From open grazing to ranching, at the expense of the state: questions for Mallam Garba Shehu

By Biodun Jeyifo




First, there was the Asaba Declaration which banned open gracing in all the 17 southern states. Then, there was the statement by Mallam Garba Shehu, the President’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity. The firestorm caused by these two statements is yet to subside. In the social media, ordinarily scurrilous in the extreme, the furore has been completely over the top. However, the implications of these two statements for the country’s future are so crucial that we must pause for breath and bring rationality, genuine patriotism and social justice to the ongoing national conversation on the issues raised by the two statements. In the following main body of this piece, I raise questions about Garba Shehu’s statement in FOUR key areas: Economic; Procedural; Social; Ethical.

Mallam Garba Shehu insists that in moving from open grazing to ranches in “willing” states, the federal government is now on the same page as the 17 southern states governors. I presume that this is because the federal government is no longer concerned about the ban on open grazing; it has moved to the creation of ranches in so-called “willing states”. Well, would Mallam Shehu please respond to the following questions on this “Marshall Plan” of creating ranches in “willing states” in these four key points of the economic, procedural, social and ethical implications of the project?



The ranches to be built will be modern, self-sufficient communities, complete with amenities that will presumably include not only water and electricity supply but also schools for the children of herders. How many ranches around the country will the project entail?
Is it unfair to the government to suggest that the project seems like the biggest act of economic restructuring that we have ever had in this country, with the probable exception of the rebuilding of the Eastern states after the end of the civil war (which lasted for decades and was never completed)?
How will the project be financed?
Given the fact that the nation is in such dire economic conditions at the present time that fuel subsidy is about to be permanently removed, what other areas of the national budget will have to be sacrificed to fiancé the project?
Will “farmers” get their own project, their own “Marshall Plan”, their own new farmlands and if so, will they be on the same scale as the ranches to be built for the herders?
The government is currently putting into place a massive project of privatization of major areas of the nation’s public businesses, assets and resources: well, how will the “ranching” project affect this privatization bonanza? In other words, will the herders in the brand new ranches be owners and/or tenants? Whatever be the answer to this question, how will the new ranches fit into the existing structure of property ownership and being propertyless in our country, one of the most unjust and exploitative in the world?
Presumably, contracts will be awarded for the construction of the brand new ranches and the procurement of amenities for them ranches; if so, how will the contracts be executed to avoid the endemic corruption and corruptibility of our “contractocracy”? Or is it the case that the project is just a pretext for another round of mammoth dispossession of the masses of our peoples by the ruling class?



We are told that the ranching project will start in June. June of 2021 or of 2022? Is this a joke, that such a huge project will start within barely a month of its announcement?
Was the project ever discussed in any cabinet meetings of the President with his minsters?


Was it ever discussed in the National Economic Council?


In the Council of State?


Within any organs of the ruling party, the APC, like the National Executive Committee?


Indeed, does this project have any ideological and planning connection to the ruling party’s programs and policies?


Whose brainchild is the project and who will be its “czar”?


With regard to Mallam Shehu’s mention of so-called “willing states”, have some states already indicated their willingness to be “willing states” in which the ranches will be located?


What will it take to transform “herders” into “ranchers”, conceived as two separate and distinct modes of collective social identity and human community?
As in many other parts of the world, the practice already exists in our country of “herders” who work for and with “ranchers”: how will the existing patterns connect with whatever new patterns the government has in mind in the new project?
In his statement, Mallam Shehu talks dismissively of “terrorist herders”: will they be separated from non-terrorist, peaceable herders? If so, will the “terrorist herders” be disarmed? If so, how will this be accomplished, by persuasion or by the use of the state’s institutionalized instruments of force and coercion?
Are there any academic and professional experts who will be guiding the socialization processes through which “herders” will be transformed into “ranchers”? If so, who are they? If not, does the government think that the processes will just take place naturally in the manner in which an acorn grows into an oak?
The creation of brand new “ranchers” from the old “herders”: will the process be free of the great injustice and the pervasiveness predatoriness of our current way of life?


Is there an ethical basis to this project or is it the case that the project is actually conceived to hide or disguise the monumental moral and humanitarian emptiness that enabled thousands of our countrymen and women, mostly “farmers”, to be massacred without their killers having ever been apprehended and prosecuted?


This project comes in the wake of the worst security crisis in our country’s postcolonial history, a crisis whose basis is as ethical as it is also political, with the politics rotten to the core: will the project be free of the political rottenness?


Lies, deceit, insincerity, fundamental lack of ordinary human sympathy, these have been the aggregate ethical surround of the government’s response (and the ruling party and the ruling class as a whole) to the herders-farmers crisis: will this project lay the specter of all these ethical lapses to rest?


Biodun Jeyifo

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