Govt should not shy away from reviving grazing reserves, establishing ruga – Prof Hamman

Professor Mahmood Hamman
Professor Mahmood Hamman
  • How abolishing jangali removed control over herders
  • Govt should dedicate as much attention to animal husbandry, as it is dedicating to crop production

Professor Mahmood Hamman is of the Department of History, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. In this interview, he identified the abolition of cattle tax (jangali) and animal inoculation as reasons behind the loss of contact between herders and the government, which, over the years, cut out the pastoralists from the security architecture of Nigeria. He, therefore, among others, advocated the implementation of the Ruga policy of the Federal Government and others that would bring grazers back under the control of government.

Many security challenges bedeviling Nigeria are threatening her continuous corporate existence. What is your take on this?


I think we need to go to the root of the problems. If you look at the kind of people the security agencies are parading, if they are genuine culprits, one would have no option but to admit that there is significant representation of the nomadic community in the problems of farmer-grazer conflicts, banditry and kidnapping.

However, we have to find out the reason behind their involvement. If you can recall, the People’s Redemption Party (PRP) administration under Balarabe Musa of Kaduna State, abolished what could be regarded as a popular policy on cattle and fault taxes. The two taxes were abolished. Other northern states followed suit. When these crises of banditry, robbery and even kidnapping became prominent, one needs to think on what went wrong.

Personally, I reached a conclusion that the abolition of jangali and fault taxes was a monumental historical error. This is because throughout history, taxes, levies and tributes were fundamentally imposed, not for economic reason only; they are particularly for administrative and political control of the populace by the sovereign. If a particular community resists payment of tax, for example, the sovereign could mobilise forces to confiscate values million times more than what that community ought to have contributed. This is in order to bring them back to line. This emphasizes the significance of this mechanism for the control of the populace.

The jangali tax has been there since the pre-Danfodio Jihad in Hausa kingdoms. The Sarakunan Shanu (leaders of herders) were to liaise between the pastoralists or herdsmen and the kings of the lands. After the jihad, the jangali tax was fine-tuned to conform with fundamental Islamic principles. When the colonialists came, they changed it to suit their purposes for exploitation of resources, human and material. This continued up to independence.

What I want to get at, importantly, is that the jangali tax was a means of controlling the herdsmen. The northern government determined the rate. In the collection of the cash, the ward heads, up to the district heads, were involved. These leaders had registers of all herdsmen and their cattle in their areas of jurisdiction. Therefore, all herdsmen living in wards, up to districts and kingdoms, were known. There was public record of herdsmen and their cattle living in a certain territory. The size of herd of each pastoralist was known.

The second level of interaction was during the collection of the cash. Leaders from the ward to district, including the Ardos (Fulani leaders) were involved. This level of interface made authorities to know every herdsman in their domain.

The third level of interaction between the herdsmen and the authorities was during the period of compulsory but free inoculation of cattle against terrible cattle diseases. In fact, because the herdsmen were so interested in this, they presented themselves without any prompting. These interactions provided avenue for the authorities to control the herdsmen.

It seems that all these processes were only targeted at the local herdsmen, not foreigners?

Yes; because of those processes there was no single herdsman that was not known to the authority. Therefore, if any foreigner moved into the domain of any traditional leader, he would be traced within 24 hours. Therefore, any stranger who was a herdsman could easily be tracked and interrogated to enable the authorities know where he was coming from and his mission in that particular clan.

Not only that, those processes helped in detecting herdsmen who were importing not only illegal materials but even cow diseases. Therefore, strangers cattle were usually quarantined until all suspicions were cleared. After all these processes, the visitors would also be registered.

Because of those procedures, very few herdsmen would contemplate committing the kind of heinous crimes we are witnessing today.  Therefore, the abolition of those processes through the eradication of jangali, made the pastoralists to become faceless communities.  Hence, for about 40 years, this important social and economic category of Nigerians was left unchecked. They remained unknown to the authorities.

Because nobody follows them annually or quarterly, as the case may be, their youths became uncontrollable. They became freelance and therefore, can commit heinous crimes without being checked. They commit crime from one part of the country and escaped to the other or in one country and escaped to the other. The only period when there was semblance of encounter between the herdsmen and public authorities is when they take their cattle to local markets to sell, which may be once in a year. At that level, they were made to pay market fees.

