Although the Federal Government has struggled to douse the tension created by its planned establishment of Integrated Farm Estates across the country, it is not convincing enough. The declaration by the government that the exercise is not for the purpose of implementing Rural Grazing Areas (RUGA) and ranches is apparently not believed by most Nigerians.
The clarification by the government came on the heels of the alarm raised by concerned Nigerians on the reintroduction of the contentious cattle colony policy and RUGA through the establishment of the farm estates. Some Nigerians have emphatically rejected the plan and argued that it was an indirect attempt to acquire land for people from a section of the country.
The government had recently directed the National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA) to set up integrated farm estates in all the 109 senatorial districts in the country.
Apparently aware of the rising tension occasioned by the directive, the government has explained that the establishment of the farm estates has nothing to do with RUGA or ranches, but a project meant for development of the respective communities and create jobs for the youths. According to the Executive Secretary of NALDA, Paul Ikonne, the integrated farm estates are designed to accommodate the youths from their communities in order to engage them into entire agricultural value chain.
“It has nothing to do with RUGA at all. It is purely for development, and to engage the youths and for the benefit of the immediate community. That is what the integrated farming estate stands for,” Ikonne stated.
Despite the explanation, the suspicion persists. This is not surprising. With rising cases of farmer-herdsmen clashes in different parts of the country, the farm estates may be an unwitting invitation for more crises in the farming communities.
On the face value, the farming settlement initiative may be noble but on a closer look, it is nothing but another grazing routes in disguise. Besides, it will be hard to convince Nigerians that the plan is not a veiled attempt to bring RUGA through the backdoor. We think that the Federal Government should stop the spurious initiative.
There is so much tension in the land already. Not less than 19,000 people had been killed in farmer-herder violence across the country with hundreds of thousands displaced since 1999.
In May last year, reports by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs indicated that 73 people were killed in clashes in Adamawa State. The incident which occurred in Lamurde Local Government Area of the State on May 15 and 16, left scores of houses burnt and businesses destroyed.
The 2018 report by Amnesty International put the number of those killed in the framers/herders clashes across the country since 2016, at 3,600. The North Central states of Benue, Plateau and Nasarawa and other states were the hardest hit. Other states were also not spared by the conflicts.
For instance, the attack on five Benue councils on January 1, 2018, left more than 70 people dead in one fell swoop. Another assault on the state on April 24, 2018, by suspected herdsmen on a Catholic Church led to the murder of two priests along with 15 of their parishioners in an early morning worship session. Two months later, clashes in Plateau State between June 24 and 26, 2018, led to 135 to 200 deaths while the Police claimed that only 86 killed.
Suspected herdsmen had also struck in Ukpabi-Nimbo community of Enugu State on April 25, 2016, leaving in their trail 50 persons dead and several property destroyed. The herders had also claimed that they were attacked and their cattle rustled.
The plan to introduce farm settlements across the country will likely trigger more crises. With the furore over grazing routes, RUGA and other controversial policies of the government, Nigerians can no longer trust the agriculture initiative, especially against the backdrop of suspicion of government’s land grabbing motive.
It is instructive that agriculture is on the concurrent list in the 1999 Constitution (as amended). The establishment of farm settlements should be left to state governments, which can efficiently manage them. The Federal Government must forthwith distance itself from the integrated farm settlements or estates.
We believe that there are other matters that should demand the urgent attention of the government and not farm settlements. They include the spiralling insecurity, corruption, rising inflation and persistent crash of the economy and value of the naira. Farm settlements should not be part of the problems the government should worry about. The initiative, if not halted, will portray the government in bad light. Let the plan be discarded with immediate effect while the government grapples with insecurity and other urgent national matters.