The most trending issue this week at the presidential villa was the RUGA settlement programme being proposed by the federal government. As soon as the policy was announced, the debate regarding its authenticity or otherwise dominated the country’s media space.
Prominent groups like the southern and middle belt forum rejected the policy on the ground that it is another Fulanisation agenda by the federal government. While some have criticised it as a further confirmation of President Nuhammadu Buhari’s alleged plan to islamise the country, an allegation the federal government has relentlessly dismissed as the handiwork of mischief makers and disgruntled politicians, others like the revered Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, described the policy as a gun powder upon which the country is seated.
This policy which was said to be approved by President Buhari few days to the end of his first term in May is intended to provide settlement for nomadic herdsmen who breed animals with the over all intention to end the repeated clashes by Fulani herders and farmers.
With the controversy refusing to abate, the Presidency last Sunday came up with further explanations to educate and persuade the public on the essence of the RUGA policy. It emphasised that the implementation of RUGA settlements would curb open grazing by animals that continue to pose security threat to farmers and herders.
According to a statement by the senior special assistant on media and publicity to the president, Mallam Garba Shehu, “Ruga Settlement that seeks to settle migrant pastoral families simply means rural settlement in which animal farmers, not just cattle herders, will be settled in an organized place with 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”.
He explained that beneficiaries will include all persons in animal
husbandry, not only Fulani herders. He added that the federal government was planning this in order to curb open grazing of animals that continue to pose security threats to farmers and herders.
On Tuesday, chairman of Northern governors forum and Plateau State governor Simon Lalong told State House correspondents that the controversy over the Ruga cattle resettlement was unnecessary. He explained that as a member of the food security and herdsmen/farmers committee, they posited that the only solution that could address the incessant insecurity issues between herdsmen and farmers is the ranching policy.
According to him, the policy is all encompassing and not for a particular tribe, adding that in the long run it will benefit all Nigerians. He said, “I think the Ruga thing should not be anything that should bring controversy with the level of sensitisation we’ve already made.
“I am a member of the food security committee, I am a member of the herdsmen/farmers committee. We’ve gone a long way on this issue and we’ve said that the only solution that can address some of these insecurity issues between herdsmen and farmers is the ranching policy. You remember that one time we have gone far when some people called it colony and called it this and that, and it created controversy.
“Again, we have gone far under the leadership of Mr Vice President, and then we are hearing other terms. What they are talking about is the same thing that we are talking about”.
Despite all the clarifications, opposition continued to mount against the policy. The federal government announced the suspension of the RUGA settlement programme with immediate effect. Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi, announced the suspension after a meeting of the committee held in the office of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the presidential villa, Abuja.
The vice president and the governors of Kebbi and Plateau States, Atiku Bagudu and Simon Lalong attended the meeting. Umahi said the RUGA programme was inconsistent to the extent that it did not incorporate the rehabilitation of the IDPs who had been victims of the crisis as well as development of ranches in any states that were willing.
He said, “We the NEC committee on farmers/herders crisis under the chairmanship of Mr. Vice President met today to deliberate on the approved programme of National Economic Council (NEC) and federal government, tagged, the National Livestock Transformation Programme.
“We are aware today that Mr. President has suspended the implementation of Ruga programme, initiated and being implemented by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, because it is not consistent with the NEC and federal government approved National Livestock Transformation plan which has programmes of rehabilitation of displaced IDPs, resulting from the crisis and also development of ranches in any willing state of the federation. The word is willing state of the federation.
“The National Livestock Transformation plan, its beauty is that what NEC and FG approved is a voluntary programme to all the 36 states who may like to participate. So, it is not compulsory, it is for any state that is willing to key into the programme.
“Any state that is interested in this programme is required to bring up a development plan that is keyed towards the implementation in line with our own programme here that is unique to his state based on the challenges that he has in respect of the crisis. That’s the decision of this committee.”