Published On: Thu, Jan 25th, 2018

Buhari should not lure us into deadly trap of cattle colonies- by Prof Ben Nwabueze



To us here in Nigeria, a colony is nothing new. The colony of Lagos established by the British in 1861 has familiarised us to it. But our acquaintance with it goes much further back to the ancient colonies established in 7thcentury B. C by the Greeks on the Mediterranean coastline of Italy, France and Spain, of which Nice, Marseilles and Naples are notable examples; by the Phoenicians, notably Utica (Utique) in 1100 B.C. and Carthage in 813 B.C. (both in present-day Tunisia) and Tripoli in 900 B.C. in present-day Libya; down to the modern colonies founded by the English in the early 17th century AD in North America, – thirteen of them, the first of which, Virginia, was founded in 1607.

The idea underlying a colony, both in antiquity and in modern times, is that of settlement : see British Settlements Act 1887. A colony is a place for the settlement of people “with common or similar language, interests or occupations, living together in close association”, like the farm settlements established in some parts of the Eastern Region of South-East Nigeria by the Government of M.I. Okpara.

A colony as a settlement for people is one integrated idea, it cannot be separated from a settlement; it cannot meaningfully exist divorced from such a settlement, except as a mere idea without existential content. So divorced, it means nothing but an empty word tendentiously employed to beguile or hoodwink the public. The cattle colonies which the Federal Government proposes to establish in every State of the Federation can, therefore, mean nothing other than a place for the settlement of Fulani herdsmen, however much the Federal Government may try to hide this fact, by, for example, calling it “cattle colony”; that is what it is intended to be, and will eventually become, if it is not such from inception.

Its character as a place for the settlement of Fulani herdsmen is implicit in the Agric Minister’s long presentation giving details of the proposed project, as published in the Nigerian Tribune newspaper of 12 January, 2018, which leaves him no room to gainsay it. It is not the  idea that cattle is to be left in a colony without a herder or keeper, without someone to feed it, give it water, and keep a watchful and protective eye on it. Rearing cattle or livestock necessarily requires a herder. From what we know, two or more herders will be needed to follow and tend 100 cows; accordingly, 300 herders will be needed to tend 30,000 cows. A colony of 30,000 cows requires 300 herders living in the colony. It may be expected that a herder may have a family, a wife (wives) and children living with him in the colony. We are therefore talking of 300 Fulani herdsmen and their families lodged in the body of a State under the scheme.

Lets listen to what the Agric Minister said:

“We are talking of colonies because 20, 30, or 40 ranchers can share the same colony. A ranch is usually owned by an individual or a company with sometimes very few cattle. Some have more than 200 or 300 cows. In a cattle colony, you could find 30,000 cows owned by different owners.”

“The reason we are designing the colony is that we want to prepare on a large scale, on economy of scale, a place where many owners of cattle can coexist, be fed well, because we can make their feeds. They can get good water to drink. Cows drink a lot of water. We can give them green fodder.”

The Hon. Minister talks only of cattle owners or ranchers, but not at all of herders, who are essentially the cause of the problem. The cattle owners or ranchers are no doubt a part of the problem but the part they play seems somewhat peripheral. The herdsmen are at the centre of the problem.

From the Minister’s presentation, the cattle colony scheme may magnify the problems beyond what they presently are. The scheme is not intended to, and will not, stop the open grazing practice, which is the main cause of the problem. It may well reduce, but will not completely stop it. The Hon. Minister of Agriculture affirms this when he said: “We will tell the herdsmen, if you are passing through a state, you can only go to the colony and stay there, feed your cattle and, when you are moving off, agro-rangers will follow you and make sure you don’t destroy anybody’s farm.” This statement is confusing to say the least. It seems to suggest that a cattle colony as a settlement for herdsmen and their cattle will be combined with the existing practice of herdsmen roaming over the whole country with their cattle, but stopping at a colony to feed them.


The Minister’s emphasis on the process of acquiring land for the colony is misdirected. The issue is not so much about the process for acquiring land, but about the ownership of the land after it is acquired and, more important, about the right to the exclusive use, management and control of the land so acquired. Does the ownership of the land belong to the Federal Government, or to traditional communities, villages and families supposed to have been divested of it? Does the right to the exclusive use, management and control of the land belong to the Federal Government, the cattle owners or the herdsmen?

