Opinion: On Peter Mba’s Proposed Cattle Ranch at Nimbo – By SUNDAY EZE

Be it cattle ranch or rural grazing area (ruga), the planned establishment of either of the two at Nimbo in Uzo Uwani Local government Area by Enugu State government does not rightly fit into the current needs and priorities of the people. It is at best one move of government that will pitch it against the people. In retrospect, on April, 25 2016, the infamous, deadly ‘Nimbo Massacre’ resulted to the death of over 45 persons. The dastardly act was perpetrated on the same contentious issues revolving ultimately around cattle breeding, cattle ranching or ruga. The traumatic experiences left in the wake of that gruesome attack is still fresh in the minds of Nimbo people and neighbouring communities. So this government’s decision will add insult to the already festering injury. Therefore, mulling anything related to cattle, cattle rearing around Nimbo or Uzo-Uwani is insensitive and a sad reminder of the gory experience of the past. 

Ruga or cattle ranch was not part of the campaign promises of Peter Mba to the people of Uzo Uwani. It is too early in the life of his administration to contemplate delving into a suspicious,  contentious and rancorous national issue of ceding peoples land for ruga or ranching. You may wish to know that most states in the north whose traditional occupation is cattle rearing have not even taken any reasonable step on either ruga or ranching yet. However, Enugu State government is surprisingly championing the course of a business which majority of it’s people have no idea of; let alone engaged in. 

Expectedly, the plan has elicited strong condemnation, opposition and protest from the people of Nimbo and close neighbours. The well attended protest was held along Nsukka – Nimbo – Ogurugu road. Among the protesters were widows and orphans of over 40 residents murdered by gunmen on April 26, 2016. The protesters who were mostly women and youths chanted and displayed placards which bored the inscription: “Nimbo doesn’t want cattle, doesn’t want ranching.” The agitation and protest against the project followed the visit of a government inspection team to the community almost eight years after the April 2016 massacre. The government said  ranching is a measure to solve permanently the farmers-herders clashes in the state. A senior government official disclosed that government will take full control of the ranching. 

Reacting, the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, has added its voice to the issue. The group urged Enugu State Governor Peter Mbah to shelve his plans to establish a cattle ranch. IPOB made this known in a statement by its media and publicity secretary, Emma Powerful.  They said, “we are monitoring Governor Peter Mbah and his collaborators. They should understand that IPOB will not allow the establishment of any murderous camp for jihadist Fulanis in the name of cattle ranch anywhere in Enugu State. They maintained that, if governor Peter Mbah is genuinely interested in establishing a cattle ranch in Enugu State, such ranch must be managed privately by an Igbo businessman. Only Ndigbo are allowed to own cattle ranches anywhere in Igbo land. We don’t want to have murderous Fulanis operating any cattle ranch in Alaigbo. If Fulani herdsmen have paid Dr. Peter Mbah or any traditional leader for any parcel of land in Enugu State, they should better go and collect their money back.”

Clarifying the intention of government, the Commissioner for information, Aka Eze Aka debunked the claims that government plans to establish a Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) in Uzo Uwani Local Government Area (LGA) of the state, saying it instead plans to establish modern ranches as part of its agro-industrial productivity agenda to turn the state’s dormant assets to productive assets as well as further stem the activities of kidnappers and other criminals, who masquerade as herders. The government said it had no plans to cede any part of the state’s lands to Fulani headers in the name of RUGA.”

In a statement entitled “Ranch is Not RUGA,” the commissioner said: “It has become necessary to explain matters regarding the design to use ranching, a modern method all over the world, to rear cattle. The recent viral messages and outcry of a few persons against what they construed as government’s intention to take over a portion of land in Uzo-Uwani  and give out to Fulanis in the guise of RUGA is but the unfortunate machination of those who wished to make a mountain out of molehill for political reasons. Aka, who made the clarifications in a statement, described the reports and videos of a few individuals purportedly protesting government’s alleged plan to set up RUGA for the Fulani at Nimbo in Uzo Uwani LGA as the handiwork of manipulators and political losers, who want to run the administration down for political gains.”

The people of Nimbo do not seem to trust the government of Enugu state. Their thoughts are in tandem with that of Rev. Fr. Paulinus Ogara who opined rightly that; “ranching is not ruga and ruga is not ranching. The problem with ranching is that it often comes with ruga.” They were previously disappointed by the same government which woefully failed to protect them in time of trouble. The community had suffered adversely in the hands of killer herdsmen and are inclined to be suspicious of the government’s motives when it has anything to do with cattle rearing. The unfortunate incident of April, 2016 had compelled the government of Enugu under Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to set up a commission of inquiry into the matter. “The commission was charged to take a retrospective look into all clashes involving herdsmen in the state and recommend appropriate measures that would be put in place to prevent future occurrence.” What was the findings of the commission of inquiry constituted by former governor? Was cattle ranching at Nimbo part of the recommendations? 

Lives lost in Nimbo attack cannot be quantified or regained, however, it remains to be seen whether justice has been actually served accordingly on this matter after eight years. By law, government is the custodian of all lands but it remains the ancestral treasure of the indigenous people. In view of this, what measures has government put in place to persuade the community to let go of their ancestral land? Has government provided comprehensive measures for security and compensation? Nimbo community should be made to clearly understand the need to take ownership of the project. Land is a priced treasure in Igbo land. Most if not all the people are unwilling to cede their ancestral land no matter the price. And it does not seem the state government carried Nimbo people and the entire Uzo-Uwani stakeholders along in the process.

Government did not adequately consult or carry out due diligence before going to the press with its intention. People tend to buy into government’s programmes when they are convinced it is meant for their good and also comes with value addition to their lives. Government should engage more in meaningful conversation and consultations regarding the project, it’s value addition, potentials and sustenance for mutual interest. This will demystifies wrong perceptions, increases confidence building and erases the growing mistrust between the government,  Nimbo community, Uzo-Uwani people and the entire good people of the state. 

Sunday Onyemaechi Eze, a Media and Development Communications Specialist writes from Nkpologu, Uzo-Uwani LGA, [email protected], 08060901201

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