Since news about Ruga settlements broke, we have read different accounts about the controversial policy sanctioned by a kitchen cabinet in the presidency. Some opinions favour the decision as a panacea to the age-long crisis between herdsmen and farmers which has led to the loss of many lives. Others oppose it because of how it emerged – unlawfully and without any due process. Many state governments feel it is unconstitutional for the federal government to impose the decision on them.
The ensuing conversations have at least offered some insight into cattle ownership structures in Nigeria. But the most revealing has been the linkage between cattle ownership, money laundering and large scale corruption in Nigeria.
Cattle ownership in Nigeria is opaque and usually waved off broadly as belonging to the Fulani people. But in truth, most of these cows are owned by very high powered politicians and civil servants who launder the proceeds of corruption by holding cattle. 5000 herds of cattle at N150, 000 each translates to N750 million. 10,000 herds translates at same price to N1.5 billion.
These are distributed to various herdsmen who traverse the country tending these cows at minimal cost and without the payment of usual cattle taxes etc. Such large scale holders even when they acknowledge that they own cows, very little attention is paid to the monetary value of the herds.
On the other hand if they declared landed assets of N1.5 billion, all antennas will be at alert. This loophole has been exploited over time and any attempt to keep these cows/herds in modern day ranches is resisted, if not frustrated.
It should be known that we are not done with the Ruga issue. Holding financial assets in the form of cows has been most times treated as a no issue in Nigeria. Also, there are no statistics of cows in Nigeria.
Feeding these cows are also at no cost to those who own them as they rampage through the country in search of fodder and where not available the crops of farmers. Very little is paid to herders who rear them and maintaining the status quo makes very good sense to them.
Ranching will increase the cost of feeding the cows but most importantly lead to disclosing the identities of those who own the cows.
At the heart of all these is the opacity that affords the corrupt owners the opportunity to hold their spoils of corruption away from public interest and glare.
Let us have a transformation in ranching that will electronically tag cows and state their owners if we are serious about maximising the benefits and also ending the crisis that has gone on for too long.