FCT: Wike has a challenge: Stop the Cows before they stop humans!

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By Sule Oyofo, Editor in Chief.

Good News to residents of the Federal Capital Territory. They now have a new minister who has just stepped into office. The minister, His Excellency, Mr. Nyesom Wike is not a small figure in the political parlance. As the immediate past governor of Rivers State, he stood out as an action-oriented, no-nonsense warrior, and fighter and ended up being tagged as “Mr. Projects”. He is variously described as “resolute”, rugged” and a “workaholic”. What is clear is that he is not only bold but fearless and a reputed pacesetter.

They also added that he is a man who stands by his decisions, who is out to replicate what he did in Rivers State—to right the wrongs in the society–in Abuja, the seat of the Federal Capital; to halt the systematic destruction of the infrastructure and the environment by the apparent and consistent display of lawlessness, regarding free movement of cattle’s in public roads, walkways and median. Wike not only detests stagnant conditions, but he is also not a friend to barriers and limitations. If he is told that the solution to a problem lies at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, and the only way to access it, is through the “Titan Submersible”—remember this?  Wike would go there! That’s the stuff he is made of; Wike is the archetypal “I belong to everybody and nobody”—not the ones who simply mouthed it and did the opposite.

The news of his appointment as the honorable minister of the Federal Capital City must have been received as bad news by pretenders and defaulters. Key stakeholders agree that as part of his agenda, priority should be given to finding immediate solutions to the menace of cows competing for possession of space with human beings along major highways. ‘This practice is unacceptable”, the minister charged in his inaugural press briefing. “We are not going to tolerate the issue of having cows in our public roads; yes, things are difficult, but you must not cause crises for other people”, he stated. In the heartwarming news to disturbed Abuja residents, Wike promised to tackle the hydra-headed problem headlong and restore as much sanity and beauty, elegance, glittering vegetation, and a soothing environment to the city’s Master Plan.  A key takeaway from his speech is that there will be consequences for breaking the law, which was largely absent in the last eight years. Abuja drifted inexorably into no-man’s land with all sorts, converging in the city and making life hell for lawful citizens. “I will step on toes, the big and mighty; I will step on your toes if you are doing something wrong”, he warned.

The truth however is that people are tired. The vision to transform Abuja into a world-class environment appears to have collapsed in the face of a siege of cows. When Okada riders tried the same thing, a former minister and immediate past governor of Kaduna state promptly drove them out of town. Today, they are back in full force. The same applies to the herders who graze indiscriminately on any vegetation they find and defecate on the streets in open gutters, and other public places. The bad scent and the ugly sight of dung are difficult to contend with. The feces attract flies and therefore put children at risk of contracting cholera, not to mention mosquitoes that thrive in filthy environments—leading to outbreaks of malaria.

The dangers of free-moving cattle can never be substantiated unless we are moving towards a Hobbesian society where anything goes. This is the modern age and the world is going green, The environment is supposed to be strenuously preserved; a degraded environment knows no cultural, ethnic, or religious affinity. —just the same way as the zoonotic diseases usually transferred from cows to human beings (mad cow, anthrax, bovine, etc.) does not discriminate. Abuja ranks amongst the best cities in the world and should discard whatever amounts to an aberration.

Can anyone imagine the discomfort if owners of wild dogs such as German Shepherd, Bulldog, Labrador Retriever, Rottweiler, Irish Wolfhounds, and Afghan Hounds are allowed to roam freely in the streets? What about those who own Tigers, Lions, Buffaloes, Horses and snakes? Wait a minute; cows cannot be exempted because they may be classified as herbivores, but they have been known to be destructive whether provoked or not and develop strange symptoms of violence! Possibly, some may want to argue that this comparison is extreme or that all animals are equal but like it was in Animal Farm, some are more equal than others! Unless the Constitution is amended to accommodate the free movement of cows on public roads, only then can their presence be tenable. We do not have to wait for them to roam carelessly in High-security areas such as Aso Rock Villa, The National Assembly, the precincts of the Supreme Court, and the Federal Secretariat before serious action can be taken. The situation is absurd and constitutes an eyesore. The threat to public safety and health is too much to be ignored.

If Abuja is a mega city, why not retain the status? Which mega city in the world tolerates open grazing? It makes a mockery of the government at the center, not to mention the toxic nature of their presence around human beings. To all right-thinking individuals, this is an abuse of privilege and the rights of other road users. High Chief Mike Ozekhome in his submission while responding to an outburst from a certain part of this country, did not mince words; he described the free movement of cows as “anachronistic and primitive”. He questioned why the perpetrators have refused to grow and access modern provisions for livestock preservation. He insists that freedom of movement is only for human beings and not for cattle, sheep, and goats. He said that if the sale of alcohol is banned and brutally enforced in certain parts of the country—even though it is the constitutional right of the ethnic group involved to move about and sell beverages freely—why not extend the same to cows?

