The rising debt profile of the Buhari administration is not yet in the mood to start nose-diving. Details of the debt situation are tumbling out of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as Senator Sabi Abdullahi, representing Niger North Senatorial District in the Red Chamber of the National Assembly and some of his colleagues are kicking against the Farm Settlements programme of the administration.
Relative to its March 2020 level, CBN says the outstanding debt of the Buhari administration as of the end-March 2021, stood at N28,984.3 billion, which represents a 15.8 per cent increase.
However, Senator Abdullahi, a veterinary doctor, says the establishment of farm settlements will not resolve the issue of farmers – herders clashes, insisting, “what the government is doing right now is not sufficient to address the issue we are facing in the country.
“Even the livestock transformation programme, as far as I am concerned, is deficient because we don’t know our livestock population. The last census was conducted in 1990 to ascertain the actual number of cattle in this country. The number of cattle, by projection, is put at 27 million, while sheep and goat are said to be about 11 million.
“The concern is that nobody is talking about the feed needs of the animals. People are kicking against open grazing but where is the feed for the animals? Even when land has been allocated for the feed, have we established the type of crops growing on such land? Is it what the animals need to eat?
“As far as I am concerned, until we tackle the livestock feeds challenge, this issue will always be there because no one can control hungry animals. They would find ways to eat whatever they see”
While the Buhari administration is planning to establish farm settlements in each of the 108 senatorial districts, concerned federal legislators are noting that any arrangement to acquire land by Abuja at the moment without giving details of what it would be used for, might face stiff resistance from various communities.
Last month, President Muhammadu Buhari directed the National Agricultural Land Development Authority to set up the integrated farm estates in 108 senatorial districts nationwide.
The policy is being greeted with criticisms from the leadership of the various ethnic groups in the middle belt, and southern part of the country, describing it as an attempt in disguise, to create grazing areas for cattle.
Senator Matthew Urhoghide, representing Edo South Senatorial District, says Abuja should give details of the project before approaching state governments for land allocation, adding, “we are in the Senate to represent our people. I know what my people want
“What we quarrel against is open grazing; we are not against ranching. We are not saying that a Fulani man that has a herd of cattle cannot come to the South to do the business of ranching but he cannot come to carry out open grazing.
“Grazing has two effects. It leads to wanton destruction of farmland. You cannot use animal husbandry to destroy crop farming. There are also criminal cases associated with it including murder. If the Federal Government is coming to get land in my state for ranching, it is okay because we need beef, which would be richer, when it is from the ranching system.
While hammering that President Buhari should make the intention of his administration very clear on the policy to avoid major clashes and crisis, Senator Abba Moro, representing Benue South said Abuja can make arrangements for herders to do the business of ranching but not at the expense of the farmers.
He is advising the Buhari administration to go to the drawing board and come up with a modern arrangement to make ranching the way to go, pointing out, “when government policies are viewed with suspicion, when citizens lack trust in government policies, then something is wrong.
“Until we address the root causes of conflicts between herders and farmers, and genuinely come out with the right way to go through dialogue, any policy that is thrown at the citizens will be looked at with suspicion which would cause some level of tension. I believe that in the face of the current conflicts between herders and farmers, it is not appropriate for government to think of establishing ranches or cattle colonies in any part of the country.”
In the meantime, the apex bank has pointed out that the fiscal operations of the Buhari administration in April 2021 contracted by 67.8 per cent, relative to the budget estimate, revealing that Abuja recorded a fiscal deficit of N150.36 billion in April, after recording an aggregate expenditure of N559.67 billion and retained revenue of N409.31billion.
Those are the figures going by CBN’s April report on Fiscal operations of the Federal Government. “Federation revenue rose by 28.2 per cent in April 2021 to N1.12tn, relative to N862.79bn in March 2021, owing to improved non-oil earnings.
“However, the retained revenue of the Federal Government of Nigeria at N409.31bn, was 38.5 per cent below target. Similarly, the provisional aggregate expenditure of the FGN, at N559.67bn, was 50.6 per cent below the budget benchmark and 59.4 per cent short of the level in March 2021’’, part of the report says.