Elder statesman, Tanko Yakassai has said that the clash between farmers and herdsmen cannot be denied. He however said those opposed to the now suspended RUGA settlement programme should offer alternative solutions, insisting that the merits of the project outweigh its demerits.
You recently advised that the merits of the now suspended RUGA settlement programme should be considered despite the controversy it generated. Do you still stand by your statement?
I advocated for a better understanding of the programme if it is good. Nobody will deny that there is a problem between herders and farmers in Nigeria and there must be a solution. The government started by offering ranches and it was rejected. They changed to colonies and it was rejected. They now started RUGA and offered it to all the states but only 12 states accepted it. What is bad about it?
Don’t forget that when the British came, they created officially grazing areas for Fulani which we call Forest Reserves. Nobody was allowed to touch Forest Reserves except the Fulani because they were grazing their cattle there. When there was no more grass in these Forest Reserves, they go to somewhere else. They also created the routes for them from the beginning of the country to the sea. They followed those routes with their animals to avoid damaging farms and if they caused any destruction to the farmers’ crops they were made to pay damages. It is still happening. Now, the conflict in Plateau State where the local people started fighting them, killing their livestock or driving them away was what started the clashes. These crises continued to happen in Plateau, Benue, Taraba and crossed over to Yoruba land and other parts of Southern Nigeria. So in the face of this crisis what should the government do? I am of the opinion that this RUGA will solve the problem once and for all. They will stay in one place, they will graze there, and everything will be provided for them including water, clinics and schools, so that they don’t move to anywhere.
Suspension is different from cancellation and already there are speculations that it may be re-introduced in another form. Do you think so?
I don’t believe so.
How do other countries run their cattle business? The question people ask is, should the Federal Government be involved in providing settlements for herders?
Why does the government build markets for traders? Traders are usually allotted stores in markets built by the Federal Government. I can’t see government building markets for traders and refuse to create Ruga settlements for herders. Their roaming about has brought us a lot of crisis, resulting in herder/farmer’s conflict and the sooner we settle these people in one place, the better for the country. I think many Nigerians don’t know that Fulani are Nigerians like the Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo. They came to Nigeria about the same time like all of us. The only difference is that some came earlier than others. I don’t know who came first between the Fulani and the rest of us. If they are Nigerians and cattle rearing are their livelihood, and their occupation, if there is a problem with the way they carry out their occupation, we should find a way to solve it. At first, government thought of ranching, people kicked against it; they went for cattle colonies, people kicked against it and they shelved it. Now they decided to consider the option of RUGA. I know it is a new thing to you people in the South but it’s not new to those of us in the North. We were born to meet it.
In every community in the North, where there are human beings, there is a settlement for Fulani which is called Ruga. In those days, they go to the traditional ruler and apply for a piece of land and the piece of land will be allocated to them to accommodate them and their livestock. Ruga is usually located near the river bank, pond or some water bodies so that they can graze their livestock and find water to drink. When the rainy season is over, the Fulani can decide to move to other areas where there is grass to graze their cattle. For a very long time, what they do is to follow the rain and as the rain is withdrawing and grass is becoming more scarce, they will move to where grass and water are still available until they reach the sea side either in Lagos, Port Harcourt or Calabar or wherever. But when the rains become too much for them, because they cannot stay with livestock under heavy downpour, they will begin to retreat back to the North.
But traders pay money for the markets, how is that similar to RUGA?
RUGA isn’t free of charge either. There is a problem in the country between farmers and herdsmen and it is not something that can be overlooked or denied. Anybody who doesn’t want RUGA should offer solutions. You can’t chase away the Fulani from Nigeria because they are citizens. Where would you chase them to? I am not a Fulani man but I do not understand why people are so aggrieved about it that you say an entire people cannot carry out their profession because you don’t like them? What is the solution to it? Let those people who don’t want it proffer their own solutions.
People say why don’t the Fulani buy the land, but in Nigeria, land belongs to the state government and you cannot acquire it unless it is approved by the state governor. It is not like buying rice in the market. To buy a land, you don’t get it until you apply for it and the government will give you. The Fulani cattle herders don’t sell the meat outside Nigeria or do they? Is it not Nigerians that eat the cow meat? So if you buy food from the Nigerian farmer, why can’t you buy meat from the cattle herder? What is stopping the cattle herder from rearing his livestock while the farmer is allowed to grow his rice?