HERDSMEN HORRORS: They used military to frustrate our anti-grazing law — Governor Ishaku
Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku of Taraba State has been a proponent of ranching as a means to stop killings arising from the lingering conflict between farmers and herders across the country.
In this interview, Ishaku speaks on how Nigeria can permanently stop herders’ crisis among other issues bordering on security and politics.
Modern ranching is what you have always advocated for. What is your administration doing to ensure that this is realized in Taraba?
Between 2016 and 2017, we had problems between farmers and herders. We passed the anti-open grazing law in 2017 but before we passed this law, I flew all the state lawmakers to Nairobi, Kenya to see what the Maasai tribe is doing with their cattle. They are ranching their cattle and not moving about with them. Several of the lawmakers, having seen what obtains over there, came back baptized with ranching.
When I knew they were all saturated with that feeling of ranching, I took the law to them. The next step was how to educate the illiterates that are here. It is only an illiterate that doesn’t know what to do, that would start going about with cattle. By the time you move cattle from Mambilla to Lagos by foot covering so many kilometers, the beef itself would have been hardened and become muscle. Whereas if I stay on the Mambilla, which has a good weather condition devoid of tsetse flies and has good pasture, the beef, when ferried to Lagos, would be more valued and more money would be made.
When the cattle are ranched, beef consumers would be happy with the meat quality. Also, during that time when we were having this problem, a friend who is a veterinary doctor educated me on how we could be making N1.5million to N2 million from the cow milk every month from 10 cows. Normally, our cows give two liters of milk per day, but then he told us to get a breed called ‘Sokoto Gudale’ which produces 12-15 liters of milk per day.
I started the experiment at my DDI office and it worked. So, I don’t know why some ignorant people are telling these cattle owners that ranching was coming to deny them their traditional right of going about with the cattle. We, however, got a lot of people that helped in propagating the importance of ranching but because we didn’t have police in our hands, we were being frustrated. They sent the military here to close down our Marshalls. And these Marshalls were to supervise and ensure that the anti-open grazing law was enforced. It was just recently that our license was approved but then the damage is already done. Happily, I am now seeing some individuals who have acquired their private ranches. As a responsive government, we hope to establish a ranching and agric school. This would have been done three years ago since 2017, but the loan I applied for was frustrated and I didn’t get it until recently. Over there in Nairobi, a jumbo jet leaves for Europe every night with beef. By the grace of God, before I leave in 2023, we will have a runway that would be carrying beef to Lagos and other places in Taraba.
You inherited a lot of communal crises when you first came in as governor, and at a time you instituted many commissions of inquiry into these conflicts. Are you satisfied with the level of compliance by residents of affected communities to the resolutions reached?
I am happy with what we have achieved so far because when I came on board, a lot of people had been displaced and chased from their farms. We went to work and talked to several groups, including traditional rulers, religious leaders, and community leaders. But the greatest challenge came in 2017 on the Mambilla plateau. The problem there was like a recurrent decimal. Every 8-10 years there would be a crisis. This time around, it came with force and fury. When a panel was set up initially, one group refused to come in to testify and there was so much wrangling but we persevered. I thank God that the committee that was set up did a very good job.
I also took time to read all their submissions and started looking for what was constant and discovered it from other variables on what was igniting the crisis. When you have a repeated thing happening, there must be some constant things that have not changed. I finally decided to create six chiefdoms after dropping the idea of districts and, to my utmost surprise last year, the Fulani from Mambilla came to appreciate my effort for restoring peace on the plateau.
But we should know that as long as security agencies have not been broken down, particularly the police, it would be difficult to tackle insecurity effectively. To nip security problems in the bud, there has to be federal, state, and local governments and even community police. The community police know the community. The state police know the state and the federal police can assist the state police if the case requires their help. With that system, people can be kept in check.
But here we are in the country, you are not free to own arms. When somebody comes with an AK-47 rifle, what will you do? You are at his mercy. He murders you; he walks away and he is not arrested. I want to assure you that before we leave, all these potential problems would be sorted out. However, most of these security problems are related to economic frustrations and desperation on the part of some leaders.
When people have something they are doing, and economic benefits are coming, tension would be reduced. This is an agricultural state and, as a government, we give more emphasis to agriculture. Taraba is so rich but our people are not seeing this. I am saying this because there is nothing you engage in here that you can’t make money from. We are, however, doing our best to expose our people to this. We need the security apparatus in our hands to help us in enhancing it.
On your rumoured ambition to contest the 2023 Taraba South Senate seat
Darius Dickson Ishaku always waits on the Lord. I will never hassle you about something. In 2003 I was looking for a senatorial position but I could not get it. And then I swore never to go back to politics until God dragged me out from my closet where I was. I was 1, 000 kilometers away from Abuja when I received a phone call that I was needed at the DSS headquarters in Abuja. I thought it was the land issue I had with one big man then, so I used the whole day searching for relevant documents to go with. When I arrived there, I was held from 8 am to 9 pm without any explanation on why I was there. Meanwhile, my wife was outside waiting. Around 10 pm, someone entered and told me “congratulations”.
I was in awe because how will I be kept here from morning without an explanation on why I was invited only to see someone coming to congratulate me after taking my hand print and so on? Then somebody else sneaked in and whispered that I was being screened for ministerial appointment. I was surprised and that was how I found myself as a Minister. The experiences I got from the various ministries I was in charge of are what I am using today as governor.
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