James Emejo in Abuja
Apparently jolted by the barrage of criticisms the announcement of commencement of implementation of federal government’s cattle settlement policy, tagged Ruga settlement, has generated, the presidency Thursday summoned the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Muhammadu Umar.
Umar had on Monday, told journalists that the federal government had commenced the implementation of the policy in 12 states, saying it was a pilot scheme meant to test-run the government’s solution to the endemic herders’ confrontation with crop farmers nationwide.
His pronouncement attracted loud outcry from the government of Benue State and the governors of South-east states, who stated clearly on Tuesday that the policy would be resisted by them.
The protesters on Wednesday received hefty support from such socio-cultural groups as Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Pan-Niger Delta Development Forum (PANDEF) and the Middle-Belt Forum as well as social critics, who rejected the policy as unworkable and unacceptable.
Ministry sources told THISDAY yesterday that Umar was called to the presidency to explain his statement, which is believed to be unauthorised, particularly given the sensitive nature of the policy said to still be at consultative stage.
The permanent secretary had said the federal government had commenced the building of Ruga settlements to curb the recurrent clashes between farmers and cattle herders, pointing out that the establishment of the settlements had been “settled along with other people that are interested in rearing animals.”
But THISDAY gathered that he might have exceeded the limits of his office by discussing the issue without authorisation as this ought to be the prerogative of the minister.
A source said the permanent secretary might have spoken too soon as the federal government had not concluded consultations with the pilot states, most of them still resistant to the policy.
“Obviously, the Perm Sec was too forward in his pronouncement. While it is true that the federal government had the policy on the ground, it was still negotiating with some of the states involved and wanted a consensus before proceeding with implementation,” a source said, adding: “But with the serious resistance from most of the pilot states, it is not impossible for the federal government to abandon the policy.”
Umar’s categorical statement, said the source, put the federal government on the spot and could jeopardise the implementation of the policy.
Umar had during an interview with journalists on Monday stated that the federal government had commenced the establishment of farm settlements to stop the constant clashes between farmers and herders, which have negatively impacted the economy.
According to him, already, the government has commenced the establishment of “Ruga Settlements” in 12 pilot states for the benefits of cattle rearers.
He said: “It is a concept that we developed to deal with internal security and we felt that to do away with herders and farmers’ conflict, we need to settle those that breed animals.
“We want to get them a place whereby we develop a settlement for them, we provide water for their animals, we provide pasture, we provide schools for their children; we provide security, agro-rangers.
“We also felt we need to develop cattle markets whereby you don’t need to be transporting animals for a very long distance.
“Under the new plan, cattle herders are expected to be registered and recognised 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 Ruga settlement is one of the very important things not only in Nigeria but most of the countries in the Sub-Saharan.”