Still on the suspended Ruga plan

RUGA is a settlement for Fulani herdsmen

When you dwell on a single issue for too long, you begin to sound boring even to yourself. If I had choice therefore, I would not be writing on the over beaten topic of the “ruga”, whatever its proponents intended it to be. I am having to go back to the topic because I notice regrettably that protagonists and antagonists have deliberately chosen to head off-tangent in the discourse of the issue surrounding the very clear need for Nigeria to take steps that ensure that the Fulani nomadic cattle herder secures access to bodies of water, and to designated grazing lands for his herds. In doing this, it is also to be seen that farmers have land to grow and harvest their crops. Anyone seeing beyond this, is merely nocturnal. It is disgusting that in the effort to tackle this simple problem, Government has surprisingly confused both farmer and herder with a strategy it had hoped would attain the objectives effectively.

As it turned out, President Muhammadu Buhari during the week announced the suspension of the Ruga Settlements plan. The Governor of Ebonyi State David Umahi announced this last week Wednesday at the end of the meeting of the National Executive Council. The programme was a unilateral initiation of the the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources since as Umahi revealed, and it was not consistent with the NEC and Federal Government approved National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) which Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in conjunction with all states of the Federation had flagged off. I have borrowed the adjective unilateral from a letter supposedly written to The Permanent Secretary Ministry of Agriculture was instructed to suspend the programme it was “unilaterally” implementing. In Governance, no Ministry acts unilaterally. Who authorised it? Who provided the funding? How did it come about that the programme was first announced by a non governmental pressure group, in embarrassment of the Vice President who had to publicly distance himself from the project?

Typical of our approach to development as a nation, we have become self destruct. Groups and individuals threaten ways and means that can only worsen our national security. We have abandoned productive discourse on finding a solution to the challenge, and are instead threatening each other with communal fire and brimstone. Does it have to get worse to get better? Our elite, rather than speak in mature appreciation of our national predicament and proposing solutions to what seems a complex problem, are engaged in vile talk and saber rattling, threatening to take by force, what I believe can easily be resolved if we adopt a studied rational approach. The nation sits on edge.

Is it not more pertinent to discuss the best way to tackle the escalating farmer herder conflict especially seeing that the lack of understanding of the Government’s management of the crisis has underlined our ethnic divides with expressions that border on hatred and strife?

First there needs to be dialogue. Whatever has been done by way of achieving dialogue between the warring stakeholders has been half hearted and at best, partisan. We need leverage on our dual sovereignty in the sense that much as Nigerians are all citizens, our communities are subjects of our monarchs.  Government should discountenance  political fortune seekers which all pressure groups are. Indeed they constitute the main problem. They assure the farmers and herdsmen that they are their defenders and spokesmen and grow rich while the herdsmen lose their grazing land, cattle, and the farmers, their peace. There were no such groups when farmers and herdsmen even without modern education, did so very well as perfect development partners. Government needs instead, to dialogue with traditional rulers, as well as have traditional rulers dialogue between themselves to mobilise their subjects. It is through them that programmes as meaningful as the National Livestock Transformation Plan or even the Ruga can be communicated for full acceptance.

Government needs to transparently appropriate land resources to farmers and herders – farmers, their secured farmlands, and herders, their secured routes to bodies of water and grazing fields. I do not agree with the notion that all Nigerian land has been cultivated leaving none for herdsmen. An aerial survey would reveal grazing land in abundance. It is easy access that has drawn farmers to cultivate lands along roads and highways. This access must be modified to serve grazing livestock and their herders. There must also be found the grazing lands which herders well know, but cannot navigate herds through farms to those lands without the livestock straying into farms, often the cause of conflict. This is what Government needs to resolve by assertively reestablishing stock routes and access to established grazing lands.

The goal of the National Livestock Transformation Plan is to “create a conducive environment for the transformation of the livestock sub-sector that will lead to economic development, peaceful go-existence and food security for Nigeria’s growing population”. This plan is clearly well thought out to achieve stability in the livestock agribusiness. It recognises the futility of nomadic grazing and has developed the process to attaining acceptance of ranching by our nomadic herders, in harmonious coexistence with farmers.

In stating the problem, Government notes:- “the ecosystem appropriates locates and celebrates the fact that nomadic and semi-nomadic (transhumant) pastoralists have been the main production systems in Nigeria over the years and their primary feature is the regular movement of the herds between fixed points to exploit seasonal availability of pasture/forage and water; that nomadic-based production model is inefficient and cannot meet national requirements today; that movement of cattle is facing serious challenges associated with rapid population growth and urbanisation, the spread of rain-fed and riparian agriculture, climate change, government policy implementation constraints and security”.

It states clearly that in view of all these, Government has “approved commercial ranching as an opportunity to increase productivity through the application of improved technologies and modern livestock farming and processing practices and it also provides opportunity to support smallholder livestock farmers and agro-pastoralists at scales, through access to improved technologies, input services and markets.” The program has supporting pillars which include conflict resolution, justice and peace, humanitarian relief and early recovery, human capital development, and all other crosscutting issues. There is in place, a National and a State framework for synergy of strategies and development, and Vice President Osinbajo is head of the N179bn 10 year National Livestock Transformation Plan. It is designed to work with States to “champion RANCHING as the way forward for cattle rearing in the country.”

Our politicians and ethno-religious bigots should come down from their deceitful saddles and debate this plan striving with Government to achieve its implementation for our common good. Nigeria and its endowments belongs to all of us. No section deserves to be barred from access to any resource needs. There is a glaring task of resource sharing and government just must be firm, judicious, fair, and accountable to all.

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