Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly (Senate) Matters, Senator Ita Enang, has disclosed that a N2.258 billion has already been provided in the 2019 budget for the implementation of the Ruga programme.
He, therefore, called on states in the southern part of the country to support the implementation of the proposed Ruga cattle settlement programme by making land available.
The Chairman of the National Food Security/Herders/Farmers Conflict, Dave Umahi, had in March announced the suspension of the Ruga programme owing to what he called lack of consistency with the National Economic Council (NEC) and Federal government’s approved National Livestock Transformation Plan, aimed at rehabilitation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) resulting from the crisis and development of ranching in any willing state.
Enang made the appeal at the weekend when he hosted Students of Law School Abuja from Akwa Ibom State.
According to him, the word Ruga is not derived from Hausa or Fulani, but an acronym for Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) initiated in 1956 during the colonial era and is not intended to islamise, fulanised or colonise anybody.
Supporting his claims, Enang cited the 2019 federal budget, volume 1 under the Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Development, item number ERGP 5208 where the sum of N2.258 billion was provided and budgeted for the grazing programme.
Enang stressed that the National Assembly members were not against the Ruga programme because they were aware of it and had been approving funds for its implementation.
Besides the over N2 billion appropriated for the Ruga, the sum of N300 million was also budgeted for water sanitation, N400 million for the development for sweet potatoes, N350 million for ginger development amongst several other projects.
He said that the Ruga policy is just one component of the budget under the Ministry of Agriculture.
Enang added that the objective of the budget for Ruga is to promote cattle breeding and meat production.
He explained that the Ruga programme is an integrated farm system which has schools, good road, tractors and mechanisation, agricultural integration, with a provision for primary healthcare, veterinary and schools.
He, however, disclosed that asides the budgeted sum for Ruga in 2019, there is another sum provided for the emergency Ruga implementation programme approved in May by the National Economic Council for states that will make land available.
Enang said that since 1999, he has been hosting students of Law School from Akwa Ibom State but this was specifically to enlighten them on the objective of Ruga programme against the misconceptions making the rounds.
Enang who asked each of the Law students what they know about Ruga said that it is not a Hausa or Fulani word.
According to him the Ruga programme started in Nigeria since 1956, adding that it is not only for rearing cattle but farming and rearing of other animals.
”Ruga is not a plan to seize land from people neither and is it meant to fulanise or colonise anybody.
”The programme is meant to address the issue of cattle roaming and destruction of farmland which would put an end to the herders-farmers crisis, ” Enang explained.
According to the presidential aide, people in the South have farm settlements and plantations which he equates to Ruga.
“The idea of Ruga graduated in 1978 into the Land Use Act which states that a portion of land has to be reserved for grazing to avoid the destruction of farm produce by cattle.
”Over time, cattle roamed and destroyed farms hence the introduction of the policy to address the issue,” he said.
He noted that in places like the North, earth dams were constructed to cater for cattle.
He expressed shocks over the inability of some states governors to understand the policy.
One of the first Ruga programmes is Obudu Cattle Ranch and the Yankari Games Reserve.
He said that every year there has been allocation for the continuous funding of grazing areas.
He explained that the height of the herders-farmers crisis led to the introduction of the Ruga policy on May 8, by the Federal government mostly in the middle belt region and some states in North East and North West.
The presidential aide said that it was the NEC that approved the establishment of the emergency Ruga policy but wondered why some governors were denying been part of the approval.
According to him” The Federal government is not in any way trying to takeover anybody’s land for Ruga,” adding that land under the land use act is in the hands of state government.
He faulted the claims by some governors that it was meant to fulanise the people.
He said that the emergency Ruga programme did not involve any state in the South East, South West and the South South because the areas that had the problems were about ten states mainly North Central, and a few states in North West and North East.
Responding to questions from the Law students, he said in most places wealth is measured by the number of cattle one has.
Enang said that people in the southern part of the country preferred the local cow because it’s more nutritious than the ones brought from the North.
He urged the states in the South to open up their lands for Ruga.
He said those in the habit of abusing their leaders who buy into the Ruga programme are not well informed on the policy, adding that their representatives in the National Assembly unanimously passed the budget for Ruga and the ministers from all the states of the federation also approved the Ruga at NEC.
He further highlighted that each state has a representative at the Federal Executive Council just like NASS.
He said that the president is very sensitive to the plight of Nigerian hence the call for the suspension of the Ruga programme.
Enang said Ruga is an investment programme that will generate money for the state and the country at large.
He appealed to all Nigerians to stop politicising the implementation of the Ruga programme.
Enang said that if lawyers understand, the world will understood.
The students appreciated the senator appealing to government to increase its public enlightenment programme to enable the citizens understand better its policies and programmes in order to avoid rancour.
Ndifrake Inyang, leader of the Akwa Ibom State Students of the Nigerian Law School, Abuja campus, said: “We came here today to pay a courtesy call on Senator Ita Enang in keeping with his 20 years tradition of hosting law students being that he is a lawyer; we came to learn from his wealth of experience.
“Today the distinguished senator took a different dimension by enlightening us on the issue of Rural Grazing Area (RUGA).
I recalled that about two months ago there was crisis in Taraba and Benue states. While I was growing up in my own place (Cross River State) we had a similar issue and this has been on for many years.
“I didn’t have the right notion about RUGA but I reserved my comment on that at for the time because as a lawyer you don’t have to talk until you know all the facts. So having known the facts about the entire process, I am happy and I am in better position to educate others on the subject matter.
“Sincerely speaking, the RUGA is something that everybody would want to have because of the economic derivatives. I also want the RUGA settlement in my state Akwa Ibom so that there will be employment and our people can benefit from it and also put to an end the national crisis so that we will have one peaceful Nigeria.”