But the environment of the 1970s and now are not the same; don’t you think this can discredit the postulations above?

Yes, the environment has degenerated. For example, the Native Authority, which is similar to the present local government, used to be the most important level of authority. Now, local governments have been weakened. When the military forced themselves into power in Nigeria, they took away public responsibilities from traditional leaders despite their important status as people close to the ordinary citizens.

Before the military, the functions of the traditional rulers were structured in the security infrastructure of the country. They are now performing ceremonial roles. So, the local governments and traditional rulers have lost various important roles they used to play, especially on the control of pastoralists. The chiefs, emirs and even the local governments are now powerless.

In the 1970s, the herders were not having access to weapons, and perhaps, that was why the authorities were able to check their criminal tendencies.

Guns and other weapons are means to an end. Throughout history, herders were the most armed community. They used to have swords, bows and arrows, spears and even den guns, which were the sophisticated weapons of the ancient time. Why didn’t they use them? It was because they were well-checked through interaction with the authorities, as well as the vigilance of the authorities and citizens. The weakening of the traditional institutions and the local governments is largely responsible for the present threats the herdsmen pose.

Now, even if local governments are willing to work, they don’t have resources at their disposal. Before the emergence of federal allocation that came about from oil boom, the major sources of local government revenue were jangali and the fault tax. The abolition of these, therefore, deprived local governments of a big chunk of a source of revenue.

To make matters worse, the local governments were not only getting the 10per cent that the states supposed to give them from their internally generated revenue, even their allocations from the Federal Government were hijacked by the state governments through joint accounts. I know what I am talking about because I have been a commissioner for local government in Gongola State (now Taraba and Adamawa) for three years. The local governments don’t have the capacity to carry out their supposed functions.

Can we say that the present administration’s decision to start releasing local governments’ allocations directly to them is a step in the right direction?

Yes, it may be. But what I am saying is that for 40 years, this arrangement has not been there. This has weakened the local governments, such that they cannot even carry out tour of their communities. So, the rural areas were completely abandoned for all intent and purposes.

In the past, when the season of cattle inoculation and enumeration was around, the Native Authorities, the traditional rulers and the Fulani leaders would go and alert the herdsmen. This contact greatly helped the security architecture.

Don’t you think that increase in population led to scarcity of lands and this brought about serious competition between herders and farmers?

No; there is no scarcity of land in Nigeria. It is just poor management. China and India are the most populous countries in the world, but they are highly organised. I dare say that public administration in many states and local governments in Nigeria is virtually dead.

Look, we have enough land. Government can reclaim all the forests that are now serving as safe havens for bandits and convert them into grazing reserves. Grazing reserves were there even before colonialism. When the colonialists came, they improved on them. This is before the event of military rule in Nigeria when these reserves were abandoned. The country, particularly northern Nigeria, had 415 gazetted grazing reserves.

In these grazing reserves, there were basic facilities like dams, veterinary clinics and other amenities that would make the lives of the grazers conducive.

Is it mischief that makes some people to kick against the revival of these reserves?

The opposition is political, fundamentally. The loud noise stemmed from the fact that the herdsmen are accused of committing heinous crimes, so their issue should not be discussed at all by the belief of some Nigerians. But they are Nigerians, notwithstanding. This made this government to abandon many initiatives meant to address the herders’ crisis.

If you can remember, it started with grazing reserves, then cattle colonies, and now, ruga. All these were abandoned because of the antics of mischief makers. Remember Obasanjo’s Fulanisation and Islamisation allegation.

These mischief makers were the ones proffering ranching as solution to herders crisis before now, but they are kicking against ruga, which is virtually the same thing with ranching. Even those states where the Fulani are not patronising because of their nature, like Rivers and Bayelsa states, are adding their voices against ruga. Rivers and Bayelsa are dens of tsetse flies and no herder wants to go there, but people like Wike are also playing politics by saying that they don’t have land for ruga.

Ortom of Benue is also playing politics by saying that the Fulani and Hausa are strangers in Benue when the person that formed Katsina-Ala of the state between 15th and 16th century was a Hausa man, Mamman Ala of Katsina. What are you talking about?

