There are more issues emanating from the suspension of the RUGA Cattle Settlement Scheme by the Federal Government, with various stakeholders in the Nigerian project also curious about what the authorities have thrown up as an alternative, writes KUNLE ODEREMI.
HISTORY is gradually repeating itself. Thanks to the controversial initiative of cattle settlements called RUGA, a word that conjures a looming volcanic eruption in the Nigerian polity. Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka and several leaders of thought across the country, among others, had warned against what they perceived as constituting a potential time bomb.
On June 6, 2017, the Arewa Coalition of Youths Forum (ACYF) had issued a three-month ultimatum to Nigerians of Igbo extraction resident in the 19 states in the North to relocate to their states of origin because of the frenetic agitations for self-determination for the people of the South-East by radical pan-Igbo groups.
The text of the ACYF at a press conference held in Kaduna was jointly signed by the leaders of the coalition, which comprised Nastura Ashir Sharif (Arewa Citizens Action for Change); Alhaji Shettima Yerima (Arewa Youth Consultative Forum); Aminu Adam (Arewa Youth Development Foundation); Alfred Solomon, (Arewa Students Forum); Abdul-Azeez Suleiman (Northern Emancipation Network), and Joshua Viashman of the Northern Youth Vanguard.
Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, the national president of the Northern Emancipation Network, read the communique of the AYCF, stating: “With the effective date of this declaration, which is today, Tuesday, June 6, 2017, all Igbo currently residing in any part of northern Nigeria are, hereby, served notice to relocate within three months and all northerners residing in the South-East are advised likewise.
All northern civil societies and pressure groups are, by this declaration, mandated to mobilize for sustained, coordinated campaigns at their respective state Government Houses, state Houses of Assembly, local government council secretariats and traditional palaces. Our first major move shall be to reclaim, assume and assert sole ownership and control of these landed resources currently owned, rented or in any way enjoyed by the Igbos in any part of northern Nigeria.”
The immediate reaction of the Ohanaeze then emanated from the deputy publicity secretary, Chuks Ibegbu, who said that, “It should not be seen as an empty threat; urgent action is needed to foil the plan to attack the Igbos in the North. It happened in the past and we don’t want it to happen again.”
Precisely, two years and 28 days after that threat, a fresh frightening scenario emerged, with another bellicose pro-northern coalition issuing a similar ultimatum to Ndigbo in parts of the North to leave the region, following the outrage and consequence suspension of the controversial RUGA Cattle Settlement scheme initiated by the Federal Government. Acting under the aegis of the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), its spokesperson, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, vowed to embark on a decisive action after the expiration of its 30-day ultimatum was not complied with. “Accordingly, we remind the nation that so long as the Fulani would not be allowed to enjoy their citizens’ right of living and flourishing in any part of this country, including the South, no one should also expect us to allow any southerner to enjoy the same in northern Nigeria,” the coalition stated in a communique in Abuja.
Unlike in 2017, the leadership of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, has dared the Arewa youths this time with the president-general, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, warning very strongly that the Igbo would no longer brook such insolence. The quick intervention by the leadership of the Northern Governors Forum (NGF) through a call for calm and restraint seems not to have appeased the Igbo leadership. Therefore, Ohanaeze president-general directed the people to be prepared to defend themselves in case of any eventuality.
Nwodo fumed: “We will no longer tolerate any further threats from these Northern war mongers. After all, who should be the aggrieved under the circumstance? The millipede that has been marched is whimpering, but the person that marched it is complaining that his foot has been soiled.
The people of the South who are bearing the yoke of oppression from cattle herders are trying their best to coexist with their aggressors, yet it is the aggressors that are threatening further mayhem. This cannot be. I call on all Igbo to be ready to defend themselves. Enough of these threats.”
According to Nwodo, the audacity of the Arewa coalition to give the Federal Government an ultimatum of 30 days to rescind its decision on the suspension of its RUGA settlements policy and threat of expulsion of Southerners resident in the North at the expiration of the deadline is “irresponsible, unlawful and provocative, stressing that the “threat to evict law-abiding Nigerians from their places of abode in Northern Nigeria is treasonable and obviously like the gun trotting herdsmen will go unnoticed by our federally-controlled law enforcement agencies.”
Apparently, one of the signatories to the 2017 threat to the Igbo, one Abdul-Azeez Suleiman of the Northern Emancipation Network that formed the AYCF, appears to be the spokesman of the new coalition.
It is seems the attempt by governors under the Northern Governors’ Forum (NGF) to calm frayed nerves over outburst of the Arewa youth on the suspended RUGA Settlement scheme has only had a salutary impact, especially after the forum said it had made consultations with the coalition and other stakeholders in the North .
The chairman of the forum and Plateau State Governor, Solomon Lalong had urged all stakeholders and all shades of interested parties, especially from the North, to remain calm and air their views democratically and decently while allowing the government to handle the matter.