Perhaps, more worrisome, is the issue of the relationship of the Fulani herdsmen settled on the land and the political authorities in the State – the state government, the local government authorities and the traditional authorities, the town unions, the community development associations, the civil defence and vigilante groups, etc. Will the Fulani herdsmen settled on the land, the cattle owners and their association, the Miyetti Allah, not constitute themselves a “state” within a state?

The deadliest of the implications of the establishment of cattle colonies in every State of the Federation is the religious and cultural implications.


In considering the religious implications of establishing cattle colonies in every State of the Federation, it is necessary to recall to mind what Sheikh Gumi wrote about Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto. According to Gumi, the Sardauna’s well-known agenda of consolidating and perpetuating the idea of Northern Nigeria as one united entity “was not borne out of political consideration only”, but was also conceived as “a personal mission” handed down to him by his forbear, Sheikh dan Fodio. The agenda had an accompanying ideology whose object, as articulated by the Sardauna, is to maintain Northern Nigeria as a theocracy ruled by a Moslem claiming to be divinely directed, with utter disdain for democracy, and with the Sharia as the supreme governing law; the non-Moslem minority ethnic groups in the North are to be used as “willing tools”, and the South is to be subjugated and reduced to “a conquered territory”, which is not to be allowed to “have control over their future.” The Sarduana had conceived a kind of jihad, for the pursuit and possible accomplishment of his agenda, an agenda which President Buhari has now vowed to carry on to a “finish”.

President Buhari’s resolve and commitment to pursue the Sardauna’s agenda to a finish was unmistakeably announced in his first major policy statement as President-elect. In a speech delivered before an audience of exclusively prominent Northern Moslem leaders on 2 May, 2015 at Queen Amina Hall, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, he said:

“I charge you to join me as we build a new Northern Nigeria in a generation…..the best investment we can make in the North is not finding oil in the Chad Basin….we will start with one local government in each state until we get to every school in all of Northern Nigeria…..To achieve this, I have secured a Northern rehabilitation fund… rebuild the North after the devastation of Boko Haram insurgency…..Join me my brothers and sisters and let us finish the work our forefather, Ahmadu Bello, started.”

The name Shiekh dan Fodio, the Sanduana’s forbear, is worth recalling again. He was a Fulani immigrant in Gobir (now renamed Sokoto), who was accommodated and well-favoured by the King of Gobir. Dan Fodio mobilised an army of Fulani immigrants who, in 1804 – 1808, overran all the Hausa Kingdoms and some other neighbouring communities, dethroned their rulers, installing Fulani emirs in their places, and imposed the Moslem religion on them. Thus was Hausaland together with other conquered lands, islamised, and a caliphate established over Sokoto, with dan Fodio as its Sultan. That was the price the Hausas paid for their hospitality in granting access to grazing land to the Fulani immigrant settlers. With knowledge of the tragic experience of the Hausas in 1804 – 1808, we should not make the tragic mistake of letting history repeat itself in 2018. It should be mentioned that the Fulani immigrant settlers’ ravaging on-slaught failed to subdue the Bornu and Jukun kingdoms, whose rulers have continued to maintain suzerainty over the their terrotiries till date.

The colonisation and islamisation (by conquest) of Hausaland is reminiscent of the colonisation and islamisation (again by conquest) of North Africa by the Arabs in the 7th century A.D. The conquest has been described as “the most amazing feat in military history” : Will Durant, The Story of Civilisation, vol iv, pp. 155

With Persia, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and other countries or cities in the Middle East vanquished and taken over for Islam in A.D. 632-638, the Moslem Arabs next marched on Egypt in the same year (638 A.D.). aided by the defection of the native Egyptians who hated the Greeks and had become disaffected towards the Roman imperial government because of the Monophysite controversy. The invading Arabs succeeded, in siege after siege, in subduing one city after another – Farmah, gateway into the country; Memphis, the former capital; and, finally, in 641 A.D., Alexandria, the new capital, with a loss of 23,000 men (the siege of Alexandria is said to be “perhaps the most arduous” in the annals of Arab conquests.) Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. V. P. 343.

