Hard as they may try, it is impossible for the Buhari presidency to pull wool over the people’s faces concerning the herdsmen/farmers crisis. In his remarks to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria on Thursday, the president only spoke of cattle colonies to debunk any attempt by the government he leads to help the Fulani colonise any part of Nigeria. He went on to describe the government’s intentions concerning the herdsmen as setting up grazing locations. He attributed this policy to the outcome of meetings by stakeholders to firm up a solution to the herdsmen/farmers conflicts.
That was not the impression the Agriculture minister, Audu Ogbeh, gave. The minister clearly spoke of stakeholders meetings and government discussions producing what he termed cattle colonies spread over 5,000 hectares each in states that willingly embrace the policy. Even though he produced no evidence of when the federal cabinet discussed such a sensitive policy, he even went on, before the press and before the Benue governor, Samuel Ortom, to identify the differences between grazing reserves and cattle colonies.
And when Vice President Yemi Osinbajo addressed the national security summit in Abuja last Thursday, he also studiously avoided mentioning cattle colonies as a federal government policy. He spoke instead of grazing reserves or cattle ranches, and added that herdsmen would pay for such lands willingly transacted with them by states interested in that business. It is clear the idea of cattle colonies, or anything resembling that in name, will be disfavoured by top presidency officials. Watch Chief Ogbeh when he speaks next. He is unlikely to talk very confidently of cattle colonies, regardless of his asseverations, and notwithstanding the buffoonery of Kogi governor, Yahaya Bello, who has offered 15,000 hectares of land to the federal government before agreeing to, and paying compensation to landowners. Someone will sue Mr Bello, for he has no right even under the colony bugaboo to allocate public money to pay compensation for a transaction the herdsmen did not initiate and are clearly not interested in paying for. And to think the governor is all the while defaulting in paying salaries.
The Buhari presidency may have retreated a bit from the colony concept, but that stand does not however deflect from the fact that they attempted to sell a policy to Nigerians that had not been, contrary to what the president said, well thought out. Nigerians need to be watchful of a government that seems adept at taking things for granted and are clearly unable to do its homework well.