The registrar of the Veterinary Council of Nigeria (VCN), Dr Markus Avong, in this exclusive interview with Ruth Tene Natsa speaks on the many challenges facing the nation’s veterinary profession and efforts to redress them.

What are the functions of the Veterinary Council of Nigeria (VCN)?

Our core mandate is to ensure standards; we are responsible for the quality  teaching and practice of veterinary medicine which involves us ensuring quality in the universities where veterinary  medicine is taught and that veterinarians practice professionally when they graduate

How many veterinary surgeons does Nigeria have?

Currently in the veterinary register, we have 6,926 registered veterinary surgeons, but what I cannot tell is the exact number engaged in livestock and its related activities. We have been working to capture that data to no avail because the profession is very versatile and equip them to practice in other fields.

Would you say our professionals can complete with global standards?

Yes, they can. In fact, our core mandate is to ensure that their competencies are profound in the World Organisation of Animal Health and intergovernmental organisations.

Just recently, a Nigerian citizen in Canada applied to be registered in Canada to practice. Of course, he won’t be allowed to practice until he gets a letter from us that he is a registered surgeon. There are many of them like that  who go to other countries and want to practice. These countries have to write to us to acknowledge that they are members and to qualify as the veterinarians write the exams and pass from all parts of the world.

So indeed, they meet global standards and our main target is ensuring the competency  of our practitioners and ensuring that their competencies meet the standards of world.

What would you say are some of your challenges overseeing these professionals?

The main challenge has to do with the law establishing the VCN because there is nothing you can do outside the law establishing us. Looking at the expectations of the World Organisation for Animal Science and what it expects from us, you will discover that it is not up to date. As I speak to you we have a copy of the amendment to both chambers of the National Assembly.

What are your specific requests in the new bill?

In 2007/2009, members of the World Organisation for the Performance of Veterinary Service in Nigeria was asked to  carry out a GAP analysis on the performance of veterinary service in Nigeria and all the stakeholders  in the veterinary circle were scored independently. One of the deficiencies the council had was its inability to regulate the practice of animal health delivery and veterinary para-professions.

The World  Organisation for Animal Health states that each country should have one professional  regulatory body that regulates both the veterinary surgeons and the para-professionals, but we do not have that. Another challenge is that with the need to capture information with regard to the profession of the veterinary agency, you cannot regulate the practice of veterinary surgeons without having  a guideline or rule gazetted for the registration of their practices and premises. If you do not know where the practice is taking place, you cannot effectively regulate them.

So all these have been reflected in the amendment bill. We are trying to approach the issues from two sides: the Veterinary Surgeons Act allows us to have rules for carrying out activities and is expected to be submitted to the minister to forward to the president who would sign it so that they can be gazetted. While we are pursuing the amendment, we are equally trying to put together some of the guidelines approved by the council some years back and send to them to the president and see how they can be amended to help effectively  in registering of the veterinary premises .

Sometimes ago, you lamented the challenges of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) on the council. How has that been resolved?

As a matter of fact, with respect to the College of the Veterinary Surgeons that had its tuition fees mopped up by the TSA, we have applied for a refund and actually the college had to close down for a year because we had to understand how the TSA worked since you cannot collect money from students and fail to use it for them. We are hoping that within the 2016/17 academic year the school will re-open and the college itself has already put up a programme to that effect.

The problem we had with the TSA was getting back money, and accessing what we have there is minimal. We are able to access whatever goes in there and that is the main reason we decided that the college can re-open since we can have access to the funds in the TSA.

What are your recommendations to government’s suggestion of the grazing routes in tackling herdsmen/farmers clashes?

First and foremost let us find out the root cause of the crises which is competition for a limited natural resources which is land. Man is endowed with modern science and technology and can overcome the challenges of desert encroachment.   Both farmers and herdsmen are competing for these natural resources, but the clashes would have been unavoidable even if we had only one group, the farmers or the herdsmen, as long as there is population increase or increased herds respectively. There would have been land conflicts because this is it is a natural resource that cannot be increased. So the solution is to reduce the conflicts and not add to it by adopting modern and commercial agricultural practices/processes.

So would you say importing pasture grasses is a solution?

It is part of the solution, you employ science and technology-based approaches to agriculture generally, whether crops or livestock, because the techniques are such that with a limited area you can have improved production of both. What we are now faced with is to look for a way to manage that limited resources, and while ranching may be the best approach to the herdsmen/farmers clashes, it is not possible for all herdsmen to have access to their own ranches.

Even though I do not know government’s plans, whether they are to be individual-, private- or government-owned ranches, there have to be diverse means to manage the ranches, particularly where there are no pressures on land, so as not to aggravate the problems, but to employ modern techniques that would result into increased production and upgrading local stock, among others.

With the challenges we are having, how feasible is agriculture as a key to economic diversification?

The only way we can achieve this is by modernising and commercialising agriculture because through that we can get improved production using improved seeds and other modern techniques, and even irrigation as well as increasing the number of times we farm. The same thing can be applied to cattle; we need to upgrade diary cattle to improve production so that we can learn to do what other countries have done by modernising agriculture.

The clashes between the herdsmen/farmers is not exclusive to Nigeria because the United States had the same experience in their formative years.


SOURCE: Leadership