Even though President Muhammadu Buhari has suspended implementation of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Rural Grazing Area [RUGA] pilot scheme to resettle pastoralists, we condemn in no uncertain terms the allegations, threats, counter threats, bluster and grandstanding that enveloped this country for two weeks regarding that plan.That a plan meant to address the perennial problem of farmers/herders’ clashes, no matter how faulty, should open up all the country’s deep regional, ethnic and religious fault lines, with political leaders and religious leaders making unfounded allegations and threatening hell and brimstone, is most unfortunate and condemnable.
The RUGA had many merits. FMARD envisaged it as a plan to build cooperative cattle ranches in various states. The idea is for pastoralists to stop their regular migration to rich pastures and cattle markets, which often bring them into conflict with farmers. As outlinedon Tuesday, June 25 by the ministry’s permanent secretary Dr. Mohammed Bello Umar, RUGA were settlements meant to house nomadic herdsmen and other animal rearers. They were to be built as pilot schemes in eleven states that had shown interest, with at least six locations in each state. The RUGA settlements were to havecattle markets and modern abattoirs and would have generated a lot of investment, jobs and business activity, the perm sec said.
As if lying in ambush, the Governor of Benue, soon followed by governors of several Southern states, unleashed a withering array of rejections and threats all built on emotional regional, ethnic and religious grandstanding. Many states said they will not provide land for the project, which would have been sufficient, but other spokesmen went beyond that to make all sorts of allegations, including alleged Islamisation and Fulanisation of the country.
As it happened, the Federal Government has another, essentially similar program called the National Livestock Transformation Plan, NLTP, which was discussed and adopted by the National Economic Council [NEC] last week. NEC is chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and all state governors are members. The biggest difference between RUGA and NLTP is that the latter has near-national consensus. The aim is however the same, to end the perennial conflict between farmers and herders by resettling the latter into cattle ranches.
As envisaged, NLTP is a huge, ten-year program estimated to cost N179 billion. NLTP’s six key pillars, as outlined in the plan, are economic investment, conflict resolution, law and order, humanitarian relief, information, education, strategic communication and cross cutting issues. While the Federal Government is expected to fund the initial investment in infrastructure, entrepreneurs are expected to subsequently take over with the remaining financing.
The most important element of the plan, which managed to secure the consensus, is that only states that are willing will participate in it. This is a welcome development. Luckily, the states that are most receptive to the plan, mostly the far Northern states, are also the ones with the most land to give and they have no issues with resettling the pastoralists. The main reason why pastoralists were moving up and down the country was because of inadequate pasture and water in these areas so if the plan will provide these, they would be through with nomadism. We urge the Federal Government to accelerate the implementation of this plan in the willing states. We believe that in years to come, when the benefits become apparent, states that refuse to participate at this stage will complain of marginalization for not having the cattle ranches.
In closing, we equally condemn the grandstanding by the so-called Coalition of NorthernGroups which last Thursday issued a 30-day ultimatum to governors who are opposed to the RUGA settlement program to reconsider their decisions. This reckless group led by Abdul-Azeez Suleiman caused tension across the country two years ago with its so-called notice to Igbos to quit the North. Just as well, we strongly condemn Ohanaeze Ndigbo leader Chief John Nwodo whose so-called response to their threat was equally inflammatory, ill-considered and empty. We urge all Nigerians to give peace a chance and to allow government to implement the NLTP for the overall security, food security and socio-economic benefit of the country.
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