Having conquered Egypt, the Arabs embarked next on the conquest of the rest of North Africa. First Barca and other cities in the province of Cyrenaica, then Tripoli, Sabratha and the magnificent city of Sufetula, were taken in 642-647 A.D. There followed a lull of nearly 20 years because of succession tumults in Arabia. The war was resumed in 665 A.D. with the conquest of more territories. The hero of the renewed fighting was the commander of the Arab troops from 670-675, called Akbah (Okba bin Nafa). It was to him, writes Edward Gibbon, that “the title of conqueror of Africa is more justly due…..He marched from Damascus at the head of ten thousand of the bravest Arabs; and the genuine force of the Moslems were enlarged by the doubtful aid and conversion of many thousand barbarians…..The fearless Akbah plunged into the heart of the country, traversed the wilderness in which his successors erected the splendid capitals of Fez and Morocco, and at length penetrated to the verge of the Atlantic and the great desert….The career, though not the zeal, of Akbah was checked by the prospect of a boundless ocean. He spurred his horse into the waves, and, raising his eyes to heaven, exclaimed with the tone of a fanatic, Great God! If my course were not stopped by this sea, I would still go on, to the unknown kingdoms of the West, preaching the unity of thy holy name, and putting to the sword the rebellious nations who worship any other gods than thee”. Gibbon, ibid, v., pp. 356 – 358.

The conquest was, however, not yet complete. The great metropolis of Africa, Carthage, was yet to be conquered. There was another interruption of many years followed by renewed fighting. Carthage was easily taken but the Arabs were later driven out by imperial forces despatched from Constantinople, (the second capital of the Roman Empire, renamed Istanbul), joined by powerful reinforcements from Sicily and Spain. Returning to the charge in 698, with more numerous armament by sea and land, the Arabs re-took the city, and North Africa was irrecoverably lost to the Roman Empire. In the interval, they had also conquered and Islamised Northern Sudan in the east.

But the Arabs were not yet secure in their conquest. For they were later driven out by the Moors. They retreated to the confines of Egypt, but returned some years later to inflict a crushing defeat on the Moors, taking some 300,000 of them captive, 60,000 of whom were “sold for the profit of the public treasury”: Gibbon, ibid, v, pp. 362. The native Berbers, the indigenous dwellers of the valleys of the Atlas Moutain, had similarly been crushed.

Nigerians Beware!




But even if we are able to avert being subjugated and Islamised by Fulani herdsmen militia armed with AK47 guns, we may still meet the same fate by peaceful penetration into our various communities by Fulani herdsmen settled in the cattle colonies through the process known as acculturation. The Fulani settlers will bring to the cattle colonies, as part of their baggage, the religion of Islam, just as the English settlers in the thirteen colonies in North America in 1607 and the years following took with them, as part of their baggage, English law, with its political institutions as well as English customs, conventions and traditions, including the precepts and practices of the Christian religion, just as the early Greek settlers in their colonies on the coastline of Italy, France and Spain took with them, as part of their baggage, Greek culture, tradition and religious precepts and practices. As Will Durant, in his monumental eleven volume treatise, titled The Story of Civilisation, vol. 11, p. 127, tells us, these ancient Greek

“colonies became greater than their mother cities, and preceded them in the development of wealth and art.  The real creators of Greek culture were not the Greeks of what we now call Greece, but those who fled before the conquering Dorians, fought desperately for a foothold on foreign shores, and there, out of their Mycenaean memories and their amazing energy, made the art and science, the philosophy and poetry that, long before Marathon, placed them in the forefront of the Western world.”

One of the products of the Greek colonies on the Italian coastline was Pythagoras (580-500 B.C.), generally acknowledged as the father of both science and philosophy in Europe — his theorems and his theories of numbers and proportion became the foundation of geometry, arithmetic and algebra (the terms mathematics and philosophy were first used by him).  He was born of Greek parentage in Samoa, a Greek colony, and lived most of his life in Crotona, another Greek colony.  The great Athenian oracle on philosophy and political ideas, Plato (427-347 B.C.), took so much of his ideas from Pythagoras.  And the first written code of law in Greek history originated in one of these colonies in 664 B.C.

The same feature characterised the colonies on the  Mediterraneous coastline of North Africa settled by the ancient Phoenicians and Greeks of which the largest and best-known were Utica (Utique) and Carthage (both in present-day Tunisia) and Oea (Tripoli in Libya), founded by Phoenicians in 1100 B.C., 813 B.C. and 900 B.C. respectively, and Cyrene, founded in 641 B.C., by Greek settlers (Cyrene together with four other Greek colonies, constitutes the province of Cyrenaica, one of the three provinces of present-day Libya.)  Like the English settlers in North America in the 17th century and Greek settlers mentioned earlier, these Phoenicians and Greek settlers in North Africa also took with them to their new settlements, the civilisation, the habits, traditions, the political ideas, governmental institutions and processes they had imbibed in their home countries

Prof Ben Nwabueze wrote from Lagos Nigeria.


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