators, and fertilisation instruments, electricity generating processors, and various kinds of tractors.
Alkali also said workshops, stores, staff quarters, crop processing plants, accessible roads, and other structures had been constructed in the site to facilitate a hitch-free launch of the project.
“The farm complex will produce milk, meat, animal feeds, baby food and other kinds of food in a commercial scale for sales across the country. Modern security gadgets, including cameras, would be installed on the farm, which would also be patrolled by security personnel,” he said.
Alkali said the NSCDC personnel would be eventually engaged to secure the farm, adding that the state government would strive to protect the investment.
“We have abundant land, animals and population, the basic reason for the investment is the need to diversify the state’s economy. This, surely, will have short-term and long-term benefits for the state and our people.
“About 400 hectares will be specifically used for irrigation farming. The state government is committed to making big-time investments in farming; this is just the beginning.”
…And the endorsement
Against the backdrop of numerous solutions being proffered by stakeholders to end the multi-faceted problems arising from the farmers, herders’ clashes, a group, Centre for Media Advocacy (CMA), openly endorsed the initiative, saying that the impact of the initiative by the commandant-general of the NSCDC, Abdullahi Gana Muhammadu, would help to tackle the security situation in the North-east in particular and the country at large.
The group noted that the initiative implemented to the letter by the corps’ management and other sister security agencies few years ago in the North checked cattle rustling.
According to CMA, this same initiative can be used by security agencies to nip in the bud the incessant banditry and kidnappings across the country.
The group was quoted in a statement by its group’s director of media, Comrade Gabriel Gwajime.
The statement read in part: “The organisation wonders why this initiative is not applied in other security sectors as it is grassroots-oriented, working with the local people in the community and farmlands across the North.
“The populist approach of this initiative has helped to fish out hoodlums and bad eggs within a given community as the traditional rulers work with the members of the community to rid their domain of any unwanted group operating against the beliefs and peaceful co-existence of the community.
“This measure accordingly is to project farmers against incessant attacks by bandits and kidnappings so as to enable them cultivate their farmlands for the provision of food security for the nation; which the deployment by the NSCDC has ascribed to mobilise farmers and build their confidence to enable them carry out their activities without fear.
“CMA notes with satisfaction that the agro-rangers collaboration with the National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC) is also a laudable initiative as the operatives recently raided major markets in Gwagwalada, Abuja, where fake and poor quality and adulterated seeds are on sale.
“CMA hereby appeals to organisations, public-spirited individuals, institutions and the international community to support President