Controversy trails Ruga settlement policy

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Buhari
Buhari

Despite the announcement of the suspension of the RUGA Programme by the Federal Government, the controversy and conspiracy theories that have trailed its announcement may not die down soon even if the programme is subsequently cancelled by the initiators of the divisive and unconstitutional policy

By Anayo Ezugwu

IT is no longer news that the federal government has suspended the Ruga policy, following the pressure mounted by well-meaning Nigerians. What is at issue now is the various lies, half-truths amidst facts that have been peddled by the Presidency and other top government officials. The policy has been received with mixed reactions that invariably point to the danger it poses to the nation’s unity.

President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday July 3, succumbed to pressure by suspending the controversial Ruga settlement scheme, designed to settle the Fulani and their cattle on acquired land across the states in the country. The suspension was announced because the programme was not in consistent with the National Livestock Transformation Plan, NLTP, which was earlier deliberated upon and approved by the National Economic Council, NEC.

The suspension has generated mix reactions with the northern youths under the aegis of Coalition of Northern Group, CNG, issuing a 30-day ultimatum to Buhari to implement the Ruga policy across the country. The group also warned that they would resort to a line of action after the deadline expires.

Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, CNG spokesperson, accused Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, of retracting and disassociating himself from the policy and apparently being obsessed with curious ethnic tendencies and haste to reassure his tribal lords.

But their ultimatum met a stiffer response when John Nnia Nwodo, president general, Ohaneze Ndigbo, told Igbos in the north to get ready to defend themselves against any attack from the northern group. “This irresponsible, unlawful and provocative outburst reminds me of the quit notice from Northern Youths two years ago.

“Ohanaeze insists that the Ruga policy is an Islamization and a Fulanisation policy. It is a violation of our Constitution and Supreme Court decisions on the Land Use Act. It’s suspension without cancelation leaves the Federal Government still in violation of our laws,” he said.

Even Miyetti Allah backed the president for suspending the action. Abdullahi Bodejo, national president, Miyetti Allah Kauta Hore, said the proposed Ruga settlement scheme was a curse to them because it brought more hatred to the Fulani ethnic group.

Osinbajo
Osinbajo

He said there was no single Fulani family in the country that does not have Ruga and claimed that they were not consulted on the project. He asserted that the Ruga project had done more damage than good, especially in the southern part of the country.

Bodejo in an interview said they were in support of the federal government’s suspension of the Ruga scheme because neither the group nor their traditional rulers were consulted on the issue. He said the only policy of government that would help the Fulani cause in Nigeria is the provision of facilities in grazing reserves.

The Ruga project has a lot of controversy with the federal government finding it difficult to differentiate it with the NLTP policy. The NLTP policy is a N179 billion 10-year initiative (2018-2027) that champions ranching as the way forward for cattle rearing in the country. The plan, presented by the National Economic Council, NEC, in June 2018, recommends that cattle herders are expected to be registered with cooperatives for the purpose of the ranching scheme.

These cooperatives will then be able to get rental agreements for land from state governments and also benefit from ranch resources on several terms, including loans, grants, and subsidies. The funding of the plan from the federal government and state governments is expected to last for the first three years in the pilot phase for a total of N70 billion, while private sector interests and investments between the third and 10th year is expected to be in excess of N100 billion.

Rather than stick with the NLTP policy, the government decided to use the backdoor to settle Fulani herdsmen across the 36 states with the Ruga policy. This, perhaps is why Garba Shehu, senior special assistant to the president on media and publicity, said the government had gazetted lands across the states.

“It is true that government at the centre has gazetted lands in all states of the federation, but because the idea is not to force this programme on anyone, the government has limited the take-off to the dozen states with valid requests,” he said.

But Nigerians reacted sharply against Shehu’s statement. They faulted him and raised fundamental and constitution issues regarding land ownership in Nigeria. Part (1) of the Land Use Act 1990 states that: “Subject to the provisions of this Act, all land comprised in the territory of each State in the Federation are hereby vested in the Governor of that State and such land shall be held in trust and administered for the use and common benefit of all Nigerians in accordance with the provisions of this Act.

“(1) As from the commencement of this Act – (a) all land in urban areas shall be under the control and management of the Governor of each State. And (b) all other land shall, subject to this Act, be under the control and management of the Local Government, within the area of jurisdiction of which the land is situated,” it said.

Even Femi Falana, SAN and human rights advocate, said the federal government has no right to gazette land in any state. “Every state will not have a ranch. Only states that desire ranch will have them because under the Land Use Act, President Buhari does not have control over any land outside the FCT.Nwodo

Nwodo“In all the states, the land is vested on the governor. So if a governor does not give land to the federal government, it cannot establish a ranch in the state. Nigerians must get that very clearly. But sentiments apart, we have to be serious about this matter,” he said.

The confusion over Ruga policy started on Tuesday, June 25, when Mohammed Umar, permanent secretary, federal ministry of agriculture and rural development, announced the commencement of Ruga settlements as a measure to end the farmers/herders conflict. He disclosed that the herders housed in the settlements will be provided water for their animals, pasture, schools for their children, security, agro-rangers, and so on.

Umar said the Ruga initiative was part of the NLTP. Unlike the NLTP which was presented last year, there is no official document in the public domain that defines the full scope of the Ruga initiative, other than the federal government’s brief statement about its benefits. The mystery surrounding the initiative has paved the way for misinformation to define how it has been discussed among commentators and concerned Nigerians.

