Chinyere Anyanwu, [email protected]
The Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) programme, an initiative of the Federal Government, aimed at settling herdsmen in dedicated locations across the country where they could do their cattle business with facilities provided for ease of the business, was last week suspended even before full take off.
Government suspended the implementation of the programme following widespread outcries from various quarters across the country against it. While the debate lasted, several state governors, traditional rulers and private individuals, among others, had expressed lack of confidence in the modalities for the programme’s implementation, insisting there were ulterior motives behind its establishment.
Despite government’s explanation that the rationale for RUGA was to curb the incessant bloody clashes between farmers and herdsmen, majority of Nigerians refused to be swayed by the Buhari adinistration’s argument that it was in the soci-economic interest of the country to implement the policy.
For instance, the former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, while explaining the scheme when he was visited in Abuja by the Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong, recently, said, “cattle colony is not using herdsmen to colonise any state. It is going to be done in partnership with state governments that would like to volunteer land for it.”
He further said, “the Federal Government will fund the project and those wishing to benefit from it will pay some fees. While ranching is more of an individual venture for the herdsmen and those wishing to invest in the livestock sector, cattle colonies is a larger project where up to 40 ranchers can share same facility that will be provided by the government at a reduced rate. Already, 16 states have volunteered land.”
For his part, the Presidency’s spokesperson, Garba Shehu, had stated that, “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 organised 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 added that, “the overall benefit to the nation includes a drastic reduction in conflicts between herders and farmers,” saying no state was compelled to partake in the initiative.
Despite these assurances, Nigerian citizens had expressed discomfort and gross distrust in the programme, with some claiming it was a ploy to subtly deprive them of their lands as well as entrench the Fulani agenda of colonisation in the country.
Following the distrust that trailed the project from inception, the Federal Government, last Tuesday, put a hold on its implementation.
With the suspension, Nigerians seem to have breathed a sigh of relief as the polity was getting heated up over the planned implementation of the project. Daily Sun sought the opinion of stakeholders on the suspension and possible dangers this has averted from the country.
Speaking with Daily Sun on the suspension, Mr. Richard-Mark Mbaram, Editor-in-Chief, AgroNigeria, has this to say: “I can tell you that Nigeria has dodged the bullet. You would have noticed that the kind of comments and articles that have been making the rounds have been such that would indicate to anybody that we were already heading down the cliff. The president has demonstrated his commitment to the nation by suspending the implementation of that programme because the country was already tensed up.
“I applaud the president because the continued implementation of that programme would have had the proverbial implication of the solution being worse than the problem it wanted to address. We were heading towards an all out ethnic-oriented confrontation and it would have augured this nation no good whatsoever.”
Mbaram stated that, “people were seeing things from the perspective that a particular ethnic group was seeking to dominate and plant itself across the country under the pretext of implementating a national livestock programme.”
He, however, lauded the RUGA programme, noting that it, “is a good project. It is necessary to address the livestock business and make it a viable one for all players. The possibility of improved livestock production across the country is something you cannot ignore. It is laudable, with the possibilities of making the Fulani herders more productive and structured so as to be able to address the key challenges of their itinerant lifestyle which results in confrontations between them and farmers.”
Mbaram harped on the need to reappraise the programme and ensure that, “all stakeholders should be carried along and not make it look like a sectional or ethnic-inclined intervention. We should not give room for people to say it is a political gerrymandering effort to ensure that you have Fulanis across the nation in a way that you can leverage for subsequent electoral victories. These are all the permutations that exist and government needs to be sensitive to these in its subsequent actions.”
Also speaking on the suspension, the President of the Federation of Agricultural Commodities Association of Nigeria (FACAN), Dr. Victor Iyama, submitted that, “the suspension of the policy is most welcome. It’s the right step to take. If we really want to grow that sector of the economy, we have to go with ranches.
“To my understanding, livestock business is an individual business. It’s like farming cocoa or oil palm or poultry. Government can come in to support. It’s not building a special route for them. From ages, people have been doing ranches. I know it could be a bit expensive, but that is why government may help by supporting them with soft loans, and in some cases where common utility is required, government can give grants. It can help to give modern abattoirs, cold rooms, etc., because when you build modern ranches we can also compete in beef exportation. We have to go along with the world.”
For his part, Partner, Ray Farms Consulting, Africanfarmer Mogaji, noted that “the tension” trailing the project “has gone down; people will see the administration as a responsive government. Apart from that, we have a lot of jobless youths who are available for violence. Everybody found the situation as an opportunity to voice out anger so by suspending it, they’ve been able to disarm the people who would have taken advantage of the youths to cause crisis.”
