The alarming depth of the division among the people of Nigeria was thrown open with the controversies that attended the proposal made by the federal government to establish Ruga settlements for herders across the country.
Though the proposal had been suspended, the general outcries against a policy ostensibly aimed at cementing the nation with a view to building national cohesion, especially from the southern parts of the country, deserve some introspection.
The cacophony of voices against a policy widely twisted as a ploy to secure land for the Fulani pastoralists across the country have raised a question mark on the corporate existence of Nigeria as a nation. The opposition to the program, even when the government laboriously explained its real intent, is a cause for alarm.
Even with its suspension by the President, people have not ceased to clamour for its outright cancellation. They argue that suspension indicates that the Ruga program could still be revisited and this, they say, they don’t want. Ordinarily, Ruga should be an enabler for national unity.
But, why Ruga? The incessant clashes between the herders and the farmers across the country leading to colossal loss of human lives and properties have constituted a potent threat to national security and continued existence of Nigeria as a country.
Following the inescapable impact of climate change and desertification in the far north, the exodus of herders from the inclement weather to the coastlines has become inevitable. This is further fueled by the shrinking Lake Chad and the quest for survival by the people whose livelihood depended on it.
The adverse effects of climate change has made immigration of the pastoralists inevitable. Studies have equally disclosed that the marked international grazing routes have been encroached upon by the farmers making constant clashes between farmers, whose crops are being ravaged by the cattle, inexorable.
Government reasoned that the insecurity caused by the constant clashes between the itinerant herders and the farmers could only be curtailed when the pastoralists are settled in an area provided for them exclusively for the purpose of animal husbandry.
According to the Ruga concept, herders housed in the settlements will be provided water for their animals, pasture, schools for their children, security, agro-rangers, and so on.
The animal farmers, not exclusive to cattle herders, according to the original plans, will be settled in Ruga settlements with provision of necessary and adequate basic amenities such as schools, hospitals, road networks, vet clinics, markets and manufacturing entities that will process and add value to meats and animal products.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ruga settlements initiative, which will be of benefit to everyone in animal husbandry, is part of the N179 billion National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) 10 year initiative (2018-2027) being coordinated by the Chairman of the National Economic Council (NEC), Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
Laudable as the Ruga initiative was, it was viewed with political stethoscope and summarily labeled a ‘Fulanisation’ and ‘Islamisation’ agenda. Suddenly, historians on social media went to the trenches advancing several reasons why the program must not see the light of the day.
Even when the Presidency offered to explain the benefits, the public refused to buy the argument as bile got raised with several governors beginning to publicly denounce the project. Things got worse when the office of the Vice President disclaimed the earlier claim by the Ministry of Agriculture that the Ruga program was part of the NLTP.
Even though the government maintained that the program would be implemented only in willing states, many of the governors still held to their suspicions. The bad blood became exacerbated with daily reports of herders allegedly involved in committing heinous crimes of banditry and kidnapping across the country.
Majority agree that there is indeed a need for the herders, who are predominantly Fulanis, to be settled in a place. But the fear raised is that there have been massive incursion of foreigners, who daily commit heinous crimes, into the country.
Nigerian Fulanis are generally peace loving and have been living peacefully with their host communities for several years. But those one who have invaded the country leaving in their trails tears and blood are the ones critics are warning the government against accommodating. Building exclusive communities to accommodate these blood suckers, critics hold, will further complicate national security in the foreseeable future.
As things stand now, the move for the implementation of the suspended Ruga ahead of the NLTP has made people, especially the state governors particularly in the South and some parts of the North Central, to be more circumspect.
Indication that the NLTP program may have been imperiled came this week when community leaders in Benue state in a video that went viral pulled down a signpost for the establishment of pasture plots for grazing reserve in Otobo. The public seem to have been so wired against settlement of herders because they perceive it as a land grabbing plot in favour of a particular tribe in the country.
As a way out, it has been variously suggested that herders should embrace ranching across the country in order to stop their encroachment on farms and end the incessant blood letting.
The NEC, as a way around the challenge of persistent clashes of herders with farmers, through the NLTP recommended that cattle herders should be registered with cooperatives for the purpose of the ranching scheme. These cooperatives will then be able to get rental agreements for land from state governments and also benefit from ranch resources on several terms including loans, grants, and subsidies.
The funding of the plan from the federal government and state governments is expected to last for the first three years in the pilot phase for a total of N70 billion while private sector interests and investments between the third and 10th year is expected to be in excess of N100 billion.
NLTP focuses on rebuilding and reconstructing common facilities – worship places, markets and individual homes that have been destroyed in the constant conflicts between the herders and farmers across the country.
It also focuses on rehabilitation, reconstruction, resettlement and compensation of the displaced persons affected by the conflict, and especially caters to providing input and land for crop farmers that have been displaced.
Obviously, the federal government’s NLTP is all embracing in concept and implementation and is likely to be acceptable to everyone desirous of peace and national cohesion.
As the controversies around Ruga abates, the government should put in place policies aimed at reconciling Nigerians. The people must be made to believe that though their tongues and tribes may differ, there is strength in these diversities. These obvious gaps and distrusts must be addressed. And the time to start is now.