He said he and his colleagues were reaching out for engagement with major stakeholders on the matter particularly in the North, after receiving the position of the leadership of the Coalition of Northern Groups with the hope of getting the public to fully understand the whole concept and the wisdom behind the government decision.
He said, “we acknowledge here the Coalition’s concerns and in particular, its decency in urging the northern people to remain civil and resist the temptation to be drawn into anything untoward. We are reassured that the leadership of the Coalition is genuinely and responsibly concerned with the betterment of the whole nation and with the well-being of the Northern region and people in particular, and that it will continue to work for calm and understanding.”
NLTP: What manner of the alternative?
There are serious misgivings among some stakeholders on option that the government has adopted as replacement for the RUGA Cattle Settlement Scheme. According to some individuals and groups like the pan-Yoruba organisation, Afenifere, there are issues that the suspension of the RUGA scheme could indeed be a smokescreen. Some are questioning the constitutional role of the Federal Government on land matters and what is strictly a private business. Land matters, according to the letters of the Nigerian Constitution, are within the powers of states. Other stakeholders query the propriety of the centre technically compelling states to key into such matters like ranching, even without resource to the geographical peculiarities and needs of the federating units.
Details of the alternative called National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) unveiled by the Federal Government in 2018 showed that it plans to create 94 ranches in 10 pilot states, the project is the brainchild of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the National Economic Council (NEC).
Under the plan, according to the technical adviser to the NEC, Andrew Kwasari, more than N170 billion will be spent on the 10-year plan with both the federal and state governments committing about N70 billion in the first three years of the project. The pilot scheme was to begin in Adamawa, Benue, Ebonyi, Edo, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Oyo, Plateau, Taraba and Zamfara states.
But, there are insinuations that the project was indeed about cattle colonies in a different toga, though the proponents said with the benefit of the information made available by the technical adviser to the NEC, Andrew Kwasari, the National Livestock Transformation Plan, is premised on six key pillars namely: economic investment, conflict resolution, law and order, humanitarian relief, information education and strategic communication; and cross-cutting issues. He said the plan would include the creation of large ranches in each of the pilot states.
“A Ranch Design Plan has also been proposed in models of various sizes clustered in 94 locations in the 10 pilot states. The government intends to transition pastoralism to ranching in order to reduce the struggle for common resources. In terms of size, the proposed ranch size models will include “Clusters 30, 60, 150 and 300 cattle ranch models in a location within the donated gazetted grazing reserves; and “a minimum 1,000-cattle breeder ranch in seven of the 10 pilot states.”
However, a number of groups in agriculture sub-sector groups are vehemently opposed to the initiative. They believe it cannot take care of their interest as critical stakeholders in the overall sector. One of such groups, for example, is the Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN) and the Catfish and Allied Fish Farmers Association of Nigeria (CAFFAN). They claimed there was no evidence that of their incorporation into the livestock plan.
The Mixed reactions that trailed FG’s suspension of the scheme
In suspending the RUGA Cattle Settlement scheme, members of the NEC had claimed that programme was initiated and implemented alone by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources because it is not consistent with the NEC and the Federal government FGN approved NLTP. The clarification came in the midst of the groundswell of opposition to the scheme, whereas the Presidency had engaged in discordant tunes over the introduction of the RUGA scheme. If there was no express official approval of the project as being claimed by NEC, then someone must have smuggled it in. Who is the culprit and why did some officials offered some defence for the project? Besides, some interested parties in the agricultural sector found it incomprehensible how land was gazetted in all 36 states by the Federal Government without the knowledge of the governors, who by the virtue of the Land Use Act are empowered to acquire private land for public use. According to lawyers, what constitutes public purpose is statutorily defined in Section 51 of the Land Use Act.
One observer noted: “There is no and shouldn’t be federal farmers in a Federal Republic, so there can’t be federal settlements for farmers. The Federal Government can only subsidise agricultural productions as demanded and when necessary through states and local government, and of course, through farmers’ cooperatives that must belong to a local government in a state since all farming is local. Therefore, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture is a superfluous creation; if it must exist at all in a federal state, it cannot be an octopus spreading its tentacles into nooks and crannies of Nigeria independently creating programmes and projects that may run foul of state and local government laws and project policies no matter its good intention. All land is local so also all farming is local.”
RUGA settlement: Issue has been politicised by those for and against the scheme —Junaid Muhammed
A foremost political commentator and former member of the House of Representatives, Dr Junaid Mohammed, in his reaction to the development said those who proposed RUGA settlement and those opposed to it did so for political reasons.
He said: “I do not want to waste my time on it because there was no rational discussion before it was proposed as a project. The whole issue is political. You can see that there is nothing rational about the whole issue, because if those who want the programme had explained it to the vast majority of people and made all necessary efforts to explain the good things about it to the generality of the citizenry, it might have been accepted. And those who opposed it, should I say they were doing so for political reasons. If they had equally stated why they opposed it, not that they will be raising various emotional views, saying ‘we would not let our lands be ceded for this or that’ or ‘we would not allow our lands go to bla bla.’ You can see that there were no rooms for rational discussion.
