By Dele Sobowale
“We are depressed, very depressed. And anyone of us, of our age, who was not depressed, he was not well-born, because we have nothing to leave behind for our children, and violence will not sustain us…” — Chief Audu Ogbeh, Chairman, Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF.
Ogbeh, former Minister of Communications under President Shagari and of Agriculture under Buhari from 2015 to 2019, was wrong. His generation of Northerners actually left several awful things behind for their children. One of them is a devastated poultry industry and its repercussions. Ogbeh actually contributed to that problem during his years as Buhari’s Minister. Indeed, if the President is asked to name those who helped to bring his administration to the point where the hitherto supportive ACF, are now “depressed, very depressed”, Audu Ogbeh should be top on the list of culprits. Here is why.
When in 2016, Fulani herdsmen invaded Agatu, Benue State, and slaughtered over 100 people and rendered thousands homeless, Ogbeh, though Minister representing Benue State, did not visit the place; neither did the Federal Government, FG, he served, send relief materials.
The raid on Agatu was followed by the massacre of people in more Benue communities until Governor Ortom rose in defence of his people. When the FG finally reacted, it was to blame the victimised people of Benue for not accommodating strangers. It was a bloody lie and Ogbeh knew the truth. But, hanging on to his portfolio as Minister was more important than standing up for the truth and his people.
Even when the Mayetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, MACBAN, and various officials of the FG proclaimed untruths about the mass murders in Benue and threatened the people, Ogbeh uttered not a word. Instead he joined others in promoting RAGU — the forceful establishment of grazing lands in all the states of Nigeria – in total defiance of the Land Use Decree 1978, which vested all state lands in the Governors of each state. Herdsmen, urged on by MACBAN, went on unchecked rampage from state to state destroying farms.
Unfortunately for the MACBAN, FG and Ogbeh, they were all too myopic to realise that maize and soybeans are two of Nigeria’s most important crops. Rice is the third. But, maize and soybeans, apart from constituting direct food items are absolutely indispensable as inputs for poultry feed. It never occurred to them that cattle cannot distinguish between maize farms and others. In fact, they have preferences for maize and beans farms. I learnt this fact by accident in 2018.
Travelling from Minna to Bida and on my way to Lagos, I opted to go by a longer route: Minna-Zungeru- Wushishi-Badeggi-Bida. I wanted to visit an old friend in a community in Wushishi Local Government. There, a compelling story unfolded. The people in these areas are not Fulani or Hausa. Apparently, since 2016, thousands of small and medium scale farmers have been experiencing repeated invasions of their rice, beans and maize farms by Fulani herdsmen. Hitherto, the shepherds were not armed. But, starting middle 2016, they were armed with guns. And, unlike time immemorial, when cattle incursion into farms was settled amicably, herdsmen became intransigent. Reports to the police and security people in the area fell on deaf ears.
By 2018, Fulani herdsmen, previously living in relative obscurity among other Nigerian tribes, had emerged as one of the five most deadly terrorist groups worldwide. Wherever terrorists enter, it is their cardinal intention to deprive all others of their rights to lives, means of livelihood, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They bring destruction everywhere including Niger State. More maize, rice and beans farms were destroyed as herdsmen became more emboldened.
Around the early part of 2017, the first reports of kidnapping of farmers and family – after invading and destroying the farm – started to emerge. By 2018, what most communities in that axis of Niger State had regarded as a rumour had become a fact. The Fear of herdsmen, previously docile, now aggressive and imperialistic was the beginning of wisdom.
It was the beginning of a sustained attack against maize, rice and beans farmers across Niger State – which left several thousand farms fallow this year. The widespread attitude is: why bother to plant if cattle will destroy some and bandits will seize the rest? Niger State, it might be added, is capable of producing more maize, rice and beans than Lagos, Ogun, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti combined.
From information available to me, hundreds of thousands of women and girls – who constitute the backbone of Nigerian agriculture – don’t go to farm anymore. Meanwhile, the young men have taken two routes out of the farm. Some have joined the rural-urban drift and are so far away from farmland that they can be presumed to be lost forever to farming. The second batch has gone to swell the ranks of criminals – kidnappers, bandits and cattle rustlers. The last group (rustlers) are out for revenge on herdsmen who forced them off the farm. Being idle, they easily found employment with the devil – who loves idle hands. The rest of the country will pay dearly for all these.
One of Ogbeh’s contributions to our present predicament is discussed below.
Border closure and its consequences
“You burn the house to roast the pig. It was always the only way mankind roasted pigs.” – Saul Bellow.
Many Nigerians cannot wait for May 29, 2019 to come. It will relieve them of one public servant who has become more of a public danger than all the others put together. The man is Chief Audu Ogbeh who I had tipped as one of the most likely to succeed among Buhari’s Ministers. Don’t blame me totally.
First, readers would recollect the proposal to establish several “Cattle Colonies” in all the states of Nigeria. The uproar that greeted that idea lasted several months until the President was forced to disclaim it.”
Then he announced that: “Our other problem is smuggling. As we speak, a neighbour of ours is importing rice than China is importing. They do not eat parboiled rice; they eat white rice and they are using their port to try and damage our economy.” – Chief Audu Ogbeh.
Ogbeh’s recommendation is playing itself out now. The statement credited to him was followed by an appeal to the FG to close Nigerian borders on account of imported and smuggled rice. The FG closed the border. Let us quickly point out that foreign rice is still entering Nigeria. More importantly, I pointed out then that rice was not the only commodity crossing the border; it would stop export of Nigerian goods to ECOWAS as well. But, Ogbeh is a fanatic. Only God knows how much of our current recession can be attributed to loss of exports to ECOWAS. Now the FG is in a dilemma. The adverse consequences of border closure have dawned on them. We are stuck with the results of a stupid policy.
Finally, he was also in support of the ban placed on maize imports. Two months ago, the FG quietly issued selective import licences to few maize importers – who will make windfall profits while Nigerians pay more for poultry products and poultry farmers fold up.