He frowned completely at the practice arguing that if Cattle rearing which is a private and profit-making concern is tolerated as a directive principle of state policy, then other ethnic groups have the right to storm public roads with their Pigs, crocodiles, goats, and perhaps Elephants, in the name of proving their rights; let there not be commotion! “Sometimes we get lost in an effort to strengthen our fault lines”, he stressed.

Giant of Africa! That’s what we call ourselves. Should there be any doubt about comparing our city with the likes of Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cairo, Algiers, and Riyadh? Should we remain stagnant and allow Kigali, Accra, and Botswana to go ahead in hygienic matters? These are pertinent questions for all stakeholders to address. Keen observers say if the government is able to introduce stringent laws like the “Park and Pay” policy and enforce it clinically, what stops them from doing the same with regard to open grazing? Cows have been known to stray into supermarkets, Petrol stations, and even homes and cause panic and fear among children and parents.

Until the arrival of Mr. Nyesom Wike, mum has been the word; everyone looks on as though nothing can be done. Much as we try, we wake up to find the same primordial and medieval setting; Who Bell the Cat? Read my lips—not my actions. For this degenerative ambiguity, Abuja may well now be a byword for disobedience—almost defaced by an army of youths on Okada and Keke Nape. If not controlled, one wonders what Abuja would be like in 10 years.  But the biggest worry is the obvious misplacement of goals and priories by relevant enforcement agents ranging from Vehicle Inspection Officers(VIO), Federal Road Safety Officers, and AMAC agents who crudely block law-abiding motorists in vain pursuit of checking particulars—regardless of whether cows are roaming right in their midst. Modern countries have developed “chips” for checking vehicle particulars; but here in Nigeria, VIOs have vehemently refused to embrace technology, preferring the decadent and corrupt means.

Experts contend that should they muster the same energy in checkmating the movement of cows, perhaps there would have been sanity.  AMAC officials have converted Abuja roads into a cauldron for crazy revenue generation. The Nigeria Police say theirs is to offer “protection” to enforcement agencies like the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) if and whenever they go for enforcement.  What about the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), the Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC)? They have arrogated themselves the job of running after shadows, chasing corrupt government officials; even members of the National Assembly are culpable in this tragic act. How do you drive big cars and wear starched agbada in a disorderly environment? We are all too relaxed and casualties.

This is the time for action.

In other countries, the same intractable problem exists, but they have managed with strong will and desire to stem the tide. In the United States, City Planners were able to come up with new strategies that kept abattoirs, piggeries, and diaries from city limits; They also used “zoning ordinances” to locate their livestock and slaughterhouses. Concerns for Public Health became a rallying point for them to create the hygienic city of their dream. A board of health was created to help monitor and abate nuisances from the movement of cattle within city limits. In India, where Cows are not eaten, a bill aimed at prohibiting the movement of stray cattle within city limits titled “Cattle Control Bill” was enacted in April 2022. Cattle Herders are also licensed and require their Cattle to be “tagged”.

If the owner fails to do so, he will be instantly penalized. In Accra, Ghana, permits and licenses are introduced along with regular vaccination and inspection to handle the situation. A Bye-law of Accra Metropolitan Assembly 1995, Section 79 of the LGA, 1993(Act) 462 stipulates that “no person shall keep any cattle, sheep or goat within areas of administration without permits”. The permits are reviewed periodically. In Kigali, Rwanda, movement of cattle is restricted to outside “built-up” areas. They are confined to specific locations mostly in the Hillside suburbs. Kigali in fact practices ranching full-scale! They have ensured that public places like markets, and roads are declared “cattle-free”. In South Africa, the movement of cattle is suspended unless they are designated for the slaughterhouse.

The suspension is reviewed weekly to ensure strict compliance. Their legislation is done purely for the purpose of preserving food security and livelihoods. In Botswana, their Road Traffic Act Section 100(2)(b) states that “no owner or person in charge of any cattle or other animals to be on the main road unless they are attended to by a person in such a manner as to have proper control over them”. They followed this up with an attempt to fence busy public roads and mark them with road signs.

In Abuja, the Federal Capital, though no written law bans the practice, the problem is likened to Catch-22—a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape, because of the mutually conflicting or dependent situation. It is potentially an explosive issue, because of the violence frequently displayed by these herders.  Three examples would suffice. On July 15, 2023, at Area One roundabout, opposite the Moshood Abiola Stadium, a handful of people gathered around a spot where a Volkswagen vehicle was parked with the bonnet shattered. A dead cow lay in front apparently smashed by the vehicle owner. It was obvious the parties involved were trying to keep the situation from spiraling out of control. In Lokogoma, near an Estate by the name of Peace Court, a farmer stood by in tears as cows mowed down his crop of maize. He was obviously in grief. The herders made no attempt to halt the destruction, including the motorists who hurriedly sped away. This happened on Saturday morning, August 12, 2023.