‘FG should have dialogued, lobbied stakeholders over scheme’
An Ilorin-based legal practitioner, Omotayo Ishola, in his reaction, asked the Federal Government to dialogue, lobby and negotiate with the stakeholders, especially the state governors to allow the RUGA cattle ranching policy to stay.
Ishola, who said he has serious aversion to the suspension of the policy, said until Nigerians learn not to politicise serious issues, the security challenges bedevilling the country will continue unabated.
He noted that the Federal Government’s decision might have been as a result of the political pressure, which “we have used to colour every well-intended government policy geared towards providing enduring solutions to our problems.
“According to the Land Use Act of 1976, the Federal Government can acquire any land in any state of the federation for public use in the collaboration with state governors. The idea of cattle ranching comes under the omnibus interpretation of the Act. The Federal Government was right originally in wanting to acquire lands across the states of the federation for the purpose of settling the Fulani herdsmen to minimise security challenges the nation is facing.
“However, I do not know the specific reasons why the Federal Government has jettisoned the proposal now. Having regard to our federalism and with regard to the past, the government under the late Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s presidency acquired land all over the 19 states then to build housing estates across the states. It is my submission that the suspension of the policy might have been due to the political pressure, which we have coloured every serious policy in Nigeria with.
“My view is further reinforced by the statement of the Sultan of Sokoto, Alh Sa’ad Abubakar to the effect that the security challenges in Nigeria are over-politicised and when you use politics to colour a sensitive issue you will not get out of the problem. With due respect, I have a serious aversion to the suspension of the policy. I expect the Federal Government to dialogue, lobby and negotiate with stakeholders, particularly the state governors to allow the policy to stay.”
In his own view, the chairman of the Kwara State chapter of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Dr. Tajudeen Ajibola,
said there was nothing bad in the idea of establishment RUGA scheme or cattle ranches.
He said: “RUGA settlement or whatever name it is called is the same as cattle ranches. Sincerely speaking, there is nothing bad about establishment of ranches. Herdsmen should not be seen as basically Fulani. There are equally cattle-rearers that are of Yoruba, Igbo extractions; let’s stop politicisng the programme. Government can assist in land acquisitions for RUGA just like clearing of lands for arable farmers, fish farm estates and a host of others. Agreement could be reached between the land owners while occupants should be herdsmen of like minds in form of clusters formations.
FG can limit RUGA to Northern states with vast lands —Ebonyi SSG
The Secretary to the State Government in Ebonyi State and Acting Commissioner for Internal Security and Border Peace, Dr. Kenneth Ugbala, however, had a suggestion for the Federal Government, calling on the central government to look at the idea of limiting the scheme to states in the North.
He said: “We are not only challenged about the crisis occasioned by the planned creation of RUGA settlement, because we are one of the most peaceful states in the federation but we don’t have land. Our state is mostly agrarian; the main stay of our economy is agriculture but we do shifting cultivation, moving from one parcel of land to the other for the purpose of feeding not just the population of Ebonyi State but Nigerians. So, we cannot just offer land for RUGA. We don’t have the lands.
“I suggest that states like Kano, Niger and other states in the North where there is vast land can host the RUGA settlements not a state like Ebonyi here or other states of the South-East, because we are mostly agrarian.
“RUGA will bring a very big problem. It will hamper agricultural activities and that will not be good for the state. So, I advise the Federal Government to know that the cases in the states are not the same. I charge the Federal Government to treat states according to their merit. Come to think of it, the nomadic style of rearing cattle is a business just like we the Igbos have agriculture. In Ebonyi State, we have rice as the main stay, our activity shouldn’t be to the detriment of others. If we are talking about justice and equity, it must be done in a way that it shouldn’t infringe on the right of other states or citizens. “So, I advise that the government should sit down with the major stakeholders and have a common position that will ensure that the development does not affect the corporate unity of the country, knowing full well that every state has its peculiarity,” Ugbala said.
In his reaction, the Ebonyi State secretary of Miyetti Allah, Alhaji Haladu Ismail, said he was happy that the Federal Government suspended the scheme owing to the controversy it generated, adding that the Federal Government would need to educate people well on the scheme to address the negative impressions.
He said: “I am happy that the Federal Government suspended the RUGA scheme, because people do not really understand the meaning and intension of the policy. So, the Federal Government needs to educate people on why there is need for RUGA, so that the wrong impression will be addressed.
“Like here in Ebonyi State, we have an existing law that guides farmers/herders’ peace initiative. RUGA settlement or not, we have laws that guide us here in the state. I also support that the RUGA settlement should not take place in Ebonyi, because the state does not have enough lands such that they involve in shift farming, because of inefficient land mass.”
Additional reports by Kola Oyelere, Biola Azeez and Grace Egbo