The Federal Government is to set up various teams of agro-rangers to protect farmland and prevent herdsmen from destroying the crops of farmers.
It said the agro-rangers would guide herdsmen as they move from one state to another, adding that the team would ensure that the herdsmen only move from one cattle colony to another.
This is coming as the National Emergency Management Agency stated that it had commenced a comprehensive assessment of the local government areas affected by the alleged destructive activities of Fulani herdsmen in Benue State.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, stated that the government was not planning to take by force the land of residents in states for cattle colonies.
Explaining how agro-rangers would help protect farmland in a speech made available to our correspondent in Abuja by his Special Assistant on Media, Dr. Olukayode Oyeleye, the minister said the Federal Government was also angry at the destructive activities of herdsmen on farmland.
He said, “There is no need to take anybody’s land and forcibly use it. But we will tell the herdsmen, if you are passing through a state, you can only go to the colony and stay there, feed your cattle and, when you are moving off, agro-rangers will follow you and make sure you don’t destroy anybody’s farm.
“We are as angry because we are telling people to go and grow rice and cassava. We can’t be here and be happy that somebody goes there, eats up the crops and shoots the farmers.”
Speaking further on the cattle colony initiative, Ogbeh said it was normal for people to misunderstand the policy.
He, however, noted that it was the duty of the government to explain what the initiative entailed and why it was important for the country.
Ogbeh said, “The idea is not to go and take anybody’s land. We are not. Somebody said to me in a text that he was very angry at this policy, that the word ‘colony’ means that we are trying to use the Fulani people to colonise states and that it reminds them of colonialism.
“Well, we don’t really want to take anybody’s land to give anybody. It’s just a biological term and we are not after taking land from anybody to give anybody.”
He added, “When you try to pursue a policy, obviously, if people don’t understand it, they are going to question it; which is good. And it is the business of the government to explain a policy so that those who want to key into the policy have no reason to hesitate. We want to spread this idea even to individuals who want to participate.”
The minister further stated that the initiative would be funded by the federal and state governments, as well as herdsmen who are interested in the policy.
Ogbeh said, “We will join hands. First, you acquire land, they show us a place and our experts will decide whether the place is suitable or not. We push down a few trees, remove the stumps, and plant the right kind of fodder.
“When we first came and talked about grass, Nigerians were very angry and they called us every kind of name in the book. But there is no way you can keep cattle if you don’t deal with the question of fodder and it’s not every kind of grass that cows eat.”
He added, “So we will plant the grass, then we have a small feed mill which converts agro-waste to livestock feed. Much of that cost is going to be borne by the Federal Government and where the state can, it will chip in something.
“However, when herders arrive, individuals who want to play a part in place will pay a small fee. So, they will pay. They are quite willing to pay because it totally changes their lives.”
On the assessment of areas affected by destructive activities of herdsmen in Benue, the spokesperson of NEMA, Sani Datti, told our correspondent that the agency had been visiting the camps where some displaced persons were camped in the state.
Datti said, “We have been supporting those affected by providing relief items, but right now, NEMA is embarking on a comprehensive assessment of the areas in order to know the actual number of people who were affected.
“We’ve been providing relief items to the schools where some of the affected people stay and with the ongoing comprehensive assessment, we will be able to give greater support.”
On whether the agency would compensate the relatives of victims of Benue killings, Datti said, “It is not our duty at NEMA to pay compensation.”