By Bennett Oghifo in Lagos and George Okoh in Makurdi
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo was yesterday dragged into the controversial Ruga settlement scheme for Fulani herders, with the General Secretary of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Baba Uthman Ngelzarma, alleging that the Vice President was helping the herdsmen to create Ruga settlements across the country.
Ngelzarma made the allegation on Sunrise Daily, a programme on Channels Television, boasting that when the programme is successfully completed, Nigerians would fully enjoy the benefits of animal husbandry.
But in a swift reaction, the Senior Special Assistant to the Vice-President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Laolu Akande, said in a tweet that the claims were false and that the programme being handled by Osinbajo’s office was different from the one being referred to by Miyetti Allah.
Socio-cultural groups in Southern Nigeria including Afenifere and Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo; as well as the Middle Belt Forum have all rejected the Ruga initiative.
Ngelzerma stated that not only Fulani men were herders, adding that herdsmen of all tribes would benefit from the Ruga scheme.
He alleged: “This Ruga settlement model is a component part of the livestock development and transformation plan that is being implemented under the Office of the Vice-President. It is a component part of it.
“All must agree with me that the crisis we are facing today has become a multi-dimensional one and so the approach must also be holistic. It was the desire of the federal government to take a holistic approach that gave birth to the Ruga settlement model and it is not only for Fulani herders.
“In southern Kaduna, there are natives who are also herders. Even in Plateau, there are other groups that are herders. It was intended for the herders as part of efforts by the government to come up with an economic model of solving this crisis.
“This is an integrated settlement that will bring about the production of pasture grass, water, schools, markets, meat and milk processing and where it can create a sub-sector of the economy. This is something that if done properly, it will create a lot of employment.”
Ngelzerma urged Nigerians to support the model and give peace a chance even as he claimed that only states that approved of the model would have Ruga settlements.
“It is a misunderstood concept to some people. The lands are under the control of governors. This model is a trial. It will be done in 12 states to see if it can work or not. Even we, from the side of the herders, have our reservations,” he said.
When asked if it was right for the government to spend taxpayers’ money on what would benefit herders alone, Ngelzerma argued that crop farmers had similarly benefitted in the past. He said southerners benefit from animal husbandry more than the northern herdsmen who rear the cattle.
Meanwhile, the Office of the Vice President has faulted claims by the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria that it was in charge of implementing the Ruga settlement initiative across the country.
The Senior Special Assistant to the Vice-President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Laolu Akande, said yesterday that the programme being handled by Osinbajo was different from the one being referred to by Miyetti Allah.
Akande explained that the National Livestock Transformation Plan, which had been endorsed by the National Economic Council, was different from the Ruga programme
He said: “Contrary to claims reported in sections of the media, Ruga settlements are not being supervised by the Office of the Vice President. Ruga is different from the National Livestock Transformation Plan approved by state governors under the auspices of the National Economic Council.
“On the National Livestock Transformation Plan, 13 States are already in the process of implementation of a plan to transform the livestock production system in Nigeria along market-oriented value chain while ensuring an atmosphere of peace and justice.
“The states are Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Plateau, Nasarawa, Taraba, Zamfara, Katsina, Kano, Kogi, Kwara, Ondo, and Edo. These states are at different stages in the process but have indicated readiness to implement the plan. Truth is: this federal government will not impose on any state government regarding its land.
Ihedioha Rejects Ruga Settlements in Imo State
Governor Emeka Ihedioha of Imo state, has rejected alleged plan of the federal government to set up a Ruga farm settlements for Fulani herdsmen in the state.
Speaking through Steve Osuji, his Special Adviser Media, Ihedioha wondered the rationale behind the initiative of the proposed Ruga settlements for Fulani herdsmen in Imo State when none has been established in any of the Northern states in the entire Federation.
Ihedioha said that in rejecting it in Imo, no governor in South-East would accept such a proposal.
He said the south-eastern states would not rush to accept the proposal when none of the northern states had implemented it.
He said, “Certainly not. It is not about Imo State; no state in the South-East would accept it. We won’t rush to accept it when no state in the North has implemented it.”
Benue Assembly condemns Ruga Settlement Plan
In Benue State, the House of Assembly yesterday warned against the implementation of Ruga settlement for herdsmen in the state, stating that the federal government does not have a right to allocate lands in Benue state.
According to the Speaker of the Assembly Mr Titus Uba, who spoke on behalf of the Assembly to reporters, the members condemned the move to establish such settlement in the state while advising the federal government to support the ranching law of the state which supports ranching of live stocks.
He said the Assembly would not support any move that will give out Benue lands for the scheme even as he said Governor Samuel Ortom would not support giving out Benue land for Ruga settlement.
“I hereby clearly state that the federal government of Nigeria cannot freely allocate land for the establishment of Ruga Fulani settlement in Benue State and the Benue State Government would not give out Benue land for the settlement initiative, even as there is inadequate land to meet the farming needs of our communities”
Uba said the house as a Parliament condemned any plan by any group or individual to foist the settlement on Benue state.
He said the Assembly was in full support of the Benue State Governor on the implementation of the state anti-open grazing law as a panacea to the conflict between herders and farmers.
Apparently jolted by the barrage of criticisms the announcement of commencement of implementation of the cattle settlement policy, had 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.
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.