By Ahmadu Shehu, PhD.
There is this misleading argument that the government should not support cattle breeding and animal husbandry and that public funds cannot, and must not be invested in any way, to develop the livestock sector in Nigeria. The protagonists of this opinion argue that livestock production is a private business, and as such government should not invest “taxpayer money” to develop the sector. They hold that other citizens provide everything to run their businesses, often citing examples with shop owners, mechanics, transporters, etc. Therefore, in their minds, livestock producers – and millions of Nigerians engaged in the sector – should not receive any form of incentives from the government – financial or material – to enhance their businesses. Well, I know that for most dispassionate and well-meaning Nigerians, the faults in this line of argument are crystal clear. However, as illogical, naïve and vividly absurd as this argument sounds, there’re still Nigerians who believe in and are continuously promoting it, hence the focus of this article.
The whole argument advanced in this line of thought is often faulty, funny, and absurd. For instance, the people fighting against this would be found complaining severely of the government’s failure to provide enabling environments, such as electricity, convenient shelters, and other critical facilities necessary for their trades and businesses. But, the same people deliberately refuse to accept that it is equally the responsibility of the same government to provide enabling environment for all sectors of the economy – including livestock – to thrive. That is the extent to which the Nigerian public discourse is polarised.
Such people feign ignorance of the fact that government spends billions of naira to subsidise and support crop production, which is in the same category as animal husbandry. For decades, the federal government has been sinking billions in fertiliser and agrochemical subsidies and providing single digit loans to farmers and stakeholders in the crop production sector. It is common knowledge that these sub-sectors complement each other and that they are not mutually exclusive. The serial failures of successive governments’ agricultural policies may not be unconnected with the dislocations caused by this partial approach, as the livestock sub-sector heavily influences the Nigerian agricultural sector. Interestingly, however, the self-acclaimed defenders of the free market do not agitate against the government involvement in a “private business” of farming, as if all the farms in Nigeria belong to the government.
Moreover, our darling oil and gas industry is, unfortunately, one of the cruellest beneficiaries of government interventions and subsidies. For many decades, Nigeria has provided a conduit for oil marketers to make billions out of public funds in the name of oil subsidy, without recourse to the economic (dis)advantage it portends. Similarly, the industrial sector engulfs billions under the Bank of Industry and CBN interventions, where producers, factories and businessmen and women are supported to do business. Similarly, the aviation industry consumes billions from the government every year and uses airports and facilities provided 100% from the public purse. Moreover, all Nigerian ports and rails on which business people feed fat are provided and maintained by the taxpayer money. We can go on and on.
I assume that people adamant on this argument are not actually against the government’s intervention in any economic sector. Their actual grievances are the particular target sector and the perceived beneficiaries of such investments in Nigeria. It is motivated by the social ills of hatred, provincialism, ethnic, religious and regional chauvinism that define the Nigerian social space and the highest form of ignorance. If the hatred is for the cattle, the livestock sector is not all about cattle. Similarly, if the envy and malice are towards the Fulani – the perceived cattle owners – the cows are actually not Fulani. This line of thought is also evidently illogical, uninformed and oblivious of what an economy is all about. That is because it fails to recognise that a sector of an economy cannot exclusively benefit only a section of the population. It may be true that cattle are the central concentration of the Nigerian livestock and that they are identified mainly with the Fulani, but the truth of the matter is that the Fulani are not the most significant economic beneficiary of cattle. They are, in fact, at the bottom of the list. I will explain.
The Fulani might be the initial owners of the cattle (assuming they are not just employee-herders), but they are not the dealers at the cattle market. While they had spent years growing cattle, day-in-day-out, a dealer trades off the cattle and earns a decent living. Another dealer buys and transports it to other parts of the country, such as the southeast, and makes a profit upon selling it to local cattle dealers, who also earn their living by selling to consumers. The Fulani do not own the trucks that transport these cattle; neither are they the drivers, or other employees working in the transportation sector, all of whom are beneficiaries of the cattle value chain.
The Fulani are not the local butchers whose livelihood depends on the cattle produced by the Fulani that they love to hate. While cattle are the source of the multibillion-naira leather industry in Nigeria, a Fulani has no business being a tanner, skin dealer or exporter. The Fulani produce cattle, but they do not sell bones, blood and other minerals derived from cattle. They are not the owners of the local companies in Port Harcourt, Warri, Enugu or Lagos that use the beef, dungs, skin and other raw materials extracted from cattle. In the dairy sector, the Fulani may produce milk and even sell it out, but they are not the owners of the dairy companies littered all around this country.
Yes, the Fulani love the cow, but they do not own the businesses within the cattle economy. They are unaware and genuinely do not care who makes what out of the cattle they spend many years growing. But for bigotry and subjectivity, these facts are not difficult to grasp. The whole scenario should not be too difficult to understand. Still, let me borrow the language of the cynics to boldly say that given the raw material and mineral resources inherent in cattle, and the role of the Fulani in cattle production, several sectors of the Nigerian economy as well as the billionaires controlling those sectors depend on the Fulani to thrive.
Furthermore, the Fulani provide a whole chain of employment, from the herders to the traders, transporters, butchers, restaurants, and other giant industries. Yet, they are erroneously assumed to be the only beneficiary of this endless economic chain. I do not know a single ethnic group in Nigeria that could match this contribution, and at the same time, bear the brunt of negligence, alienation and even aversion from the society they serve and the economy they support.
When people argue against investing taxpayers’ money into this sector, I wonder what tax they are precisely talking about. If this is a result of ignorance, let me highlight the tax chain obtained within the livestock value chain. Apart from the taxes paid during herding, cattle are taxed at all markets by the governments; the cattle transporters pay taxes; butchers, tanneries, factories, etc., that deal in the value chain pay heavy taxes to the governments. There are very few sub-sectors that generate this kind of taxation within the Nigerian economy. Therefore, to argue that the livestock sector cannot be funded by “taxpayers’” money is to betray logic.
The preceding discussion shows that even though the Fulani are in love with the ancient traditional human occupation of herding, they do not do so because they are the biggest economic beneficiary of the trade. If anything, the Fulani subsidise the beef and dairy markets, create and sustain millions of jobs, and maintain an extensive value chain, which is crucial to the Nigerian economy. Therefore, if you hate the Fulani, please know that the cow is not Fulani.
Dr Ahmadu Shehu is a nomad cum herdsman and an Assistant Professor at the American University of Nigeria, Yola. He is passionate about the Nigerian project.