By Samuel Nwite
The Rural Grazing Area (Ruga) settlement initiative by the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) is bringing more chaos than the supposed tranquility. Many Nigerians have taken to social media to register their displeasure over the development with hashtags such as #SayNoToRuga and plan to take to the streets on Friday. There are so far three types of Nigerians involved in the sagacious development.
- Those in support of Ruga
- Those not in support
- Those who don’t know what Ruga is. Upon this triad, the Ruga row rests. But the third category beckons the responsibility to explain.
What is Ruga?
About a week before the Federal Executive Council (FEC) handed over, precisely on May 19th, it sat and discussed Ruga settlement for herdsmen in the 36 states across the federation. In the end of the meeting, multi-million naira contracts were approved in favor of the Ruga settlement. In defense of this decision, the ministry of agriculture issued a statement saying that Ruga is part of NLTP (National Livestock Transformation Plan).
In 2017, when the Nigerian vice president, Prof. Yomi Osinbajo was serving in the capacity of acting president, he used his office and position as the chairman of National Economic Council (NEC) to seek a solution for the incessant crisis between farmers and herdsmen that has resulted in loss of so many lives and property.
To achieve his aim of lasting peace, he started making wide consultations with service chiefs, governors, and whoever has something to offer. It lasted for about two years, and then in 2019, his efforts gave birth to a plan named National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP).
So when the ministry of agriculture attached Ruga to NLTP, that is evident of its headship by the vice president, it drew outrage and regional condemnations. The wobbling table holding the implementation of Ruga got messier when the association of cattle breeders, Miyetti Allah, added voice to the statement of the ministry of agriculture, that “Ruga is part of NLTP,” forcing the vice president to refute the claim, stating that Ruga is never part of NLTP.
(The NLTP has 5 pillars that clearly identifies what its plan and strategies of executing them are. The 5 pillars are:
- Conflict Resolution
- Justice and Peace
- Humanitarian Relief & early Recovery
- Human Capital Development
- Cross Cutting Issues.
Ruga is not in any way mentioned or attached to these pillars of priority areas. The main goal was to foster federal support in implementing the transformation of the livestock sector through the establishment of ranches, improved fodder production, economic investment into associated value chains, and importantly, compensating those affected by the violence for their losses.)
Unprecedented uproar ensued, with the South-East and South-South Governors vehemently refusing the Ruga settlement plan, those in the South West were divided, and so it is in the North. This is one of the reasons: According to the land use act of 1977, all land in a state is the custody of the Governor on behalf of the people. Apart from few areas where the FGN has exclusive jurisdiction over, areas like lands for rail line, seaport, airport etc. In view of this, the Ruga settlement seems more like a land grabbing invasion by the FG, which is instigating curious concerns.
The words on the streets and social media were that the FGN is on nepotistic land grabbing mission. A “misconception” that the FGN tried to clear through the issued statement that explained what Ruga is all about and how the governments plan to make it happen. According to the statement, ‘Ruga settlement’ is a provisional rural settlement for migrant pastoral families. Its aim is to provide them with 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.
In the light of the insecurity and threat posed by open grazing, the FGN sees it as a means to achieve peaceful coexistence between herders, farmers, and their host communities. The statement also added that participation by state governments is voluntary. So far, there have been 12 states that indicated interest in piloting Ruga through the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, and that’s enough to start with.
Although the statement explained so many things about Ruga, it didn’t calm the protests. There were suspicious loopholes, and it didn’t take a while to figure them out. For instance, Benue state has for long distanced itself from any programme that requires giving out land for cattle rearing, but to everyone’s surprise, it’s one of the 12 states said to have indicated interest. In fact, the FGN, through the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, has contracted Clear Sky Broad Band Ventures Limited to execute the Grazing Reserve Project at Otobi road, Oturkpo, before the Ministry of Agriculture wrote to the Benue state government seeking approval for the project.
More to that, the opinion that has strongly opposed the Ruga development is that Cattle Rearing is a private venture just like every other privately owned business that runs in Nigeria. And it’s wrong for the FGN and states to spend taxpayers money funding private business, especially when there is no provision for that in the budget. The funding depends on the volunteered states and FGN. Each of the states is expected to provide N5billion and the FGN will match up the money. So for the 11 states that have volunteered so far (Benue excluded) N55 billion is expected. The more states indicate interest, the more funds the Ruga settlement plan will have.
What the presidency failed to explain in its statement is where Ruga emerged from. Since evidently it’s not part of NLTP that the vice president and NEC approved, or if the presidency is abandoning the well-articulated NLTP all of a sudden to embrace Ruga without consulting NEC. NLTP was developed through wide consultations involving all the 36 Governors and every stakeholder that matters. For about 2 years, the vice president, Prof. Osinbajo got everyone on board, discussed parts and parcel of it, and in the end, everyone nodded in agreement, prompting the Governors to make provisional budgetary allocation for NLTP in their respective states. This is the ranching deal that Nigerians know about and expected to be implemented. There is belief that the FG has reneged on NLTP, trying to play smart on NEC and the office of the vice president.
The sudden emergence of Ruga is stoking a lateral polity that may eventually set gloom precedents. Disorderliness in the presidency is one of them, lack of trust in the government is another, and more dangerously, the tendency of corporations or business associations constituting a menace just to get the government to dance to their tone.
The office of the president through FEC and the office of the vice president through NEC seem to be in disagreement regarding the best way to solve the farmer/herder crisis. And they are washing their dirty undies in the public.
The people are seeing more reasons to cling to their space of distrust in their relationship with the government. “Don’t believe anything they tell you” is a common sentence with a bitter meaning among Nigerians. It connotes the belief that there is a coated evil in every of government’s plans. Therefore, they should not be trusted even when there is an explanation to their actions.
Most Nigerians believe that the federal government is being economical in the way it’s handling the herder/farmer crisis to the favor of herdsmen. A few or no one has been brought to book, even though the crisis has taken thousands of lives. In 2018 alone, about 2000 deaths were attributed to Fulani herdsmen, and the number keeps counting even in 2019. While the government is yielding to the yearnings of the herdsmen, from funding to settlement, it appears that the government is negotiating its way out of a hostage situation: a predicament with a negative futuristic precedent. The premonition tendency that any other business group or association may violently force the government to bend to their wishes cannot be ignored. If the antecedents are not curtailed, it will become a detrimental norm that the future will hold against the present.