According to him, “the conversation was going towards, ‘you want to take our land and we have to resist it’, so the violence they would have streamlined those youths to engage in, government has robbed those few people of that.”
In addition, Mogaji opined that, “suspending it would now be a wake up call for people who perceived they wanted to take their land and who didn’t want their land to be taken, to begin to look at how they can develop cattle production in their land. So the good side of it is that all the people who don’t want their lands to be taken would go and look at how they can rear cows and engage in productive livestock development, which will also result in job creation and youth development. And the cattle business value chain can be developed and it will not just be rearing cattle; there will be grass production, vaccine production, etc.”
Another stakeholder, Debo Onafowora, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, BIC Farms Concepts, who also x-rayed the gains of the suspension, said, “it has averted a serious crisis; I don’t want to say war.”
He explained that, “the problem is government did not sensitise the people well. When you have a good idea and you don’t sell it well, what do you expect to get? I don’t think RUGA should have been the marketing word. We’ve been shouting ranching, ranching; ranching should have been the word and when you are saying ranching, you shouldn’t say you’re creating opportunity for just Fulanis, which is like saying you’re monopolising the business for Fulanis. Fulanis are not the only ones in cattle business. Every part of Nigeria is into cattle business. The South-west had ranches of thousands of acres during Awolowo’s time, that have been abandoned.”
Adding his voice to those who spoke on the RUGA suspension, Mr. Akinyemi Oluwagbenga, an agronomist, contended that fear of the future played a key role in the rejection of the scheme.
Oluwagbenga stated that, “the fear of Nigerians is that over time, these people will start laying claim to the land given to them, saying it’s their land, especially when they have stayed for like 100 years or thereabouts. They will start dragging the land with the indigenes and this will create problems. People are looking at the problem it will create on the long run.
“You know there is this shout about Fulanisation and Islamisation of Nigeria going on; people believe, especially those in the South-west, South-east, and South-south, that it’s a way of colonising the whole country.”
Over all, stakeholders have been upbeat about the RUGA suspension and commended the government for the step, which is being seen as a mark of sensitivity to the feelings of majority of the populace. While some called for outright cancellation of the programme, others are of the opinion that it should be repackaged and made more all-inclusive.
The Federal Government had put the scheme in place to bring an end to the herders/farmers’ clashes that have taken a great toll on the security, economy and agriculture sector of the country. Farming communities in various parts of Nigeria, especially in the food basket zones of the country, have been displaced and turned into Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs); the nation’s food sufficiency and food security have been threatened; and highly sought after foreign investments in agriculture have been lost.
According to official statistics, an estimated death toll of about 2,000 to 3,000 have been recorded from 2016 to date in addition to at least $16 billion annual revenue losses resulting from the farmers/herders crises.
All the respondents to Daily Sun’s enquiries on the toll the herders/farmers’ clashes have had on the nation are of the consensus that they have been devastating, to say the least.
Oluwagbenga lamented that, “it has really affected the food sufficiency and food security of the country. Right now, people are afraid to go to their farms. We have people who are interested in investing in agriculture in the country but they are afraid of coming because of these crises. Some years back, some foreign farmers came to the country to invest millions of dollars only for herdsmen to destroy their farms with their herds and that made them to go back. People are afraid to go into farming business despite government’s call for investors in agriculture. When they look at the insecurity issue, they have a rethink.”
The BIC Farms Concepts boss, Onafowora, has this to say on the toll of the clashes on the nation and agriculture: “A lot of people are running from agriculture now because they don’t want to die untimely. Nobody wants to go far into the bush and run the risk of someone waylaying and killing him. It has reduced the drive in agriculture. Those that were hitherto excited and eager to go into agriculture are no longer interested in the sector because of fear of being killed by Fulanis. These crises have given us a major setback in agriculture.”
Noting the need to take seriously any programme that will curtail the herders/farmers’ clashes across the country and bring lasting peace to the nation, as well as ensure that agriculture is given the necessary conditions to contribute adequately to economic growth, the National President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Ibrahim Kabiru, said, “agriculture, from January to May this year, has contributed 22.8 per cent to the GDP. So if we continue to harness opportunities in the sector, and if there is peace and people continue to go to their farms, that figure is bound to increase but if for any reason production goes down, that growth rate will be lost and we won’t be where we want to be.”