In far away Dei Dei, one of the fast-springing satellite towns in the FCT, a motorist who mistakenly ran into herds of cattle as they attempted to cross the road received a dirty slap for not stopping on time. The crazy under aged herder who slapped him looked at him menacingly probably with the intention to escalate the violence. Without uttering a word, the motorists drove off.  Disturbing scenarios like this are not uncommon in our midst. The cattle business is not listed in the Corporate Affairs Commission, but Agriculturalists insist that population growth, increasing urbanization, and climatic changes are factors that necessitate the continued presence and clash with human beings.

But Osi Braimah, the Director of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board(AEPB) countered in June 2023, that the extant laws and rules are clear: that no one is allowed to keep animals in his property, neither allowed to graze on the streets! This position was echoed by ex-minister Muhammed Bello who subsequently directed that herdsmen must move their cattle out of the city or face prosecution. He followed that threat by identifying a permanent grazing reserve for the herdsmen. In all 33,485 hectares of land was allocated to handle not less than 7 million cattle. The allocated places include Paikon Kore 8,500 hectares; Karshi 6,000 hectares; Kawu in Bwari 9,000 hectares; and Rubochi in Kuje 9,985 hectares. A committee to pursue this objective was raised in 2017. As a way of carrying everybody along, the umbrella body of the Herders the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria(MACBAN) were engaged and encouraged to nominate some of its bright young men to be part of the committee. These young men were in turn mandated to educate and encourage members to discontinue the practice of sending boys under the age of 18 to rear cows in the streets. A public enlightenment followed to actualize that campaign.

Despite these efforts, the problem has refused to abate. The presence of mobile courts responsible for sanctioning offenders with a paltry fine of N1,000 and N5,000 has not deterred them. “Safety rules are not known to these small boys who rear these animals” disclosed a source at the AEPB. Attempts made in the past to confiscate arrested and detained cows by the AEPB enforcement have resulted in shocking revelations about ownership. Four out of seven of such disputes ended up belonging to powerful forces in high places. “We tried to confiscate some troublesome cows recently, only for soldiers to show up and demand their release”, said a source in AEPB. It may surprise readers that the AEPB Act No 10 which has not been strengthened since 1997 has only provision for stray animals in the city!

A check on the National Environmental (Sanitation and Waste Disposal) Regulation of NESREA is particular about substances that litter the environment and pollutants; nothing to do with animal control. A few members of the National Assembly spoke to argue that no one had brought any such complaint to them. Then you will probably want to ask what about their oversight function.  These anomalies are only possible in an environment where there are no legal implications.

Thankfully, the new minister has promised to “step” on toes.  He has to start by revisiting the deterrent measure in place and give them more bite. Secondly, he has to send the AEPB act for overhaul; NESREA too should not be left out. They are to complement the efforts of AEPB. Wike has to find ways to make the VIOs, Road Safety, Police, CSOs, NLC, and TUCs work together, including the Abuja Municipal Council (AMAC). He also has to get members of the National Assembly to supervise the environment on his side.

Members of the Miyetti Allah should be brought on board. It is to their credit and future generations to embrace modern trends. They should be constantly reminded that by choosing to remain traditional, in no time, they would be extinct. In visiting the Abuja Master Plan, the honorable Minister must know that Abuja is conceived in Five Phases. Of the five, only two are fully developed. Places like Karsana, Dakibiyu, Bunkoro, Katampe, Pyakasa, Ketti, Wumba, Baraji, Karmo, and even Jahi are not developed. All the past ministers have only paid lip services to these other places, preferring to remain in Area One, Maitama, and Asokoro. Guzape is not left out.

Remarkably, a visit to some of these places will reveal the presence of herders in the vicinity. They claim to have been displaced—and yet to be settled despite doing so for the Gbagi’s and Gwari’s who also claim to own the land. “Go to Apo Dutse, Waru, Galadimawa, Guzape, Durumi and you will see some of these herder’s settlement and their families”, disclosed an authority in AEPB. “The government still has to look at their complaints although the Gwari’s and Gbagi’s own the land, not the herders who are itinerant”, the official stated.

The point must not however be lost; if every human being should die, leaving the environment only for cows, how will the cows themselves survive?  The people committing these crimes are not aliens; they are human beings. We have to determine the type of society we want to build and put aside sentiments.  The environment does not differentiate between ethnic groups, religions,s or political divides. It is for everyone, including the herders. Over now to His Excellency Mr. Nyesom Wike to deliver. Let us call a spade a spade and be guided.