Ranching: The lessons we can learn from the tin mining  boom in Plateau

Simon Lalong continues to draw the ire/wrath of the Plateau public for a variety of reasons. These range from non-payment of salaries (now being paid) to the much debated ranching policy being proselytised by his administration.

Through all these public disapprovals however, I think the governor deserves commendation and approbation for how he continues to steer Plateau through these austere times. And so I posit that we all owe it a duty to support his administration regardless of perceived shortcomings, because it is in our overall interest that the government does well.

In my assessment, one area that Lalong has scored highly is in his quest to develop the agricultural sector. He has in the past one year attempted to shift the focus of Plateau state from whole dependence on Federal Government subvention, towards revenue generation through commercial crop production and livestock farming. Evidence of this is that, he has since commissioned several agricultural initiatives in the state in a bid to uplift the state’s fortunes – examples are:

  • Revamping of the Bokkos fertiliser plant
  • Payment of counterpart funds for Fadama II and Fadama III World Bank Potato and Tomato projects
  • Endorsing FG’s provision of high productivity potato seedlings to Vicampro Ltd (an indigenous potato farm in Plateau).
  • Proposing commercial livestock ranching as a means of boosting revenue generation and ending farmer/herdsmen conflict.

On this latter point of commercial livestock ranching however, my advice is that caution and care needs to be taken before implementing such a contentious policy in a conflict ravaged state like Plateau. It is not out of place that concerned citizens (me included) express reservations about this delicate policy. Many of us, who express reservations, do so out of genuine fear and apprehension because of past antecedents in Nigeria. A country, where even though land rights rest with the local owners, government has severally usurped and abused this rule by seizing and taking over lands without recourse to the land owners. To further illustrate this point, there are instances where government’s assets e.g., land, vehicles, buildings are coveted by individuals without the law being applied. And to exacerbate people’s apprehension about government’s sincerity – the pronouncement this week of an additional national day of holiday because of the non-sighting of the moon –could lead many to suspect that certain interests get higher consideration than others.

So instead of dismissing everyone who disagrees with the ranching policy, as being opposition sponsored, “a  hater of the rescue team” or having prejudices/ towards herdsmen, it is important that government listens intently to what is being said and makes amends accordingly. Having said that – there is no doubt that the Lalong administration has attempted to gather as much public opinion, by setting up consultations with various interest groups etc. Equally it went to extra lengths to get renowned intellectuals and academicians like Prof. Garba Sharubutu, Prof. C Dakas etc to explain the policy benefits to our people.

Now, even though I didn’t attend any of the consultations, I heard that the academicians did incredibly well to explain the merits of the policy.  Prof. Sharubutu for instance explained about the benefits of animal husbandry and livestock farming in developed economies, citing increased milk and meat production, better vertinerary services etc. While Prof C Dakas assuaged the fears of people with regards the legal aspects of land rights and why no one has the right to seize anyone’s land –a law which works ideologically, but unfortunately not in practice.

These academicians are respected fellows in their respective fields and their opinions undoubtedly hold a lot of weight –especially with regards the short-to-medium term monetary and economic benefits which they argue will accrue to our state. However, in longer term scenarios, I assert that the case put forward remains unconvincing and in need of further elucidation.

Consider this – prior to the tin boom of 1900s, Jos was predominantly an enclave of smaller indigenous tribes whose main occupation was subsistent farming and agriculture. However, with the discovery of Tin, the British Government brought in a policy of bringing in massive numbers of workers from both Southern Nigeria (Delta State to be precise) and Northern Nigeria (Kano, Bauchi, Katsina etc) and settling them in indigenous communities in order for them to work on the tin mining camps. After the tin mining boom was over in the late 1970s however, these people did not return to their states as many natives thought would be the case – instead, the settled in Plateau and have integrated and sprouted –adding to our rich diversity and cultural heritage –which is great! And so if you take a trip to many tin mining towns in Plateau e.g., Vom, Mai idonTaro, Kuru (Kavitex), TinTim, Gyero, Bukuru, Kurra falls, Dorowa Babuje, Barkin Ladi, Shere-hills, Bisichi, Kugiya etc you’d see communities which have sprouted and flourished on the back of that tin mining policy. Now, good as this ethnic diversity is for Plateau, it has unfortunately become the reason for a plethora of the crisis and conflicts witnessed, as many of these people now contend that they have the right to the traditional stools of the natives and so it continues to generate a lot of tension (Jos North as an example).

Now back to the ranching policy – the implementation plan of this ranching policy is not dissimilar to the old policy by the British Government to bring in tin mining workers from other parts of Nigeria. And I know many people reading this will argue that the ranch will serve everyone (natives and Fulani’s). And I fully agree, but the reality is that Plateau people’s main trade is not  cattle herding, by crop agriculture. So there is no how natives will benefit sufficiently or even be able to compete with Fulani herders in such a trade – Fulani’s are naturally born into herding – that is what their whole existence is about, they have their formal herding systems, methods and modus operandi –which Plateau people don’t. So how would a native learn this trade overnight and benefit or compete with someone who has been doing it for generations?

But for the sake of illustration, let’s for a moment assume or hypothesize that the ranching policy gets implemented this year and that both natives and Fulani herdsmen utilize the ranches in Mikang and  Langtang South. I believe that given the large numbers of people in the ranches, government will have to provide, amenities like schools, hospitals, community centres, mosques etc. Also, of course a natural consequence of having such a large collection of people will be that administrative systems/order will have to be set up –and as we have seen repeatedly, the Fulani’s will want to be administered through their “Sarkin Ranchi”. And so the natural question becomes, what will these “Sarkin Ranchis” look like in 50 years? Will they remain the same? Will they have expanded with more powers? I shall let you internalize these question. But as we have seen in several parts of Plateau, these naturally become fully blown traditional stools which end up claiming the traditional heritage of the land? And so I quote the popular saying “if one chooses to ignore the lessons of history –he/she is bound to repeat its mistakes.

I am a massive advocate for diversity and inclusion and without a doubt; the Fulani community contributes massively to our communities through trade and agriculture. But the heritage of Plateau people, including its cultures and values must be guarded jealously. And any monetary benefits which could accrue has to be evaluated in the context of the preservation of our collective heritage.

Suffice it to say, that our governments are quick to implement plans and policies –but they never seem to have a sustainable longer term plan. On this point then, I ask – what is the long term plan of these ranches? How will they be administered and by whom? What is government’s plan of integrating someone who comes from Kogi, Kano or Sokoto into the Mikang or Langtang community?

If this long term integration plan is not carefully thought through or spelt-out, then expect this ranching policy to end up causing more conflicts than the solutions it intends to provide.

Dr. Chinan Mclean

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Ranching: The lessons we can learn from the tin mining boom in Plateau

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