How the Benue Cattle Ranch Was Left to Rot
Undoubtedly, Ikyogen Cattle Ranch remains one of the best legacies of late Governor Aper Aku’s administration in Benue State before the government was truncated by the military coup of 1983.
Aku, the first civilian governor of Benue State, had during his four years and three months of rule (completed his first term and expelled by the military a few months after the second term) established several industries to facilitate the development of State, some of which include, Taraku Oil Mill, Otukpo Burnt Bricks, Benue Cement Company, as well as Ikyogen Ranch, among others, now on the privatization list.
Over the years, some of the viable legacies of the late governor, who admirers called “the man who saw tomorrow,” have been let go by successive state administrations, a development that recently forced the current government to resign. Benue State to set up 25 of its moribund assets for sale.
The Ikyogen Cattle Ranch, located in Kwande Local Government Area, falls into the category of moribund assets which the government was planning to revive through privatization.
Overshadowed by breathtaking Mount Vandetum and submerged by Avenga Creek, Ikyogen Ranch offers serenity ideal for animal grazing.
Indeed, it was once a tourist site and would still be if revived. In its heyday, the ranch served the protein needs of the people of the state and the country at large, as patrons came from different parts of the country to buy or sell and, in some cases, they came to sightsee.
The ranch, in addition, provided a farmhouse for ranch staff and the tourist village of Ikyogen.
Today, however, the story is not the same as Ikyogen has metamorphosed over time into a rural settlement alongside its decaying resort town. The resort was developed following the establishment of the ranch.
There is also a unique waterfall at Ikyogen Ranch which is said to have been inspired by the famous Obudu Cattle Ranch located in Cross River State. With its beautiful rolling hills, lush vegetation and mild weather conditions, the ranch is a home away from home for vacationers if used.
But, for more than three decades, the Ikyogen cattle ranch was abandoned and now serves as farmland for the host community, a dream far removed from the founder’s motives.
A government official who preferred not to be named told Our Correspondent that when the late governor first established the ranch, exotic cattle were brought in from outside the country and kept on site.
“The place was a hive of commercial activity. The animals, including the cows, on the ranch were foreign breeds and very large in size. But after the military took over, the next state administrator paid no attention to the ranch.
“And that’s how this beautiful idea was paralyzed. Now the government wants to give it away for proper use. I believe that if given to the right people, the ranch would become a source of revenue for the state,” the official said.
Our correspondent recalled that in 2019, the Benue State Government, through the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), allocated space in the ranch as a camp for refugees and more than 60,000 Cameroonian refugees were transferred to the site from Anyake, also in Kwande local government area. Notably, Kwande shares an international border with the Republic of Cameroon.
Currently, the ranch is among 25 moribund businesses put up for sale by the Benue state government and public feelings about the privatization plan were mixed as some people feared the move would end up in the wrong hands.
For now, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is helping the refugees build permanent structures in the Ikyogen settlement after they were moved from the first settlement in Anyake.
Apparently, the refugees do not know that their accommodation has been privatized.
Lubem Tor, identified as the settlement’s public relations officer, said he was unaware the ranch was about to be privatized. “I was not warned; no one explained it to me. There is a problem we face here. The people called SEMA, who are responsible for this regulation are not disseminating the information properly. What you do is give information to the target audience, but if you decide to withhold it, what do you hope to accomplish? »
Tor added that until they were officially told what to do next, they would continue to stay in their colony of Ikyogen.
Another Cameroonian refugee with her husband and two children in the settlement, Priscilla Abine, who is also unaware of the new development, climbs Mount Vandetum to farm every other day.
Although she looks forward to the end of the conflict in Cameroon so that her family can return to their country, she however believes that the government would not simply abandon them (refugees) when eventually the ranch, which houses the settlement, is given to a new property.
When contacted, SEMA boss Dr. Emmanuel Shior, who is believed to have traveled out of state, did not respond to calls to clarify the fate of the refugees in the event the state government handed over eventually the ranch.
Similarly, the Kindred Head of Uber/Kyule in the region, Chief Ortar Saaôndo Agule, also denied knowledge of the state government’s privatization plan.
“If you ask me, I would have said not to privatize the companies created by Aku; that they are there for our development. It is no longer development if you privatize them,” Agule said.
He would have preferred a retrocession to the premises, if the government can no longer own them. “We don’t have excess land and we just need to cultivate the land. And so, let them allow us to continue cultivating on it. After all, we are farmers,” he added.
Agule was concerned that the farmers were having trouble with the shepherds and if the ranch ended up in their hands, the problem would be brought closer to him.
“We have problems with the shepherds and I’m afraid if one of them takes over the ranch and it goes sour, what would we do? It’s my fear. If there are problems, I will no longer have peace.
“Therefore, let the government drop the idea so that if the refugees go back to their country, we cultivate our field. I wouldn’t welcome the idea of anyone else bringing cattle here. Even now that it’s not sold to them, we don’t have it well. If it is sold to them, what will be our fate? Those are my fears,” he said.
Agule argued that once the refugees return to their home country, the place can be used to establish a higher education institution. According to him, this will help young people in his community to access higher education. It will also save them the stress of traveling to other places to study.
The monarch further revealed that his people initially resisted the idea of relocating the refugees to the ranch and it only took his persuasion to change their minds.
The argument of his subjects, according to Agule, was that the purpose of the site was for herding and not for refugees, “however, I looked at it differently. I tried to make them see the benefits of development.
“I told them that even though it has been abandoned for almost 35 years now, the government is not turning its back on its programs forever. And for everything he does, there are reasons. So rather than lying fallow, they should let the government do what it wants.
“Now I can tell you that with the camp, UNHCR is making efforts to solve some of our problems. They are building a bridge as you can see, they have taken our charge of school fees at two basic schools, they have provided water, built a road to the camp and other benefits.
“My people too have now seen the benefits and there are no more problems.”
The traditional chief succumbed, however, saying: “if the government decides to sell the ranch, it cannot stop it”.
Meanwhile, a resident who preferred anonymity said he once saw people climbing the mountain and learned that they were coming to inspect the area. Then he asked if the current government was considering selling assets.
“The place was abandoned except that we used to cultivate there. But now, with the arrival of the refugees, we are getting certain advantages. Like me, I now have a Jacto (knapsack sprayer). The UN empowers people in different ways. And now they want to sell it.
“This land was given to the government when the population was not very large. But the population has increased. It won’t do any good if they sell it,” he postulated.
As to whether the ranch will be kept for ranching after it is privatized, the state government has clearly provided answers while also stating in a national newspaper infomercial that the ranch will be privatized.
The State Commissioner for Industries and Cooperatives, Barrister Merga Kachina, in a text response to our correspondent simply said, “Per our publication in The Nations newspaper on August 16, 2021, the ranch is earmarked for privatization. , not at the dealership. The outfit is a ranch and should be used as such.
Meanwhile, traditional chiefs and the state’s 23 LG council chairmen have lent their support to Governor Samuel Ortom’s administration to privatize, sell or license the 25 state-owned companies currently offered to public buyers.
They backed the idea taken at a recent meeting held at Makurdi Government House with Governor Ortom who assured that moribund businesses, if revived by capable individuals or groups, would provide job opportunities. and boost the state’s economy.
Ortom had explained that the meeting had decided to put the interest of the people of the state first in the planned privatization, stressing that the people of Benue would have the right of first refusal in the whole exercise.