A lot has been said on the need for cattle colonies in Nigeria or not by public commentators but most of these contributions tend to be against the idea. This prompted me to take a unique intense interest in the controversy surrounding the idea. I was pleasantly surprised that the global concept of cattle colonies, when not dressed in a political robe, is essentially a private sector-driven big business with commercial dividends just like siting a big manufacturing factory in a particular location. The impact on trade and commerce in the locality is phenomenal; effective demand for goods and services will go up, landlords will be able to charge good rent, rate of unemployment will be expected to drop, among others. For the host state government or local government, having a cattle colony is supposed to be a legitimate source of increasing internally generated revenue from tenement rates, utility bills, cow tax, personal income tax, value added tax, etc.
Considering the benefits of having a cattle colony in a particular location mentioned above, it should be clear to all that the problem is not with the concept of colonies but the variant that is being promoted by the federal government which is not commercially motivated but apparently an idea to appease the highly militarised herdsmen. The idea was brought in dead because the concept of colonies has been demonised for multiple reasons including poor communication of the concept; deep-seated trust deficit and fear of any idea coming from government; emotional and political considerations. The promoters of the idea (the government), is perceived by many as not living up to its promises to the masses and in this particular case the transparency of government’s intention is in doubt.
Going forward, I do not see anything wrong with the concept of colonies which will be a private sector-driven business opportunity with the state governments exclusively in charge of security and provision of the land and the enabling infrastructure. The opportunity to populate the colonies with cattle should be open to Nigerians and foreign entrepreneurs with cattle farming knowhow. There is no state or local government in Nigeria that has no land to accommodate employment generation opportunities. The size of colonies should not be centrally dictated but guided by land availability and capacity of each state, even if baseline size needs to be recommended. If food security is our aim, we cannot afford to release the bulk of the available land for cattle farming. The states should be at liberty to volunteer land based on peculiarities of each state and also choose the operators of the colonies; some states may decide to bring in experts from outside the country on PPP arrangement or a Build, Operate and Transfer business model. That is the best direction to go in this circumstance; cattle colonies business is no rocket science and not exclusive to a tribe or race.
The initial “GO, NO GO” decision should be based on commercial viability and not forced down the throat of the tiers of government. Above all, cattle colonies should not just be decreed into existence but made appealing to states and entrepreneurs who are interested in animal husbandry as part of the diversification of the economy being pushed by the present administration. The federal government should take up the challenge of repackaging the business idea not as a herdsmen cartel initiative but a fairly deregulated business idea, (not tied to just solving herdsmen crisis or cattle) and thrown open to any Nigerian or international investor based on a patriotic and economically sound national policy on animal husbandry. The policy, which should have the backing of the law, should be a byproduct of the resolutions of all stakeholders summit. To motivate ownership of the policy by all, the summit should reflect the universality of animal husbandry stakeholders in the country and regulatory bodies must show better inclusiveness than the one currently being proposed.
In the process of seeking information on this subject matter, I came across serious concerns by not a few people that only the federal government knows what it wants to achieve with the idea of cattle colonies. Some even talked of hidden or ethnic agenda and so on. I have decided to exercise my fundamental human right by putting across my views on the controversy and I leave what to do with the recommendations with the federal government to rise up to the challenge to engineer the colony idea with total transparency just like in other sectors of the economy where direct investment is required such as the establishment of private universities in Nigeria. If properly implemented, the idea will promote competition among the states and not suspicion. In the long run, any of the states can emerge the preferred supplier of beef and other products to the local and international markets. Such a state may not be among the historical nomadic cattle farming states. For me therefore, it is yes to global concept of cattle colonies and no to herdsmen colonies in Nigeria!
Osewa writes from Lagos