Look at Ishiaku of Taraba State saying that they would not accommodate ruga when more than half of the state’s population is Fulani. So, all this noise is political, fundamentally.

Therefore, the Federal Government should be courageous enough to implement the policies that research and history show are solutions to the problem. It shouldn’t continue to succumb to the propaganda of mischief makers because the issue has been ethnicised, politicised and tribalised and this gives ethnic champions and political opposition to blackmail the Federal Government. The grazing reserves and cattle colonies have been abandoned, and now, the ruga policy is being threatened because of the activities of these elements.

As far as I am concerned, the number one issue that would address this problem is to revive the 415 grazing reserves we have in the North. The government can also build more in the various forests, like Rugu, where kidnappers are hiding.

Let the government reduce the size of game reserves like the Gashaka-Gumti Game Reserve in Taraba/Adamawa, which is the biggest in West Africa. It should be reduced by half and dedicated to grazing reserve. We don’t have problem of land for animal husbandry.

A lot of resources are required for these programmes.

In recent decades, when you look at the budgetary allocation of the Ministry of Agriculture, no significant attention is paid to livestock component. In fact, apart from the personnel, they get zero allocation, whereas the crop sector is getting huge allocation. The allocation for crop sector is not just from the Federal Government but even from the Central Bank and other sources.

Remember the anchor-borrower for crop production with no provision for animal husbandry. Even the routine animal inoculation has been abandoned. So the herders are left to their fate.

But herding is a private business, some argue.

Is food crop production not a private business? Why is government pumping a lot of money into it? They tend to forget that the Central Bank of Nigeria is a public bank. Why are they discriminating against pastoralists? They are only concentrating on rice, cocoa, etcetera, and recently, palm oil because the governor of the bank is from the East.

The government should, therefore, dedicate as much attention to animal husbandry as they are dedicating to crop production. That should be reflected in the annual budget.

More importantly, the problem of herders can never be resolved much as the structure of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture remains the way it is. I am recommending that the ministry should be broken and a separate ministry for pastoral affairs and animal health created. This can squarely address the herders/farmers crisis because the grazing reserves and all the facilities therein, including nomadic education, can be revived.

Similarly, the Regional Land Development Authority should also be revived. This authority can assist in reclaiming the forests. Pastures can be planted in these reclaimed forests that would make the pastoralists not even think of moving around, just like what we have in the Mambila of Taraba State.

All these solutions can only work on Nigerian herders, what about those that move into Nigeria from other countries?

This question clearly shows the ignorance of the Nigerian government on its pastoralists. It shows that Nigeria doesn’t have record of its herders. Had it been that the practice of jangali is there, the government will know the herders that are Nigerians and foreigners can easily be traced.

Again, you should know that for the last 40 years, nobody enumerated cattle in Nigeria. All the figures you are hearing are just assumptions and fabrications. So, how can a government differentiate between her herders and foreigners when they don’t enumerate cattle?

Since the initiative of the ruga policy and others are meant for states that are interested, these states should be allowed to establish it for justice and fairness to all. The Federal Government should work with these pilot states that are willing. A state like Gombe has already dedicated about 200 hectares for the ruga project.

Worldwide, the states are stabilising the nomadic people. This is the ultimate goal. In Mambila-Plateau, although most people don’t know, nomadic practice has stopped in the last 70 years. What they have now is ranching despite the fact that they have the largest population of cows. They don’t move around. This is why the Mambila ethnic people succeeded, in 2017, in killing 25,000 herds of cattle and about 1,000 pastoralists in the name of ethnic war with the Fulani. This happened because the herders were settled in one area.

The Mambila Plateau, the cattle move on their own to graze without guide and return home. Therefore, ranching or ruga has been taking place in some parts of Nigeria, so the government should not be shy of reviving grazing reserves, implementing ruga and merging it with nomadic education for peace and stability.

It was because of a similar policy that Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, in 1964 promised to establish a dairy factory in Mambila-Plateau in order to substantially meet Nigeria’s meat and dairy need. This can be achieved now, only if government ignores mischief makers.

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