Nigeria’s herdsmen-farmer crisis has led to so many unnecessary deaths and had a very bad effect on Nigeria’s agricultural sector. It has increased the amount of internally displaced people in Nigeria. It also poses grave risks to President Muhammadu Buhari’s efforts to diversify Nigeria’s economy, following the crash in the price of crude oil.
The answer to this as everybody, both the herdsmen, the federal and state governments, the farmers and the general public have agreed is a phasing out of cattle grazing. That is where the point of departure starts.
The herdsmen made it clear that they lack the funds to buy land for commercial ranching; the Federal Government and sections of the National Assembly started work to create grazing reserves, dedicated for cattle grazing and a Grazing Reserve Commission to be in charge of the whole thing.
But the problem arose when it was clear that under the plan, ethnic ancestral lands would be taken from people and used in these reserves. Thus, many in Southern Nigeria bitterly oppose the grazing reserve plan, seeing it as an attempt to take land from Southerners to give to a profession dominated by Northerners; seeing it in other words, as a ploy that could result in an indirect land grab.
So, this got me thinking as to what I could do to end the problem because tensions between the herdsmen and farming communities all over the country remain high.
First, let me introduce myself. My name is Prince Charles Offokaja. I am a journalist, businessman, philanthropist, and blogger, among several other caps I wear.
I am also the founder of the Prince And Princess Charles Offokaja Foundations (Nigeria and Switzerland).
It was with an urgent sense of selfless service and concern that I initiated efforts to tackle the issue of bringing peace, unity, and harmony between Nigeria’s herdsmen and farmers, two of our most important communities.
The Attempt For A Solution
As part of my search for a solution, I ran across a foreign donor organization called the Global Innovation Fund (GIF). The organization funds social innovations all over the world, even to the tune of $15 million dollars.
Their website describes their services thus, ”
The Global Innovation Fund invests in social innovations that aim to improve the lives and opportunities of millions of people in the developing world.
Through our grants and risk capital, we support breakthrough solutions to global development challenges from social enterprises, for-profit firms, non-profit organisations, researchers, and government agencies.
…The fund is flexible in our funding structure: we can provide anywhere from $50,000 – $15 million and we can use any form of capital – grants, equity, debt, hybrid capital, etc.
My team and I decided to apply for a grant of $15 million (N4.5 billion) to set up and then donate a 30,000 Hectare mega ranch to the principal herdsmen association in Nigeria, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria or MACBAN.
We planned that if the grant was given, we would buy these hectares in bulks of at least 1000 hectares from willing sellers, to prevent future sociopolitical crises. It would be a purely business affair between buyers and bulk sellers chaperoned by the state government concerned.
We planned that, given the economic crisis faced by many state governments, and the need for increased Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) we would not refuse any state that decided to sell land for the ranch to us, as long as they were willing to sell at least 1000 hectares in a contiguous location, and with the unambiguous support of any other primary or secondary seller.
With the grant allocated to us, we would be able to grass lands where needed, set up irrigation systems if needed, and process Certificates of Occupancy (C of O) in all the annexes of the mega ranch we planned to donate. All the C of Os would be made in favor of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria or MACBAN.
In return we planned to give MACBAN a few conditions: they would disarm all herdsmen who would reside in the mega ranch. In return, we would fence the ranch and then pressure the Federal Government to engage Civil Defence or The Police Force on a permanent basis to provide protection for the herdsmen against cattle rustlers. Structures like houses and schools would also be built for the herdsmen if the funds allowed.
On June 12, 2016, after painstaking work to hammer out what we believed was an earnest, comprehensive proposal, we forwarded it to Global Innovation Fund. We were given the following email autoresponse message by the fund:
Dear Charles Offokaja,
Thanks for applying for funding from the Global Innovation Fund. We want to let you know that we have received your initial application titled: “Mega Ranch Donation To Fulani Herdsmen” and it has been assigned the application ID number: 575cf84405469.
We will review your application and we will let you know if it has passed to the next step in the process. GIF aims to respond to most Initial Applications within 4-6 weeks to inform applicants about whether or not they are invited to move forward to the next stage.
We were extremely hopeful. Hopeful that if GIF should accept to fund our proposal, we will have solved what seems to be an intractable problem between our herdsmen and our farmers, saving lives, empowering the herdsmen, bringing millions of farmers back to their farms and boosting the Buhari Administration’s efforts to successfully diversify Nigeria’s economy via agriculture.
The seeming schism growing between the Northern part of the country and the Southern part would have been nipped.
The country would have begun the long journey to healing after the shocks of Agatu, Uzo Uwani, and other flashpoints.
The herdsmen would for the first time, have large expanses of land to use that no one would challenge them over, because it would belong to them right down to C of O. And no one would come out and accuse them of seizing anyone’s ethnic ancestral lands, because it would be clear to all that the ranch was bought entirely from willing sellers.
We were very happy and looked forward to the day when we would announce to the government and people of Nigeria via the press that the problems we see would finally be things of the past in a matter of months (as soon as we bought the land, got C of O and then donated the land to MACBAN).
You can then imagine how shocked we were when we received this message from Global Innovation Fund dated July 14, 2016:
Dear Charles Offokaja,
Thank you for your application for funding from the Global Innovation Fund.
We have reviewed your application 575cf84405469 titled “Mega Ranch Donation To Fulani Herdsmen” and unfortunately it has not passed to the next stage of our application process. We appreciate that you took the time to reach out to us and we enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about your organization.
We felt dejected. All the effort had been for naught, and more importantly, the problem of high tensions between our herdsmen and our farmers had not disappeared.
We understand that the organization receives tons of similar proposals like ours all the time, and has to sift through to decide which ones to fund since funds are not infinite, but that did nothing to reduce of disappointment.
Luckily, some states in the North have volunteered to donate land for the creation of ranches within that period. We hope it will help, but we are still on the lookout for any opportunity to get funding grant to buy ranch land that will be donated to the herdsmen because we believe that putting such land into the private ownership of the herdsmen themselves is the best approach.
We believe that private ownership of cattle ranch on land seen to have been purchased from willing buyers would leave the herdsmen free to get on with their business, removing cattle rearing from the political arena, and placing it in the business arena where it belongs.
We also believe that if we had gotten the grant, the South would have come on board because the establishment of ranches would have been stripped of any political connotation and would be an ordinary business transaction.
So, Now What Next?
Despite the disappointment, we are not going to give up. We are even looking at using our Generousity.com account on Indiegogo.com to try and crowdsource the funds (even though we know that could be a tall order).
Whatever we decide, we will let the Nigerian public know, but we are not giving up. Was it not former US President Franklin Rosevelt that said that the man who wants to succeed should not just be prepared to win 1000 times, but also to win after 1000 defeats and repulses? Was it not our President, Muhammadu Buhari that showed us through his tenacity that we as a nation can achieve our dreams if we never give up, no matter the setbacks?
Our last word is to congratulate the Federal Government for recently saying that nobody will be forced to cede his land for the Federal Government ranches/ grazing reserves. That is the voice of a government that yearns for unity and peace, not division and bitterness; that sets its policies but listens to the concerns of its people – a listening government.
Prince And Princess Charles Offokaja Foundation promises to do everything within its capacity to assist the Federal Government to solve the issue of herdsmen-farmer tensions.
Prince Charles Offokaja is the founder, Prince & Princess Charles Offokaja Foundation, Switzerland; and Prince & Princess Charles Offokaja Foundation, Nigeria