The Presidency similarly disclosed that animal farmers, not just cattle herders, will be settled in Ruga settlements with the provision of necessary and adequate basic amenities such as schools, hospitals, road networks, vet clinics, markets and manufacturing entities that will process and add value to meats and animal products. It also assured Nigerians that Ruga settlements will be of benefit to everyone in animal husbandry and not just Fulani herders as widely reported in public discussions.

Baba Uthman Ngelzarma, general secretary, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, added more fire to the controversy by saying that the Ruga model is a component part of the NLTP that is being implemented under the supervision of Osinbajo.

But vice president’s office quickly denied the report, saying that it only knows about the NLTP and not Ruga.  Laolu Akande, senior special assistant on media and publicity to the vice-president, in a statement, said: “The National Livestock Transformation Plan 2019-2028 is a programme to be implemented in seven pilot states of Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Plateau, Nasarawa, Taraba and Zamfara (as decided by NEC in January), being states in the front lines of the Farmer-Herder crises. Afterwards, six other states have indicated readiness to also implement the plan. They are Katsina, Kano, Kogi, Kwara, Ondo, and Edo states.

“The plan has six pillars through which it aims to transform the livestock production system in Nigeria along market-oriented value chain, while ensuring an atmosphere of peace and justice. The six key pillars include, economic investment, conflict resolution, justice and peace, humanitarian relief and early recovery, human capital development and cross-cutting issues such as gender, youth, research and information and strategic communication.”

Falana
Falana

It’s also noteworthy that even though Osinbajo has distanced the NLTP from the Ruga initiative, there are peculiar similarities from Umar’s brief overview that suggests the settlement idea is a direct strip of one of NLTP’s six pillars. The six pillars are economic investment; conflict resolution; law and order; humanitarian relief; information, education, and strategic communication; and crosscutting issues.

The NLTP’s economic investment pillar focuses on supporting and strengthening the development of ranches in pilot states for improved productivity through breed improvement and pasture production. This pillar focuses on building ranches in states that are willing to volunteer land, and appears to be where the Ruga initiative was directly derived.

One of the major objections to Ruga is the realisation that while it caters to the livelihood of cattle herders, it neglects farmers whom many believe to be the main victims of the conflict. The humanitarian relief pillar of the NLTP, according to NEC, focuses on rebuilding and reconstructing common facilities – worship places, markets and individual homes that have been destroyed in the conflict.

It also focuses on rehabilitation; reconstruction, resettlement and compensation of the displaced persons affected by the conflict, and especially cater to providing input and land for crop farmers that have been displaced.

This pillar is clearly missing from the Ruga initiative, leading to concerns that the federal government prioritises the business of cattle herders over farming communities that have been greatly devastated over the past few years. Many believe there won’t be true peace if both sides of the conflict are not equally appeased, leading to concerns that building Ruga settlements in communities that are still aggrieved might worsen the crisis.

Apart from legal issues, the Ruga policy has generated emotional controversy ranging from ethnicity, religion and territorial interest. This made many ethnic groups in the country to accuse Buhari of Islamisation and Fulanisation. Many said the settlement is the start of a grand plan for Fulani herders to establish themselves across the country with the help of the president.

But with the suspension, many of them have applauded the federal government while calling for total cancelation of the policy. Senator Femi Okunronmu, a chieftain of Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, commended the federal government for the suspension. He said the action clearly indicated that the Buhari-led administration was ready to listen to the hues and cries of Nigerians in taking decisions that have direct bearing on their lives.

“It is a good idea that the federal government under Muhammadu Buhari is suspending the Ruga project, which several eminent Nigerians have spoken against and condemned. By this, President Buhari has shown that he will listen to the cries of Nigerians and we are happy about that,” he said.

Arms bringing herdsmen
Arms bringing herdsmen

Okunronmu, however, called on the president not to only suspend the project, but also ensure that he disarms all the radical herdsmen who have been terrorising Nigerians across the country. “It is not only enough for the federal government to just suspend the Ruga project, President Buhari must ensure that he evolves a way of changing the psyche of those radical herdsmen and also disarm them. This is the only way to ensure that the mayhem and agony, which they have been causing Nigerians are stopped finally,” he said.

Similarly, Ohanaeze Ndigbo also commended the federal government for suspending the project.  Emeka Attamah, special assistant to president-general of the Ohanaeze, said it was heart warming to observe that for the first time the current leadership at the federal level deferred to people’s opinion on public issues

He added that the issues surrounding the suspended scheme indicated the importance of consulting the people before taking certain decisions that would affect them. “Ohanaeze Ndigbo is as worried about the restoration of peace between farmers and herders in the country as the federal government and believes that the ultimate solution to it is to embrace ranching. The federal government should take immediate measures to disarm the Ak-47 trotting herders throughout the country,” he said.

On its part, the Inter-Party Advisory Council, IPAC, in Delta State commended the federal government for not going ahead with the policy. IPAC said it was an indication that President Buhari respects the opinions of majority of Nigerians on the matter.

As the controversy ranges, the desire of many Nigerians is to see that the Buhari-led administration cancels the project completely.

– July 5, 2019 @ 18:57 GMT |

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