Why Ruga scheme can’t work in Nigeria ­­—Sheriff

Mulade Sheriff is the national coordinator of the Centre for Peace and Environmental Justice (CEPEJ). He speaks to EBENEZER ADUROKIYA on the Ruga settlement impasse. Excerpt


WHAT is your reaction to the 30 days ultimatum given to the Federal Government to commence the implementation of the suspected scheme by Miyetti Allah?

Ultimatum can be issued by anyone or group against any government for any reason. The 30-day ultimatum issued by a group to the government against the suspension of the Ruga settlement project is a mere threat to cause the government to change its position concerning the initiative. It should not be taken seriously by anybody. No ultimatum will change the present decision of the government to discontinue the project. But, I will like to suggest that such threat be taken seriously by all the security agencies of the government, and those behind such a threat should be investigated, arrested and brought to book. No persons or group should be allowed to constitute a threat against our collective peace and security at any given time and circumstance. If any individual or group wants the Ruga settlement project to be revisited, such an individual or group should be sensible enough to bear in mind that we all have a stake in it and must be consulted and a consensus should be reached before such a project can be implemented. Anything short of this is unacceptable. And we will resist it and any one of its kind.

We understand, according to the Federal Government, that the initiative was a grazing plan which provides herdsmen access to designated area of land to settle, live and attend to their families and animals. It was a programme initiated by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development as a solution to the herders/farmers crises in the country. The intention behind the Ruga settlement programme may be good, but a lot was wrong with the entire process of planning and implementation. The  suspension was imminent. It did not come as a surprise to us. The outcry across the country against the initiative was so loud that no sensible government would like to go ahead with such an initiative. There was an outright rejection of the scheme and thus its suspension. The simple reason for the total rejection of Ruga scheme was the fact that it was fraught with suspicion. It was a programme that was perceived as anti-people and implosive. It seemed like it was smuggled into the agreed National Livestock Transformation Programme of the Federal Government. And it was considered inconsistent with the programme.

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Another reason for the rejection and eventual suspension of the Ruga settlement project was because the people and states affected were not duly consulted. A project of this magnitude requires a long-term planning which recognizes and encourages the active involvement and participation of all relevant stakeholders, and not some few individuals who know nothing about the reality of the problem the scheme was meant to address. People were left out  of the entire process of planning and even implementation. Requesting and mobilising contractors to begin the construction of a pilot ‘Ruga settlement’ project despite the outcry against it showed that it was ill-conceived and a possible medium to enrich the contractors and those behind the initiative. President Muhammadu Buhari did the right thing by suspending the project. He knew with such a nationwide rejection, the Ruga project will not succeed and be sustainable. Such a project needs the support of majority of the people, especially those that will be directly affected, to succeed and be sustained.


Why do you think the government refused to consult the people and all stakeholders before embarking on such a critical matter?

I will not like to insinuate any reason why the Federal Government and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development did not consult with the people and relevant stakeholders before contemplating and ordering the implementation of the Ruga settlement Initiative. The reasons were best known to those involved in the project. It was a wrong move by the Federal Government to overlook the place of a nationwide consultation and possible consensus with the people before conceiving and attempting to implement such a project. I do not know what the interests of the initiators of the project were and why they refused to consult with the people on the project. Leaving out consultation with the people revealed that it was not a well thought-out project. If it were, they would have taken their time to consult with the people. There is no urgency when you are looking for lasting solutions to a problem like the herders/farmers crises in the country. And I doubt that the Ruga initiative was the likely solution to this problem. There is a need for us as a nation to sit to discuss, with open mind, the herders/farmers crises and to find a lasting solution to this problem. We can solve this problem if we mean it.


What do you think would have been the immediate and far-reaching implications of the scheme?

The project would have failed resulting in a huge loss and waste of public funds. From all indications, it was likely not a solution to the problem it was intended to solve. Ruga only provided the herders with settlements where they will live and attend to their families and, maybe, their animals. However, the project did not state clearly how the animals will be taken care of. It did not state whether the animals will be ranched. The herders/farmers crises in the country have been as a result of the practice of open grazing by herders. The solution simply remains the ranching of these animals. If the animals are ranched, the crises will cease. If the Ruga initiative had continued, the Federal Government would have been seen as a tyrant wanting to force an anti-people initiative on its people. This would likely result in wide and continuous protests by the people which may cause a total breakdown of law and order in the states affected and the nation at large. People had already started protesting against the project. There was a protest in Benue State by some youths against the project few weeks ago and there were planned protests that would have been organised and carried out across the country against the project, if the project had not been suspended.


What are the likely consequences in case the Federal Government still goes ahead with the scheme which it claims to have been gazette?

The Ruga Initiative has been suspended by the president and may not be implemented for now pending when it may be reviewed and agreed upon by Nigerians. If it is a true solution to the herders/farmers crises, and we agreed after a thorough consultation and understanding of the scheme, it may be implemented. But until then, the project remains suspended. And if the claim that it has been gazetted is true, the president’s pronouncement overrides it. Therefore, the Ruga settlement project remains suspended.


How do you think Nigerians should monitor the Federal Government in case they begin to secretly implement the Ruga scheme?

There is no need to think about monitoring the Federal Government for any reasons. The president is a man of his words, and no one can go behind him to carry out a project that he has suspended. It is not possible for anyone to go against the president’s order because doing so may attract a swift punishment from the presidency. Moreover, the project is not cheap. It involves a lot of money. It is a tangible project that requires the building of physical concrete structures on physical land. Undertaking such a project cannot be done in secrecy. It will be seen and known by anyone, no matter the disguise. So, Nigerians do not need to monitor the government with the fear that the Ruga project may be done in secret. It remains suspended.