Presidency divided over N100 billion mini-ranch fund

President Muhammadu Buhari is believed to be pushing for the recovery of N100 billion from some former and serving governors.

The money was meant for the setting up of mini-ranches across states with large cattle population.

The president’s move is said to have divided his aides.

Some state governors were believed to have benefitted from the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) largesse in 2014 under former President Goodluck Jonathan.

It was learnt that the move by President Buhari, though still being argued against by some presidential advisers, had been communicated to the affected governors.

“Aso Rock is divided over the matter, but Mr. President appears to be dead set on pushing for it, especially as many of these governors have refused to allow for a cattle colony in their domain,” explained a presidential source.

The Federal Government recently proposed the creation of cattle colonies as a means of ending herdsmen-farmers’ clashes and to boost the cattle-rearing industry.

It was learnt that heads of security agencies were backing President Buhari on the matter, and that they were even pushing that he order the CBN to begin deducting the said amount from source when paying the affected states’ monthly allocations.

Some of the advisers to the president, however, warned against it, explaining that such moves would not only alienate the president from his former political allies – made up of both serving and ex governors – but also further exacerbate the tension across the country over the herdsmen menace.

A third group has, however, advised that the 2014 National Economic Council (NEC) resolutions and technical studies on incessant herdsmen-farmers’ clash, which led to the release of the said money from the CBN, be reviewed and that governors and other stakeholders helped to see the merits of the project to both the economy and national security.

Sources from the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) revealed that the state executives may be more amenable to the third option, but that if they must agree, then such mini-ranches and their operations be regulated by state laws and not to be seen as a federal project.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan had during the early part of his tenure constituted a sub-committee on grazing and incessant herdsmen-farmers’ clashes.

Headed by Muritala Nyako, then governor of Adamawa State, which was then a regular flashpoint of conflicts, the committee had come with a wide range of reform proposals that had both economic and security advantages.

The recommendations, submitted to NEC, headed by Namadi Sambo, vice president at the time, were said to have carried the traditional nomadic herders along.

As a result, Myetti Allah, the Fulani herdsmen’s association, was moved to adopt the former president as a patron.

In all, the committee came up with 15 recommendations, some of which was that N100 billion be shared along the size of cattle population in each state, where the likelihood of violent clashes may occur and states closer to the border that may attract foreign herders who could not be stopped on account of the ECOWAS Protocol on trans-border trading.

The money was also meant to provide mini-ranches, pay compensations to landowners and provide infrastructure needed to make the grazing/cattle ranch hubs accessible.

This was to make registration and capture of the herdsmen possible by immigration (in case of foreign herdsmen who come into the country to graze their cattle) and other relevant agencies.

The former administration further incorporated the recommendations into its agribusiness plan.

For instance, a beef processing investment case prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture at the time suggested the basis of its ready beef supply on ‘traditional Fulani livelihood, informal industry players from cattle rearer, traders to transporters and butchers’.

“What was proposed was a complete package. The mini-ranches were already taken care of; we were supposed to bring in the private sector into the beef industry and grow it,” explained a member of the Agribusiness and Investment Team, who spoke from the U.S.

Going by other recommendations from the grazing sub-committee of the 2014, the money was disbursed to states in order of its cattle population like Borno, Adamawa, Plateau, Jigawa, Katsina, and Sokoto which would get larger funding.

Going by documents from the Ministry of Agriculture, cattle population in these areas were estimated at one million plus.

The second category of states had between 501, 000 and 1, 000,000 cattle.

These included Benue, Kebbi, Kaduna, Kwara, Yobe, Bauchi and Kano.

Others were the states with 51 to 500, 000 cattle heads, including Taraba, some parts of Cross River, Kogi, Niger, Oyo, and some parts in Enugu.

Few, if any of the governors who shared in the N100 billion, appears to have implemented this plan – a reason why the House of Representatives planned a probe on the matter.

Some pundits have argued that the politics of 2015 general election may have scuttled this plan.

This may well be true, considering that Nyako, chairman of the sub-committee on grazing, was a trenchant critic of the former president.

For those asking Buhari to tarry awhile on the proposed probe and possible recovery of the money, there is the fear that former political allies who joined the ruling party to install Buhari may be pushed into the ranks of growing critics of the president.

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