One issue that has generated intense national security attention and controversy in recent times is perhaps the incessant herdsmen and farmers clashes in parts of the country. It is also one very unpleasant situation that has hurt the country’s economy the most in several dimensions. Even the introduction of Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) recently to address the problem, the impasse seems far from being addressed.
A specialist in conflict resolution, Patrick Okigbo, for instance estimates the country lost over $13.7 billion, aside the killings and farmlands’ destruction.
Even before that Nigeria’s dairy production including milk was very low when compared with other countries output as cows produce 560,000 to 700’000 tonnes, representing a mere 13 per cent of the entire West Africa region, while domestic consumption of milk is 1.7 million tonnes, given room for importation.
However a former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, partially attributed the problem to the long distance trekking by cows in the country .
“The Nigerian cow gives you one beer bottle of milk per day but cows in Europe are producing 40 litres. The reason is simple: our cows walk too much. They don’t have water to drink and good grass to eat. It is not just any kind of grass. There are special kinds of grasses for cows producing milk or beef,” he said.
RUGA, which was championed by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mohammed Bello Umar, came from the Hausa language, which means cow settlement, a term so many Nigerians kicked against.
Also, the speed with which it was enforced drew the ire of Nigerians who rejected it and thought it was a ploy by a particular region to colonise more lands to the detriment of the original owners.
In the heat of the controversy most of the governors whose states were earmarked for the project protested, saying they would not part with a single piece of land.
Chairman of Ontiv Professionals Association, Abuja, Benjamin Nyior, questioned the economic potential of RUGA project and wanted to know how it would be different from the ranching option already agreed to in pilot states.
He called on government to halt the plan, else “we shall seek all lawful avenues to achieve the wishes of the people of Benue State,” he said.
Efforts by government to douse the tension and explain the scheme fell on deaf ears as Nigerians kept shouting until it was suspended.
According to President Muhammadu Buhari’s new media aide, Bashir Ahmad, who confirmed the suspension on his verified twitter handle, “the Federal Government after consultations with stakeholders has suspended the RUGA Settlement Project for now.
But in order to properly structure the country’s livestock sector, the Federal Government launched yet another project called National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP), a programme which has been there but not implemented.
The government revisited the project which Vice President Osinbajo inaugurated at the Gongoshi Grazing Reserve in Mayo-Belwa Local Government Area of Adamawa State.
The NLTP, Osinbajo said, is designed to run from 2019-2028 as part of the Federal Government’s initiative in collaboration with states under the auspices of the National Economic Council (NEC).
Osinbajo explained that the plan, which is targeted at supporting the development of Nigeria’s livestock sector, is to be implemented in seven pilot states of Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Plateau, Nasarawa, Taraba and Zamfara.
He added that the scheme will be implemented in partnership with state governments, farmers, pastoralists and private investors.
“In this plan, the state government or private investors will provide the land, and the Federal Government does not and will not take any land from a state or local government. Any participating state will provide the land as its own contribution to the project while the Federal Government will merely support.
“It is a plan that hopes to birth tailor-made ranches where cattle are bred, and meat and dairy products are produced using modern livestock breeding and dairy methods. This solves the problem of cattle grazing into and destroying farmlands. It ensures a practical response to the pressures on water and pasture by forces of climate change,” Osinbajo said.
Currently, over 14 states that indicated interest in the project include Kano, Katsina, Gombe, Zamfara, Niger, Kogi, Sokoto, Plateau, Bauchi, Kebbi and Taraba. They have also provided lands.
While explaining that the scheme is designed to provide modern meat and boost the country’s dairy industry and in some cases, integrate crop farming, Osinbajo stressed that it has no connection with RUGA.
“I wish to emphasise that this is not RUGA because the idea of RUGA settlements launched by the Ministry of Agriculture created a problem when it was perceived as a plan to seize lands to create settlements for herders.
“RUGA was not the plan designed and approved by the governors and the President rightly suspended the implementation,” he said.
To flesh up the NLTP project, the National Economic Council (NEC) approved a take-off budget of N100 billion for it.
Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, who made it known to State House correspondents, said government will provide 80 per cent while states will provide 20 per cent of the fund.
“A N100 billion budget was proposed to support the project. The Federal Government is to contribute 80 per cent in grant to support the project while the states will contribute land, project implementation structure, personnel and 20 per cent cost of the project,” he said.
Umahi added that the funds will address, “economic development (investment), conflict resolution, justice and peace, humanitarian relief and early recovery (that is to IDPs), human capital development and cross-cutting issues such as gender, youth, research and information, and strategic communication.”
Not withstanding these explanations, the NLTP plan appears not to be going down well with the convener of Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) conference, according to Ihechukwu Chima, who said government did not negotiate with stakeholders.
While suggesting that government should revisit RUGA, he doubted the sustainability of the project, saying succeeding administrations will abandon it.
“There is a bridge between policy formulation and policy implementation. It has to do with consultations, negotiation and dialogue. Government jumped this bride and that was why it had challenges trying to implement RUGA.
“How can this present government implement a project that exceeds a four -year span it has? It is not realisable. It is not achievable. Let us do what we can and solve the problem.
“Trying to bring the NLTP with a budget of N100 billion is not encouraging. There are more beautiful plans than this which never saw the light of the day. Government should implement RUGA. It has a lot of leverage in the sense that if it is implemented, the Fulani herdsmen will operate RUGA based on the rules of engagement.
“If the Fulani herdsmen are settled in a location, the rule of engagement is that they won’t leave that area to graze,” he said.